This is Day 286 of the Green in 365 series!
Guest Post by Becca of The Earthing’s Handbook:
*Emily’s Note: This is the second of two guest posts from Becca about line-drying your laundry. (Read the first post here.) We’re coming to the end of the season for line-drying clothes outside where I live, but I am really hoping to finally figure out a good way to line-dry clothes indoors this winter. Hopefully these questions will help you find a line-drying system that will work well for you!
Choosing a Clothesline that Works for You
For me, using clotheslines in the basement of my home has been the best solution for many years now, but there are other options, too. Here are some questions to consider when choosing the line-drying setup that will work best for you:
Where is your washing machine located?
Mine is in the unfinished basement of my home, so the nearby part of the basement is a convenient hanging area. If your washing machine is upstairs, you may prefer to hang clotheslines in a nearby room, porch, or even an unfinished attic.
If you share a washing machine that’s down the hall or on another floor from your apartment, you’ll probably need to hang laundry in your own space. Damp laundry is heavier than dry, so you’ll want to minimize the distance you have to carry it.
Are you allowed to use an outdoor space that is clean and sunny?
In some places, rules forbid hanging laundry outdoors even in your own yard. Some apartments don’t have access to a yard. If
you do have a yard, try hanging a damp towel out there and see what it’s like after 24 hours. Did it get dirty with stuff that blew off the trees, bird droppings, or some kind of dust? Is it still damp because the yard is too shady or the climate is very humid?
Laundry dried in the outdoor sunshine has a beautiful, fresh smell–if it hasn’t been exposed to odors or pollutants that blow into the yard. I used to line-dry on my apartment balcony, around the corner from KFC, and when the wind was in a certain direction all my clothes smelled like chicken grease!
Are you, or anyone close to you, allergic to pollen or spores that are common in your area?
If your favorite hugging buddy is so allergic that he can barely go outdoors in the springtime, then drying your clothes in the outdoor breeze will make him sneeze every time he gets near you, at least at that time of year.
What time of day do you prefer to do laundry?
If you always do it in daylight, then outdoor drying may work well for you. If you often do laundry after dark, though, you’ll need a drying area with adequate lighting so that you can see what you’re doing. It might still be outdoors–my apartment balcony had a ceiling light, which I used in the winter, but in summer I tried to do the laundry before dark because the balcony wasn’t screened, and the light attracted bugs!
Are you at home a lot?
One of the biggest reasons I’ve chosen indoor drying is that I work outside the home. If I hang laundry outside, and then a big storm comes up, I won’t be able to rush out and get my laundry; not only will it get wet all over again in the rain, but it could blow into the mud or even out of my yard.
Laundry typically dries faster outdoors than indoors (depending on temperature, humidity, etc.) so if you are able to be home for a few daylight hours after hanging the laundry, you can bring it in again before dark–and rescue it from any storms.
Do you live in a very rainy climate?
This makes outdoor drying (not under a roof) difficult because you have to wait for a dry day.
Do you have a covered porch or balcony?
This gives you the advantages of drying in the open air, with some protection from rain, snow, and wind. Many porches have some hooks, intended for hanging plants or a hammock, that can be perfect places to tie your clotheslines.
Do you have a dry, okay-smelling basement?
Some houses don’t have basements, and many basements leak when it rains or have a strong, unpleasant odor. Hanging laundry in a space that’s already damp will increase the moisture in the air, which can increase or cause problems with mold or wood rot. A bad smell in the air will likely lead to a bad smell in your laundry.
Do you have a space you don’t use much?
Our basement is very large, so we have space for our pantry, workshop, and lots of storage in addition to the laundry area. I’ve known people who use clotheslines in the attic (an attic tall enough to stand in, accessed by stairs instead of a ladder) or garage (which isn’t used for the car because of the scary-steep driveway; they cleaned the garage floor) or a bedroom that was vacated by a child now in college.
If your house has multiple bathrooms, but you typically use the tub in just one of them, you could install retractable clotheslines in your spare tub and use those and the shower-curtain rod to dry your laundry. It’s most convenient to hang laundry in a place where you won’t have to duck under it, walk around it, or move it out of your way on a regular basis. However…
Photo by Paul Williams/Flickr
Are you willing to tolerate drying laundry in your living space?
In my dorm rooms, I hung clotheslines that were firmly tied to an object at one end and had a loop at the other end that fit over something: the post of the bunk bed, the top of the door hinge, etc. I positioned the lines so that they didn’t block the main path through the room but kept the laundry near the walls or over my bed, as high up as I could reach. I hung the shorter garments on the parts of the line where we needed to be able to duck under it. Yes, it was quite noticeable visually, but all my roommates over the years found it amusing rather than annoying. I got used to sleeping surrounded by clotheslines!
Since then, I’ve known some families who dry their laundry on folding racks that they set up in the less-used corners of their apartments or on the railing of the upstairs hallway alongside the stairs. Laundry that’s been through the washer’s spin cycle is only damp, not dripping, so it’s okay to hang over beds and carpet. Many heating systems make indoor air very dry in winter; water evaporating from your laundry will help to humidify your home, reducing scratchy throats, dry eyes, and carpet static.
How tall are you?
Make sure you’re not planning clotheslines that will be too high for you to reach! If you are 5’3″ or shorter, you might be happier with drying racks that stand on the floor than with clotheslines hung from high hooks.
Do you want to use clothespins?
I prefer to use them, but they aren’t strictly necessary if your laundry is drying indoors and/or is securely draped over the clothesline or a bar on a drying rack. If you really like the charm of clothespins, you’ll want to use string or plastic-coated cord rather than a drying rack with wooden or plastic bars that are too wide for clothespins.
Do you wear a lot of sweaters or other things that need to be dried flat?
Most sweaters, if hung by their tails from a clothesline, will stretch vertically and look ridiculous! That’s why the label says, “Lay flat to dry.” They don’t need to be literally horizontal, but they need to be spread out, with the weight of the garment resting on several wide areas instead of just a few points at one end.
You’ll need the parallel bars (horizontally or diagonally adjacent) of a drying rack. Many convenient folding drying racks are available. You might choose to put all your laundry on racks or to use one for the sweaters while putting most things on clotheslines.
Do you have existing structures for hanging clotheslines?
If so, try to incorporate them into your plan. My grandparents had two T-shaped structures of iron pipe embedded in their yard, for tying clotheslines. My dad installed a post base in a small patch of concrete in his yard, to hold the post for a clothes dryer that unfolds like an umbrella and has lots of parallel lines for hanging.
My basement had wooden hangers for clotheslines attached to the ceiling, and we added more! Here are instructions for hanging clotheslines from the unfinished ceiling of a basement or porch. In many places I’ve lived, a clothesline could be tied between columns in the basement or to hooks or nails that were already in the walls or door frames.
Can you install structures for hanging clotheslines?
They don’t have to be elaborate–you can pound a large nail at a 45-degree upward angle into a wooden window frame and hang a clothesline on that. Clotheslines can be parallel, only a short distance apart to allow air to circulate between them; put them 6 inches apart if possible, but in a pinch 3 or 4 inches may be enough.
How much laundry do you have, how often?
If you do laundry only once a week and typically have 3 loads, you’ll need to set up enough hanging space for 3 loads. If you prefer to do 1 load every day, you can have hanging space for just 1 load if you’re drying it outdoors in warm weather, but in cooler weather or indoors you’ll need space for 2 loads because laundry (especially thicker items like jeans) can take more than 24 hours to dry in cool, damp, or still air.
The exact space needed for each load depends very much on the size of your washing machine and the variety of garments in your load–but start with a rough estimate of 12 linear feet per load. If you can’t find enough drying space to maintain your old habits, you may need to change your laundry rhythm.
Asking yourself these questions can help you to find a line-drying system that will work for you and your family which will allow you to save both energy and money, and help to extend the life of your family’s clothes!
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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