What is better—line drying or machine drying clothes?

Everybody knows that line drying is more environmentally friendly. But machine drying is a lot more convenient. 

But how much more eco-friendly? And how much more convenient? Read on to find out!

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Eco impact




Environmental impact

Clotheslines have zero environmental impact. Hanging clothes outside has no carbon footprint.

Clothes dryers require significant electricity to power the drum and heating elements during operation. According to one study, an average dryer uses over 3 kWh per load, costing homeowners $100 or more in annual electricity consumption. All this energy use also produces a lot of greenhouse gases.

Dryers vent large volumes of hot air and lint outside, releasing particulates into the outdoor environment. 

While clothes dryers are energy hogs, small changes can reduce their footprint. Steps like cleaning the lint filter and dryer vents, using lower heat settings, and reducing over-drying can help.

Time savings

An average American family does five loads of laundry per week. If we estimate that it takes around five minutes to hang each load on the clothesline, that’s 25 minutes each week, 100 minutes per month, and 1,200 minutes (20 hours) per year! 

Line drying relies solely on natural airflow and sunlight to slowly draw moisture from clothing fabrics. Drying a full laundry load can take 6-12 hours or longer.

Clothes dryer shortens drying time—a dryer with high heat can dry a full load in under an hour. This allows you to wash and dry several loads back-to-back on the same day. Also, if you add wool dryer balls to your load, they can cut the drying time by up to 25%.

Buy Smart Sheep wool dryer balls and boost the effectiveness of your dryer! Forget about chemical laundry fresheners like dryer sheets and fabric softeners.

“Helps to keep clothing dry without wrinkles.” —Maryann B. Belcher, Amazon purchaser (five stars)

6-Pack Original 100% Wool Dryer Balls


While a clothes dryer may seem convenient, operating and purchasing one can get expensive compared to the cost-free option of line drying.

Equipment costs

  • The upfront cost of buying a clothes dryer averages $600 for electric dryers and $850 for gas dryers. 
  • For line drying, you only need a retractable clothesline or drying rack. A simple clothing line kit can cost as little as $2. Add clothespins and you might be out $10.

Operating costs

  • Running an electric tumble dryer can use over 6 kWh per load, which translates to around 30 cents per load based on average electricity rates of 12 cents/kWh. Gas dryers use about 29 cubic feet of gas per load, costing around 27 cents based on gas rates of 95 cents/ccf.
  • With line drying, no energy is required so the operational cost is zero. Simply hanging clothes out to dry comes at no cost besides the initial outdoor clothesline purchase. According to a study by the Energy Star program, the average household can save $280 per year on energy bills by line-drying laundry instead of using a dryer.

Aesthetics and freshness

Clothes dried on the clothesline can be stiffer than the ones dried in the dryer. If you add Smart Sheep wool dryer balls to the dryer, your clothes will be even fluffier. 

On the other hand, clothes from clotheslines can have a fresher smell from the outside.

Tumble drying can leave clothes feeling soft and fluffy right away. However, the heat and tumbling can cause pilling, fading, and damage to fabrics over time, hurting their aesthetic appeal. Without fresh airflow, machine-dried items may retain a musty smell if left in the dryer for too long.


If you mostly care about environmental impact: the clothesline wins.

If you mostly care about saving money: the clothesline wins.

If you mostly care about saving time: the dryer wins.

If you mostly care about the longevity of your clothes: the clothesline wins.

If you mostly care about the softness of your clothes, the dryer wins.

If you live in a rainy or cold place: the dryer wins.

Line drying vs machine drying FAQ

Which mode is best for drying clothes?

The best mode for drying clothes is the one that uses the lowest heat setting and the shortest drying time possible. This will help to protect your clothes from damage. For most clothes, the delicate or low heat setting is the best option. Some clothes, such as towels and jeans, may require a medium heat setting.

It is also important to note that different types of fabric require different drying times. For example, cotton clothes will dry more quickly than synthetic clothes.

Does it save money to line dry clothes?

Yes, it does save money to line dry clothes. Clothes dryers use a lot of energy, and line drying is free. According to the Energy Star program, the average household can save $280 per year by line-drying their clothes instead of using a dryer.

What is the best setting to dry clothes without shrinking?

The best setting to dry clothes without shrinking is the lowest heat setting possible. You should also avoid overdrying your clothes. Some clothes are more prone to shrinking than others. For example, cotton and wool clothes are more likely to shrink than synthetic clothes.

If you are concerned about shrinking, check the care label on your clothes for specific drying instructions.

What temperature is best for drying clothes?

For most fabrics, medium or low heat around 110-135°F is ideal for drying without damage. Use the permanent press setting. Take care of delicate items like silks and wools—dry them on low or no heat to prevent shrinking. Refer to clothing labels for any special care instructions in choosing the right dryer cycle.

How do you dry clothes indoors efficiently?

Use a drying rack indoors near a heating vent or window for good airflow. Or you can simulate an indoor clothesline by installing a ceiling drying rack that folds out of the way. For portable options, collapsible drying racks maximize space. Rotate and separate items so air circulates fully.

A small fan directed at the clothing can help speed evaporation. 

Why do Americans not line dry clothes?

There are a few reasons why Americans may not line-dry their clothes.

  • Convenience. Clothes indoor dryers are fast and easy to use, which is appealing to many busy Americans.
  • Climate. In some parts of the United States, the weather is not always suitable for air-drying clothes. For example, it may be too cold or rainy to line dry clothes during the winter months.
  • Lack of space. If you live in an apartment or condo, you may not have access to a backyard or porch where you can line-dry your clothes.

Do line-dried clothes last longer?

Clothes that are line-dried typically last a lot longer than machine-dried items. The heat and tumbling action inside dryers can damage clothing fibers over time. Air drying avoids that wear and tear. Without extreme heat exposure, line-dried garments maintain their color vibrancy and structural integrity for more years of use.

Does air drying prevent shrinking?

Air drying is an extremely effective way to prevent the shrinking of clothing and fabrics. With no heat applied, the natural air drying process allows fibers to smoothly return to their original dimensions as moisture evaporates.

Further reading

Do dryer sheets contain harmful chemicals?

What are the best laundry detergents for sensitive skin?

Will essential oils on my dryer balls stain clothes?

Why do people put metal safety pins on wool dryer balls?

Do dryer balls actually work?

Wool dryer balls or dryer sheets—what to choose?

What are natural fabric softener substitutes?

Are wool dryer balls better than tennis balls?


Denkenberger, D. (2011, November 9). Residential Clothes Dryers: A Closer Look at Energy Efficiency Test Procedures and Savings Opportunities. NRDC. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/ene_14060901a.pdf

Laundry Best Practices | ENERGY STAR. (n.d.). Energy Star. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.energystar.gov/products/laundry_best_practices

Cotton Fabrics Damaged By High Dryer Temperatures. (1999, August 31). ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990831080157.htm