Laundry is a tedious necessity of life, but part of what makes it so tedious is just how long it takes. Not to mention how it abuses our clothes, helping wear them out with heat and friction. But that might not be the case much longer.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, in conjunction with General Electric and the Department of Energy, have developed an ultrasonic dryer that promises to be five times more energy efficient and take half as long. The ultrasonic dryer uses high-frequency vibrations that basically shake the water from clothing, and can plow through a medium-sized load of laundry is about 20 minutes.

Massive benefits for a mundane activity

On a broad scale, it's a big energy savings. The National Resource Defense Council found that Americans spend $9 billion a year on energy (PDF), about four percent of total residential energy, just powering our dryers. If you have a home, you might be spending anywhere from $50 to $150 a year just drying your clothing. It's better than pumping quarters into a machine, but it's still a significant cost in dollars and in energy used.

The friction and heat I mentioned above wear out clothing. Colors fade and fabric wears. Your favorite shirts last longer with a dryer like this, and you won't have to buy clothing as often or throw as much out. Not to mention lint-related fires, and those ugly pipes and vents we have on our houses to allow for this ancient technology.

Yahoo says the Department of Energy has put $880,000 into the project, which seems like a pittance compared to how much money and power could be saved.

These dryers are a couple years out from the market, but could mark the first big change to the way we do laundry since tumble dryers were invented back in the 1940s.