As dryers have become more energy efficient, dry times have gotten longer. In response, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found a way to have the best of both worlds: an ultrasonic dryer that is five times as efficient and also dries a medium-size load in about 20 minutes. Yes, it’s true: You could wear fresh-from-the-dryer underwear every morning.
The secret is using transducers instead of heat, which conventional dryers use. The piezoelectric transducers expand and contract, vibrating to remove water from clothes. Two years ago, when we first covered the ultrasonic dryer, Ayyoub Momen, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge, had created a very small prototype. It was so tiny, it could only hold a small swatch of fabric — but it could dry it less than 20 seconds. Momen was inspired by ultrasonic humidifiers, which turn water into a cool mist using high-frequency vibrations.
Now, thanks to its partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy and General Electric, Oak Ridge has a full-scale prototype. The DOE has spent $880,000 to help fund the project. If the final product manages to be as efficient as the prototype, the energy savings could be substantial. Right now, Americans spend about $9 billion a year drying clothes in appliances, up to four percent of the residential energy use in the U.S. “This dryer technology has the potential to save somewhere [around] 1 percent of the overall energy consumption of the United States,” Momen told Marketplace in 2015.
In addition to cost and time savings, the ultrasonic dryer would have other benefits. It generates less lint (which can cause fires) and will be gentler on clothes, as heat tends to lead to fading.
But don’t ditch your dryer just yet. It could be another five years before the ultrasonic dryer hits the market, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.