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Green and Hip, on the Cheap

Ylan Mui

Today we'd like to introduce Frances Stead Sellers, health editor at The Washington Post. She has some tips acquired from across the pond on how to cut corners on the basic task of drying clothes. Got a cheaper way to do an everyday chore? Tell us about it muiy[at] or trejosn[at]

I can’t say it was the rising BGE bill that made me hang a washing line across the backyard last summer and erect a wooden drying rack in the kitchen this winter, though running a 30-year-old dryer like mine for several hours a week certainly wastes money. And that’s after investing in an energy-efficient washer that spins our clothes close to dry. (New dryers offer fewer benefits.)

What really prompted me to change my habits was the opportunity to indulge the eccentricities of my childhood while appearing hip and green. The England I grew up in made a virtue of self-denial, a thrill out of being thrifty. We switched off lights when we left a room, had hot running water only morning and night, and during rare summer droughts used dirty bathwater to douse the plants. It wasn’t that we were strapped for cash; we were eco-cheapskates.

On blustery days, our clothes slap-danced on the line outside. And when it rained, we folded sheets and towels, shirts and trousers and hung them in front of the cast-iron Aga that warmed the kitchen. “Aga-ironed” we’d call them hours later, stiff from the stove’s even, radiated heat.

It’s always bothered me, at home now in Baltimore, that the dryer’s hot air is allowed to escape, vented out of the basement to heat the great outdoors, while we spend precious dollars on forced air heat, billowing up from the same basement through black registers in the floorboards.

So now, I save some hot air and put the rest to work. I still use my dryer, but less. On breezy days, when I have time, the clothes jig on the line outside; and when it rains, they hang on my wooden rack over the register in the kitchen, shirt sleeves waving in sympathy with each waft of rising heat.

Saving small change? Yes.

But I like to tell myself, a little smugly I admit, that I’m really helping save the world.

— Frances Stead Sellers

Do try this at home! The U.S. Department of Energy offers this breakdown of how much energy your dryer and other appliances use. The California Energy Commission has a good list of money-saving and planet-friendly tips.

By Ylan Mui  |  April 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cheap & Green , Ylan Q. Mui  
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Next: Eating Out Early and on the Cheap


I believe you used the word spendthrift incorrectly.

Posted by: crystalginger | April 8, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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