Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On air-drying clothing

When we moved into my in-laws home here in Tacoma, they had a working washing machine, but a dryer that no longer worked, which means that we have to go to the laundromat to dry out clothing.

I've read countless times about how hanging clothes to dry is a much more environmentally sound choice than using a dryer. I have always hung handwashed items on drying racks inside, but when it came to hanging a whole load outdoors, the city kid in me had countless objections: What about pollution? Pollen (I have hayfever)? Bird poop? I posed these questions several times on web sites or blogs that advocated line-drying, and was frustrated that no one ever answered them.

As the mother of a four-year-old, I find myself needing to do "emergency washes" between laundry days more frequently than I would like. With one car and no more bus service, getting to the laundromat can now be a challenge on occasion, so recently I started laying some of the laundry outside, draping it or hanging it on chairs on our deck. One pleasant surprise has been that in the warm summer sun, most items dry within an hour (towels are the exception).

This doesn't fully address my questions and concerns above: August, fortunately, isn't pollen month, and it's the only month between May and October when something or other isn't pollinating. Our deck faces the Puget Sound rather than roads and traffic, so pollution isn't an issue. Also, I believe that our deck is only visible to our two most immediate neighbors, so eyesore concerns aren't much of an issue. (I have read stories of folks who line-dry getting complaints from neighbors). And by placing items on the deck, birds are much less likely to drop on them just by flying by. Not everyone is as fortunate to have a place like our deck to hang things.

One tip: I've seen some complaints in discussions about the rough, crinkly feeling of some items post-air dry, especially towels and jeans. I have found that adding some vinegar to the rinse cycle helps, and then hand-fluffing the item after it's completely dry will rid the item of its roughness.

Another blogger, Elisa's Green Scene, wrote a post on incrementalism, in other words, taking baby steps to be green. She's all for it, because if we had to reach 100% of the goal the first time out, then none of us would ever accomplish anything. This, then, is another baby step for me.


  1. I grew up watching my mother hanging out the clothes to dry - I have been doing this myself since. To answer your questions the clothes do not become polluted and I have never experienced having bird poop on the clothes (I have 12 bird houses and 3 bird feeders in my garden).
    The reason that your clothes feel rough is that you have them placed on your rails/benches. If you set up a clothes line the clothes then are blown in the breeze and become soft to the touch. I live in a cold winter climate and when it is too cold I hang the clothes on a clothes line in the attic (or basement).
    If the neighbors feel the clothes line is unsightly just hook the cord up when in use and take it down at the end of the day.
    I wrote a blog about this called 'The Clothes Line" - it is filed under 'humor'.
    Hanging clothes outside saves money, energy and we get fresh air while doing it :-)

  2. Thanks for the encouragement and tips!

  3. As someone who has had clotheslines in an urban setting for years, I say do it! My whites are always brighter after being in the sun for a couple hours and it drastically lowered my electric bills for a while before I moved from St Louis, MO to Baltimore, MD. I don't have a place outdoors right now to put up a line and I miss it a lot. Right now my fiance and I are living with his mother and she puts everything in the dryer. She also uses fabric softener sheets in the dryer, which a huge problem for me as I have not found a single dryer sheet formula that I'm not allergic to.

    The dryer sheets also bring up the issue of buildup inside the exhaust and filtering mechanisms of your drying machine and make it a lot less efficient, even leading to fire hazards on occasion. This is something I feel is entirely too much of a worry just to have clothes perfumed and coated with an anti-static chemical as the dryer does a great job of fluffing all on its own.

    Luckily she doesn't use the garage so I can string up as many lines in there as I like to dry things. It just isn't quite as nice as being able to hang things up in the sunshine, though, as it takes a lot longer for things to dry without the great breeze coming off the bay and the whitening and sanitizing properties of the sun aren't put to use.

    As far as the bird poop concern, I have had issues at times. My last clothesline had to be placed under a large elm tree as there was no other suitable location in the tiny lot. Depending on the item soiled and severity of the mess, some things would need to be completely rewashed. I found that most, however, were perfectly fine after brushing off the dried poop and just spot washing. Even with my line being under a tree, though, this rarely happened.

    Keep up with the baby steps,