When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alternatives to a Clothes Dryer

Not all of us are blessed with laundry appliances in our homes. For me, not having a washing machine and a dryer readily available 24/7 without spending gas to get there, means that one of my biggest "mom" challenges is the dreaded "out of clothes" scenario. I know, a lot of parents don't have to worry about this because public school kids have a ton of freedom in what they get to wear each day. Even in schools that claim to have a uniform, they really have just a dress code. My definition of uniform means you get 2 choices. Public school "uniforms" come down to a required color of top and pants that must be worn. Even then, there are loads of exceptions for "school-approved" shirts like clubs and athletics. But I'm getting away from my point.

My daughter is, through the grace of God, on a scholarship at a Catholic school (finally! It only took 6 years to get her back into one!) and she has to wear a very specific uniform. The skorts aren't cheap. I managed to scrape together enough to get her 3 of them and 2 P.E. uniforms. We couldn't get old uniforms because apparently no one at the school has even been as big as my daughter. All the donated uniforms were much too small. Thankfully, she gets to wear the P.E. uniforms twice a week and has to wear the skorts the other 3 days. That means that we should have enough to make it through a typical week, unless there's a Mass on one of her P.E. days. Then she has to go to school in her regular uniform and change into the P.E. uniform after the Mass. That means 4 days of the skorts instead of three. Doing the math, laundry day doesn't always add up conveniently for me. It's not economical to run to the laundromat just to wash one uniform, or even the 3 of them--those machines are high-capacity and the quarters add up over time. So, I sometimes have to hand-wash a uniform to get through the week.

Hand-washing at home is no problem. That's what sinks and tubs are for and any soap, even hand soap, works when getting off average non-red-food stains and everyday odors. The issue becomes hand-drying. Now, if you live in the southwest, like west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or parts of California, the easy option, assuming you started early enough in the day, is to let the sunshine do your drying for you. In the summer, my mom can put up a whole load of laundry on the line and the first pieces would be almost completely dry by the time she got the last piece on the line. This option does not work as well in colder and more damp climates and it certainly is a challenge in a place like Houston or anywhere in Florida. It's hot here, but so humid that clothes take hours if not a day and a half to dry on the line. That's also assuming it's not raining when you put out your laundry. So, I've found a couple more creative ways to dry my emergency laundered clothing.

[For any of these methods to work well, you'll need to use every ounce of hand strength to strangle out as much water as possible beforehand. Also, synthetic fabrics like polyester will take much longer to dry than natural fibers like cotton, so plan accordingly.]

Tried and True: Iron
The most effective method, and one I'm sure will come as little surprise to anyone who's done any household chores, is the iron. Make sure you lay down a thick dry towel on your ironing board or other flat surface. Plastic tables are NOT recommended. Turn off the steam function on your iron--if you can't because this is not an option, then I first recommend you get a more modern iron, also try another method to dry your clothes. Put the iron up as high as it will go, ignoring the indication that you have to have steam on at certain temperatures; trust me, you don't. Iron the clothing. It works best if you use even strokes and as few layers of clothing as possible. My daughter's skorts have 4 layers in the middle: 2 for the legs, 1 for the front wrap around, 1 for the back wrap around. It's not as easy to iron these as it is a t-shirt, which I can just open up and rotate around the ironing board as I move. If the clothes layers cannot be separated for some reason, then your ironing time should be doubled in order for the heat to completely penetrate all layers. On any piece of clothing, pay extra attention to the hems and on bottoms give extra work on the waistband. These are areas that automatically have extra layers, so they will retain more water.

Cooking Your Laundry: Oven
Here's a little more creative method, one that most people might not consider: use your oven. There are two set-up options here. You can either place the clothing directly in the oven (best for larger items) or you can put it on a pan. If your oven is like mine, you probably don't want to place any clean clothes directly on the rack for fear of spilled food baking into it. A simple solution is to take out one of the oven racks and wrap it in aluminum foil before you get started, then proceed as normal. I also recommend using foil to wrap any pan you might use for the same reason. Sometimes foods get caked into the pan over time and, while it may not affect your baking, wet material can sometimes absorb and synthesize the stuff, defeating the purpose of washing it in the first place. Once your oven or pan is prepped, put the oven on no more than 300 degrees. If you have super delicate material or a ton of metal or plastic on the clothes, then you might want to lower it to 150-200 degrees. Yeah, I'm talking Fahrenheit. Sorry, you'll have to convert if you use a metric oven. It usually takes about half an hour on 300 to dry a single piece of clothing, 45 minutes for jeans or really thick material. The other benefit of the oven is you get the same warm result as a regular dryer, but you probably used a ton less energy to do it.

Think Inside the Box: Microwave
Okay, I'll admit that I got this idea off of a TV show I saw as a kid. I think it was an episode of Married: With Children in which one of the kids mentions their mom microwaving their clothes. Deep down, I know the comment was meant to imply that this was a stupid idea. After all, Peggy Bundy was not known for her domestic prowess. But the idea stuck with me. If you think about it, a microwave does a pretty good job of drying out stuff. How many times have you put something in there only to have it shrink on you because you left it in too long. In a pinch, you can place your hand-washed clothes in a microwave, on high, for no more than 5 minutes and it will be almost completely dry, depending on the thickness of the material. If you need to, you can flip the clothes over and pop them in again for another 3-5 minutes. However, DO NOT use the microwave on clothes with a metal (as opposed to vinyl) zipper or metal studs/buttons. I actually burned a hole (no fire, thankfully) in a pair of jeans because I didn't think about the metal button or zipper. The clothes were dry, but also unusable. I recommend the microwave for things like t-shirts or elastic waist-band shorts, anything with very little meltable plastic or metal parts.

So, what other methods have you used to dry your clothes? I'd love to hear your ideas/thoughts in the comments below.