Coffee heat rising

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.
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.


Alternative fabric softener and laundry de-static stuff

Hey! Here’s a little discovery: hair conditioner works in the laundry just like fabric softener!

I’ve always disliked fabric softener, because it gums up the washer (or dryer, if it comes in the form of dryer sheets) and because IMHO it smells ungodly awful. I really, really, really dislike industrial-strength perfumes. Weirdly, I want my wash to smell clean, not like some chemist’s idea of what some vague consumer imagines stinks pretty. So, as you might surmise, I don’t keep any of the gunk on hand.

Cassie the Corgi, a furry little character, sleeps on the bed on top of two throws, laid over the blankets to collect her hair. And collect hair they do!


Washing the doggy bedding often doesn’t get all the hair out. Then the throws get staticky in the washer, and the darned dog hair glues itself to the fabric. Sunday afternoon the throws were especially furry; two turns through the washer and dryer did nothing to remove the dog hair. Called La Maya to see if I could mooch a dryer sheet; no answer. The second-to-last thing I wanted to do was buy a package of fabric softener gunk that I’ll never use; last thing was to sleep with bedding that stinks of industrial chemicals. {gag!}

After much cerebration, the light finally dawned:
Hair conditioner works very much like fabric softener. One of the things it’s supposed to do is defuse static in your long, flowing locks. And because I buy the mildest-smelling hair products I can find, the stuff in my shower doesn’t stink!

So I poured about an eighth of a cup of Kirkland’s best into the washer with the doggy throws. And darned if it didn’t work! Between the washer and the dryer, almost all the magnetic dog hair rinsed or shook out.

Turns out I’m not the first to think of this. E-how recommends diluting hair conditioner 1:10 and using it just like fabric softener. Experience shows this is a good plan: dumping it in undiluted left some blobs on the throws, so I had to run them through the rinse cycle a second time.

Another site, Creative Homemaking, suggests working a tablespoon of hair conditioner into a damp washrag and tossing it into the dryer, just like a fabric softener sheet.

A third idea, which is all over the Web, proposes that the happy homemaker toss a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil into the dryer with the clothing. I could find only one person reporting that this didn’t work. I haven’t tried it, but I may in the future. Doesn’t look like it would do any harm, anyway. One possible problem with hair conditioner is that if fabric softener gums up your washer or your dryer, hair conditioner may do the same. Tinfoil presumably wouldn’t do that.