We had a clothes dryer when I was a kid; we just hardly used it. My parents’ memories of line-dried laundry were too fond, especially of the freeze-dried sheets soft as rabbit fur. One of the first things my father did when we moved to our house was dig a hole, fill it with concrete and set an umbrella clothesline into it.
Though for many years I was too short to help with laundry, I hung onto my sisters’ legs while they did. I ran through the sheets, took rides in the basket and spilled the pins. In the winter, I ducked behind a curtain of damp clothes strung across the garage to get a board game off the shelf.
The dryer in my first college apartment agitated pictures off my upstairs neighbor’s wall, and, after eating half a roll of quarters, still left a load sodden. I am my mother’s daughter. For thirty bucks, I bought a collapsible wooden drying rack, a coil of cotton clothesline and some six-penny nails. On laundry day, I rigged a web of line around the living room and duck-walked for the day-and-a-half it took everything to dry. I hung smaller things on the drying rack. It not only cut down my carbon footprint and saved me money, it made me happy to carry on a family tradition.
I would have been even happier had I known I had joined a national tribe of oddballs with no clothes dryer, a tribe that is now about 4.3 million strong (See laundrylist.org). KU physics professor Alice Bean gave up using her dryer when she saw how much of a drag it put on her new solar panels. The Department of Energy confirms that clothes dryers gobble about 6 percent of residential energy. If all Americans line-dried their clothes, either inside or out, several power plants could close.
Even though Bean’s homeowners’ association (HOA) has a covenant that prohibits clotheslines, she doesn’t let that stop her. Her clothes dry just fine on a line in her basement. A national organization called Project Laundry List hopes that with growing awareness of the need to conserve energy, HOAs like Bean’s will see the beauty in the practice.
In addition to cutting back on energy use and utility bills, the benefits of line drying clothes are many:
• With all the stooping, bending, stretching and reaching, you get a free workout.
• Sun naturally bleaches white clothes.
• Sun is a natural sterilizer.
• Line drying eliminates static.
• You’ll know the olfactory thrill of slipping on a line-dried shirt or sliding between sheets with the scent of wind and sun still clinging to them.
All this makes up for the occasional mad dash to pull a week’s worth of laundry in out of the rain, which leads me to first of the tips I’ve picked up over the years:
• Watch the weather report.
• Use less detergent to prevent stiffness.
• Snap wet clothes before hanging to reduce wrinkles
• Hang clothes upside down to prevent the dreaded “clothespin shoulder.”
• Turn colored clothes inside out to prevent fading.
• Maximize space indoors by using clothes hangers.
• Hang “unmentionables” on the center line to keep them out of sight.
If you’re intrigued but limited for space, a collapsible, freestanding umbrella clothesline can provide plenty of linear feet of drying space for small yards. These usually sell for under $60. However you do it, I swear you won’t be disappointed.