This is Day 208 of the Green in 365 series!
Guest Post by Becca of The Earthing’s Handbook:
I’ve been line-drying my laundry for more than 20 years! I started when I was in high school and was concerned about wasting electricity. My family had a nice outdoor clothes dryer (which previously had been used for swimsuits and towels, and the occasional load of sheets on a nice day), but when cold weather came, I couldn’t tolerate handling wet clothes outside, so it was just a summertime habit at first.
Then I went to college. The laundry machines were expensive, in high demand, ineffective (most loads had to go through the dryer twice to get anywhere close to dry), and extremely prone to swallowing socks! Within a month, I’d set up clotheslines in my dorm room so that I could pay for the washing machine only, then bring a basket of damp clothes back to my room to hang.
Since then, I have line-dried everything, except in unusual circumstances when things need to get dried very quickly or my drying space isn’t usable.
Line-drying has lots of advantages:
• It saves money.
A clothes dryer uses 12% of the electricity in a typical home, so you’ll cut your bill significantly by cutting dryer use. If you use coin-operated laundry machines, you can cut your laundry costs in half by using only the washing machine.
• It reduces pollution.
Much of the electricity in the United States is generated by burning coal, a process that pumps toxins into our air and water. The mining and transportation of coal also create pollution. The less electricity we use, the less coal is burned.
• It helps clothes last longer and look better.
I have lots of garments that are 10 years old and quite a few that are 15 years old or more. (I’m not very high-fashion!) Using the dryer as well as the washing machine doubles or triples the amount of time clothes are rubbed against one another, knocking out fibers from the fabric–that’s where all that “lint” in the filter comes from. The heat of the dryer also breaks down elastic, buttons, and designs on T-shirts and other printed fabrics.
• It completely eliminates static cling.
Electric dryers produce static electricity by rubbing clothes over each other repeatedly. Avoid this process, and you’ll avoid the static! You’ll also save money by not buying fabric softeners, which contain such lovely chemicals as chloroform.
• It can reduce wrinkles.
Yes, it’s true that many garments will be wrinkle-free if you fold or hang them immediately after the dryer is finished–but if you’re busy and let them sit a while, they wrinkle. Clothes are wrinkled when they come out of the washing machine, but careful hanging (details below) will get them to dry in nice, neat shapes. Save time and energy by doing less ironing!
• It saves socks.
Some washing machines also are connected to the mysterious Sock Vortex, but my experience indicates that most sock abductions occur in the dryer.
Photo by Paul Williams/Flickr
Getting Into the Rhythm of Line-drying
The biggest difference between machine-drying and line-drying is that your clothes will not be dry and ready to wear 40 minutes after you took them out of the washing machine. Many variables affect the drying time, including temperature, humidity, and time of day.
In my experience–living in Pennsylvania, which is usually humid–laundry hanging in a warm room, or outdoors in the summer, will be dry in 12-18 hours. Outdoors in colder weather (approximately 20-60 degrees Fahrenheit) or in a winter basement, it takes about 48 hours. At lower temperatures, the laundry freezes, but the ice evaporates after 3-4 days. By noting your drying time under various conditions, you’ll soon learn rules of thumb for your own climate.
Because of the longer drying time, you’ll need to keep on top of your laundry routine. You might want to transition into line-drying gradually, putting a load into the dryer if it contains something urgent, while shifting your laundry schedule so that you wash everything about 48 hours before you need it.
Another approach is to choose a new schedule and just launch into it full-tilt, at a time when everyone has at least two days’ worth of clean clothes available.
For me, it’s easiest to do laundry every other day, and it is crucial that I have just one laundry basket. These are the steps of my routine:
- Collect dirty laundry into basket. Use nylon mesh bags for small items like handkerchiefs or delicate items like an embroidered rayon dress.
- Carry basket downstairs to the basement. Put laundry into the washing machine, add detergent, and start it. Wash hands at laundry sink.
- Place basket on an old office chair with wheels that we keep in the basement. Roll it under the clotheslines, which are holding the clean laundry I hung up two days ago. The office chair is my favorite laundry helper! It holds the basket at a nice height, so I don’t have to bend over, and I can move it from one area of the line to another.
- Take down items that are stored in the same drawer. Fold each item before putting it into the basket. Clip clothespins back onto the clothesline.
- Move on to items that are stored in another drawer, in the closet, etc., finishing with things that belong on the first floor, like kitchen towels.
- Carry basket to the first floor. Put away any items that belong there.
- Carry basket to the second floor. Put away all the laundry.
- Return to first floor. Listen at top of basement stairs–is the washing machine done? Usually it’s still going. Have a snack or do another chore until it’s done.
- Look for random things lying around that are supposed to be in the basement. (Because our main pantry storage is down at the foot of the stairs, sometimes groceries that need to go there don’t get hauled down there right away.) Put them in the laundry basket and carry downstairs. Put away all the things.
- Put basket on office chair and roll it to the washing machine. Put wet laundry into it. Check lint filter (an old pantyhose foot over the end of the washing machine’s drain hose, which stops lint from clogging the laundry sink–so classy looking!) and if it is all puffed up, pull it off, let the water drain, hang it on the edge of the trash can to dry, and put on a new lint filter.
- Roll wet laundry over to clothesline. Hang it in categories: socks over here, shirts over there, cloth wipes on the drying rack…. This will make it easier to sort when taking it down. If a garment looks wrinkled, hold it by two corners and snap it briskly through the air, and most of the wrinkles will disappear; remove any remaining by pulling the item smooth after hanging it. Dry shirts on hangers, hung between items on the line–they will look better.
Sorting the laundry according to where it goes, and folding it in the basement, really helps me resist the urge to set it aside to put away “later”–by the time I get it upstairs, there’s hardly anything left to do! Besides, I need the basket so I can hang up the wet laundry, so I have to take the dry laundry out of the basket anyway, so I may as well put it in the drawers.
Another advantage to this system is that I don’t have to clear off a table or bed on which to sort and fold the laundry.
Maintaining an Outdoor Clothesline
If your clothesline is outdoors, it’s probably best to store your clothespins indoors when not in use. The sun can make them brittle (especially if they’re plastic rather than wood), rain can rust the hinges, and they can get dirty. You might want to store your clothespins in a bucket with a hanger that you can hang on the line while you’re out there, or in a change apron or similar pocket tied around your waist.
Your clothesline itself may get dirty, too, if you don’t bring it in after each use–so make it part of your routine to check the cleanliness of the clothesline and wipe it down with a soapy cloth if necessary.
If you’re drying laundry in your living space, putting away the clotheslines and/or drying racks will be the last step in your routine. My dorm clotheslines each had one end in a loop that I could simply lift off of its hanging place; then I tucked the clothesline behind where the other end was permanently tied. Convenient!
I hope this guide helps anyone who’s been thinking about line-drying to take the plunge and get started. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly to make a difference–every load that skips the dryer saves energy, resources, and money!
Do you line dry your clothes? If not, what’s keeping you getting started? Becca is obviously an expert on line-drying clothing, so if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments!
Becca Stallings is an environmentalist, mother, and social scientist who works as data manager for a research study and spends her lunch breaks writing The Earthling’s Handbook, a collection of useful information for living, eating, thinking, and parenting on Earth. She has been trying to use resources wisely all her life but finds more habits to change every year.
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The main thing holding me back from line drying my clothes outdoors is bird poop. We have a lot of trees in our back yard… how often is this a problem for you? THANK YOU for your very detailed routine example! 😀
I wish I had a solution for that, but bird poop is one of the reasons I have my clotheslines indoors in the basement! For me, indoor drying is convenient because I work weekdays outside the home, so I’m often doing laundry after dark–and if it starts raining or gets very windy during the day, I can’t rush into my yard to rescue the laundry. But an outdoor clothesline does result in fresher-smelling laundry that dries faster, usually.
Leslie, I have an outdoor clothesline partially under a huge maple that I use Spring, Summer and Fall. Only once or twice a year do I actually have a bird poop incident, and much of my line space is completely under the branches of the tree. It’s much less of a problem than you think. :). Sunshine is awesome for keeping hits white and the fresh scent can’t be beat!
Leslie, I have an outdoor clothesline partially under a huge maple that I use Spring, Summer and Fall. Only once or twice a year do I actually have a bird poop incident, and much of my line space is completely under the branches of the tree. It’s much less of a problem than you think. :). Sunshine is awesome for keeping whites white and the fresh scent can’t be beat!
When I hang clothes to dry outside, they do not end up smelling fresh at all. They end up having a yucky smell. Could it be that North Texas has some nasty polluted air? I live out in the country and would love to save energy and money but not if my clothes are going to be stiff and smelling like *that*.
Dirty air could be the problem. Do you notice a smell in the air in general? Another possibility is that your laundry is drying slowly and getting mildewed, or that something in your water or detergent is keeping the laundry from getting really clean and it is more noticeable without the forceful airing it would get in the dryer.
Nancy W says
I love drying clothes on the line, not only does it save energy but they smell wonderful. I would love it if you would come link up to the HomeAcre Hop today! Nancy On The Home Front
Jacqueline Russell says
Is there a secret to not having stiff clothes?? Thanks!!!
Make sure you are not using too much detergent–if it doesn’t rinse out completely, laundry is more stiff. I use about 75% as much deterrgent as recommended on the package, then adjust if it seems like it wasn’t enough.
Shake out each item before you hang it. This loosens clumped-up fibers. You might even tug and stretch the item a little bit–just make sure you are tugging it toward its correct shape instead of into a different shape! I do a few seconds reshaping of each of my knit tops because twisted sleeves, etc. tend to stiffen along the creases so that they feel uneven and scratchy, as well as looking wrinkled.
Some things, like jeans and towels, are going to feel stiff no matter what you do. I learned to think of this as the correct way for these things to feel when they’re clean! I wear jeans several times before washing and use the same towel for several days–so at first it’s all clean and stiff, and then it gets broken in and becomes soft, and as I come back to it each time it’s softer and dirtier feeling, until I decide to wash it.
If the stiffness really bothers you, after line-drying laundry you can put it in the dryer on a “tumble, no heat” cycle for 5-10 minutes and it will be much softer, with less energy use than a longer heated cycle.
Jacqueline Russell says
Thank you so much for the reply!
Thanks so much – I’m hoping to start line-drying our clothes this next month. Baby steps toward saving that electricity! 🙂
And thanks for reminding me that I can use an old nylon instead of the metal mesh sock on the end of the washer hose! Totally would never have remembered that even though I’ve done it at every house except this one!
I am new to drying clothes out in the sun. Yesterday I washed my undergarments and hung them out only that when I took them in the sun had already gone down and so they felt a little wet when I took them in. I had some pjs out also but they didn’t feel wet. I laid the undergarments out across the bathtub to dry over night. I hung the pjs indoors to dry incase they got a little wet from the water in the air. I’m wondering if it is possible for mildew to grow from them having gotten wet after getting dried. I am concerned because I have a very bad allergy to mildew and I can’t afford to have my underwear mildewed since I am currently unemployed. I hope to hear back from you soon. Any thoughts and knowledge are appreciated. Thank you!
Yikes, sorry I didn’t see this comment earlier! I hope your laundry did not get mildewed. I have NEVER had anything mildew when hung up to dry–the only laundry mildew issues I’ve ever had were caused by forgetting laundry in the washing machine (which was closed, so water could not evaporate) or having a wet garment in a pile of laundry that waited several days to be washed.
If clothing does get mildewed, put it in a bucket and saturate it with full-strength white vinegar. Let it soak for at least 2 hours, then launder again. This should kill the mildew. If there are still visible stains, oxygen bleach (Oxi-Clean or similar) will remove them. Another great product for mildew removal, if you can get it in your area, is Bi-O-Kleen Bac-Out; it kills stuff AND is an amazing stain remover.