They say to write what you know, and while I’ve not been entirely certain what else I know these days, I do know laundry.
My early memories include wandering along the clothesline underneath the damp sheets my mom hung to dry in our suburban backyard. When my grandparents would visit from Arizona, my grandmother used our washer and clothesline for their laundry too so they didn’t have to pack so many clothes. An avid fan of the Little House books, I would hand wash my doll clothes and clip them to the line to dry, channeling Ma Ingalls and her pioneer skills. I used the clothesline in the backyard of my first apartment, in our yard in Baltimore, and in both of our rental houses before moving here last spring. Now I finally have my dream clothesline and it’s been in constant use since going up.
With two young children, I wash approximately one load of laundry every day. Our family uses only cloth napkins, and of course there is the inclusion of nighttime potty training and all of the extra bedding that goes with that, so perhaps I should round the total up. Let’s call it an average of ten loads per week, for the sake of a nice, simple number. A large load of laundry takes about an hour to dry. If the average clothes dryer uses 3.3 kilowatt hours, at the national average of $0.12/kWh, you’re spending $0.396 per load. For our family, that would be almost $4/week. Just to dry our laundry.
That’s not even factoring in the wear and tear on your clothes and linens. All that stuff in the dryer’s lint trap came off of your clothing, making the fabric thinner and more worn. Using the dryer creates static, so you’re probably buying dryer sheets, putting more money out, and applying chemicals and fake fragrances to your garments. If you don’t pull them out of the dryer right away, your clothes still get wrinkled – in which case you probably just turn the dryer back on, right? You thereby use even more energy, increasing the carbon footprint of your one load.
By hanging your clothes to dry, you’re using less energy – which is good for the environment and for your wallet. You’re not buying dryer sheets and your clothes come inside wrinkle- and static-free, and smelling better than any factory fragrance could ever hope to imitate. There truly is nothing like slipping into fresh line-dried sheets at the end of a long day.
But isn’t it time consuming to hang my laundry outside?
It takes me about ten minutes to hang a load of laundry. Once you’ve got the hang of it, and have developed your own methods, it’ll go faster for you!
But don’t the birds poop on it? Don’t you have to check for bugs and ticks?
I think that in all of the laundry I’ve hung on the line over the years, I’ve had to re-wash maybe three or four items because of bird poop. Maybe five. Sure, it happens. But it’s not a huge deal. Yes, bugs also happen and so do ticks – particularly when hanging out the whites because they’re attracted to light colors, but a good snap of the wrist when taking things down will send the bugs on their way. I pluck the ticks off with my fingers and feed them to the chickens.
But you work from home. It’s easy for you to run outside for a laundry break.
Yes. It is. But I used the clothesline in Baltimore too, when I worked in an office downtown all day. You just have to figure out how to make it work with your schedule. Maybe you only hang sheets and towels out on the weekends. Or maybe you start the washer at bedtime like I used to, and hang the laundry in the morning before leaving for work. Every little bit makes a difference.
After so many years, I’ve definitely developed my own tricks and preferences for the process. I prefer the wooden spring-loaded clothespins: pegs snag clothes and break easily, and don’t adjust to the thickness of various pieces; plastic is cheap and doesn’t last. I keep mine inside the house in a wicker fishing creel that allows any absorbed moisture to evaporate. The handle easily dangles the basket from a fingertip when I’m carting clothes in and out.
I hang our clothes different ways depending on the fabric. Woven items like tops or sheets love the clothes line because they dry without wrinkles and don’t get stretched out or misshapen by hanging. Knits are more particular, and I hang them in a way that you won’t see clip indentations when they’re worn. For example, my mother used to hang t-shirts by the shoulder seams, but then you’d have a stretched out lump on your shoulder when you wore the shirt. If you hang it by the hem, it gets stretched out at the bottom. BUT if you flip the shirt over the line in half and clip it at the armpits, you can block it on the line and any clip marks are hidden under the arms. Towels can be troublesome too. They certainly dry faster if you hang them by the end, but then they don’t fold nicely because they’re stretched out at the hanging end. I fold them over the line too, which does mean I have to flip them halfway through the day, but it’s worth it to me to have neatly folded towels.
You can save clothespins and conserve (a tiny bit of) space on the line by overlapping your items, clipping two items with one pin. I’ll do this with napkins and dish towels because a few corner wrinkles don’t matter. The downside to this method is that you’re more likely to get clip marks on your clothes by shoving too much fabric in the clothespin, and it takes the pieces longer to dry. I prefer to give most items their own two clips. It makes it easier in the end, in my opinion.
Yes, we even hang undies outside. I figure that everyone wears them, and if others are going to get offended by undies on the line, then they don’t have to look. But if you have a family member who is uncomfortable with the idea, just put their unmentionables on an inside line where they’re hidden by the rest of the load. I will also clip the girls’ undies with one clothespin at the side seam to save space and clothespins; they’re small enough that it doesn’t impede the drying process.
And if you’ve made it this far, I commend you. I could go on, but I have already written over 1000 words about hanging laundry on the clothesline. I think that’s enough for one evening, and there’s more laundry to be folded.
Do you already use a clothesline? What are your tricks of the trade? Any preferences you’ve identified over the years?