Creases and wrinkles are the enemy, whether they're on a bedspread, Monday's clean white shirt or that nice pair of comfy sweats you've reserved for weekend relaxing. If you hate, hate, hate to iron, limiting your clothing choices to permanent press garments can get old after a while. Might there be a solution on the market? Is there a magical machine that dries clothes without wadding them into a crinkled, misshapen and distorted mess?
Steam drying is a new take on an old idea, using water vapor to tackle wrinkled textiles. Steam dryer manufacturers claim their products relax wrinkles, reducing the need for ironing. They don't claim to eliminate the need for ironing altogether. You've seen the difference between taking a load of laundry out of a conventional dryer right away and letting it sit for a few minutes or more. Even if you're speedy at removing a cotton shirt, say, it might not look creased, but it won't look ironed either. To get that crisp, pressed look still requires pressing with an iron. For fabrics that are naturally less likely to wrinkle, the results are somewhat better, but independent testing labs like Consumer Reports haven't found steam dryers significantly better than conventional dryers when it comes to removing visible wrinkles from clothing.
Steam dryers are slightly more expensive than regular dryers, but they do have some neat features you may want to explore. Even though steam doesn't get tough wrinkles out, it may relax them somewhat, making them easier to iron out later. If you've ever scorched a cotton shirt trying to press out the area around the cuffs or collar, a steam dryer may leave a fainter wrinkle that could be better than a tight, pesky one. Steam dryers are better at deodorizing laundry, too. Because they use high temperature steam, they kill more bacteria and can banish that smoky, musty smell on clothes that sometimes lingers through multiple washings. (If you're really interested in killing germs in the laundry, look for dryer features like "sanitizing" or "antibacterial" cycles.)
Steam drying can make fabric feel softer, too. This could make your blankets, sheets, cotton undies and jammies feel more fluffy and cozy.
Steam dryers also do a good job of refreshing clothes. If you defer to the drycleaner every time you wear "good" garments, a 10-minute tumble in a steam dryer could relax and renew silk, wool and other fine fabrics enough to save on a couple of monthly dry cleaning bills. This may not make a steam dryer the wonder appliance you'd hoped, but it could make laundry day a little easier to tackle.