The first really new way to dry clothes in over 100 years
Our clothes dryer just celebrated its 9th birthday, which in appliance years is equivalent to about 102. The alta kaka still manages to get our clothes dry but is showing definite signs of the terminal condition of POD (planned obsolescence disorder). Since we’d rather not watch her suffer through a long and painful decline on life-support, we’re looking into options for pulling the plug and finding a replacement.
My wife began some preliminary on-line shopping and discovered that for the first time in more than 100 years, there’s a new option available for drying clothes. This news spurred the Gadget Guru into action to learn about how it works and what makes it so unique.
Tracing the history of clothes drying was not a very lengthy task. Way back when, after donning the first loin cloths and various animal skin garments that eventually evolved into what we now know as clothing, our ancestors realized that smelly and soiled outfits are not particularly pleasant.
After washing their loin clothes in the nearest body of water, our ancestors hung them up on low hanging branches to dry in the sun. Tens of thousands of years later much of the world still does essentially the same thing.
With the industrial revolution came some breakthroughs in washing and drying: First the washboard and later hand-cranked and electrically rotated mechanical washers; likewise, mechanical dryers had humble beginnings – initially hand-cranked rollers that wrung the water from clothing (think pasta maker) and in France in 1799 M. Ponchon patented a hand-cranked vented drum suspended over a wood fire (not unlike a rotisserie to roast a pig).
Following the availability of electric power for the first time at the start of the 20th century, Ponchon’s idea was updated and the first electric clothes dryers were born. And except for some minor improvements (heating more efficiently with gas, use of sensors to stop the heating cycle) clothes dryers of today are essentially unchanged.
Technically speaking, from the beginning of time until today, there have been only two basic methods of drying clothes: natural evaporation and direct heating. So the recent roll-out of an improved and an entirely new way to dry clothes is a pretty big deal.
The process uses a heat pump (similar to an air conditioner) to circulate hot air, but more importantly, reduce humidity inside the dryer, allowing moisture in the clothes to evaporate much more efficiently at a lower temperature.
Unlike current dryers that must vent this moist air through an exhaust pipe, the heat pump dryer condenses the moisture and removes it as water and recycles dry air back in a closed loop system. Plus, the “waste heat” used to lower the humidity and condense the water vapor is repurposed back to heat the clothes. Without the need for venting, the money we spend to heat or cool indoor air to keep us comfortable is not wasted by pumping that conditioned indoor air outside the house. Since it operates at lower temperatures, it places less wear and tear on the clothing so they last longer.
Too good to be true? What’s the catch? Not surprisingly, there’s always a trade-off and in this case one down side is it takes a bit longer to dry clothes in this manner (about 90 minutes for a Normal cycle). But the first model distributed by Whirlpool will allow you to add supplementary heat to speed the process along with a lower, but still significant energy reduction.
In the same way the Tesla relies solely on electric power for propulsion, the Whirlpool dryer eliminates the usual vent pipe and relies totally on the heat pump to remove water vapor. Another heat pump dryer distributed by LG is also equipped with a conventional vent so it can be operated in either mode, similar to the Prius hybrid. Also, like its eco-friendly automotive counterparts, you’ll probably pay a premium for a dryer of this type in the near-term, but utilities and government sponsored energy rebates are likely, which will offset the penalty.
But on the plus side, in full heat pump “Eco” mode you can expect a 25 – 50% reduction in energy use. Plus, further energy savings that result because the home’s heating and air conditioning systems don’t have to make up for conditioned air that has been pumped through the dryer outside the house. So it seems like the no-brainer dryer of the future – look for it coming soon to a PC Richards near you.