Why Your Clothes Dryer Is a Carbon-Spewing Energy Hog

While other appliances have become superefficient, dryers are stuck in the 1980s.

(Photo: Flickr/Getty Images)

Jun 17, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

The next time you throw a load of wet clothes in your dryer, think about this: We’re collectively consuming $9 billion worth of energy—2 percent of the United States’s total energy demand—every time we take our clothes for a spin.

In fact, dryers suck up more power than refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers combined and spew as much carbon as three big coal-fired power plants, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and energy consulting firm Ecova.

Why? When it comes to mandating improved government energy-efficiency standards for appliances, the dryer has been a laundry room orphan.

“It’s time to bring U.S. clothes dryers into the modern era and achieve some of the massive efficiency gains all the other major home appliances have seen,” said Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards and lead author of the report. “While dryers have received fancy new electronic displays, the insides have remained virtually unchanged and are in serious need of a makeover.”

European, Australian, and Asian clothes dryers use heat pump technology that improves efficiency by as much as 60 percent. If Americans manufacturers adopted such technology, they could save $4 billion a year in energy costs, according to the report. But similar dryers won’t be available in the U.S. until 2015 or 2016.

That’s not the case with other appliances. The most energy-efficient clothes washers available in the U.S. today use 75 percent less energy and 40 percent less water than 1981 models. And dishwashers and refrigerators use at least 50 percent less electricity than their 1980s-era counterparts.

California and the federal government have issued mandatory energy efficiency standards for refrigerators seven times since the 1970s, according to Horowitz. Yet clothes dryer standards have only been updated three times, and then with only “modest energy savings,” he wrote.

So why the stepchild treatment? Industry has lagged because it has used the profits made from dryers to subsidize the higher costs of manufacturing washers as well as the money it has put into technology upgrades, the report says. And since washers and dryers are usually sold for the same price and in pairs, manufacturers want to keep dryer costs down.

But why has the U.S. Department of Energy been so slow to issue more stringent energy efficiency regulations for dryers?

“When it comes to laundry, energy-efficient regulations in the U.S. have focused on clothes washers,” Horowitz says. “This is in part due to the fact that efficient washers not only save energy but use a lot less water too.”

A draft of a new standard for dryers is not expected until 2017—a year or two after some manufacturers introduce more energy efficient models.

And the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, which encourages people to buy energy-efficient appliances through its Energy Star program, only issued its first label for dryers just last month. Dryers that consume 20 percent less electricity than the federal standard qualify for the Energy Star label.

Of course, there is a way to make drying clothes 100 percent energy efficient and carbon free: Hang your laundry outside and let the sun do the job.