Laundry is like the mail, in the sense that you can expect some every day.
In the warmer months, rural folks often take advantage of the sun’s drying power by hanging their laundry on a clothesline. With minimal investment, you can create an easy and sustainable outdoor clothes drying option that reduces your energy footprint – and the energy bill.
Normally, laundry is hung when the sun or breeze is sufficient to dry the clothes by the end of the day. In northern climates, this can typically be done from April through October. In the South, laundry can generally be hung all year long. Be sure to pay attention to the weather, and plan your laundry days to coincide with clear skies. If a sudden storm happens to pop up before you can get the clothes off the line, they'll be fine. You'll just have to leave them a little longer to dry again.
There are many benefits of line-dried laundry. The sun is a free source of heat, and also has disinfecting qualities since it acts like bleach, killing odors. The breeze is also free, giving your clothes the fresh scent and crispness only line-dried clothes can possess. While hanging up clothes is more time-consuming than dumping a load into a dryer, it's also meditative and peaceful. I love the time I spend hanging clothes on the line. The birds sing around me, the sunshine permeates my skin and reminds me that this time is a precious gift before winter returns, and last but not least, hanging laundry saves money! Whether you have a gas or electric dryer, those machines take a lot of energy to do their job.
Before You Install
If you decide to install a clothesline, there are a few things to consider.
First, find a location that has daily access to several hours of sunlight and breeze. Next, think about the general flow of your yard. You want prime sunshine, but not if you or your family members will get ‘clotheslined’ crossing the space. If you have a tiny yard, consider a small model, or one that's retractable or can be folded up between uses.
Another important decision is the height of your line. It needs to be low enough that it's comfortable for you to reach, yet high enough that large items like bed sheets and towels won't drag on the ground.
Finally, think about how much you’ll be drying. An average load of wet clothes weighs 30 to 40 pounds. If you hang more than one load at a time, that adds up. Pick a line with an adequate test weight. My family of six invested in a plastic coated steel line that holds up to three loads at once.
If you have two solid trees or posts, a clothesline can be strung between them with relative ease. Try to find trees no more than 25 feet apart, as the clothesline will droop from the weight of the clothes. We've used this method with great success, although the obvious drawback is that shade from the trees can limit access to sunlight.
You'll need a turnbuckle, two heavy-duty J-hooks, and six metal U-bolt clamps with two rope thimbles. Measure up the tree to the height you’ve determined (we chose 5 feet), drill a pilot hole for your first J-hook, and screw it in. Measure the same height on your second tree, drill a pilot hole, and screw in the second J-hook as far as it will turn.
Attach the turnbuckle to the second J-hook, and make sure the turnbuckle is threaded out so you can tighten it later. Next, thread one end of your clothesline into the thimble and then through the open end of the turnbuckle. You want the apex of the thimble to rest securely against the metal loop in the turnbuckle. Giving yourself enough slack, clamp the end of the clothesline to itself using three U-bolt clamps, alternating sides with about one inch between clamps. This side will be permanent until the end of the season. Walk your line to the J-hook and measure the length between trees. Cut the clothesline 5 to 7 inches longer than the distance, and create a second loop just like the first one, using your remaining U-bolt clamps and rope thimble. Once secure, hook this loop onto your J-hook and tighten the tension using the turnbuckle.
Now it’s ready for your first load of laundry! Any time you want the line out of the way, simply loosen the turnbuckle and walk the line back to the first tree. A turnbuckle helps increase tension over time as well.
Retractable Line Dryer
A retractable line installed to a fixed point on your home or a tree, in which the line can be extended only when you need to dry clothes, is a great option for people with limited space and smaller loads of laundry.
Again, begin by picking a height to install the retractable line device. It should include a mounting bracket and its own hook. Be sure the intended distance doesn't exceed the amount of line in the retractable mount – most are less than 50 feet. Drill into the tree at your desired height, using the provided mounting system. Next, install the hook on the second tree by drilling a pilot hole and screwing in the hook at your desired height. Pull your clothesline out from the retractable mount and connect it to the hook.
That's it. You're ready to hang your laundry. When finished, the line will retract and remain out of the way until you need it again. Be aware that retractable systems may sag more than other lines because the tension system is limited.
Parallel Or Umbrella Dryer
Another great style for small spaces is an umbrella dryer. This is a single-post unit with multiple lines that are either parallel to each other or in concentric circles. While the dryer is semi-permanent, you can get 100 to 200 feet of line in a compact, 4- to 6-square-foot space. Most models spin, allowing you the convenience of standing in place while loading up the lines.
Begin by digging a hole deep enough – 12 to 18 inches should be enough – to secure the post. For added durability and strength, use quick-set cement. Most dryers come with a two-piece base, allowing you to remove the top when not in use. Attach the top portion of the clothes dryer and check if it’s level. Adjust as needed. Remove the top, and allow at least 24 hours for the cement to set before using the clothesline. Some of these models fold up when not in use.
A good tip with umbrella systems is to hang heavy items, such as towels or jeans, on opposite sides to avoid bending the post or arm extensions.
T-Bar Style Dryer
These solid posts are hard to beat for durability. Permanent features in a larger yard, this laundry line only needs periodic tightening of the lines once you’ve set it up.
You can order a kit with galvanized steel T-bars, or you can construct your own with 4-by-4 posts. Either way, make sure the two ends are no longer than 20 feet apart to avoid too much slack in your lines. The kits come with everything you need, along with instructions for installation. Creating your own is a good weekend project. There are many tutorials online with various styles, but the basic idea is two wood or metal T-bars posted opposite each other, with eye hooks placed about one foot apart on each cross beam. Because this is entirely home-built, you can determine the strength and durability of the materials you use.
The initial financial investment will quickly be offset with fewer dryer runs and clothes that last longer. If you have the space and time, the T-bar clothesline is a solid choice.
You’ll want to invest in quality clothespins. Recently, a few American companies have started manufacturing clothespins the way they used to, using solid hardwood and heavy-
gauge springs for longevity and holding power. Cheap department store clothespins are short-lived because they break easily and won’t clip over heavy, wet jeans. I rely on my grandmother’s set, which is at least 50 years old and still going strong. And don't forget a clothespin bag, which is a must for easy access to your clothespins.
Clotheslines themselves come in a variety of materials. Cotton is durable and inexpensive, and a good investment for light loads of laundry. However, in humid climates, it can become mildewy. A number of plastic varieties are also good for light loads. For heavy loads, plastic coated metal cable is the way to go. It's more expensive, but it stands the test of time – and strength. Some have a 1,500-pound test strength! This is the line for those who need to dry a lot of clothes at once, or have quilts and rugs to dry.
Laundry Hanging Tips
• Hang pants upside down, using one or two clothespins per leg. The material is generally thinner at the bottom of the pants leg than it is at the waist, affording the clothespins a better grip.
• Clothespins sometimes leave marks on lighter clothes. Hang shirts or shorts upside down, and fold the fabric over the line so the clothespin is clipping the inner material. Any marks left will not be seen from the outside. Hang socks by the toes, since most will be hidden by shoes.
• Fold long towels in half over the line. They need minimal clipping, and by hanging them this way, they'll already have a natural fold when they dry. This technique also makes them less likely to blow off in heavy wind.
• If you have limited line space, clipping clothes together with a small overlap saves space and clothespins.