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Does Drying Clothes Damage Them? (And how to prevent damage)

Although drying your clothes in the dryer can be incredibly convenient, it may not be the best approach to promote the longevity of your clothing. Of course, we all know that drying your clothes can shrink them, but does it do any other damage?

Drying your clothes can significantly damage them in terms of quality and longevity. Both the heat and the agitation of the dryer tumbling the clothes will break them down significantly faster than air drying does.

In this article, I’ll go over exactly what the dryer does to your clothes, how to dry clothes while minimizing the damage, what happens if you dry your clothes too long, and whether or not washing causes as much damage as drying.

What Does the Dryer Do to Your Clothes?

The dryer can cause damage to the durability and quality of the fibers that comprise your clothing. When you place your clothes in the dryer, they immediately come in contact with hot air and start tumbling around. This increase in temperature and friction can be much more harmful than you’d think.

One study conducted on a wide variety of new towels tested their fabric, then washed and dried them 20 times. After washing and drying them 20 times, they retested them, and it showed that the towels had already lost 50% of their tensile strength. 

The same study showed that it wasn’t necessarily the heat that caused most of the damage. It was the friction. Friction causes tiny microscopic tears and damages the fibers of the fabric. You can see the evidence of this when you check your dryer’s lint collector. That’s what lint is. It’s the little fibers of your clothing that are breaking away every time you dry them.

Think about the amount of lint that you pull out of your clothes dryer every year, then imagine that coming off your clothes. Yes, maybe drying your clothes once won’t hurt them, and if you need a size smaller, it may help things, but over time more and more fabric will come off of them until your clothes are entirely worn out.

How Do You Dry Clothes Without Damaging Them?

To dry your clothes without damaging them, you’ll want to air dry them instead of using the machine dryer. By air drying them, you’ll be reducing the amount of heat and friction applied to the fibers, which will help keep them intact for longer.

Dry Clothes WITHOUT a Dryer (Using Indoors Drying Rack)

Drying your clothes in the clothes dryer can be very tempting. It’s quick, it’s easy, and by the time you get home from running your errands, the clothes will be dry and ready to be folded and put away. However, if you want to keep your clothes in good condition, you’ll want to stick to air drying.

When you air-dry clothes, all you’ll do is take them out of the washer and hang them up using clips or other hangers until they dry. There’s no extra friction or heat. Of course, they’ll take quite a bit longer to dry, especially with thicker fabrics, but you won’t have any of the damage that the dryer would have inflicted.

Keep in mind that with air drying, you’re going to want to leave them hanging for at least 24 hours to allow them to dry thoroughly. If you don’t ensure that they’re fully dry before folding them and putting them away, you could begin to deal with moisture-related issues such as mold

Clothing like jeans, jackets, and heavy cotton pieces will likely take quite a bit longer to dry. This is why it’s convenient to have something like a drying rack. 

I wrote a guide on how to line-dry your clothes that you can check out.

What Happens if You Dry Your Clothes for Too Long?

If you try your clothes for too long, they will shrink significantly. This can be good if your clothes are too big for you, but if you’d like them to stay the same size, this could be an issue. However, in the long run, you might encounter some structural integrity issues as well.

As soon as you put your clothes in the clothes dryer, the friction and heat will start. Both of them cause microscopic damage to the fibers of your clothing which, over time, will cause them to shrink and the general quality and elasticity of the fabric to decrease. 

To combat this, the best thing you can do is only dry your clothes until they’re mostly dry, then take them out and let them air dry the rest of the way. That way, you’re minimizing the amount of heat and friction that are applied to the fibers.

I wrote this article: Leaving Clothes In Dryer Overnight: Is it ok? (+how long) that may interest you.

Is Washing or Drying Harder on Clothes?

So, if drying your clothes can be so damaging, what does washing do to them?

Drying clothes is harder on them than washing is, causing twice as much shrinkage. When you wash your clothes, there’s some lubrication from the water, so the fibers suffer from less microdamage. Drying also involves forced air which causes damage to the clothing as well.

Although washing doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as drying, it still damages your clothing to some extent. That’s why, if you check the labels on your clothing, you’ll see that a large portion of your clothing has a tag that says you’re supposed to hand wash it.

That’s because when your washer is washing your clothes, it tumbles them around to break up debris so it can be washed away. You do the same thing when you wash your clothing by hand. However, because you’re doing it piece by piece and you can apply as much force as you want with your hands, handwashing is far gentler on your clothing.

More on how washing clothes damages them here.

Conclusion

Drying your clothes in a clothes dryer causes significantly more damage to them than air-drying them does. This is because the additional friction will gradually wear away the clothing fibers until your clothing loses much of its structural integrity.

To prevent this damage, you should air-dry your clothes whenever possible as this will keep them from being exposed to unnecessary friction. If you have to dry your clothes in the dryer, try to keep the heat low and only dry them until they’re mostly dry. Then take them out and let them air dry the rest of the way.

Next, you can check out my guide on what temperature you should use for your washing machine.

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