The Best Dryer I've Ever Owned
And one year of Engineering Brain!
Holy cow, I can’t believe I’ve been writing this Substack for an entire year already! Thank you to all my subscribers. You keep me going, even when the ideas and words come slowly.
I’ve mostly kept to the idea of looking at the world from an engineering point of view, and I certainly intend to do so. There are plenty more normal things we take for granted all the time that it’s fun to dive into, and I’d also like to do some more small projects and describe what I did and why.
For today, however, I’d like to return to dryers for a moment.
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As I said in my last post, dryers are relatively simple devices, and the need for them is also simple: we wash clothes with water, and it ends up clean, but wet. Most of us would prefer clean and dry. However, several common fibers don’t do well when heated in a regular tumble dryer.
These days, I have the choice of hanging these garments on a door frame, or laying them out on a towel, someplace where the cats hopefully won’t decide they’ll make a nice bed when the drying is complete. But for several years, we owned the Maytag Neptune Drying Center, pictured above. On the bottom, a fairly standard tumbler dryer, but on top, a clever solution for clothes that needed to be line dried or dried flat.
Along the top, a bar for hanging items, and a little space on each side for longer items to hang down. And for things that need to be dried flat, mesh shelves that can be installed as needed. When turned on, the dryer circulated warm air gently through the cabinet. It still took hours to dry a sweater, but the doors kept the cats out. And the bar would move from side to side a bit, helping shake wrinkles out of anything hanging.
Maytag only made them for a few years, and I kept mine going as long as I could, but the heating element went out, and I replaced it once, but when that one gave out, I couldn’t find another. And as much as I thought it was a good idea, I’ve never seen anyone make anything like it.
I can think of two reasons they didn’t keep making it. Well, three, really. The third is a problem with the branding: the Maytag Neptune line had a terrible reputation, although it was mostly the washing machines. The company settled a class action lawsuit in 2005, offering repairs or replacements to almost two million customers. But that’s a branding issue and doesn’t really address why the concept as a whole didn’t catch on.
Which leaves us with the original two issues: size and target audience. Both have to do with who buys appliances, and where they tend to go after they are bought.
This thing is big. The width and depth are fairly standard for a dryer, but it stood over six feet tall, which doesn’t work if where you’re putting it has shelves or cabinets over the washer/dryer hookups, which is not uncommon from what I’ve seen. And remodeling your laundry area only makes sense if you have a large number of items that can’t go in the tumble dryer.
Don’t get me wrong, my wife has a fair number of dresses and sweaters marked “Line dry only” or “Dry flat”. But my twenty year old daughter avoids those kinds of things, because she would prefer to not worry about it. And the clothes that I and my sons wear can mostly be described as “Wash with the strongest chemicals available, dry with anything that doesn’t actually light it on fire.”
That makes my wife the most likely to need the Drying Center in our house, except... even in Florida, dresses can be hung on the frame of a low traffic doorway, and they will dry after a few hours. And sweaters can be laid out on a towel, preferably in a room that the cats have been removed from and the door closed firmly to keep them from returning. My wife wears sweaters a lot less often in Florida than she did when we lived in Utah (where we owned the Drying Center), though acclimation to the climate makes them necessary when the temperature dips below 60°F, and that has happened a lot more often this year it seems.
What I’m trying to say is that this is an awesome solution that most people would use if it didn’t add several hundred dollars to the price tag and wasn’t twice the size of a typical dryer. And if there weren’t low tech, low (or no) cost alternatives. That combination, in addition to the issues surrounding the paired washing machine, kept this concept from catching on with buyers, so other manufacturers didn’t try to improve the general idea in any way.
And I still miss the one we had.