The best way to cut down on home energy use may be to find the most efficient washer and then line dry your clothes.

Photograph by Boutet Jean-Pierre/Photolibrary

By Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic

What to Look For

There’s one common eco-certification that consumers won’t find when looking for a new clothes dryer—an Energy Star label.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program rates energy efficiency. Energy Star doesn’t certify dryers because current models all use roughly the same amount of energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dryer use accounts for six to seven percent of U.S. residential CO₂ emissions. In most homes, dryers eat up more energy than any other appliance, except the fridge.

Still, there are ways to reduce any dryer’s environmental impact. Look for the following features when shopping for a new dryer:

  • Moisture sensors: Most modern machines are equipped with moisture sensors, which stop the drying cycle when clothes are ready instead of spinning until a pre-set time limit has expired. Such sensors can cut energy use and electric bills. The most efficient dryers have sensors in the drying drum itself, trimming energy use by some 15 percent. Most other dryers simply sense the temperature of exhaust air. These are estimated to save about 10 percent.

    Most dryers manufactured over the last decade or so have moisture sensors, so the machine you already have in your home may be almost as efficient as the newest models available. Therefore, green advocates recommend keeping dryers for a dozen years or so, rather than upgrading and adding more appliances to ever-growing landfills.

  • Pair up washing and drying: Maximizing washer efficiency will help with overall laundry energy savings. “We have huge gains in washer [efficiency],” said EPA spokesperson Maria Vargas. “And because of the gains in washers, there are savings in dryers. [Washers] spin the clothes so much drier that you need a lot less drying time.” Read our Buying Guide for washing machines.

  • Smart Dryers on the Way: There’s another reason to wait before buying a new dryer: starting in 2011, “smart’ dryers should be available. These green machines are designed to use power only during the electricity grid’s non-peak periods. That reduces overall demand and the emissions from largely coal-fired power plants.

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