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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