Is It Better to Air-Dry or Machine-Dry Your Clothes?

This simple choice can impact your health, lifestyle, and wallet—so choose wisely!

If dread prickles in your mind each time you enter the laundry room, size up the monstrous mountain of just-washed clothing, and have to determine how to dry it all—you’re not alone. However, caring for your clothes should not be all-consuming. Here’s a simple guide to navigating your drying dilemmas and once-and-for-all choose between air-drying and machine-drying your clothing.

What are the pros and cons of machine-drying?

For many people, the biggest factor in the debate between machine and air-drying clothing is time. According to Stan Atansov, a Home Cleaning Expert at Fantastic Services Group Australia, drying machines significantly reduce the amount of time that it takes for clothing to dry compared to using a clothing rack. Machine-drying can also speed up the laundry process by eliminating the need to iron your clothing, as the heat from the dryer often removes creases in the fabric, Atansov explains.

While the ease of machine-drying may seem attractive, there are some drawbacks to consider. First and foremost, drying machines can be expensive. But this is only the beginning—with a drying machine comes higher energy bills, Atansov cautions. “They won’t skyrocket but expect them to be higher than before,” Atansov says. Furthermore, dryers have the potential for maintenance expenses, which will likely increase if you’re engaging in any of these things that are shortening the life of your dryer. Machine-drying is also worse for the environment than air-drying. According to Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics, “the carbon emissions of drying machines, combined with the plastic fibers that clothes release, means that drying your clothes can have a significant negative impact” on the environment.

Bottom line? If your main concern is finishing the laundry as quickly as possible, you should definitely use the dryer. Before you load the machine, though, make sure you know what things should never end up in your dryer.

What are the pros and cons of air-drying?

While air-drying your clothing definitely takes longer than machine-drying, there are significant benefits to using a clothing rack or line. When you use an outdoor clothesline, “the fibers of your clothes appear to hold up longer and because clothes dry by sunlight or over the entirety of the day, they don’t lose their shape,” explains Sherri Monte, co-owner of the interior design and home organizing firm, Elegant Simplicity. Additionally, air-drying your clothing is completely free—no machine, energy bill, or maintenance expenses.

Before you completely commit yourself to air-drying, the three factors to consider are time, space, and weather. Obviously, air-drying takes significantly longer than machine-drying, which can be limiting. It may also not be ideal to consume your entire yard with clotheslines—and air-drying your clothing outside is nearly impossible during rainy, snowy, and humid seasons anyway.

And keep in mind, experts recommend that you do not air-dry clothing inside your home, as it can negatively affect your health. “Research shows that when you dry your clothes in poorly ventilated rooms, it increases the moisture in the air. This creates the ideal condition for mold spores to grow and can trigger asthma, as well as other health concerns,” Masterson explains.  Long story short, to reap the benefits of air-drying, it’s best to dry your clothing outside, in arid weather, when you have the entire day to let the water evaporate.

Which is better?

Ideally, it is always better to air-dry than it is to machine-dry. Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, explains that air-drying “will save money, reduce wear-and-tear of clothing from tumbling in the dryer, and ease concern about ruining clothing.” Air-drying your clothing outside is also better for your health and the environment. However, if you do not have the time, space, or weather conducive climate, you should default to using a drying machine.

At the end of the day, “it all comes up to what’s more convenient and what is best suited for your needs,” says Atansov. The best drying method is ultimately the one that aligns with your individual home, preferences, and time constraints—just brush up on these laundry tips before your next load to avoid any unnecessary slip-ups.

Carley Lerner
Carley Lerner is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Reader's Digest. She is a member of the Class of 2021 at Duke University, where she writes for the school newspaper, The Chronicle.