Line-drying Laundry

I already wrote about clotheslines, but that article is ancient now; I wrote it for a college class in magazine writing in 1995 and later put it online.  Line-drying all my laundry is something that still works for me, and now that I have 20 years of experience, I have even more to say about it!  I’m trying to avoid repeating myself, though, so read my older article, too.

The evidence is mounting that clothes dried on a clothesline last longer: My regular wardrobe, the things I wear every couple weeks during the appropriate season, includes many garments I recall buying when I worked downtown, 1996-1998; some T-shirts, skirts, and flannel shirts I know I bought in college (I am thrilled that plaid flannel is in style again!); a sweater I inherited from my grandmother that must be at least 25 years old; and a sweatshirt-style denim top I got in seventh grade in 1985.  It’s a good thing I’m not trying to be on the cutting edge of fashion!  I like having all this great stuff that’s reliably there for me year after year.  Most of my clothes have never been in the dryer, and the others have been only a few times, when I had a broken foot or had just given birth and needed someone else to do laundry for me.

We’ve never done a controlled experiment to find out just how much electricity we save by rarely using the dryer.  (We do own a dryer, but we use it only for occasional “we’re way behind on the laundry and have nothing to wear!” emergencies, and when our kid was still in diapers we used the no-heat cycle to fluff the line-dried diapers.)  However, friends who live in our area in similar houses with similar appliances but use their dryers for every load of laundry tell me that their monthly electric bills usually are $50 or more, and ours are about $38…so I estimate that my family of 3 is saving $12 a month by line-drying.

I’ve had indoor clotheslines in the basement for the past 13 years, in 3 different homes, all of which had the washing machine in the basement.  This is a great arrangement in our current home and one of the previous ones; the other place had a musty-smelling basement that made our clothes smell bad, so I wound up using strongly scented detergent and lots of closet fresheners, and I can’t remember why we didn’t move the clotheslines to the bedroom we were barely using!  Anyway, we’ve learned that an excellent way to hang clotheslines in a basement with unfinished ceiling is to get two boards at least 6″ wide and 3/4″ thick, use a wide drill bit to cut a half-circular notch into each side at least 1″ away from the end, nail the other end to the ceiling joist such that the two boards are 6-12 feet apart, and tie the clothesline in a loop through both notches of both boards–this creates two parallel clotheslines several inches apart.  If there’s space, you can hang a third board another 6-12 feet away and run another line around that one and the middle one.  (I don’t post photos usually, but I eventually admitted that this arrangement is hard to understand without seeing it, so here are some photos of our clothesline hangers!)

Indoor clotheslines really make sense for someone who works full-time outside the home, like I do: I don’t want to stumble around hanging laundry in the dark, sit in my office worrying about the weather that’s blown in, or spend all my weekends doing laundry.  The porch clothesline described in my older article worked well when I was a college student who could be home during the day at some times of the week, although there was a porch light when I needed it.

To avoid repeatedly bending over to get laundry into and out of of a basket on the ground, I put the basket on a rolling desk chair that happens to be in our basement.  I can just roll it from one end of the clothesline to the other as I work.  So convenient!

When I was washing cloth diapers, I got onto a 4-day laundry schedule that worked really well, and since then I’ve continued washing regular laundry every other day.  (Now I wash dishes on the days between.)  After I put a new load into the washing machine, I take down and fold the previous load. Everything, even jeans and towels, dries within 48 hours in my basement, even in the most humid weather.  Most things are dry after about 18 hours, so if I want something that’s on the line, I can go down and grab it.  (Drying time will be shorter if you hang your clothesline in an upstairs room, shorter still outdoors.  It’s also shorter in drier climates.)

I love sorting the laundry as I hang it and folding it as I take it down!  Each basic category goes on a certain section of the clotheslines, and I fine-tune the sorting as I’m folding.  Then, when I carry the basket upstairs, everything’s neatly folded and ready to put into the drawers, with things that go in the same drawer grouped together.  I’ve gotten so used to this that I find it really startling when I’m visiting someone’s house and see him/her pile clean laundry into a basket, carry it to the bed or table and clear off that surface, fold things into piles, and then pick up all those piles back into the basket to put away–I think, “What a pain! I’d forgotten all about that!”

I almost never iron anything. Line-drying creates a lot fewer wrinkles than machine drying (unless you’re so organized that you leap to remove the clothes from the dryer the moment it’s done), and most wrinkles can be removed by shaking or tugging the wet clothes, as described in my older article.  Also, I try to choose clothes that don’t wrinkle too badly or that look as if they’re supposed to be wrinkled…and like I said, I’m not so fashionable.  I’m a proud geek with a frowsy academic job, and if I look a bit rumpled I hope people think I’m just too smart and interesting to spend my time ironing!

We switched to plant-based laundry detergent 10 years ago and have never looked back!  I buy whichever brand is most affordable.  All of these brands are excellent, in my experience:
Ecos/Earth Friendly Products (although the magnolia & lily scent is too strong, in my opinion)
Kirkland Signature (Costco house brand—they make both a conventional and an earth-friendly one)
Seventh Generation
Sun & Earth
Trader Joe’s.

We use wooden clothespins because the plastic ones I tried were brittle and crappy.  Even the cheapest wooden clothespins, like a 100-pack from a dollar store, usually are okay…but we got one set whose metal springs corroded and left marks on the clothes, and some cheap clothespins are more prone to sliding off their springs and suddenly breaking apart and whanging you in the nose.  (That is going to happen once in a while with any springed clothespins.  Avoid it by squeezing them straight, never with a twist.)  The best clothespins we have are the ones we got at Target: They are so sturdy that two of them will hold up a pair of adult-sized jeans!

Aside from the environmental and financial benefits, I’m still line-drying because I enjoy it! It’s a pleasant task with enough variety to be interesting if I’m focusing on it, but it’s easy enough that I can do it on auto-pilot while thinking about something else.  The clean clothes smell good.  In winter, when handling damp things makes my hands cold, I have an excuse to relax with a hot beverage afterward!  I enjoy being in my laundry “room” (one corner of the basement, which is open to the storage and workshop areas) because we painted its walls the exact shade of lilac that is my very favorite color.  There’s just something very soothing about each step of the process that makes it seem worthwhile even in my busy life!

P.S. Check out this useful article about the perils of using too much detergent!

About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

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