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What Is an Airing Cupboard?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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In the heart of many British homes lies the airing cupboard, a practical space that not only houses essential heating elements like boilers or hot water heaters but also serves as a sanctuary for drying clothes and storing linens. According to a report by the Energy Saving Trust, heating systems are a crucial component in UK households, with water heating accounting for around 15% of a typical gas heated home's energy bills. 

The airing cupboard capitalizes on this heat output, providing an energy-efficient solution for drying garments and preserving the quality of fabrics. Often referred to as a "hot press" in some regions, this closet's warm environment is ideal for ensuring that your textiles are dry, aired, and ready for use, reflecting a blend of traditional practice and modern energy consciousness.

The size of an airing cupboard varies. It is typically located near a stairway landing or along a hall, and it is often close to a location where hot water is used, such a bathroom or kitchen. Depending on the heating and cooling system involved, the cupboard may hold a water heater, a boiler for hot water and steam heat, or some other form of heater. The space is designed to be large enough to allow relatively easy servicing of the devices it holds, and in some cases this area is deliberately built with room for storage.

As one might imagine, these closets are warm, thanks to the ambient heat generated by the heaters that they are built to store. This warmth has historically been utilized by housewives for things like drying delicate hand wash items, heating damp towels to get moisture out of them, and for drying wet coats, sweaters, and so forth. When an airing cupboard has shelves for storage, these can be used to store linens, ensuring that they stay dry even through long periods of storage.

The warm environment of the cupboard tends to make it a popular feature with house pets, especially cats, particularly when the area is used to store warm, fluffy towels. In households with pets, it is a good idea to check this area carefully before closing it to ensure that no animals are trapped inside; the alternative is to leave it open, although this tends to make the airing cupboard much cooler in temperature.

An important thing to remember when using an airing cupboard is that most heating systems require clearances. These clearances ensure that fires do not start, and they can help the heater run more accurately, as the thermostat gets a better reading when it is not heavily insulated with things like towels. When hanging or storing things in the closet, you may want to consider this; check the side of the heater or boiler for a label which indicates minimum safe clearances.

How To Get Rid of the Musty Smell in an Airing Cupboard

Musty smells are generally the result of dampness, but they can signify a larger problem, such as a leak, mold or deterioration. Therefore, if you have an airing cupboard that smells musty, find out where the smell is coming from. Search your cupboard for damp wallboard or wood, and look for leaks under your water heater and any plumbing in the area. Seal your pipes and water heater to eliminate current and prevent future leaks. Contact a mold remediation company to safely remove any mold you find.

If you find water-damaged or decaying wood or other organic matter, remove it, along with any carpet or rugs. Then, replace shelving or hanging bars with new materials. If the smell persists, these are some things you should try.

Test the Humidity

The temperature in your airing cupboard may reach 70 degrees or higher. However, this warmth should not cause any issues unless the area also has high humidity. Use a hydrometer to test the humidity levels in your cupboard. If it is higher than 30-50% humidity and you have already sealed any leaks, consider installing a dehumidifier. As the area dries out, the damp smell should dissipate.

Clean It Regularly

Each year, remove everything from your airing cupboard and clean it. Add vinegar to your washing machine as you wash linens to remove any lasting smells. If the smell is not removed in the washing machine, discard the linens.

Then, deep-clean your cupboard. Use a commercial cleaner with chemicals that remove mildew or make your own cleaning solution by mixing equal parts rubbing alcohol, vinegar and water. Make a paste with baking soda and water to remove stains and odors. Scrub the walls, floor and any shelving you have in the space.

If you store books, magazines or other paper products in your cupboard, these may not be salvageable after receiving mold and mildew damage. Therefore, remove any paper products from your cupboard.

Prevent Future Smells

Prevent future mildew smells by improving the ventilation of your cupboard. Add an extractor fan and slatted shelves that allow airflow. Also, sweep and mop the floor and around your water heater weekly. This gives you the opportunity to detect any new leaks and get them fixed immediately.

In addition, place open baking soda, cat litter or charcoal in a jar in the area. These substances absorb smells, so they should keep your cupboard smelling fresh. Add sachets to your shelves or spray your linens with a fabric refresher before you place them into the cupboard.

Why Is It Called an Airing Cupboard?

Before washing machines and clothes dryers, people had to dry their clothes outside on a clothesline. However, clothes would not dry outside in the winter or during rainy weather. Eventually, builders placed heaters and water heaters in separate rooms or cupboards inside homes, and they stayed warm. Homeowners began "airing out" damp laundry in these areas, which is how they received the name "airing cupboards."

What Can You Store in an Airing Cupboard?

Before you place anything in an airing cupboard, read the clearance requirements of your heater, water heater and any other appliance in the area. Storing anything too close to these appliances can affect their efficiency and can be a fire hazard.

If you have room to place things in your cupboard, start with linens. You may also use these areas to dry delicate clothing that you should not dry in a dryer or store off-season clothing. Set up hanging poles, drying racks or hooks for drying linens as well as shelving for storing linens. You can also store sewing or craft supplies.

You may also store your vacuum, dusting materials, mop and broom, and ironing board in these areas. However, avoid storing cleaning products in this cupboard because these solutions are sometimes flammable in higher temperatures.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1007370 — On Jun 26, 2022

I love how low-context these articles are. It's as if they were written for space aliens who had no idea that a subject matter even exists (or, in this case, people from other cultures and/or who speak English of a different variety and/or as a second language who have just encountered a term like "airing cupboard" for the first time and performed a Web search for "What is an airing cupboard?").

By anon999457 — On Jan 09, 2018

Thank you for explaining this! Best wishes.

By elizabeth23 — On May 07, 2011

I like the concept of an airing cupboard. I air dry my clothes, and especially in the wintertime, this can take a long time; also, when it is colder or wetter, you can't hang your clothes up outside to dry. Similarly, the rest of your house will likely be a little colder and wetter as well, making it take a long time. If I had an airing cupboard, it would be easier to air dry things faster without costing quite as much or using as much energy as a clothes dryer.

By anon52679 — On Nov 16, 2009

Only the English...

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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