If you routinely pluck big wads of lint from the trap of your clothes dryer, you should be wondering, “What is that, and where does all of it come from?” You emptied all pockets, and you’re certain you did not wash a bag of pillow stuffing.
I’ll tell you what it is, because I face the same thing, and I am not happy about it: It’s visual proof the dryer is wearing out our clothes. Those fibers were neatly woven into the clothes only 30 minutes ago. For all the convenience a clothes dryer offers, it may come at the price of having to replace clothes far too often.
Overdrying clothes causes them to shrink, and not only the first time they’re washed. Sleeves and pant legs continually get shorter and shorter when machine-dried improperly.
There are tactics to counteract the abuse caused by a clothes dryer, and you don’t have to go back to the days of sheets frozen stiff on the clothesline. You also don’t have to machine-dry your fabrics to death in order to end up with comfy jeans and soft, fluffy towels.
GET THE SOAP OUT
Residual detergent in fabrics causes them to feel rough. Measure carefully, erring on the side of too little rather than too much detergent. Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the last rinse. This will help remove the residual detergent from the fabrics. Even when air-dried, they will be softer.
Using inexpensive distilled white vinegar in the laundry will whiten whites, brighten colors, reduce odor and soften clothes without harsh chemicals. It has approximately 5% acetic acid, which is so mild that it should not harm washable fabrics or the washing machine itself. Vinegar is probably safe to use in both standard and high-efficiency washers, and it’s beneficial to septic tanks and the environment.
MAKE IT QUICK
Never machine dry clothes — especially jeans — completely. Ten to 15 minutes is sufficient for most items to remove the major wrinkles. Then, hang them from a clothesline, if you’re lucky enough to have one, or use an indoor clothes rack.
HANG FROM THE ANKLES
Remove partially dry jeans and all other pants from the dryer, and hang them by the hems on pant hangers equipped with clothespins or clamps. The weight of the pants will pull the fibers into place and keep the pants from getting shorter.
When you need something to dry in a big hurry, here’s a great tip: Place the wet item and one dry bath towel into the dryer. Set on the highest temperature safe for that particular item. You will have dry jammies (or whatever) in less than half the time, because the towel will absorb a great deal of moisture.
NEVER PUT THIS IN THE DRYER
Any item that has a rubber backing, such as a bath rug, should never come in contact with the inside of a dryer. Lay it flat to air-dry, and that rubber backing will last a long time. If you put them through a drying cycle or two, then you should expect that backing to crack, flake and finally crumble off. What a mess.
DON’T KILL THE SPANDEX
Fabrics that contain spandex, latex, elastic or have painted or silkscreened logos should not meet the heat of a clothes dryer. Even the elastic in pajamas, underwear and so on will break down quickly if dried on “hot.” Make sure you always read the labels to determine fabric content and laundering instructions. Get a portable drying rack, or install a few extra towel bars so you can air-dry these more delicate types of fabric.
If you’ve ever encountered the mystery of tiny holes in T-shirts, we can probably solve it right now. They happen because of zippers, especially the metal type on jeans. When left unzipped, the zipper turns into a tiny chainsaw as it agitates and tumbles through the wash and dry process. The solution is to always close zippers before they go into the washer and dryer.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”