Why You Should Start Using A Clothesline

Michelle Shall / Insteading

When I think of using a clothesline, I think of a conversation I had when I still lived in the city. While hanging my laundry, my neighbor’s little boy poked his head through the fence.

”Whatchoo doing?”

“Hanging up my laundry.”

“Ain’t you got a dryer?”

“We got rid of it. The sun and the wind dry clothes really fast. And it’s free!”

“Oh!” He glanced up at the sky as if noticing the sun for the first time. “Didn’t know you could do that!”

clothes drying on a line
Our city clothesline. Michelle Shall / Insteading

Little did he know that I was only two months into that exact same realization myself. At the time, my husband and I had just decided to move off-grid, and so we had started practicing the skills that we’d need when we finally found our homestead.

Looking back, it’s embarrassing to realize how hard it was for me to give up that dryer. But now that I’ve gone five years without it, I certainly don’t miss it!

If you want to scale down your energy use, save money, get off-grid, start homesteading, or even just spend more time outside, you’ve got to start using a clothesline. Let me tell you why!

How To Make A Clothesline

If you have a string, some clothes pins, and something stable to tie that string to, you have a clothesline. It’s as simple as that. My city clothesline was an inelegant string tied from my back porch to an oak tree!

There are many types of clothespins, from the old-fashioned kind that uses friction to hold your clothes down to fancy plastic ones. Though I am not usually a fan of plastic, I do love using these pins. They don’t fall apart like flimsy wooden spring pins, and paper wasps don’t chew away at them. Mine have been outside for more than a year, and they look as new as when I bought them!

As far as line goes, I am a fan of cotton cord. Mine has been in two different states and been tied to numerous surfaces, and it’s still going strong. Whenever it does break down, I can even compost it! Just know that cotton will stretch over time, so you’ll need to tighten your line every so often.

Trees are convenient, but a tight cord around a tree may girdle it, and the shade offered by its branches will block the sun. Erecting some sturdy poles in a sunny, treeless place and stringing your line there is the best plan.

Our homestead clothesline was designed on the spot by my husband. He recycled old fence posts from our land and made this multi-tiered behemoth that can handily dry at least three loads of laundry. Plans are easy to find to build your own though—check out this clearly laid-out design and this sturdy design.

clothesline
Michelle Shall / Insteading

If you don’t have an old fence to recycle and aren’t in a building mood, you can buy a clothesline. You can spend as much or as little on a clothesline as you want. Brabandia’s umbrella-shaped clothesline is a bit pricey but super sturdy and able to handle around two loads. If you’re feeling creative, you might even get the posts for your clothesline custom-designed to make your line an art piece.

If you feel like you have to shell out triple-digits for a clothesline, however, I feel like you’re totally missing the point. This is a simple thing that anyone can and should afford. Don’t overthink it … just enjoy it!

The Benefits Of Using A Clothesline

Using the sun’s light and heat to dry things is something that we’ve only recently forgotten in modern life. But that free gift is still shining outside, just waiting for you to string up a line and take it up again.

1. You’ll Save Energy

The typical dryer uses 3000 watts in 15 minutes. Obviously, line drying does the same work for nothing.

You do the math for how much money that saves your family over a year, and you may wonder why you haven’t booted the energy-guzzling thing out of your house earlier!

2. You’ll Save Your Clothes

Line drying is also a lot more gentle on your clothing. Rather than rasping against each other in a machine, felting away months and years of potential use, even your most delicate clothes are gently dried and will last a lot longer.

3. Your Clothes Will Be Cleaner

People have known for centuries about the sanitizing power of the sun, even if they couldn’t explain the exact science of it. As a mother currently washing cloth diapers, I can personally attest to the power of UV sanitation.

diapers drying on clothesline
Diapers out to dry! Michelle Shall / Insteading

I’ll spare you the details, but unspeakable stains, when hung in direct Missouri sunlight, fade to almost nothing.

4. Yes, You Can Do It Year-Round

You can also line-dry year round in most areas. Just as in the summer, the biggest thing you need to be aware of in the winter is the humidity. Even if it’s cold, if it is dry outside, your clothes will get dry enough! If it is a dry, sunny day, you may find that your clothes are dry nearly as quickly as in the summer.

To help them along, flip the side that is in the shadow toward the sun halfway through drying. They may feel frozen stiff, but as soon as they warm, they’ll loosen up. And if all else fails, a line strung above a wood stove does a good job as well!

5. Your Clothes Smell Great!

Line-dried clothing also just smells amazing. There’s a reason they sell “fresh cotton” and “breeze”-scented dryer sheets, but those artificial chemicals pale in comparison to the life-giving aroma of a face-full of clean, airy towels.

Finally, there is something both incredibly enjoyable and therapeutic about hanging laundry to dry. With the blue sky overhead, birdsong carried in the gentle wind that buffets your back, and that fresh breeze just waiting to infuse your pillowcase, line drying is something I look forward to every other day. I love that I now get to be outside, rather than trapped in a basement dungeon.

The Disadvantages Of Using A Clothesline

The disadvantages of using a clothesline are minimal compared to the benefits, but there are some things to take into account.

1. The Weather

The first challenge is the weather. Unless you have a covered space, rainy days are no laundry days! Additionally, timing your laundry is also important—if you hang clothes in the morning, but find that you can’t take them down until evening, sometimes the changing humidity will make your clothes damp all over again.

I find that the best time to “harvest” laundry is 2 p.m.…and no later than 6 p.m. on summer days. If you do find your clothes damp again, you can leave them overnight and retrieve them once the morning has warmed (and dried) the air. Another option if it’s not going to rain overnight, is to hang clothes in the evening and then take them down once the morning has warmed.

2. It Takes Longer To Haul The Laundry

You also need to take the time to haul your clothes outside. With small children, this might take a bit of orchestration. Sometimes, I spend as much time getting everyone “set” as I do actually hanging the wash!

3. Bug And Bird Invasions (Kinda)

I know that some folks may fear that birds will poop on their clothes or that they’ll be crawling with insects. In my near five years of line-drying, I’ve had exactly two bird droppings hit my clothes, so as long as you don’t put your laundry beneath a fruit tree, it’s nothing to worry about.

And as for insects, you may find a confused moth or lost ant every now and again, but as long as you give the clothes a good “snap” before you put them in your laundry basket, your hitchhiker load will also be a non-problem.

Some folks are ready to throw in the towel when it comes to line drying, fearing a tick in their bed sheets. I can assure you, as a resident of a backwoods area crawling with ticks, that I’ve never found them in my line-dried clothes. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Just flick it off, like you would any other bug, and you’re good to go! If you’re still somehow worried, just make sure that the grass under your clothesline is trimmed regularly—ticks far prefer being in tall grass than sun-dried towels.

4. Your Clothes Might Be “Crunchy”

If you are accustomed to tumble-dried clothing, there is a small hurdle to get over. Though wind-dried laundry feels almost exactly the same as those put through a dryer, you may find a slightly “crunchy” texture to your clothes if they have been left out to dry on a very still day.

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Nothing but blue skies! This lady has her laundry up pretty much every day. I got there just as she was taking it down. I told her that I see so many empty clotheslines in my neighbourhood. She says people feel they don’t have time to hang up their laundry. And they think their clothes will be too stiff. She suggested adding vinegar to the rinse as a fabric softener. I’ve also heard that using less detergent helps. #laundrytips #airyourlaundrypics #otherpeopleslaundry #laundryday #joyoflaundry #washingline_love #laundrydrying #clothesline #clotheslinesofinstagram #washingonlines #washingline #freshlaundry #laundryofinstagram #outdoorfresh #savetheplanet #letthesunshinein #laundryphile #sunbleached #solarpowered #airdry #joyinsimplicity #nostalgia #ditchthedryer #homesweethome #letitallhangout #simplepleasures #outtodry @le_mollette @laundryaroundtheworld @notmypanni @laundrydrying @lemkewashing_lines

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This feeling disappears as soon as you put the clothes on, and it’s just part of the “suck-it-up, buttercup!” part of line drying. After a month, you won’t even notice.

5. Your Homeowner’s Association Might Not Let It Fly

The biggest issue you may face with a clothesline is human in origin. Clotheslines, for many communities, symbolize a less affluent time. Your neighbors may believe it to look unsightly. Passers-by get offended by the sight of underwear flapping in the breeze.

Many homeowners associations have restrictions against clotheslines. Reasons for these restrictions vary, ranging from claiming they are unsightly, that they take down property values, or that they are a “strangulation danger for children.” For the record, I tried researching how many children had been strangled by clothesline accidents—I was able to find two. I found a far higher number of children killed by bicycle helmets.

Thankfully, there is a movement in several states that gives you the “Right To Dry.” If you live in Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Vermont, Oregon, or California, state law overrides any regulation imposed by an HOA, condo, or apartment community. If you live in Indiana, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Nevada, Louisiana, Virginia, Arizona, or North Carolina, you do have the right to dry, but it does not override a contract. If you live in any of the remaining states, you may not have any legal backup if you encounter community backlash over your clothesline.

To ensure safety for children, make sure your clothesline is high and taut and teach children not to play with the drying laundry (a bad idea in the first place).

So, whether you decide to opt for a little civil disobedience, petition to change your community’s restrictions or decide to move to a more rural area where nobody’s up in your business, it’s up to you!

I could compose sonnets of my love of line-drying, and I’m not embarrassed about that. Giving up my dryer was one of the first choices I made on my journey to become a homesteader. In exchange for that energy-sucking, clothes-shredding, dependency-fostering machine, I got blue skies, shirts that smell like the freshest of summer days, and a whole lot more appreciation for the small joys in life. Why miss out on that?

Written by Michelle Shall

Michelle and her husband recently escaped from the confines of city life and moved their family to 12 acres in the Missouri Ozarks. They are currently in middle of establishing their dream of a self-sufficient, off-grid homestead. She can be typically found knee-deep in brush, foraging for wild edibles, cooking on cast iron, hugging her favorite chickens, chasing her kids, sporadically waving her arms to emphasize a point, and, in quiet moments, sketching and painting.

2 Comments

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  1. Hallo Michelle, where I live it is more normal to dry your washing outside if you can. But I wanted to give you a tip about the nappies… diapers for you in the US. Any stains on nappies which are difficult to remove for instance from ointment for nappy rash can be made snowy white again by boiling them in a large pan on your stove using a small handful of washing soda crystals. This is not a detergent but the same trick works great for dishclothes that have become grey too.

    • That is a great tip! As my kids get older, the stains get stronger, haha. We’ve been including washing soda in our homemade detergent as well–it’s amazing how the simple things are usually all you need to fix a lot of cleaning problems. No need to douse anything in crazy chemicals (especially if it’s going against Baby’s skin, right?). Thanks so much for sharing!

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