Even the best clothes dryer isn’t terribly efficient

The clothes washer you buy today uses about 75% less energy and 40% less water than the one available in 1981. That’s progress! Unfortunately, clothes dryers haven’t made those kinds of strides—at least not here in the United States.

A report issued this summer by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that Americans spend $9 billion a year to run their dryers. (And the Environmental Protection Agency estimates 43 billion kilowatt hours are devoted to running dryers in the United States every year.) Switching to the most efficient versions available overseas could cut that figure almost in half—to $5 billion per year. That switch would also cut carbon dioxide emissions by 16 million tons. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

The organization is calling for higher energy standards right here at home, but until that happens, there are a few things you can do to make your clothes dryer operate more efficiently.

  • Keep the lint trap clean. Your dryer works harder when the lint trap is clogged, and you save more than $30/year just by cleaning yours before every dryer load.
  • Run full (but not jam-packed) loads. Too few items in a load and you pull way more energy than you actually need to get them dry. Cram the dryer full, and your dryer has to keep running and running to dry them all.
  • Err on the side of too little time. You can always run the dryer an extra few minutes, but running the dryer just 15 minutes extra per load shows up on your annual electricity budget as about $35.
  • Stop the dryer before your clothes are bone-dry. The extra benefit here? Your clothes last longer.
  • Match up your fabrics. You’re losing money if you run two long-drying loads when you could have separated the clothes differently and had one long load and one short load.
  • Hang dry whatever you can. Use drying racks or a clothesline to let your clothes dry on their own time, and without adding a cent to your energy bills.

Because energy efficiency doesn’t vary much among brands, there’s no Energy Star rating to look for. (One has been proposed recently, however, so this may change soon.) Choosing a dryer with a moisture sensor can cut down on the time your dryer runs.

Until appliance makers take a leap forward in dryer efficiency, your best bet is maximizing the efficiency of the dryer you have. In other words, go forth and dry, but don’t forget to take those few steps above. You’ll still get to wrap up in freshly dried towels—and see drops in your energy costs.