Nice Idea From the Past: The Airing Cupboard

Keep your linen warm and toasty with a traditional British technique.

White tiled laundry room with open cupboards showing washer, dryer, and laundry on shelves


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In Britain, many people do not have clothes dryers. When winter comes, they hang their clothes inside on drying racks—lots of racks—in 87% of the houses. This can cause problems in modern, insulated, and sealed houses, as one researcher tells the BBC.

Researcher Rosalie Menon said people were not aware how much moisture this added to the air. She said, "Going into people's homes, we found they were drying washing in their living rooms, in their bedrooms. Some were literally decorating the house with it, but from just one load of washing two litres of water will be emitted."

This much moisture in a sealed space can lead to mold and dust mites, causing lung infections, and is a "health risk to those prone to asthma, hay fever and other allergies."

Enter the 'Airing Cupboard'

The answer appears to be a return to a traditional design idea—the airing cupboard. More commonly known as a linen closet in the U.S., the British version is always built around a hot water tank, which must be housed somewhere near the kitchen or bathroom, and usually has spare room to accommodate shelving around and above it.

There, previous generations of housekeepers and housewives (accustomed to a cool, damp climate with limited outdoor drying days) would stack or hang damp laundry to finish drying completely, as the enclosed space tended to be warmer than the rest of the house, thanks to the normally wasted heat rising off the tank. It was also a place to "air out" laundry that needed to stay fresh-smelling, such as bed linens—hence the name.

Time to Bring It Back

This is quite ingenious, and should be adopted by modern-day homeowners who wish to avoid dryers, whether for sustainability reasons or wanting to prolong the lifespan of their clothes. It's fairly easy to convert a corner with a hot water tank into a clothes-drying area. Install some slatted shelves to allow for airflow and perhaps a rod for hanging items, and use this to dry your laundry when it cannot go outside. Avoid putting truly wet items into an airing cupboard, as too much moisture is more than it can handle, and they may go musty or moldy before drying.

Space out the items on the shelves; don't overcrowd. Clean out the space regularly and measure the humidity if it seems to be getting overly moist. Anything higher than 30-50% humidity may require a dehumidifier, or just leave the door open if it's a closed-off space. Clean on a regular basis, and check for leaks.

An airing cupboard is a great option if you don't have a utility room or garage to handle wet raincoats or damp winter wear like soaked hats, mittens, and boot liners. It removes them from the main living space and ensures fairly prompt drying. You can also store towels or bed linens in pillowcases, baskets, or neat piles on higher slatted shelves, where they'll stay fresh-smelling, even during humid seasons. Add some scented sachets (mint, lavender, lemon) to make it even more appealing.