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The Pros and Cons of Using a Clothesline

"I like to hang out clothes on windy days. Sometimes that's all I feel like. A sheet on a line."

-Stephen King

When you think about the King of Horror, Mr. Stephen King, you probably don't think about peaceful, sunny, summer days with bedsheets flapping lazily in a gentle breeze. But there ya have it, folks, the man who has terrified us all for decades likes his sheets line dried.

For a long time, everyone used a clothesline because electric dryers did not exist. In fact, the first electric dryer was introduced in the 1930s, but by 1955 just ten percent of households in the United States owned one. Cost was likely the largest prohibitive factor, as they averaged about $230 then, which adjusts to approximately $1,600 today. Yikes!

Today, around 85 percent of US households own dryers, and about three-quarters of those are electric with the remaining quarter being gas. Electric and gas dryers certainly have their place, but given the choice, I prefer to hang laundry on a clothesline. Why would you want to take all that time when a dryer is so easy? I'm glad you asked! Today's post is all about the pros and cons of line-drying laundry.

A vintage quilt drying on a metal rack on a front porch.
A vintage quilt drying on the rack on my porch.

First, the good stuff.

It's always best to start with the good, right? Hanging clothes on the line has some great perks! For me, it's mostly about the peaceful feeling I get while I'm hanging laundry. It has a soothing effect on my soul. But maybe you're looking for something a little more concrete than my happy soul, so how about these facts to ponder on:

  • It is gentler on your clothes: line-drying laundry is much more gentle on your clothes which can help them last longer. Yay for less time and money spent clothes shopping!

  • It saves energy: line drying clothes uses the energy from our old buddy the sun, so you're not causing that meter to spin. Less energy used equals less money spent. Will you save a lot? Not likely. The average household can save about $25 per year. But hey, that's a quarter tank of gas in today's economy! 😅

  • It freshens and whitens your laundry: The clean air leaves behind a nice, fresh scent that you just can't buy. Nothing beats the smell of freshly dried bedsheets when you curl up to sleep! The sunlight can also naturally and gently lighten stains left behind after washing.

  • It can kill germs: that same sunlight that helps fade stains over time acts as a natural germ killer. Hoorah for less illness!

  • It removes odors: you may notice over time that your laundry has a less than pleasant smell. Especially if you've got kids or pets. Line drying can help with the smell that is often caused by bacteria or fungus. What?! Yes, bacteria and fungus. 🤢 If you're brave enough, check out the science behind that by reading this Elsevier article.

  • It keeps your home cooler: here in Alabama, by this time of year we're seeing 90-plus degrees most days with 50- to 90-percent humidity. Ick! Using the dryer less often helps keep our house cooler. Something we (and our HVAC system) can be thankful for!

  • It's safer: a scary number of house fires are caused by dryers. Often the cause is a dirty lint trap. Check out these eye-opening statistics from the NFPA to learn more. Using a clothesline is a surefire way not to start a fire. See what I did there?

  • Less, or no wrinkles: line drying leaves clothes with far fewer wrinkles than a dryer. Simply 'snap' the clothing as you pull it down and any wrinkles usually fall right out. Given that I hate ironing, this is a HUGE plus for me!

  • You spend time outside: this one goes along with the peace thing I talked about earlier. Spending time outdoors is good for us, and hanging clothes on a line allows you to spend a little time soaking up the sun.

After reading all this line-drying goodness, don't you just want to run out and buy (or build) yourself a fun new line? I know our family experiences all of these benefits from hanging clothes on the line. Even the kids get involved. Our youngest two girls can't reach the line yet, but our middle two kids both enjoy hanging their laundry on the line to dry.

With pros, there are always cons:

Of course, like anything else, hanging laundry to dry on the line will have its downsides. Most of these can be managed fairly easily, but it's always good to have a complete view of something before taking the plunge:

  • Bugs and bees: sometimes you might find bees or other bugs in the laundry. I mean, it is hanging out there in their world. I have personally never been stung or bitten by anything that was in my laundry, but I shake my clothes out really well before I bring them in.

A small metal laundry drying rack on the front porch.
We got this small drying rack at Walmart.
  • Your, ah, delicates: if you live in a city or busy neighborhood, you may not be okay with things like bras and panties out there for your neighbors to see. In this case, a small indoor drying rack may be the answer for your unmentionables. As you can see, I keep ours on the porch most of the time and use it mostly for drying blankets.

  • Stiff clothes: the biggest complaint I think I've heard about laundry that is line-dried is that the clothing can be stiff. Using less soap helps. You probably use more than you really need without knowing it. Using vinegar in the rinse cycle helps, too.

  • Lines on clothes from the line itself: sometimes you may notice a line in the laundry from where it was bent over the line and clipped. I have never known this to be an issue.

  • Weather: rainy days are not conducive to drying laundry. If you have a dryer as a backup, this isn't a concern. If you only need to wash clothes a few times each week, it's also not likely to be a concern. If you have a large family like us and wash clothes daily, and you don't have a dryer at all, a long stretch of rain could cause a laundry backup.

  • Forgetting the clothes: sometimes you will forget the clothes. And that will be the night it storms unexpectedly. No biggie, they will eventually dry themselves again. And a little rainwater never hurt.

  • Fading: in the pros section I explained how the sunlight can gently remove stains. It can also gently fade colors over time. 🙃 If you remove your darker-colored items as soon as they are dry, this shouldn't be much of an issue.

With a little planning and attention, none of these should be a big enough reason to shy away from a clothesline. I do have a smaller indoor drying rack that I can use if I need to, and I have used it when the weather was bad. Full disclaimer: I do own a dryer. I just prefer to line dry our laundry whenever possible.

Some helpful hints.

Some of these things I touched on already, but I always like to share some of the tips I've picked up along the way. I have been line drying my family's laundry for around 7 years now and I've had some trial and error. Maybe some of these can help your line drying journey start smoothly:

  • Use less soap, or use natural laundry products: commercial laundry detergent has many drawbacks. I talk about some of these in a previous post that you can read here. Traditional laundry detergent doesn't always fully rinse out of your fabrics, and this can leave your clothes feeling stiff and scratchy. If you use a commercial detergent, using less than the recommended amount can help. It can help save you money too, and I can almost promise that your clothes will be just as clean.

  • Avoid fabric softener: I used to be the Queen of Downy. I loved that stuff! No more. I haven't used commercial fabric softener in many years. It's awful for the fabrics and not great for us humans either. I use white vinegar instead. I simply fill the fabric softener compartment of my washer with plain, full-strength white vinegar and let it work its magic. It's way cheaper, too, so win-win! 🙌

  • How you hang clothes matters: I always hang clothing upside down. This helps to release wrinkles better. With items like jeans and pants, clipping them to the line with just a small amount of cuff is much easier than trying to wrangle the thick waistband, and any bend in the fabric is much less noticeable.

Towels and cloth napkins drying on a clothesline, hung loosely to save room.
See how the laundry is hung loosely here?
  • You don't have to stretch clothes taut: I've seen people stretch the clothes taut on the line instead of allowing them to "bunch" and hang loosely. I guess the thought process here is that they will dry faster, but I never hang mine taut and they dry just as quickly. Allowing the clothes to hang loosely by putting the clothespins closer together gives you much more room to dry everything at once. This is especially true if you're working with limited space on a smaller line.

  • Use a true clothesline if possible: while the umbrella-style clothes drying racks are real space savers in a small yard, they can take much longer to dry the clothes. The clothes hang in multiple rows and don't dry nearly as quickly as if they are spread across a traditional line. If you've got two trees in your yard to hang a line, you can get started far easier and with much less money spent. I've used both options, and I much prefer a traditional clothesline.

While there are definitely pros and cons to hanging laundry on a clothesline, for our family the pros far outweigh the cons. It really is one of my favorite household chores. Give it a try, I'm sure you won't be sorry!

Do you have any line drying tips to share with us? We'd love to hear about them in the comments.

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