Line-drying the Laundry

What with the dryer overheating the other day and 87 gerjillion errands and chores to do yesterday and today—no way can I stay home and watch that thing for two hours while it thumps through two loads of clothes, a load of sheets, and a load of furry dog bedding—I decided to revert to my favorite clothes dryer: a rope line strung between a couple of hooks on the rafters.

Secretly, I much prefer to line-dry the laundry. Why? Because it’s quiet! A clothes line does not nag you by buzzing raucously at you every ten minutes. Nor does it bump, thump, overheat, or use electricity. I hate buzzers. I love silence.

And, truth to tell, I rather enjoy getting things to happen off the grid. ;-)

It’s hot and breezy here today. The underwear that came out of the first washer load was dry by the time the second load was done. Even the bluejeans are now about dry, so there’ll be plenty of room on the makeshift clotheslines to hang the sheets that are running through the wash right this minute.

In the duh! department, today I happened to notice the score upon score of cuphooks Satan and Proserpine drove into the rafters—evidently they were seriously into Christmas decorations. Finally, after—what? five years?—in this house, it dawned on me that those little gems were made to hang clothes on.

I use plastic coathangers, because they don’t tangle up the way wire ones do, nor do they seem to breed in the dark of a closet. At least, not as fast. Because plastic doesn’t rust, there’s no reason you can’t shake the wrinkles out of a shirt, fresh out of the washer, and hang it right up to dry. If you arrange the shoulder seam along the top of the hanger, you avoid getting those hanger bumps. And clothes hangers can dangle from the rafter’s Christmas-light cuphooks, obviating the need for clotheslines or clearing your makeshift line for sheets.

Pants can be folded neatly and either hung on one hanger if the day is hot and dry, or put up on two hangers, each pant leg over a separate hanger. They dry much faster the second way. Alternatively, you can use one of those hangers with two clips, and just clip them up by the waistband. Knit shirts can be laid out flat on the floor to dry, which is better for them than running them through a dryer.

I expected to have to run the new linens that came from J. Jill through the dryer briefly, with the heat off, to shake out the wrinkles. But no! To my amazement, the little orange shirt and the beige Capris (which I did clip up by the waistband) hung dry beautifully. They look better than they did in the store! They don’t even need to be ironed.

Towels, as we know, can line-dry up like cardboard. I personally am not fond of stiff towels. However, either of two strategies will solve that problem.

After the towels are dry, toss them in the clothes dryer for about five to eight minutes.
or
Get all the detergent out. And we do mean ALL the detergent.

It’s amazing how much detergent remains in clothes after the rinse cycle. One reason for that, as we’ve seen, is that most of us dump way too much detergent into the washer. Using about half the recommended amount will get your clothes just as clean and give you a chance of getting the stuff out. Another reason, I suspect, is that washers are really not very efficient at rinsing out soap.

Determined that my favorite bath towel would come off the line soft and fluffy, this afternoon I ran that load through the rinse cycle a second time. Great flows of suds came out, just as much as the first time around. (My dryer hose empties into a work sink, which Satan installed over the former washer drainpipe. Don’t ask!) Then I ran it through the entire wash cycle with no detergent. More great flows of suds. Only after a third go-through in plain water did the water start to run out of the washer with relatively few suds. At that point I gave up. We’ll see how it turns out when it’s dry!

If you iron your cotton outfits, line-drying clothes that were washed in hard water produces an effect roughly like a light starch job. Pressing line-dried clothes gives you a crisp, sharp finish. I love the effect!

Does line-drying your clothes save much on utility bills? Apparently not. One source suggests the cost of drying a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer is 30 to 40 cents; 15 to 20 cents in a gas dryer. Today I washed four loads, saving at most $1.60. Since I don’t wash the sheets every weekend (just don’t have that many hours in the day!), usually I’d be doing two loads a week: 80 cents worth of drying.

Hmm…  Let’s say I washed the sheets and dog bedding every two weeks. That would be 26 weeks at $1.60 and 26 weeks at 80 cents, for a total cost of $62.40 a year.

Well, saving $62.40 over the course of a year is very nice. But in the large scheme of things, pretty negligible.

The real benefits of line-drying your laundry are worth a great deal more than a few pennies here, a few pennies there: the pleasure of watching clean, fresh sheets billow in the breeze, the stress relief that comes from excusing yourself from mechanical harassment and allowing yourself to tend to the dry clothes at your convenience, the wonderful all-of-outdoors scent of clothes and bedding dried in the open air. What luxuries!

Come to think of it, though, this strategy could let me put off having to buy a new dryer for a year or so. That is something, spending-wise. I about fainted dead away when I saw the prices at Lowe’s and Home Depot yesterday. The appliance manufacturers have, as expected, edged the price of dryers up to match the extravagant cost of the new, outrageously overpriced front-loading washers. Only a couple of models were still in the $350 range (add sales tax and we’re talking $400). Most of them ranged from $500 to $1,000.

Give me a break! A dryer is a perforated drum with air blowing through it. It isn’t even worth $350! What can you possibly do to a perforated drum with air blowing through it to drive its price up to five hundred bucks?

Okay, so if we add the cost of a new dryer, now we’re talking savings: $350 + 9.3% tax + $50 delivery + $62.40 savings on the electric bill = $494.95.

Nice!


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Roxy May 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Since the heat and tumbling action of dryers raise the fibers on fabrics (causing them to look “fuzzy” and faded), line-drying clothes and bed linens also keeps them looking newer longer.

funny May 9, 2010 at 8:44 pm

@ Roxy: I like that theory! More $ saved.

Shelley May 10, 2010 at 4:10 am

I line dry my clothes on an antique rack that hoists down from my kitchen ceiling – it came with the house. I own a dryer but only use it in emergencies – maybe once a year. I don’t care if I don’t save a lot of money – I like that it is FREE. When I lived in Salt Lake City, the arid climate dried my clothes in such a short time it was unbelievable. Here, it takes about 24 hours as a rule, and I finish off a few of the thicker socks on the radiator.

funny May 10, 2010 at 6:39 am

@ Shelley: Wow! Would I love to have one of those in the garage!! I got one of those rolling clothes racks to hold stuff fresh out of the dryer–occasionally I’ve hung things to dry on that. But it takes up a lot of space and sometimes has to be pushed around so I can get at the storage behind it.

Twenty-four hours! Even when we lived on the Persian Gulf, where it was so humid water dripped off the eaves in the morning as though it had been raining, clothes dried in a few hours. Of course, we were hanging them outdoors in the blazing sun. Don’t know what would’ve happened if my mother had hung them indoors.

In Berkeley, my great-grandmother had a folding wooden rack that she used to set atop the big floor vent for the furnace. Hot air from the furnace would come up through that, and the clothes would dry quickly. I guess they don’t build houses that way anymore…the house build around 1900, I think.

Simple in France May 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

Most people in France line dry. I believe electricity is pricier here . . . or we just perceive it to be (percentage of total budget). I line dry towels along with everything else. . .I don’t really think they’re that stiff.

But I also think you’re spot on–the fewer appliances you have to own/maintain, the more money you can save.

Betsy Wuebker May 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

If you hang shirts and jackets, even sweaters if they’re not too heavy, inside out you won’t get those little hanger bumps at the shoulder.

Bucksome May 12, 2010 at 5:49 am

I used to hang clothes to dry just because I love the smell and it was relaxing being out in the sunshine and quiet… alone. It was an escape from two small boys, LOL.

Our condo wouldn’t allow us to hang clothes on our patio and we definitely don’t have room inside. Thanks for bringing back nice memories.

Mary May 14, 2010 at 6:19 am

I put off buying a dryer for a year. I simply used a clothes drying rack instead year round. Then when I had the money saved for one I decided that I really diddn’t need it all all. It had been a year with out one. I had nice clean and dry laundry. The best part was that I had $600 saved that I put into a little CD for a rainy day.

I note for Bucksome. I do my laundry in the evening then hang it on racks right before bed in the middle of my living room. The room isn’t used in the middle of the night and I figure if a burglar wants to get to my 19″ tv and 10 year old vcr they are going to have to put the laundry away first. Seriously it works great. I have dry laundry in the morning.

Lisa March 18, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thanks for writing on this subject. I absolutely love line drying my clothes. In fact yesterday was my first day of line drying season for me. I had not read the tip about re-rinsing them though. I will have to give that a try. As I write this I am realizing that I already do something similar with my kitchen towels and rags. I wait till I have a load full and wash them all together. I will let them soak with detergent for several hours to overnight then run the full cycle. Next, I run a second full cycle through to make sure the water comes out clean. Additionally for regular clothes I have greatly reduced the amount of detergent I use. At my estimates I have reduced it by 50%-60%. I read somewhere that it is the action of the agitation in the water that gets the clothes the cleanest not the detergent. Because of this, it is important not to overload the washing machine. The water needs room to circulate around the clothes. I also like to add some white distilled vinegar to my laundry, especially the whites as it helps to deodorize and sanitize them. The towels I dried yesterday were not nearly as crispy as ones in the past. So I can not be sure if it was the combination of all these factors or one in particular, but since they don’t really take any more time or effort I guess I will continue them.

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