Laundry is already a multistep chore. Between separating colors, putting my delicates in a mesh bag, making sure the machine is on the right setting, moving the load to the dryer, then folding and putting everything away, I don’t want the process to go on longer than it has to. That’s why, when I see the dreaded “lay flat to dry” instruction on the tag of my favorite sweater, I feel like I could scream. Even if I can’t toss it in the dryer, wouldn’t it be easier to hang it to dry, lay it on a drying rack, or even just drape it across the back of a chair so it doesn’t take up prime real estate in my home? 

But before you or I take any shortcuts and potentially ruin our clothes, I asked laundry experts Patric Richardson, from Discovery+’s “The Laundry Guy,” and Miguel Villalobos, head of experience and revenue at on-demand laundry service dree, about why some clothing tags suggest laying flat to dry in the first place, if you can get away with ignoring the instruction, and how to truly best go about drying these items.

How Necessary Is It to “Lay Flat to Dry”?

Why is this very specific instruction suggested to begin with? “As the garment dries, it will take the shape of whatever it is on, which is why it’s important to lay flat any items you may not want to spend time reshaping with the iron or steamer,” Villalobos explains. Think about it like this: When you put your wet hair into a braid, once it dries, your strands have imprints from going from wet to dry in that shape. 

So laying clothes on a drying rack means they will develop a bend from the rack. And unfortunately, you can’t put these clothes on a hanger either. The extra weight clothes have when they’re wet means they could stretch out if hung up. This can also lead to worn-out collars and bumps in the shoulders. 

Villalobos knows all of this from personal experience: “The first time I hung-dried a merino wool sweater, I noticed how the shape and overall drape of the garment were affected by my drying rack,” he says. “The same thing happened when I hung a cashmere cardigan on a hanger after washing — the shoulders sagged, which caused significant stretching of the neckline.”

Moral of the story: “Laying flat to dry allows your garment to retain its shape and utility for years to come,” Villalobos says. (But don’t toss out your drying rack just yet! While garments made from delicate materials, like wool and cashmere, should be laid flat to dry, clothes made out of durable material, like denim and cotton, can be hung to dry, Villalobos adds.)

How to Properly Lay Flat to Dry (Even with Minimal Space)

The most tedious part of this drying method might be the amount of time it takes for the garment to be ready to wear. To cut down drying time, Richardson suggests first getting as much excess water out of the garment as possible. “Lay your item flat on a dry towel and roll the towel like a wrap or a burrito,” says Richardson. “By rolling it this way, you’re squeezing out the excess water without wringing the item.” Another way Richardson suggests removing water is by putting the item in a mesh bag and running it through the spin cycle in the washing machine. Richardson swears your garment will dry in half the time. 

Additionally, when laying flat to dry, don’t put a garment in direct sunlight because it can cause the colors to fade, and place a towel between the item and the flat surface to soak up water from the item and protect it and your drying area. If you’re super limited on space and/or want to protect your surfaces, you can purchase a flat drying rack and lay your garment flat on that. Make sure the item is spread out and not folded in any way. And remember to flip the item onto its opposite side once the front side is dry to the touch to ensure that the item thoroughly dries. Your clothes should be ready to wear in a day or two.

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.