Drying Clothes

A homesteader’s blog post I read recently discussed using washboards and ringers to wash clothes.  It was interesting, but absent some catastrophe that’s not something I expect we’ll be doing here.  But we have begun making ourselves less dependent upon the dryer.

A few years ago we had some friends move into our old farm house for a couple of years.  Not long after they moved in they asked if we would take the dryer out of the laundry room.  They wanted the space for something else and they said they had no plans to use the dryer.  That baffled me.  Why not, I asked.  Because, they said, the dryer is an energy hog and they were perfectly happy drying their clothes on the clothes line.  I took out the dryer, but I didn’t agree with them.  Now, a few years later, I understand completely.

We never had a dryer when I was growing up.  We dried clothes by hanging them on a clothes line.  My mother wanted a dryer but my father would never agree to it.  It seemed unnecessary to him.  I think it was the first thing she bought for the house after he died.

My grandfather would never agree to a dryer either.  He outlived my grandmother so they never had one. One of his objections was that clothes dryers wore clothes out sooner.  He said that the lint that dryers create comes from the clothes.  He was probably right about that.

We have a dryer and we still use it sometimes.  But whenever we can, we now dry our laundry outside.  And why not?  The sun and breeze do a fine job of it and the energy to do it is completely natural.  Besides, I like the smell and feel of clothes dried that way.  Reminds me of my childhood.

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39 comments on “Drying Clothes

  1. I dry everything on the line from spring until it snows. There is nothing quite like the scent of sheets dried in the sun. It reminds me of my childhood, although back then wash day seemed interminable. When i have to use the dryer in the winter it seems so wasteful now. If I had five children I might feel differently and long for a dryer, too.

    So many things have become a convenience, but we have also paid a steep price.

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    • Bill says:

      Washing clothes in a machine seems much easier and more convenient than washing them by hand, but drying clothes in a machine isn’t much easier or more convenient that hanging them to dry, it seems to me. But once we get used to some “convenience” it’s hard to go back. I love the fact that hanging clothes out to dry instead of putting them in a machine doesn’t seem weird at all to many of the readers of this blog. 🙂

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  2. shoreacres says:

    I’d line dry if I could, but outdoor clothes drying isn’t allowed in any neighborhood I know. Aesthetics. It’s untidy to see clothes flapping on a line. Many of the same people who make those rules are passionate advocates of solar and wind power. Sometimes, the line between irony and stupidity is very, very thin.

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  3. Ru says:

    In SA, dryers are viewed as an extravagance so we have always dried clothes outside. Mind you, on the days I forget my washing and it starts to rain before I get them all off, I do think of a dryer a bit more fondly. We had one, I used it twice then gave it away. I missed the scent of air dried clothes. Besides, it’s so hot here, my clothes dry in an hour, which is shorter than one cycle usually.

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  4. I’ve tried line drying. Our house backs up to a road. Our clothes ended up smelling like a mixture of dog poo and car exhaust. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.

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  5. beeholdn says:

    Ach, there used to be such bylaws in the Toronto area, too, though particularly aimed at apartment dwellers and their balconies, I think. Haven’t heard anything recently, common sense may be prevailing.
    In the winter we hang clothes on a couple of lines in the basement, the furnace is nearby, they dry quickly.

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    • Bill says:

      Maybe the anti-clothesline laws are going the way of the anti-backyard chicken ordinances. If so, good riddance.
      Back in my lawyering days I once represented an upscale “residential golf community.” Their bylaws prohibited anyone from parking a van or truck in the driveway–no doubt to prevent some lowly plumber or contractor from living there and driving his truck home. That law became a problem when all of a sudden everyone started buying minivans and SUVs.

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  6. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, mom always washed with a wringer washer and line dried when I was growing up. Well, until we moved to the city when I was ten. Mom was all about modern conveniences and when we could afford it the washer and dryer became a part of the household. It’s amusing to me to see the change in some modern day homestead people that want to return to the ways of past generations. My mom’s generation couldn’t wait to leave that labor intensive life behind and embrace the modern way of life. In some ways it was a gauge of success in life for them. Dad was a truck mechanic and mom was a stay at home mom. Extravagance was not a way of life but compared to their childhoods it was close to it in their minds. No one in my neighborhood hangs out clothes to dry. I’ve only dabbled with it a couple times. It didn’t give me a gushy feeling of wonderful energy saving so I moved on with other things that piqued my interest. Neither of my wives had any interest in airing the laundry to all the neighbors. In the country hanging laundry would not be seen but in the urban city hanging out laundry would be seen by all. As for me, I’m sticking with the energy hog dryer for now. 🙂

    Have a great drying clothes day.

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    • Bill says:

      An advantage of clothes dryers in the suburbs is that the neighbors can’t see your laundry. I can understand that. But it’s interesting to see that in cities around the world folks still hang their laundry outside without any apparent embarrassment. I was surprised to learn that a clothes dryer uses so much energy. Apparently over 10% of a family’s electrical bill comes from the clothes dryer (despite the fact that it isn’t on all the time). It is a nice convenience to have and we still use ours sometimes, but it’s also nice to have an alternative to it.

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  7. valbjerke says:

    We dry on a line and on a rack by the wood stove in the winter. For washing – we’ve always had a wringer washer – they use a fraction of the water, and you can leave your clothes in til they’re clean. Your not a slave to a predetermined length of cycle of wash, rince etc. My only complaint for wringer washers is that you can’t buy a new one (well you can for 1200 bucks and its made in South Africa). As a result, we’ve finished off a few – and no parts to be had.
    I recently managed to find one of those really old style ones – a big half tub with a lid and a long handle – fill it up and stand there and rock it back and forth yourself. Then crank the wringer yourself. People think I’m nuts to not go buy appliances – but they’re mostly junk destined for the landfill – any repairs that need to be made often cost more than replacing the unit.

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  8. ain"t for city gals says:

    Because I am a little bit lazy and because it is so warm in Arizona I take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the basket. I then take the basket out in the sun ….fluff them a bit….and then let them get almost dry. Then I put them in the dryer for a few minutes to finish them off. I don’t think I have done a straight washer to dryer load for years. I have to say…doing laundry to me is enjoyable. To do a couple of loads of laundry and have clean clothes for a week is kind of like a miracle to me….I know…doesn’t take much for me!

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    • Bill says:

      Sounds like you’ve come up with a good system that makes sense in your climate. Finishing them off in the dyer that way probably gives you fluffier towels than you’d have if they were only air-dryed.

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  9. Joanna says:

    I still remember the look of utter disbelief when I informed the guy installing our washing machine in America that I wasn’t getting a dryer. The fact is that in semi-arid Colorado I could see absolutely no point. Being in a rented house, though meant there was no outside line to dry my clothes on and a HOA that banned it anyway. Then again the house was too dry, so I dried clothes inside over the air conditioning vents. It humidified the air and that meant we didn’t have to buy a humidifier.

    Here in Latvia, all my neighbours hang their washing out on the communal washing line, but this time of they year is the most difficult. Our communal heating has only just gone on, but the damp dreary days of autumn has meant mouldy windows due to all the preserving I have been doing, so the dehumidifier is out now – which is also useful for drying clothes and has a setting on it to do just that. Prior to this, I would never dream of having a dryer and only have it now due to the lack of choice of when the heating can come on in a dampish apartment. After all I managed perfectly well for the last 24 years of married life.

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  10. bobraxton says:

    not far outside our basement and kitchen (above) we had five lines (clothes lines). We used the spring clothes pins that you press and release. Recently when we were driving, I saw shirts hung on those thick plastic hangers right on the line, not pins. Intriguing.

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  11. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    No, nothing beats the smell or feel of line-dried, wind-fluffed laundry; and, in some ways, clothes do last longer (but all that flapping in the breeze is really hard on armpit seams): however, to not have access to the (gas) dryer on those inclement weather days? Well, “No, thank you!”
    In this day and age, winter-frozen digits and chilblains, like Mom used to get when I was a kid, shouldn’t be one of life’s hazards. Having a choice, north of Lake Ontario, is a necessity.
    Plus unfortunately, even ‘way out here in the country, every now and again the prevailing winds bring nasty smells from afar (in addition to those you expect at Spring Spreading Time; ) that simply don’t belong in your clothes.

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    • Bill says:

      Having the dyer gives us that flexibility. It’s like our heating system. When we built the house we didn’t plan to heat with wood. We added that later. So now if we don’t have any wood cut or we have a cold spell out of season we can turn on the gas heat if we have to.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        We didn’t build this house, but did add wood heat the first summer and – while nothing makes me feel as warm and cozy as a wood fire – if we had built this place, there would have also been allowance made for more energy flexibility (like on-site storage for solar and/or wind generation). If I could build anything at all, I’d like to take a crack at straw bale or passive solar berm house construction…

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  12. I’m a line and rack dryer, have been for 15 years, and I was raised that way. I most definitely used a dryer when I lived in an apartment and our first child was in cloth diapers. I’m not one to throw out perfectly useful technology when it’s appropriate. That said, I haven’t used our perfectly good dryer here for the aforesaid 15 years. I just don’t need to. My teens do occasionally – a big room clean up usually means several loads of laundry – more than I have line space or rack space for. They also don’t plan ahead well sometimes and will use the dryer to get a favourite shirt or jeans back sooner. It’s probably the hardest part of getting in the habit of not using a dryer – the timing thing. I get around the winter/bad weather/noxious smells thing by using a rack indoors – it folds down when not in use. I also plan with the weather in mind – if I can see it’s going to be a non-wet day, I’ll get laundry out, even if I wasn’t planning it – this might be sheets or towels, which are harder to dry on my rack. My family knows I strategize laundry and don’t put things in the basket if they want them back tomorrow, because I may not be doing jeans today, or I may not do all of them. They learned that the hard way. An up side of line drying is the reduction in ironing – actually I don’t iron clothes anymore, period – had enough of that in the Navy! Stuff from the dryer always seems too wrinkled too me, even with the wrinkle free setting – probably because I forget it’s there and it sits for hours.

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    • Bill says:

      We have a folding rack too and we dry a lot of clothes that way. We set it up in our bathtub or in the laundry room.

      Good point about ironing. And to me the thing a dryer does best is make towels fluffy. Once you get used to that going back to stiff towels isn’t so great. 🙂

      When I put up this post I figured it wouldn’t get much notice. Who would care to comment on a post about drying clothes, I thought. Getting all these great comments was an unexpected treat. Of course, in hindsight I should have known it would resonate with folks who like blogs like this one. 🙂

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  13. EllaDee says:

    Horses for courses of course but I’ve never gotten into clothes dryers, and it’s incredible that people are banned from hanging clothes in balconies for aesthetics. We’ve being living in small apartments for 10 years, washing daily and drying our clothes on small, portable clothes racks. At this apartment the washer has a fancy steamer-dryer option the mysteries of which I’ve never attempted to unravel. At out house we have a hills hoist in the yard and an under cover verandah line. Years ago, out of habit we bought a dryer but it’s rarely used. The price of power has made many propel re-think the sense of over using appliances. As Ain’t.for City Gals said, clothes washing is magic… with an automatic washing machine, pop the clothes in plus soap, do something else, hang out the clothes, get distracted by the plants or the view, later bring the fresh sunny smelling clothes in, get distracted by the plants or the view, fold, not iron and put away – it’s my favorite household chore!

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    • Bill says:

      The comments to this post have me more convinced than ever that a dryer is far from necessary and choosing not to use one is a perfectly sensible thing to do. That is getting affirmation from around the world. 🙂

      I read that 12% of the power used in a typical household is for the dryer alone! That’s just an amazing fact.

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  14. avwalters says:

    We do everything we can to use the clothesline. Even in winter, when the clothes freeze, you can pre-dry them. They sublimate. Then you can finish them up in the dryer–still saving energy.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s an excellent point. Even if a person uses a dryer, it doesn’t need to be used for the entire drying process.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Hey Bill, you did mention (not liking): the scratchy towel factor… I use the “Air Fluff” setting for 20-30 minutes to finish cooling every load (which counteracts that prune effect that Sailor’s Small Farm mentioned; as just using the motor to rotate the drum doesn’t really use much power. I recall hearing somewhere that dryers were invented as a way to use up the “extra power” when electricity was first introduced and generation far outstripped usage.

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  15. sf says:

    I like to save on electricity bills by hanging out my laundry whether indoors or outdoors. I have a hanging thingy indoors, which just takes a couple of days for clothes to be completely dry. I have to remember to check outside on the hanging like to see if my Mom might have hung out all of our underwear too for the whole world to see. Yipes! That’s INdoor hanging stuff, Mom! :oD

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  16. I was waiting for it, Bill. You captured it in the last paragraph. There is a smell and feel to clothes dried outside that in never matched by a clothes dryer. –Curt

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