Hanging Out the Wash

Before clothes dryers became a fixture in everyone's house, hanging out the wash to dry in the sun and fresh air was a routine. Maybe you even remember it from your youth, the clotheslines stretched across the backyard, sheets billowing in the summer breeze.

In my childhood backyard, we had two poles for the clothesline, spaced so far apart that my mom used "props" to keep them in place -- long, thin metal poles with a little curl of wire on top to hold the clothesline. Mom made clothespin holders, which were bags with a side opening attached to a clothes hanger. We also had clotheslines in the basement for use during rainy days and winter. My mom and grandma came from rural Kentucky and had ingrained habits from less-affluent times. Line drying was one of them.

Line drying is still a worthwhile practice! There are lots of reasons to do it. Here's a list, off the top of my head:

1. Saves money on electricity or gas.
2. Sun-dried clothes and bedding smell wonderful.
3. You get to go outside and enjoy some fresh air.
4. Line drying makes clothes last longer.
5. The sun bleaches and sanitizes white sheets and clothing, and it's great for cloth diapers
6. You might annoy the neighbors. (A good thing, for the mischievous among us!)

It's also much better for the environment. The documentary "Drying For Freedom" discusses the environmental impact of clothes dryers. As they say, "Our future is hanging on the line."

Of course, not everyone can or should hang out the wash. If you have allergies to pollen, it's probably not a good idea. Also, it takes a bit more time than throwing it in the dryer. Depending on where you live, it may not be possible -- for example, apartment dwellers, and those with picky homeowners' associations. 

In all those cases, however, you can still air-dry indoors! There are many folding racks available for this purpose. If I only have a few things, I usually just hang them on the shower rod.

Many ingenious gadgets have been designed for this purpose, such as this vintage wall-mounted rack. (By the way... we have one in the shop. It's upstairs, if you're interested!) Pulley systems get the laundry out of the way while it dries, if you're lucky to have a high ceiling.

The main gripe most people have with line drying is the stiffness that comes from hard water. Line-dried towels can be rough and abrasive, not soft and comforting. I've found that much of this can be alleviated by just giving everything a rough shake when it comes off the line. Also, using fabric softener in the wash cycle, or even vinegar, helps.

When I hang out my laundry, I use an umbrella-style clothesline. It's compact and efficient. I am able to hang four loads at one time! Plus as a bonus, you can hide your "unmentionables" by hanging them on the interior rows, and hanging larger items on the outside rows. Great idea if you don't want the neighbors to see your Fruit of the Looms.

Consumer Reports offers a few more tips.

One more thing -- did you know that you can hang out laundry in the winter, too? Die-hard line-dryers just go out and shake off the ice. Water evaporates even when it's cold outside. It's a lot less pleasant to go out and hang it though!


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