It is commonly accepted that you can hang your wet clothes outside to dry even when the winter temperature is below freezing. It is mentioned here http://grist.org/living/ask-umbra-can-i-line-dry-my-clothes-in-the-winter-too/ that water in the clothes will freeze to ice, then sublimate into water vapor, making the clothes dry.

Question: Why does the ice in the clothing sublimate, while the ice on the roads don't sublimate? Why is there a difference between what happens to ice on the clothing versus ice on the roads?

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from the question.. I'd be a bit hesitant to hang my clothes outside when the water will freeze. The clothing might eventually get dry, but the expansion of the water into ice certainly might damage the fabric. I'm happier drying inside in the winter. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2015 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Good point @GeoffHutchison. Perhaps, then, this will be useful for my clothes that have become too small over the years - worth a shot, right? $\endgroup$
    – JHN
    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:31

2 Answers 2


As long as there is less than 100% relative humidity, the ice will sublime to some extent.

Just in the past week it has been in the -12 °C to -5 °C range in my area, and the snow and ice on the ground did sublime, on the order of 1 cm per day, more in the sun less in the shade.

For quantitative information see "Sublimation from a seasonal snowpack at a continental, mid-latitude alpine site" Hydrol. Process. 13, 1781-1797 (1999).

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    $\begingroup$ Just a guess, but I assume the process would be quicker in hanging clothes than on the ground because it would access more moving air, which would move any humidity created from the sublimation away and drier air in. $\endgroup$
    – Jason
    Jan 12, 2015 at 15:53

On cold days, the wet clothes dry due to the water in the clothes that freezes, then sublimates, to create water vapour that escapes the clothes, therefore drying it.


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