Clothes dryers make laundry day less burdensome, but using yours to dry the wrong items can be costly. Learn which fabrics should never go in your dryer and how to dry them instead.
Modern dryers have come a long way from the old-fashioned ones that offered only two settings: on and off. These days, you’ll find tumble dryers with different temperature options and timings. Some have sensors that cut the heat when clothes are dry but keep tumbling to prevent wrinkles. Of course, these innovations all rely on you knowing which items you shouldn’t put in the dryer.
What Not to Dry in the Dryer
With certain fabrics, the reason to skip the dryer is that heat will shrink, warp, or weaken the fibers. The dryer’s tumbling action and friction pose a risk for other items.
1. Fur — Real or Fake
Most people have given up wearing real fur these days, but vintage items often feature it. When real fur gets wet, the high heat causes the hide to crack, which allows the fur to fall out. Faux fur fibers should not go in the dryer because heat can melt them. To dry real or fake fur after it’s wet, lay it flat away from direct heat or sunlight. It may still appear matted after drying. Fluff it by gently brushing it with a soft-bristled brush.
2. Leather, Suede, Faux Leather, and Pleather
As with fur, the dryer’s heat can damage leather and suede items by shrinking and cracking them. Vegan leather and pleather should not go in the dryer because heat can melt them. To dry leather and suede, real or not, blot the smooth side with an undyed cloth to absorb moisture. Lay the item flat to dry away from heat and direct sun. Use a suede brush to restore the nap or fuzzy texture. (I use this one.)
3. Tennis Shoes, Sneakers, and Slippers
Machine washing shoes is a fantastic way to eliminate dirt and odors, but don’t put tennis shoes, canvas shoes, or slippers in your dryer. The adhesives used to glue them together are easily damaged, even on a low heat setting. Also, rubber soles can warp at higher temperatures and separate from the shoe upper. To dry shoes after washing, stuff them with rolled towels to blot moisture and wait an hour. Then, remove the damp towels and let your shoes air-dry away from heat and direct sunlight.
4. Bath Mats and Rubber-Backed Rugs
Bath mats develop bacteria and mildew, leading to odors and issues like athlete’s foot. Rubber-backed welcome mats and small area rugs also pick up lots of dirt. So, you should wash your bath mats at least once a month. Don’t put bath mats in the dryer, though: the heat can crumble and melt the rubber backing. Hang them on a clothesline or use a rack to dry them in a spot with good air circulation.
5. Bras, Tights, and Hosiery
A mesh lingerie bag can protect your bras and hosiery from snags in the dryer, so you may not notice damage at first. Over time, the dryer’s heat will shrink and weaken the elastic and spandex, and you’ll start to notice sag. To keep your bras, hosiery, and tights in peak condition, wash them by hand and air dry them on a flat drying rack. (I use this one, which has shoe-drying supports, too.)
6. Swimwear and Activewear
Modern swimwear and activewear contain spandex, elastic, and sometimes moisture-resistant or wicking materials. High temperatures, like those of a clothes dryer, can shrink and weaken these fibers. You should launder swimsuits and activewear after each use, but skip the dryer. Instead, roll them in a clean towel to blot moisture, then unroll and let them air-dry on a rack or clothesline.
7. Silk, Lace, and Chiffon
Delicate fabrics should never go in the dryer. The tumbling action is likely to cause holes and snags, and the dryer’s heat can set in wrinkles that are almost impossible to iron out. To dry delicates, roll them in a clean towel to blot moisture, unroll them, and air-dry flat on a rack.
8. Sequins, Beads, and Other Embellishments
Some clothing embellishments are glued on, and putting these things in the dryer can melt the glue, so they’ll come apart. Other decorations, like beads and sequins, are sewn-on but will get distorted by heat. For all embellishments, there’s a risk they’ll catch on other items in the dryer and cause snags. To dry embellished items of clothing, lay them flat on a drying rack away from heat or direct sunlight.
9. Sweaters and Wool Items
You should never put sweaters in the dryer, even if they’re synthetic and not made of wool. The dryer’s tumbling action can stretch sweaters out of shape and cause piling. For wool items, the tumbling action roughens and shrinks the fiber’s outer cuticle. Once that happens, it’s very difficult to unshrink wool sweaters. To dry sweaters, roll them in a clean towel to blot moisture, taking care not to stretch them out of shape. Unroll and carefully lift them to a flat, towel-lined rack to finish air-drying.
Take pure velvet to the dry cleaners, but you can machine wash polyester or crushed velvet in cold water at home. Never put velvet in the dryer — abrasion from tumbling and heat will damage it. To dry velvet, lay it flat with the fuzzy side up on a towel-lined rack away from heat and direct sunlight. Once dry, use a soft-bristled brush or suede brush to restore the nap if needed.
Do not put rayon clothing in the dryer. It is not a fabric designed to handle high heat, so it will shrink. Even at lower temperatures, the dryer’s tumbling action can cause snags, pills, and tears. To dry rayon, lay it flat on a rack away from heat and direct sunlight. If needed, use a low-heat iron to touch up wrinkles.
When to Follow the care label
Whether things can go in the dryer isn’t always as simple as the items above. Sometimes, you can ignore the washing instructions, and sometimes you should not.
Do I have to dry-clean it?
With valuable and vintage items, follow the directions on the manufacturer’s care label. If the label is missing, take it to a dry-cleaner to ask their advice. You may be able to wash “dry-clean” clothes at home, though.
What about linen?
Linen can sometimes go in the dryer, and sometimes it should not. Linen clothing that’s been pre-washed as part of the manufacturing process can go in the dryer. Pre-washed linen has also been pre-shrunk — your dryer’s heat won’t cause it to shrink further. To keep its softness, high-quality linen bedding is rarely pre-shrunk, though, so check the label and err on the side of caution if there isn’t one.