An airing cupboard is a feature that can be found in many British homes. But how do they work and what can you store in them?

Airing cupboard

What is an airing cupboard?

An airing cupboard is primarily a cabinet where the hot water tank is kept. A hot water tank stores water that has been heated either by the boiler or within the tank itself.

Hot water tanks can be quite large and they need somewhere to go in your home. They’re usually put into a cupboard near a stairway landing, in a bedroom or near a room that requires hot water, such as a bathroom. They can vary in size depending on how many rooms your house has and how many people are living there. A hot water tank is usually only included with a conventional heating system, however some combi boilers, such as a storage combi, can be fitted with a hot water tank for homes that require large volumes of warm water.

The water that has been heated is stored in the tank until you turn on a tap or shower. This means that the cupboard surrounding the tank can become quite warm and this is why people began to use this cupboard for additional storage. And so, the airing cupboard was born. 

What is an airing cupboard used for?

Even though there will be a large hot water tank in your airing cupboard, there is usually space for additional shelving. This makes it a great place for storing towels, bedding and items of clothing once they’ve been washed. It is a useful place to store damp towels when they’ve been used, or to hang a coat that’s slightly wet from the rain. An airing cupboard can be particularly handy for people who don’t have a utility room to dry such items in.

It could also benefit your health. In 2012, the BBC wrote an article about research that found many UK homes had too much moisture in them. A third of this moisture was due to drying laundry inside. Researcher Rosalie Menon claimed that “from one load of washing, two litres of water will be emitted [into the air]”. She claimed that too many people were drying their washing on radiators and their houses were becoming damp as a result.

To avoid any potential health hazards from too much moisture in your home, you could dry your clothing in the tumble dryer until slightly damp and then move it to the airing cupboard. Any delicate items can be dried in here too, such as underwear or socks. Or dry your washing outside when you can.

You shouldn’t put items in an airing cupboard that are soaking wet. An airing cupboard might be warm but it isn’t hot. This means that it can dry damp clothes, however, items that are very wet may take a long time to dry and could start to smell musty or even go mouldy. 

How to organise an airing cupboard

Just like any other cupboard or wardrobe in your home, you’ll no doubt want to keep your airing cupboard organised so that items are easy to find.

Bedding should be neatly folded into the correct sets. To make sure your airing cupboard stays orderly, you could use a pillowcase to keep everything together. Put the folded duvet, sheet, and second pillowcase inside the first pillowcase. Close the pillowcase with all your bedding neatly inside and set on the shelf. Next time you change the linen, you’ll easily be able to spot the bedding and which pattern it is if you have multiple sets.

An overfilled airing cupboard could stop materials from being able to breathe. Allowing the air to circulate could reduce the chance of belongings becoming dusty or musty. Items should be spaced out and set on slatted shelves. As suggested by Houzz, you could put smaller items, such as socks, underwear or flannels, in wire baskets. Fabric bags will also allow your items to breathe, but you may not be able to see what’s inside them at first glance. You could label them with tags so you know what is in each one. Whatever you choose to do, don’t cover the slatted shelves with a board as this will interrupt air flow. 

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How to keep an airing cupboard smelling fresh

As mentioned above, airing cupboards can become musty. This is because they are used to hold damp belongings. However, there are ways you can keep your airing cupboard smelling fresh.

You could use essentials oils to make your bedding smell amazing. Put a few drops of scented essential oil into a spray bottle. Mix with water and spray lightly on your bedding before placing it in the airing cupboard. As it dries, the essential oils will be released into the closet. You could try spraying lavender-scented essential oil. Lavender is renowned for its ability to help you sleep better. Some other scents to try are lemon, tea tree, eucalyptus or rosemary.

Lavender can deter moths too, so hang a few lavender-filled sachets in there. You could try making your own with dried lavender and an old pair of socks - just don’t pick a pair with holes in them!

Can a combi boiler be fitted in an airing cupboard?

If you’re planning on switching from a conventional to a combi boiler, you may be thinking about having your hot water tank taken out. While some people love their airing cupboards, other people would rather use that space for something else.

If this is the case, you may want to install your new combi boiler in the airing cupboard. However, there are lots of regulations that need to be followed. As set out by the British Standards Institution (BSI), the cupboard should:

  • Ensure sufficient air circulation
  • Ensure sufficient air for combustion and cooling
  • Ensure sufficient space for maintenance and servicing
  • Have suitable gas/water connections

A suitably qualified engineer will know what the regulations are and will position your boiler accordingly.

If you still want to use the airing cupboard for storage with a boiler in there, you shouldn’t overfill the cupboard. As mentioned above, sufficient air circulation is required for the boiler to work safely.

If you’re unsure of what you can or can’t put in the cupboard, or want to find out more about the regulations and what they include, your Gas Safe registered engineer should be able to advise you when they’re installing your new boiler. You can also check your Viessmann installation instructions which will advise you of any safety requirements. 

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