Both laundry methods have their pros and cons.

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Your dryer might be a convenient way to quickly and efficiently finish up a load of laundry, but unfortunately, it can consume quite a bit of energy. Additionally, not every garment should see the inside of your machine. On the other side of the spectrum, line drying may be more ecological, says Cyndi Bray, the inventor and owner of laundry company Wad-Free® by Brayniacs LLC, but it's not always feasible—or even desired. Which method is best should actually depend on the items you are working with. Ahead, exactly how to know when to line versus machine dry.

Read the Tags

According to Bray there are a few general rules of thumb to follow when deciding between machine or line drying. "First, check the tags. Anything that says 'line dry' or 'lay flat to dry' can't tolerate the heat or the tumbling action of the dryer—or both," she says. "Synthetic fabrics in particular have a longer life span when air dried, and delicate items may come apart if placed in the machine (even when enclosed in a delicates bag)." Items like yoga pants and lacy intimates should always be hung to dry. "Fortunately, due to the properties of the material, these items tend to air dry quickly," she says.

Consider Shrinkage

Materials like cotton are more likely to shrink during the first few drying cycles, particularly at a high heat. "If this 'relaxation shrinkage' is not desired for something like your new, perfectly-fitting jeans, smooth them out while they are still wet to reduce wrinkles and put them on the line," she says. Similarly, if you're worried about a garment loosing its shape in your machine, then it's best to air dry. "When air drying shirts or anything with structure, drape them gently over a dowel—rather than on a hanger—so that pointy marks aren't left in the shoulders," she says.

laundry drying on clothes line
Credit: Canetti / Getty Images

Think About Space Constraints

Drying bed sheets used to be both a time- and energy-consuming task; they would inevitably tangle and ball up, requiring several cycles to fully and evenly dry, says Bray, noting that few of us actually have the space to line dry such large items. Of course, modern machines tend to be larger and more energy conscious, voiding both pain points—which means how you choose to finish your bed linens is entirely up to you (and your space constraints). Who doesn't love the scent of sun-dried sheets, though?

Extend the Life of Your Laundry

Running a hot dryer can shorten the lifespan of your fabric, so air drying your garments may be the better choice if you have the time, the space, and of course, the weather for it. If not, Bray says that you can make some modifications to your dryer settings to get similar benefits. "Do yourself a favor and dial the heat setting down to low. Even though the load will take longer to dry, selecting low heat uses far less energy and your articles will last longer," she says.

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