Clothes Dryers

Clothes dryers can be one of the most expensive home appliances to operate, using approximately 6 percent of a home's total electricity usage.

Unlike other appliances, clothes dryers don't vary much from brand to brand and model to model in the amount of energy used. (That's why the Federal Trade Commission does not require clothes dryers to have a yellow EnergyGuide label.)

All clothes dryers being sold today operate the same way - they use electricity to turn a drum that tumbles clothes through heated air to remove moisture. But operating costs vary depending if that air is heated by natural gas or electricity.

Electric dryers use heating coils, while gas dryers use a gas burner to produce heat. Gas dryers cost approximately $50 more to purchase initially, but since natural gas is usually less costly than electricity, gas dryers cost less to operate. Depending on your utility, drying a load of laundry can cost between 32 to 41 cents in an electric dryer, or 15 to 33 cents in a gas dryer.

Gas dryers tend to operate at a hotter temperature than electric ones, so clothes can tumble in the dryer for shorter periods, sparing the material and reducing energy costs. Thus a gas dryer can save you up to 50 percent in energy costs.

Smart Buying

Consider these tips if you're looking to buy an efficient clothes dryer:

  • Know whether your laundry room has gas or electricity hookups. Gas dryers require a gas line hookup, which might cost you extra to install, but you might be able to recoup the added cost from the energy savings within a year or so. Most electric dryers operate on 240-volt current, twice the strength of ordinary household current. If your laundry area is not equipped with a 240-volt outlet, you must have one installed.
  • Check for the highest energy factor number when comparing different models. Remember that there are two costs to an appliance - the initial purchase price, and the cost of operating that appliance over the many years you own it. The energy efficiency of a clothes dryer is measured by a term called the Energy Factor (EF), measured in pounds of clothing per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. The federal standard minimum EF for a standard capacity electric dryer is 3.01. For gas dryers, the minimum EF is 2.67. (The rating for gas dryers is provided in kilowatt-hours, even though the primary source of fuel is natural gas.)
  • Many clothes dryers come with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only does this save energy; it reduces wear and tear on clothes caused by over-drying. Compared with timed drying, you can save about 10 percent with a temperature sensing control, and 15 percent with a moisture sensing control.

Smart Use

Here are ways to cut the amount of energy and money you spend drying clothes:

  • Locate your dryer in a heated space. Putting it in a cold or damp basement or an unheated garage will make the dryer work harder and less efficiently.
  • Keep the lint filter clean. Cleaning the filter after every load will improve air circulation and increase the efficiency of the dryer. It's also an important safety measure.
  • Scrub the lint filter regularly if you use dryer sheets. Dryer sheets can leave a film on the filter that reduces air flow and, over time, can affect the performance of the motor. Use a toothbrush to scrub it clean once a month.
  • Make sure your dryer is vented properly. If you vent the exhaust outside, use the straightest and shortest metal duct available. Flexible vinyl duct isn't recommended because it restricts the airflow, can be crushed, and may not withstand high temperatures from the dryer.
  • Check the outside dryer exhaust vent periodically. If it doesn't close tightly, replace it with one that does to keep the outside air from leaking in. This will reduce heating and cooling bills.
  • Dry only full loads, as small loads are less economical; but do not overload the dryer.
  • When drying, separate your clothes and dry similar types of clothes together. Lightweight synthetics, for example, dry much more quickly than bath towels and natural fiber clothes.
  • Dry two or more loads in a row, taking advantage of the dryer's retained heat.
  • Use the cool-down cycle (perma-press cycle) to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.

And here's the ultimate money saving tip for drying clothes:

  • Use a clothesline! Let the heat of the sun dry your clothes, and won't use the clothes dryer at all. Some homeowners' associations and cities, however, have local CC&Rs that restrict the use of clotheslines in planned communities. So, check the convenants, codes and restrictions covering your property to see if you can use this effective, almost cost-free drying alternative. But even if you can't use a clothesline, you can set up a small standalone clothes rack to dry shirts and other small items.