Are Dryers Bad for the Environment? 6 Facts You Should Know

Are Dryers Bad for the Environment? 6 Facts You Should Know

published on October 1st, 2022

Dryers are convenient, but they’re not exactly a green appliance. 

Dryers are bad for the environment because they require a lot of energy and can even contribute to pollution.

Here’s everything you need to know about dryers and sustainability. 

1. How Do Dryers Affect the Environment?

The biggest environmental issue when it comes to dryers is high energy use.

Most households do not have renewable electricity.

In the US, just over 12% of energy use comes from renewable sources.

Worldwide the figures aren’t much better, with 80% of the energy coming from burning fossil fuels and only 10% from renewable resources in 2020. 

So, using high-energy appliances furthers reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels and contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. 

Dryers also have an average lifespan of 10 to 13 years, so people typically go through several dryers in their lifetime.

Fortunately, they are recyclable. You may be able to send them to scrap metal recycling facilities. 

Dryers are mostly made of metal – which is non-renewable.

Sourcing metal is also unsustainable as mining is a huge cause of pollution and environmental degradation.

Recycling appliances like this can help reduce demand for new metal and save energy from producing new appliances from scratch. 

An indirect environmental consequence is that dryers can damage clothing, which means you will need to buy new clothes sooner. 

Almost 70% of clothes are made from synthetic fibers, such as acrylic and polyester, which are made from plastic. These materials are non-renewable. 

They’re also a big source of microplastic pollution as these materials shed microfibers in the washing machine and in the dryer. 

Given that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, dryers shortening the lifespan of clothes is a cause of concern. 

2. Do Dryers Cause Pollution?

While using energy sourced from fossil fuels massively contributes to the greenhouse effect, that’s not the only way dryers tie in with pollution. 

A study found that a dryer can release up to 120 million microfibers from clothes every year. 

Microfibers are not just microplastics from synthetic materials like polyester, although these are by far the most problematic.

Natural fabrics like cotton also shed microfibers in the dryer, even if they do not contain plastic.

While the likes of cotton and bamboo may be biodegradable, these materials can still cause environmental harm. 

Water from the washing machine goes through wastewater treatment before eventually ending up in the ocean, whereas dryer air is pushed through vents into the environment without this kind of treatment.

Microplastics from the dryer contribute to plastic pollution; they’re also harmful to small animals who mistake them for food.

Animals who consume microplastics can starve to death as their stomachs are full of materials they cannot digest.

Studies show that microfiber shedding can be harmful to humans and animals who inhale these particles. 

They are harmful to young children whose lungs are still growing; microfibers can also interfere with how the lungs repair themselves. 

Plus, microfibers may even absorb existing environmental pollutants and help to spread them even further. 

3. Do Dryers Contribute to Climate Change?

Using high-energy appliances when the energy is sourced from non-renewable sources contributes to climate change. 

So, electricity use is the biggest way in which dryers contribute to climate change. 

In 2020, a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions were traced back to electricity production. 

While renewable energy is not exactly carbon-neutral, it is considerably greener.

For example, wind turbines and solar panels do not generate CO2 once they’re up and running, but setting them up in the first place requires energy and resources. 

Turning the dryer on for one hour requires 4 kW of energy and accounts for approximately 1.8 kg (4 lbs) of CO2.

If you were to wash and dry a load of laundry every two days, it would account for 440 kg (970 lbs) of CO2 equivalent annually. 

Even newer, more energy-efficient dryers are still big culprits when it comes to climate change, as using them three times a week still generates more than 160 kg of CO2 annually.

4. Are Dryers Necessary?

Whether dryers are necessary depends on where you live and the time of year.

If you live in a cold, damp climate – or it’s wintertime – then dryers are more of a necessity because you cannot sun dry your clothes.

The same may apply if you live in an apartment with no balcony – you have to dry your clothes in the dryer because hanging wet clothes inside can result in mold. 

Many people have no choice but to continue to use a dryer, but it is more sustainable to only use dryers when absolutely necessary. 

5. What Type of Dryer Is the Most Eco-Friendly?

Heat pump tumble dryers and gas tumble dryers appear to be the most eco-friendly, but keep in mind that these dryers are not exactly sustainable either. 

Heat tumble dryers reuse the air that passes through the condenser to dry the clothes, which saves on energy.

It also uses lower temperatures compared to other kinds of dryers, which is also more energy efficient. 

They are even more eco-friendly if you have renewable energy in your home.

When it comes to emissions, condensing dryers release the most CO2, while gas tumble dryers emit around half the emissions of electric dryers.

Unfortunately, gas tumble dryers are not as common as other kinds of dryers, so they can be hard to track down. 

Gas tumble dryers are also not a perfect solution since natural gas is a non-renewable resource and is sourced via mining, so these dryers do not exactly reduce the reliance on fossil fuels. 

6. What Are Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Dryers?

Clothes Line

If you have space in your yard, then the most sustainable way to dry your clothes is on a clothes line.

This completely eliminates the need to use electricity.

It is also gentler than putting your clothes in a dryer, so it can reduce microfiber pollution too. 

Electric Clothes Horse

If you cannot hang your clothes outside, an electric clothes horse may be the solution.

Most people cannot dry their clothes completely on a clothes horse as it would make their living space damp.

However, an electric clothes horse works by heating the rungs, while other kinds have small fans blowing air onto the clothes.

These appear to use less electricity than conventional tumble dryers. 

Dryer Balls

Dryer balls cannot replace a dryer completely, but they can make them more energy efficient. 

These are reusable plastic balls that can reduce the drying time, thus saving energy.

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