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Imagine for a second that I was in a college dorm room frustrated that all the dryers were broken or in use. I'm impatient and not a jerk so I don't wait or take out someone else's laundry, I shoot it into space with the ability to get it back and land it successfully on my campus. Ignoring practicality of course:

How would my clothes react? Would the water in them freeze? Would the water just dissipate into the rest of space? Would it boil if it were in the light of the sun?

I'm curious about three cases: One, where the clothes are in a general vacuum regardless of the effect of the sun. Two, where my clothes are specifically behind the Earth and so they are eclipsed by the Earth. Three, where my clothes are specifically between the Earth and the sun.

For those willing to make the argument that this is a silly topic: would it or would it not have implications with space suits? Thanks!

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Possibly related:… – Kyle Kanos Feb 4 '14 at 2:55
A lot of it would immediately boil off and the remainder would freeze. At that point it would probably gradually sublimate away until dry, although I don't have a feel for how fast the sublimation would occur. – DumpsterDoofus Feb 4 '14 at 3:53
I have spent my entire life pondering this exact question, and now I am delighted to see that someone else shares the exact same mentality as I do. – seventeen years a bmw Feb 10 '14 at 23:58
up vote 11 down vote accepted

1) Most materials you use in everyday life contain far more moisture than you might believe. This is a major reason materials meant to be exposed to space are specially designed and tested. In a general vacuum, most fabrics and many plastic will outgas - all of the absorbed moisture and oils will work their way to the surface and boil off - which is a major source of contamination for sensitive equipment. With a wet shirt in a general vacuum, the water would boil away extremely quickly; as would the oils and even some of the lower quality waxes (depending on the material).

2) When behind Earth, the temperature does drop significantly. However, because the shirt has its initial heat from the ground and because the only way of losing that heat in space is through radiative and evaporative heat loss, the water on the shirt will explosively boil off almost instantly. The small water drops that might fly off the shirt will freeze to ice pellets almost immediately, but the shirt will be more or less dry.

3) With the Sun shining on it, the shirt will again "insta-dry" but all of the water will vaporize; there will not be small ice pellets flying away from the shirt.

Overall though, I don't recommend doing it. The moisture and oils that outgas from your clothes will put large stresses on the fabrics and might ruin your clothes. Also, you could shrink your new sweater and that was a gift from your grandmother; you wouldn't want that right?

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Evaporation tends to cool things because the fastest molecules leave first. Perhaps this would cause a freezing effect by itself? – Alan Rominger Feb 4 '14 at 20:52
Yes, but it would be explosive boiling due to the sudden absence of pressure. The water clumps that are thrown off from the initial boil would certainly freeze rapidly from evaporative heat loss. – Jim Feb 4 '14 at 21:02
Thank you for the warning, I appreciate the oversight. In conclusion, I wouldn't suggest taking out football player's laundry. – Throsby Feb 12 '14 at 19:38

You would freeze-dry your laundry (as solar vacuum UV degraded its substances). Cotton would return scratchy and wrinkly since soft requires thermal annealing of wet cellulose (for which water is a plasticizer). Vapor pressure of ice at 0 C is 4.58 torr.

In principle, a space suit could be a tightly fitting (~5 psi) elastic garment plus an air-tight helmet at 5 psi oxygen. In practice, the universe hates you and would rustle up a fatal greeting from footnotes.

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