Newswise – Clothes dryers use up a lot of valuable energy, but most of us don’t have a place to hang our wet clothes out on a line. But if clothes were less wet when they went into the dryer, we wouldn’t have to dry them for as long a time. Now a chemist has invented a chemical clothes wringer to add to our washing machine loads, so that clothes will dry much more quickly–and you can make it at home.

Chemical engineer Dinesh Shah says, “We feel it’s very cost-effective research and convenient for consumers.” The University of Florida, where Shah teaches, has applied for a patent on the product and you may see it in the store soon, since the research that led to its creation was funded with a $200,000 grant from Procter & Gamble.

More than 56% percent of Americans own electric dryers, with a typical dryer handling 300 loads per year. With the average load requiring from 2.7 to 3 kilowatt hours of electricity, that means that drying clothes is 5% of the electricity consumption of most households, costing $2.6 billion a year. Reducing drying times as little as 10% would save consumers $266 a year.

The water-shedding compound was created from a mix of ordinary detergent and fabric softener. The key insight was that the spaces between tiny fibers in the weave of fabrics are made of minute tubes, or capillaries, which retain water due to surface tension. It’s the same phenomenon that causes a submerged straw to hold water when you lift it out of the liquid, as long as you cover it at one end.

Reducing this surface tension reduces the water retained by fabrics. You can make this miracle at home: A simple ratio of any common detergent and a fabric softener, at five parts detergent to one part fabric softener, added when you first put clothes in the washer causes the clothes to shed 20% more water than they would otherwise and to dry 20% faster.

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