Would you ever ditch your dryer?

By Katie Holdefehr
January 03, 2018
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If you’ve ever spent a while in Europe, you probably noticed that clothes-washing customs are a little different on the other side of the Atlantic. Not only are the washing machines significantly smaller than the giant drums we use in America, but the dryer that’s so ubiquitous in the States is much less common—and even in households where one exists, it’s used less frequently.

The debate over the tumble dryer has become so heated. In a Reddit thread that asks, “Non-Americans: What’s one thing every American needs to know?”, the top comment is: “Electric dryers are nowhere near as common as in the States,” from Reddit user TheLast_Centurion. The thread has collected more than 7,000 responses in just one month and the comment itself has garnered a collection of responses from Reddit users around the world, with many explaining their own methods for drying laundry. The topics of debate range from the perfect outdoor conditions for air-drying clothes (hint: sub-zero temperatures are not ideal), to whether clothing left outside unattended will get stolen, to whether air-drying causes mildew.

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While some commenters criticize the dryer for the energy it uses and how harsh it is on clothing, one commenter points out that the popularity of the dryer in America may have as much to do with culture as with the machine's efficiency. Reddit user Roccondil notes that some American homeowner associations even have rules against hanging clotheslines outside, because some consider them unsightly. “In Germany on the other hand they are considered traditional and wholesome. Many people who have dryers feel slightly guilty about using them and drying their laundry the lazy and wasteful way when they could do it ‘properly,’” the user writes. The comment has stirred up a storm of responses, including many Americans rallying in defense of the dryer.

Whether you rely on your dryer every day, use it only when the weather is bad, or have one on your wishlist for your next home, there’s no denying that the tumble dryer is a beloved appliance in most American households. For starters, it was invented by an American. While the first hand-cranked clothes dryer that spun clothes above a fire was actually invented by a Frenchman, M. Pochon, in 1800, the first automatic clothes dryer was designed in the early twentieth century by J. Ross Moore, an American inventor from North Dakota. His designs were eventually released to the American public in 1938. While the dryer is actually a relatively recent invention, in just 80 years, it has become a staple in American households. As of 2009, almost 80 percent of American households owned a dryer.

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Just how much do Americans love their dryers? Enough to buy clothing specifically for them, according to many Reddit users. The initial Reddit thread caused one user to pose this question to Americans: “Do you dry all your clothes in a tumble dryer?” In response, several people admitted to only buying clothing that could withstand the dryer, without special care instructions.

To combine the ease of a clothes dryer with the luxury of wearing more delicate fabrics, some high-end appliance companies have started marketing clothes-drying cabinets to Americans. This machine combines the gentle method of air-drying with the efficiency of a tumble dryer. Staber, an American appliance manufacturer, sells a drying cabinet for $1,520, plus shipping. An electric version of the classic British airing cupboard, the drying cabinet works by circulating warm air around hanging clothing, speeding up drying time and preventing mold. Between the cost and space requirements of the cabinet, it’s still very much a luxury appliance, but it may just be the tumble dryer of the future.