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The Fine Art of Line Drying Laundry

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When it comes to energy hogs, did you know that your electric dryer, when on, consumes the most electricity compared to every other appliance in your home? It’s true, it easily beats your refrigerator and your water heater (those in total energy consumption, those appliances use more because they are always on). So, if you’ve ever considered line drying your clothes to cut down on your electricity usage, you picked the right appliance to target. Not only will it save you big bucks on your electricity bill, line drying your laundry will make your clothing last longer, saving you money on clothing expenses too.

Many people don’t like to line dry their laundry though. They cite too much work, too many wrinkles, and “still” clothing as some of the top reasons for not line drying laundry. Fortunately there are some techniques to make line drying clothing a little easier and more practical, so you can keep money in your pocket.

The Equipment

  • A Warm, Dry Location. Obviously in order to line dry your laundry, you need to have a place where laundry will actually dry. In the summer, it’s usually easy to find such a location in your yard. In the winter, however, line drying can be more difficult. If you have a basement or spare room that stays fairly warm, you can set up drying racks there. But if you don’t have a space where your clothing will dry in less than 24 hours, you’re going to have to use the dryer during the winter months. You don’t want mold growth on your clothing!
  • A Proper Clothesline or Drying Rack. A clothesline doesn’t need to be expensive. A simple nylon rope tied to a sturdy object on each end will suffice. The important thing is to have enough room on your line for your laundry. If you have several laundry lines in a row, you want to make sure there is room between them for air to circulate.
    If you’re drying laundry indoors, a retractable line over the bathtub works well. That way if laundry drips, it drips right into the bathtub. If you have a basement or other suitable room, you can hang a retractable line or lines from wall to wall. Then if you need the room for another purpose, you can just retract the line, so it’s out of the way.
  • Clothes Pins. I prefer plastic clothespins, because they’re bright and easy to see, so you don’t lose them. I actually keep mine in a ziplock bag. The important thing is to store them inside, away from the elements, our they will get nasty, and you won’t want them touching your clean clothes.

Line Drying Technique

  • Use Vinegar in Your Wash. I like to use 1/2 cup of vinegar in my washing machine, because it acts as a fabric softener. I put mine in a Downy ball at the beginning of the laundry cycle, but you could also put it in your fabric softener dispenser, if your washing machine has one.
  • Snap Your Laundry. As you’re hanging your laundry, give it a good shake before putting it on the line. Doing so will get rid of wrinkles and loosen the clothing fibers, making your clothing dry softer.
  • Spread Your Clothing Out. Do not bunch your clothing up on the line.  If you squish everything together, you will create wrinkles and cause your clothing to take longer to dry. You want to stretch everything out on the line enough that your clothing hangs straight down, without actually stretching and ruining the fabric.
  • Hang Shirts Upside Down. Yes, that’s right. By hanging shirts upside down, you don’t get funky clothespin marks on the shoulders. Hang upside down, using one clothespin on each side and one in the middle. Your shirts will dry faster, and there’s a good possibility you won’t have to iron them! That’s a huge bonus in my book!
  • Hang Dress Pants Upside Down Too. Lightweight dress pants can be hung from the bottom.  Put the legs together, matching the seams, and use two clothespins to secure.  Smooth them out, and let them dry.  There’s a good possibility you won’t have to iron your pants, either.
  • Dry Jeans Right Side Up. Hang jeans from the waist, and smooth out the legs. Jeans are so heavy, that if you hang them upside down with the legs together, they’ll take forever to dry.
  • Sheets and Towels. I fold my sheets over the line, securing with a few clothespins, because that’s the easiest way to do it. If you don’t like a crease down the middle of your sheets, though, you can fold sheets over and hang them from the end where the two sides come together, leaving the folded edge hanging at the bottom. Hang towels up vertically with two clothespins.
  • Hang Colored Items Inside Out. Believe it or not, the sun has a wonderful bleaching effect. Well, it’s wonderful for your whites, but not so wonderful for brightly colored items. If you don’t want your colored items to fade, hang them inside out to protect them from the sun’s natural bleach.
  • Do I Dare Hang My Underwear? Personally, I don’t want the whole neighborhood to see my unmentionables. If you have a backyard with a big fence, this might not be a problem. If you are like me, and most of your yard is visible to your neighbors, though, you might be embarrassed to hang undergarments. If you are, you can always hang them on the innermost line, with lines of other clothing hanging on the outside.

That’s really all there is to it. It’s a little more time consuming to line dry laundry than it is to use the electric dryer but the benefits are worth it. You save money on electricity, your clothing lasts longer, you get to spend some time in the fresh outdoor air, and you don’t have to iron as much. Try it! You may never use your electric clothes dryer again!

(Photo: peagreenchick)

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33 Responses to “The Fine Art of Line Drying Laundry”

  1. Beth says:

    Great tips, but you completely ignored the drying rack :( I live in an apartment and can’t install a close line anywhere, but I have three, good quality drying racks I use on a regular basis (in addition to hanging clothes on hangers from the shower bar).

    Because we have coin laundry here, I can easily see how much I’m saving by hanging clothes to dry. (For example, this week I saved $3.00). I also find that my clothes stay in good shape longer, so there’s additional savings there.

    For a good drying rack, I recommend spending the money and getting something with thicker, widely spaced bars that’s sturdy and easy to fold up.

  2. Miss M says:

    Fortunately we have a gas dryer, much lower cost of use. But I’ve spent a lot of time on boats and had to hang my laundry from the rigging. I think line drying does preserve your clothes better, the heat of a dryer seems to damage many modern fabrics.

  3. Stacey says:

    We don’t have space to hang everything at once, so I just hang the heaviest things up and use the dryer for the rest.

    What gets hung on the line: Jeans, sweaters, towels, sheets, t-shirts that tend to shrink.

    By spacing my loads throughout the week, I run our dryer just once a week for socks, underwear and t-shirts. It also saves the aggravation of hanging *each* sock up with a clothespin. :-)

  4. David says:

    One more quick tip – wipe that line down once in a while. If it is outside all the time, dirt will collect on it. Nothing worse than washing a white shirt and then accidentally laying it on top of the dirty line!

  5. I live in dry, sunny Southern California, so I never have any problems with mold when drying my clothes in the house. I use a drying rack, and I hang my tshirts and blouses on plastic hangers. Then I can just hang them right in the closet when dry. Air-drying also keeps my already-snug tshirts from shrinking any more! I do like to put jeans and towels in the dryer for a few minutes before air drying, to prevent that “crunchy” feeling.

  6. Diane says:

    I use a drying rack in my garage (laundry room) for heavy items or hang some from hangers.

    When they are almost dry I toss them in the dryer with a damp towel & 1/2 dryer sheet for a few minutes. This softens & gets wrinkles out quickly & saves dryer time.

    This also saves wear & tear on lighter weight items as they don’t go in the dryer with jeans & heavier things.

  7. carla says:

    We try to do as much line drying of our clothes as possible. During the rainy season, we hang all of our clothes in an empty close (but use the dryer for sheets and towels)

    The vinegar in the wash works wonders!

  8. My family line dried as a kid. We lived in a dusty area so we had to dry then rush to get everything off before they got dirty again when the wind picked up. There are some things my wife just wont give up, and a dryer is one of them. I tried to get her to use homemade laundry detergent too, no way…

  9. Personally, I think hanging your laundry is SO much less work than wrestling with a dryer!

    In the first place, you have to hang your shirts anyway. If you dry them on plastic hangers, all you have to do is lift them off the line and hang them in the closet.

    In the second place, the dryer likes to wad up and tangle sheets, so that when you go to take them out what you find is a ball of wrinkled cotton that’s still damp on the inside. Now you have to untangle a mountain of cloth, fight with the stuff, and chuff it back into the dryer. Come back another 15 or 20 minutes later, and lo! It’s all wadded up again. THIS is convenience???

    And in the third place, I can’t think of anything much nicer than silence the silence of line-drying clothes. NO ANNOYING BUZZERS blatting at you every few minute while you’re trying to get through some other chore. To me, it’s a lot less hassle to leave the clothes on the line until I can take them in at my convenience than to have to drop what I’m doing every 20 minutes to run off and tend to the dratted clothes dryer. Hate that thing. Love the clothesline.

  10. Okay, I’ll be the lone voice of dissent. I hate the look of a clothes line in the backyard and I hate the look of the clothes on the clothes line in the backyard. I love the “idea” of line drying but in reality, the esthetics of it are problematic for me. I guess I’m only a “fair weather” green, frugal person!!

  11. Grant says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is to beware of pollen and allergens. There are some times of year where drying clothing outside may not be the best of ideas.

  12. thomas says:

    Yeah, this doesn’t work in the Pacific Northwest…

  13. Barbara says:

    My mother was a MASTER clothesline dryer. We lived in a second floor apartment and she had a relatively short line tied from the old wooden hand rail of a very small porch to a not-so-distant tree. Her line had a pulley setup since she wasn’t standing on the ground. As a child I’d watch her pull her clothes in and out and be TERRIFIED that she’d lean too far over the rail and fall to her death all because of a brown sock that probably had an incipient hole in it.
    What fascinated me about your post was that all of your suggestions were practiced by mother. Every one. Here’s another my mother would have loved to pass on to you – when you’re drying a tee-shirt and don’t want the shoulder “nipples” left by a hanger or clothespin marks on the bottom of the shirt, fold the shirt at the underarm over the clothesline and fasten the clothespin to the underarm of the shirt. As the shirt dries, move the pin around a bit so the whole area gets dried.
    A warning -if you live in an area that has Japanese beetles and you iron your shirts, always check the pockets for their presence. They make a most unsettling “crunch” when you iron over them.

  14. fathersez says:

    We put the clothes on hangers and then hang them to dry.

    It’s easier to take out if there is sudden rain as it happens often here.

    Cheer

  15. amyhmt says:

    i love this article! i’ve been line drying with indoor clothes racks since college. i hate having to wait for the dryer to finish at laundromats. by line drying, i only spend at most an hour doing laundry (1/2 hour for the washer and at most another 1/2 hour to hang them up), and then i am free to play.

  16. Barbara Maloney says:

    My towels are very stiff when I line dry them. I use fabric softerner in the wash. Any suggestions?

  17. Kathy says:

    Why not do both? It speeds up the laundry if you line dry some items while you’re spinning others. I usually put large items like bed sheets outside, and smaller items like socks and towels in the dryer.

    I’ve always had clothesline poles in the yard. I always keep them painted and the lines well maintained, and I’ve never heard anybody say they made my yard look bad. I think they give my yard an old fashioned homey look.

  18. Mary Tsolak says:

    Actually my cousin line drys stuff – in Wisconsin in the winter with snow on the ground. It does get dry even when the temp is around freezing.

  19. Shelby says:

    For towels, try the “air” setting on your dryer for 10-15 minutes. It’ll work out the stiffness without wasting the electricity of heating.

    I find it helpful to turn pants (especially jeans) inside-out to speed-up the drying of the pockets.

    BTW, if you’re in a yard and misjudged your load and can’t fit it all on the line, why not just “grass dry” a couple of light things. I find that laying a light shirt or a couple pairs of underwear on the grass dries them just fine. Now, do be sure to shake them out when you pick them up, you don’t want any critters in your clothes. (I imagine the success of this varies based on the type of grass you have, here in Florida the St. Augustine variety of grass is so thick my clothes never get anywhere near the dirt of the ground)

  20. Meganiiq says:

    I hang my “unmentionables” by the side seam, instead of hanging them by the corners. They seem to dry just as fast, but the neighbors can’t get a “good look” at them. This also saves on clothesline space. I hang washclothes by the corner as well to save space. When you are a family of five, you tend to fill up the clothesline rather quickly.

    • Tina says:

      I hang mine much the same as Meganiiq, as I am also one of five:) I hang the shirts on hangers though and place them among the pants. I have four lines and try to squeeze in as much as possible in one day. Weather permitting, I try not to have to do any major housework on the weekends;)

  21. aua868s says:

    this is done all the time in Asian countries..

  22. R Thurston says:

    I rarely rarely rarely fire up my dryer for into ‘full dry’ mode. I started line drying YEA

  23. Alicia says:

    just one comment, make sure to shake out your laundry as you are taking it down…my mom forgot to do this once and I ended up with a mad bee in the leg of my jeans…lets say it made for an interesting morning getting ready for school….I love the smell of line dried laundry!

  24. Anonymous says:

    WTF I’ve been line-drying my whole life! Just don’t understand what the big deal is and people actually need instruction?!?!?

  25. MelBel says:

    I found a Umbrella Clothesline that folds when not in use. It works wonderful. Each line is straight across and not like most umbrellas that go round. I can fit two to three loads of wash on it. It has a ground pike that holds the clothesline up with out cement. When it’s time to put it away for the winter you just pull out of the ground and it stays folded in your shed or garage. You can also swing the clothesline around to get to the back side of it with out moving from the spot you started from. Turning it is also great for trying the other side if the sun goes down half way drying them. I Hide my underwear and bras by putting them behind bigger clothes or towels on the line since there are 24 lines that go straight across on the umbrella. I also use only one clothes pin for each underwear, bra and I do one or two socks on one pin.

    I also found a basket that clips easily on the line that works great too.

    I found that vinegar works. Softener works. But nothing works for towels except dryer for a few minutes. I don’t do the dryer thing so we have scratchy towels. My clothes are never stiff and scratch though.

    I remember doing laundry when I was a kid but I just started a month ago as an adult and loving it. Its a great relaxing exercise, and I love enjoying nature and my puppy at the same time. Funny thing is when I started drying my clothes on the line my dryer died. NO LIE LOL

    Not everyone knows how to put clothes on the line. I know how and still looking for advise that might of worked for some one else. My husband did it the other day and I had to redo everything he hung because he had stuff falling off or bunched up lol


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