You would think that drying the laundry was easier than washing it. After all, you don’t have to sort by light and dark, and very few things have special drying instructions. Well, for the most part, this is true. Most of the laundry can be dried all together without much thought. However, you have to choose your method of drying, and each method has its pros and cons.
The basic methods of drying clothing are: in a mechanical dryer (tumble dryer), drying flat, line drying and using a rack.
The advantages of using a mechanical dryer are that it is quick and it is reliable. If you need something washed and dried overnight or when it’s pouring with rain, a mechanical dryer can see you right. However, the disadvantages of using a mechanical dryer are that the clothes are prone to static created by the process, which allows them to pick up fluff and lint very easily; and the expense of running a dryer, as the consume quite a bit of power. Some delicate items do not respond well to being dried mechanically (e.g. woollens), and some items can be damaged by using too high a heat in the dryer. A friend of this writer once used a mechanical dryer (very carefully and in five-minute “batches”) to shrink a too-large woollen pullover so that it fitted her.
This involves placing the item to be dried on a flat surface (obviously) and placing it somewhere warm. It’s best if the “something flat” is slotted so excess water can drip away and air can circulate under the item. The advantage of this method is that it is perfect for delicate items, especially woollens, as it does not stretch, pull or damage the fibres, allowing the garment to keep its shape. The disadvantage of this method is that it is very slow, and it is not recommended for the majority of items washed (can you imagine drying a king-sized sheet flat?). However, the majority of items do not need to be dried flat. Items that need to be dried flat should be handwashed gently without wringing, and they should not be placed in front of a radiator or (in some cases) in direct sunshine to protect the fabric. Drying flat need not be done indoors – in the past, items were often dried flat over a hedge – drying flat over a lavender or rosemary bush can subtly scent the item, but be careful with snags.
This method involves pegging the items to a stretched out wire or rope located outside (usually). Designs of washing line vary from a basic rope strung between two poles – or even between two windows – to rotary lines that look like giant metal spider-webs. The advantages of this method are that it is free (no energy consumption), clothes do not pick up static and often have fewer creases and wrinkles (apart from peg marks). The disadvantages of line drying are that it is weather-dependent and can be unreliable in the notoriously fickle British climate, and that woollen items can be stretched by being hung up, and items made of silk or lace can be damaged by the pegs. Strong winds can blow items off the line, and some items on washing lines are a target for burglars, especially lacy lingerie. Never leave underwear on the line overnight, just in case.
Washing lines can be strung up inside, and this protects them from the vagaries of climate and gives more protection against theft. However, this can make the room the clothes are strung up in rather damp and humid, so a dehumidifier may be needed (or open the window). Line drying indoor is slower than outdoor drying. A series of lines strung indoors is sometimes called a “Chinese laundry”, although it is a matter of debate whether this term is a tribute to Chinese ingenuity (comparable to “French fry”) or a racist slur referring to the bad old Colonial days when Asians were household skivvies/slaves.
These are similar to washing lines, except pegs are not used and the items are draped over the bars of the rack. The rack is sometimes called a clotheshorse. You or your domestic cleaning London lady can place the rack outside or inside, and they are often used on balconies in upstairs flats, providing security and fresh air. The advantages of drying on a rack are that it is free (no energy costs) and is not dependent on weather. The disadvantages of this method are that it is often slower (especially if the rack is indoors), and some larger items have to be folded several times to fit onto a rack – sheets, for example.
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