Dry Clothes Naturally

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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An inexpensive way to dry your laundry.

When my grandmothers were young women, they hand-scrubbed clothes outdoors in tubs of water heated over an open flame—in all kinds of weather. Men may have built the fire on occasion, but, yes, doing the laundry fell to the womenfolk.

In her youth, my mom used a portable washing machine which sat on the back porch (kitchens weren’t built to hold any appliance other than a wood cookstove) and required the user to run each piece of laundry through a hand wringer. It also regularly delivered electric shocks. Both generations, as well as all who had gone before, hung wet clothes outdoors to dry.

By the time I entered my teens, my homemaker mom owned a brand new washer plus an electric clothes dryer. The new, widely-hailed conveniences flooding the post World War II market seemed miraculous to people like her. She rarely used a clothesline again.

Today, some of us are rethinking the value of line drying and returning to the ‘old ways.’

Why Line Dry?

Yes, hanging clothes outdoors takes a little longer, though not much, than tossing them in the dryer. But the many benefits of line drying offset that inconvenience, in my opinion. I find the whole experience a time for quiet reflection. The so-called mindlessness of repeatedly lifting items from the basket, reaching for clothespins, and clipping fabric on the line is calming and meditative. The extra minutes I spend outdoors let me soak up extra vitamin D and take in the sights, sounds, and scents of nature, undisturbed. I always return indoors refreshed and ready for the next task at hand.

Sometimes, I even play little laundry games, hanging like with like: sheets followed by pillowcases, then bath towels, then washcloths. Pants side by side, then shirts. Black socks together, followed by blue, then tan, and, finally, white.. It isn’t that I’m obsessive—I can be as willy-nilly in my clothes-hanging habits as anyone. I just find the challenge entertaining. Besides, I like the aesthetics of it.

Letting air and sun dry one’s laundry provides other benefits. Sunshine is a natural bleach for yellowed objects as well as for stains, including urine. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are an effective disinfectant, destroying most bacteria. (On the downside, line drying, especially of pillowcases, is contraindicated for individuals with severe airborne allergies.)

Budgetary and Environmental Concerns

And let’s not forget the all-important budget-friendly and ecological reasons for natural drying.

Did you know clothes dryers use as much energy as new energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines combined? Or that Americans spend nine billion dollars a year operating dryers? That’s according to the National Resources Defense Council. Other sources are in agreement.

The average U. S. household spends about $100 a year in electricity drying clothes (though cost varies widely depending on the local price of electricity and the number of loads a family racks up each week). There are other costs associated with modern-day clothes drying: the financial and environmental costs of fabric softeners and the wear and tear on both clothing and dryers themselves, for instance. If you rely on air conditioning in summer months, running a clothes dryer escalates your cooling cost, too. If, like me, you don’t have air conditioning, you swelter from the rising indoor temperatures a dryer causes.

The Battle of Community Restrictions

If you’re affected by a clothesline ban from your homeowners’ association, condo board, or apartment management, I may have good news for you.

According to the American Bar Association and the Sightline Institute,  at least 19 states have laws overriding HOA clothesline restrictions, thus protecting your ‘right to dry.’ Sightline even lists the states with links to their statutes. So does the Certified Manager of Community Organizations, an organization that says it “sets the standards for community association managers worldwide.”

Of course, you still have to issue the challenge to your association, but being able to cite state law might just cause your governing board to reverse its stand. It may be worth your while to try.

Types of Clotheslines

There are many options for outdoor drying, some of which may depend upon available space. You can purchase retractable clotheslines for as little as $15.00. The unit attaches to your exterior wall. You still have to install a post at the far end, unless you have an outbuilding at a convenient distance. The line itself neatly stows away when not in use.

Space-saving umbrella-style outfits can be either portable or permanent and can be had for sixty dollars or so. Or you can build your own traditional clothesline.

Check out this site for some creative outdoor and indoor clotheslines. 

Clothes Drying Tips

Back when Mom line dried, she overlapped the edges of items so she could use a single clothespin on adjoining pieces. This practice saved line space as well as the number of pins needed. However, your

It’s smart to wash and hang as early in the day as feasible. By washing in the morning, you avoid peak grid usage. Hanging laundry early gives it plenty of time to try, takes advantage of midday sun, and lets you bring it in before a late afternoon shower pops up—a frequent occurrence in my neck of the woods.

Keep a bench or outdoor chair near your line to hold your laundry basket. Your back will thank you. A bench also provides a handy spot for sorting and stacking as you remove dried items.

Why not give outdoor line drying a try? You’ll breathe easier—literally.

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog postshere. You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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