Monday, April 19, 2010

Living Vintage: Line Drying

To me, one of life's greatest pleasures is to climb into a bed of crisp cotton line-dryed sheets. There is nothing better than the scent of freshly washed and air-dryed laundry.

And the best part of it is that it's great for your clothes and great for the environment.

Our mothers and grandmothers knew this- everyone hung their wash out (or in, if the weather was bad) until the modern clothes dryer became popular in the 1950s.

I am nearly religious about hanging my laundry out. I grew up learning from my mom, who hung everything out, almost year-round (and we live in Pennsylvanina!). Over the years I picked up some pointers.

  • You need to start the process early in the morning. I like to get my first load in the washer by 7:30 (or even the night before so it's ready first thing). I usually have about 4 loads twice or 3 times a week.

  • The first load should be the heaviest fabrics. Jeans, work pants, comforters will need the longest line-drying time. It also helps in clothesline organization, which I'll touch on later.

  • Succeeding loads usually go from dark to light color. White fabrics, like T-shirts or sheets, are usually the lightest weight as well, so they go out last.

  • Try to get everything hung by 1 pm. Any later than that and you're risking evening dew settling in before the clothes are fully dry. I try to get everything down by 6 pm. On a "good drying day" with a bit of breeze and low humidity, light weight fabrics can take less than an hour to dry. Heavier ones might take 3-4 hours.

  • Turning jeans and cargo pants inside out, or pulling the pockets out can help those items dry quicker. Pants should be hung by the waistband so air can get inside the legs.

  • Always hang shirts, pilow cases, etc. from the open hem on the bottom. This is better for them structurally and will eliminate any marks from the clothespins up around the shoulder.

  • Know which way the wind is blowing. Facing the open end of shirts, pants, etc. into the wind will cause them to billow up with air and they will dry quicker.

  • For privacy's sake I do not hang underwear outside! I also don't hang out socks (they take up too many of my clothespins) or towels. These things can go in the dryer as a single load.
Clothesline organization is a big help when it comes time to take things down. When hanging clothes, I always hang the heavier fabrics closest to the support poles so the line doesn't sag so much. (If they come out first, this will happen naturally.) I then try to hang the clothes right-side out (except for jeans/pants with pockets) so I don't have to pull them apart later.

I also try to hang things in order based on which member of my family they belong to. Then when I take them down, everyone's pile is already sorted. Or if this is not practical, I kind of roam the clothesline to take down each person's stuff individually.

Some things can be folded right off the clothesline. Pants are easy to fold and put right in the basket. Sheets can be too, but this takes a little practice- you need to be able to pull them across the line in half and half again, then fold in halves before they hit the basket. T-shirts need to be taken inside to fold, so I do that later.

Now of course, you need a clothesline and clothespins. Fortunately my husband is handy enough that he made mine out of 4x4 pressure-treated posts. They are sunk about 2 feet down in a cement-filled hole. You need a sturdy clothesline or the posts can tilt toward each other from the weight of the wet clothes.

You also need clothespins. There are two basic types- one with springs and one without. They both have specific uses. The kind with the spring clip is good for clamping down on heavy and bulky things like jeans. The type without is better at holding thin fabrics like sheets and T-shirts in place. You don't want your sheets sliding down the line and getting all bunched up!

And finally you will need at least two clothesprops. These long pieces of wood (at least 8 feet) can prop up the line if it starts to sag in the middle. For long items like sheets, you definitely don't want them brushing along the ground.

And lastly, a word about Mother Nature. While line-drying is a fantastic way to take advantage of the sun and the wind, you are also vulnerable to birds and bugs. S**t happens.  And when it does, I just take that item down and wash it again. No big deal. And bugs are bound to hitch a ride in on your fresh shirts from time to time, but unless you live in an area with a lot of ticks, they usually aren't anything to worry about.

So hopefully you live in an area that allows clotheslines- or if not, find out why!- and these tips will help you enjoy a simple pleasure from the past that makes environmental sense still.


  1. I live in an area where one neighbor fires off his gun every once in awhile, another neighbor screams at his dog/wife/kids on a daily basis, and I have Buddhist prayer flags on my front fence. Not too concerned about anyone complaining about a clothesline, ha ha! I have a line strung between the front porch columns on my shed and whenever it's not too humid I love to hang out the wash. There's nothing like that wonderful smell!!

  2. I line dry too! But you wont find a clothes line at the Casablanca (all my nebhiors have them and its sorta trashy) but we do have a hidden pully clothes line! One of these days id like to find a "carosel" and put it up in the backyard!

  3. is it really so unusual to hang one's clothes out to dry in America???????? Scary, but then, you get some scary weather too!