Tumble-dryers are the worst culprits of the lot. They can use up as much energy as a washing mashine, dish-washer and refridgerator combined in one drying cycle. That's greedy, by anyone's standards. Although changes have been made to the controls and external looks of the beast in the utility room over the years, the basic principle of drying through heat and agitation remains unchanged since the machine was first designed back in the nineteen-forties.
There's a move, particularly in America, to use energy-saving techniques long established in Europe to help take the pressure off. And even simple steps like running dryers at a slightly lower temperature can cut down massively on the power they suck out of the grid.
But there may be another way. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have come up with a new way of drying clothes: vibration. The secret, according to head researcher on the project Ayyoub M. Momen, is in using the same components found in commercial humidifiers that turn water into fine droplets. He placed a piece of soaked fabric on top of these transducers. What happened next, he told USA Today, was a real eureka moment:
"It was mind-blowing when we saw it the first time, how quickly it can dry a piece of fabric. It was amazing. Boom, it was dry in 14 seconds."
Momen estimates that using this new technology, he could cut drying time on a full load down to 20 minutes. This would be a major saving to power needs in the US, potentially enough to take 3 full size coal-fired plants offline each year. Or, to put it another way, 16 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Momen and his team are now working on a full-sized prototype, which they hope to have ready next year. It's an exciting upgrade to a process that many of us take for granted. Although of course, you could always cut out that bit of the energy bill completely and just use a clothes line...