The Convenient, Sturdy Outdoor Clothesline

Save money — build our simple outdoor clothesline and let the sun dry your laundry! (If you don't have the space, consider retractable clotheslines or clothes drying racks instead.)

| June/July 2009

A good outdoor clothesline offers several benefits. First, it helps save money by keeping your clothes out of the dryer. That means energy savings that are also great for the environment. Next, there are the aesthetic advantages: The fragrance of sun-dried clothes can’t be matched by perfumed anti-static sheets you toss into a dryer.

Almost 20 years ago, I built my first clothesline, and it worked well, even with all the laundry generated by our houseful of kids reared on cloth diapers. But since then, I’ve also noticed things about the design that could have been better — improvements I’ve worked into this plan.

If a clothesline is going to make a serious contribution to your household, it has to be large enough to handle a serious amount of laundry. That’s the reason my design includes three separate lines that run on pulleys. (One good source for pulleys is Lehman’s.) My original system had a trio of lines, but what I hadn’t counted on was the stress of supporting all that wet clothing on a windy day. My old clothesline never broke, but it did start to twist and bend after 10 years, so my updated version is made of alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) pressure-treated 8-by-8s, with 4-by-4 knee braces. Think that’s overkill? Don’t be fooled. After you tip the post up and attach lines, big wood is just right, both visually and structurally.

But 8-by-8s are expensive, so you could opt for 6-by-6s if the poles are short or if your design doesn’t include cross braces. You could also make use of thinner timber if you use guy wires tied to anchors in the ground. Got some rot-resistant trees you’d like to harvest for the project (cedar, black or honey locust, Osage orange, white oak, black walnut)? They will work, too, though joinery will be more challenging unless you saw the logs into beams first.

At my place, a pulley supporting one end of each line is fastened to my stone house, while the other ends of the lines are supported by pulleys on the timber frame post and crosspiece. Knee braces keep these parts square and rigid. You could also have both ends of the lines supported by posts if you’d rather not attach anything to your house.

Materials and Tools

To build your own clothesline, begin by gathering materials. You’ll need a 16-foot 8-by-8 for the main post, an 8-foot-long 8-by-8 for the crosspiece, and one 12-foot-long 4-by-4 for the two knee braces. These standard lengths are longer than you’ll need, allowing you to cut exactly what’s required. For a lower clothesline that’s not accessed from a porch, for example, the main post can be shorter.

7/6/2017 6:53:12 PM

I have to agree somewhat with jamesb. So many times I get excited about a "how to" article or submission only to be disappointed in that I couldn't see the project or didn't have enough specifics. Any way to get an update on this one. We have recently moved and I have been asking my husband for a clothesline. I've never used one before. Thank you.

6/26/2015 12:52:30 AM

Good grief... surely Mother Earth News has an editor or two; someone who would demand that there be relevant PHOTOS to go with the "how to" stories you publish. Like this one on clotheslines. The pretty pictures of primary colored t-shirts flapping in the wind or a closeup row of clothes receding into the distance are worthless when it comes to SHOWING how something is made. How hard is it to tell your writers to point their phone camera at whatever it is they are building, AS THEY BUILD IT, and show how it's done? Whatever value there might be in your how-to stories is largely lost because there are no photos or decent illustrations showing what it is you're writing about. It's so frustrating to see a decent publication fail so miserably on such a simple task. You can do better, I know you can. Sincerely, Jim Burrus

6/25/2015 1:10:45 AM

The roof support post of my back porch deck was built like you described. my pulleys were salvaged from an old block and tackle. My brother in law salvaged the stainless cable from the dump used by the navy. The far end of my line is fastened to a hundred year old apple tree. I keep my line tight with a turnbuckle also salvaged from the dump. Total cost one stainless screw hook, one cable clamp and some oil for the pulley shafts.

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