Hanging Laundry

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Suburban stockade introduction Why hang laundry on a clothesline when I could use my dryer? Because it fits the goals at Fortress Peschel: to cut costs, to be more sustainable, to be greener, to be more energy efficient. Clothes smell better when dried on a line. They last longer too: that dryer lint you collect after each use is abraded fabric. Clothing elastic does not like dryer heat and will last far longer when line-dried.

I hang my laundry out year round, in summer heat and winter cold.

I hang my laundry out year round, in summer heat and winter cold.

Believe it or not, there is an efficient way to hang laundry on a clothesline. The object of hanging laundry is to get the stuff dry. But you want it to dry quickly and wrinkle-free and be easy to take down and put away as well. Drying quickly matters if the weather is marginal (cold, cloudy, threatening rain) or you have multiple loads of clothes and limited line space or you have a large bird population or dirty, dusty air. Wrinkle-free drying saves you endless ironing time, or more likely, makes it look as though you didn’t avoid ironing. Clothes that are easy to take down and put away makes it easier for someone else (not mom!) to finish the laundry.

It doesn't take very long to hang laundry on a clothesline and it can save you quite a bit of money over the years.

It doesn’t take very long to hang laundry on a clothesline and it can save you quite a bit of money over the years.

Most clothes should be hung as though they were actually being worn, in the same orientation as if it were on the body. [/caption]Most clothes should be hung as though they were actually being worn, i.e., in the same orientation as if it were on the body. Shake out all the washer wrinkles. If you hang up wrinkled clothing, it will dry wrinkled and that means ironing. Don’t crowd clothing. Give each item a bit of space so the air and sun can get all around. If you have the space, spread stuff out in a single line so that one item doesn’t shade another item. This won’t matter in August, but a little shade can make a big difference in getting clothes dry in January.

Most clothes should be hung as though they were actually being worn, in the same orientation as if it were on the body.

Most clothes should be hung as though they were actually being worn, in the same orientation as if it were on the body.

Other than pants and socks, I wash almost every garment inside out. This saves wear and tear on the fashion surface and is a lifesaver for any kind of printed or painted on design. Garments remain inside out on the clothesline to reduce sun fading. Your clothes will fade in time, but why speed up the process? When hanging garments, fold over as little fabric over the line as you can. Doubled-up fabric takes longer to dry and can add wrinkles and clothespin marks. I line up the edge of the garment with the clothesline and peg it in place with no folding over at all. Clothes on windy days get more clothespins if I think it needs the extra securing.

The clothesline itself matters quite a lot. Don’t get one of those square clotheslines with lots and lots of lines close together. They work okay in August but when the weather is iffy, the clothes hang too close together to get dry quickly. They shade each other out too. It is also very awkward to hang towels, sheets, curtains and rugs on this kind of setup. Square clotheslines aren’t big enough and are really only suitable for the tiniest of yards.

Get the big T-poles that hold three or four lines. Ask for these at a local hardware store. A big box hardware store is far more likely to only have the square kind. The T-pole models they have on their websites require assembly, which means they’ll flex and weaken in high winds. A pole in which the crosspiece is welded to the pole will be sturdy enough to handle anything.

Planting your clothesline

Assuming you have a choice, go with a sunny, windy spot close to your house and set the poles in concrete thirty feet or so apart. In my area, clotheslines run along the single backyard sidewalk that goes from the back door to the far end of the yard. The idea is to stand on concrete rather than mud or snow when hanging laundry. Do not put your lines under trees as this leads to bird droppings and lots of them. No matter how fast you are with getting the clothes on and off the line, birds can and will leave deposits on everything.

For the clothesline, spend the money (you will only have to do this once) on vinyl-coated steel cable. Lehman’s catalog sells it and it will never break, sag, or rust. My clothesline has been in use for almost ten years without a problem. Try to have the lines up as high as you can reach so that sheets and curtains don’t drag on the ground. Parallel lines of steel cable will support the biggest, heaviest comforters and blankets so they will dry completely. Laundry hung high up also tends to get fewer grubby marks on it from children and dogs.

I hang the clothespin bag on the bolt that attaches the line to the pole and walk back and forth

I hang the clothespin bag on the bolt that attaches the line to the pole and walk back and forth

I hang the clothespin bag on the bolt that attaches the line to the pole and walk back and forth. Spring clothespins work ever so much better than those pegs that you see used for crafts. Get plenty of them and a big bag to hold them onto the clothesline as well (hanging them on the line causes it to sag; I hang it on the bolt that attaches the line to the pole and walk back and forth). The metal frame that holds the cloth bag is more important than the cloth bag it comes with. The cloth bag will eventually rip and have to be replaced. If you can sew, you can replace the bag. A heavy metal frame will last forever (I am on my fourth or fifth bag now). Some frames are easier to replace the bags on and some are more challenging.

When you buy the clothespin bag, examine the frame carefully to see how hard it will be to replace the bag with your homemade fabric replacement. Clothespins and bags are sold together at the hardware store you bought the clothes poles at or in any grocery store or discount store. Very windy days will require more clothespins than suggested below, sometimes lots more clothespins to keep your laundry from tearing free and visiting the neighbor’s yard. So get plenty of clothespins and then several packs more, to be sure.

The science of hanging

So, let’s start hanging those garments!

Pants are hung by the side-seams on the waist with a third clothespin in the center back. Open all buttons and zippers. If the weather is really chancy (cold, about to rain) pull the pockets out of the pants so they can dry; otherwise push them in place, flat and wrinkle-free. Open the pants legs out to allow air flow. This is especially important with jeans in the winter. They will freeze in this open position and dry faster. Shorts are hung the same way.

Skirts are hung by the waist at the side seams with another clothespin at the center back, adjusting the placement to avoid any zippers. Open all the zippers or buttons or snaps. If the skirt is a wrap skirt or opens all the way from waist to hem, open it up completely and use as many clothespins as you need to keep it reasonably flat on the line.

Pullover shirts can be hung two ways depending on the collar. As always, open any buttons, zippers, or snaps and pull the front of the garment away from the back. Shake out the wrinkles. Turtlenecks and cowlnecks must be hung upside down by the hem. Hang by the side seams without stretching the bottom hem and use two more clothespins spaced equally to support the weight of the wet garment without it twisting. Open up the turtleneck to allow airflow. Tops with any other kind of collar can be hung this way or you can hang them up by the shoulder seams. A heavier top may need two clothespins on each side to support the wet weight. Hang raglan and dolman-sleeve garments as if the seams were in the usual places or hang upside down. I always hang sweaters upside down as they seem to dry better, especially at the underarms. I use seven to nine clothespins on a sweater hem for better support and less stretching. If you are concerned about stretching a sweater out, drape it over the clothesline at the underarm seams and pin it that way. It will take much longer to dry because of the thick layers of fabric.

Shirts and jackets that button or zip up the entire front should be completely unbuttoned or unzipped and hung upside down by the side seams at the hem. A flat bottom hem will need a few more pegs to spread out the garment. A curved, shaped hem just gets the two side seams and one clothespin in the middle. Smooth and flatten any pockets or pocket flaps and collars. Crumpled parts on a flannel shirt will dry crumpled and only an iron will fix the wrinkles. Unbutton and spread open the cuffs as well.

Dresses should be hung from the shoulder seams with one or two clothespins per shoulder depending on the weight. Don’t put a clothespin on any shoulder pads. Work around them or take them out completely and hang them separately. If the dress has any ruffles or ties take a few minutes to smooth the wrinkles flat with your fingers before going onto the next garment. If you let ruffles dry without doing this, the wrinkles will set in place and you will have to iron the dress. Any other details like big collars should be handled the same way. As always, open every button, snap, and zipper; pull the front of garment away from the back and open up the sleeves.

Underwear should be hung at the waist side seams without stretching the waistband elastic. This is very difficult to repair or replace so avoid damaging it. Men’s briefs hung by a clothespin at the crotch will dry in August but they won’t in January. Your bras will last far longer if you wash them on the smallest setting in a mesh bag after closing the hooks and always letting them air dry. Nothing kills bra elastic like a hot dryer. Hang the bras on the line by the closure end without all the little hooks. Hang socks by the toe and open up each sock as you go. Bathing suits get hung by their shoulder straps or by the waist side seams for the bottoms.

I wash second-hand shoes, especially sneakers and trash-picked ones, and dry them on the clothesline. Open up the shoe, remove any laces, knock off all the loose dirt and pick the Velcro closures clean with a corsage pin before throwing them in for a cold water wash. Wash the laces in a mesh bag with a warm or hot water load. Hang the shoes by the back and spread out the sides and tongue so they can dry better. If the laces come clean, match them back up with their shoes. Depending on the condition of the laces, it may be better to replace them, particularly if the shoes come out looking really clean.

Bedding: Hang towels vertically if dogs and toddlers can’t get at them; they take up much less linear space. Depending on the size and wet weight, you will need three or more pegs per item. Snap your towels hard, four or five times each, before hanging them on the line and again when you take them down. They won’t be as stiff when you use them. Sheets should be hung in one layer as much as possible. Even when the weather is too cold to dry anything else, sheets can almost always get done outside. Drape larger sheets over two lines and use plenty of clothespins to secure them. The wind will make them sail out and your kids will think you made them tents. Pillowcases can be hung at either narrow end. Shake them open when you hang them so air can get down inside. Spread blankets, comforters, quilts and rugs over two or even three clotheslines to support their weight and get that air moving underneath. If you have to drape a blanket over a single line, the underside is not as likely to dry out. In the winter, flip the blanket over after a few hours to dry the other side. Shake out or spread out every wrinkle and crumple or the sheets (particularly the flannel ones) will set that way. If the weather is cold enough, they will freeze up and won’t dry out in the center of the wrinkle.

Curtains and valances: Hang curtains as though they were still hanging on the rod; top up and bottom down. Spread them out smooth and they will dry smooth. Heavy, long drapes may have to be draped over parallel clotheslines to dry the undersides. Valances will occupy a lot of line space so you may have to dry them folded over the line. They do get a lot fewer wrinkles if they are hung in the same orientation as you put them in the window. When you look at your drapes and curtains closely, they may not actually need to be washed. They get dusty but unless you have a household of smokers or people who throw juice on the drapes, they don’t really get dirty. Clean your drapes by hanging them on the line on a very windy, sunny day and the wind will blow all the dust off of them. Do this once a year and you may be able to avoid washing them or paying the drycleaner for the pinchpleated, unwashable ones.

Kitchen linens: Kitchen towels, dish clothes, bar mops, and napkins should all be hung smooth and straight so they dry that way. Hang table clothes like you do sheets. Hang up kitchen and bathroom rugs so they are a single layer. They will need lots of clothespins; as many as one every six or eight inches for a wet, heavy rug. If the wind is very strong, you will have to drape the rug over two lines to dry it. Don’t drape it over a single line or you may have to go out and flip the rug over to dry the second side.

Sort Before Hanging

Yes, I sort my laundry on the clothesline. I’d rather spend another 20 minutes outside in the sun and fresh air first thing in the morning than try and match those socks at the end of the day when I am tired. When you hang out the wash, hang all of one person’s clothes together: socks all in a group and paired up, underwear next, t-shirts, etc. If you have the line space, use one line per person. I go so far as to match up my kids’ outfits with a shirt and pants, shirt and pants, shirt and skirt, etc., side by side on the clothesline. When someone else takes in the wash, it is already sorted. This has proven to be a big timesaver at the end of the day. You have to do it anyway, so why not sort it when you have the energy and space?

I hang my laundry out year round, in summer heat and winter cold. Technique really matters in the winter. You have more clothes and less time to dry them in as the days are shorter. I have found that, as long as it is windy and dry, daytime temperature doesn’t matter. The sun doesn’t have to be fully out, either. The laundry freezes dry in the wind. It is stiff and cold when brought inside but it is rarely damp. Remind your laundry assistants: cold is not wet. I take the trouble to sort my wash while still in the house. I unbutton those buttons, open zippers, etc., so I minimize handling cold, wet clothes outside. It is easier to manage the clothespins with thin gloves than heavier ones.

Racking Your Laundry

Because I do not want to use the expensive dryer, I bought a pair of extra-large wooden drying racks. Since I bought my racks, I have trash-picked several more, but my Amish-made racks are still the best. I hang laundry out anytime it is not raining, snowing hard, foggy or misting. The laundry may not dry fully, and then it gets spread out on racks in the living room to finish up overnight. Even a few hours outside cuts the drying time on the rack down drastically. If I have to go directly to the racks from the washer, I can expect the laundry, depending on the item, to take all day and overnight to dry. It is definitely worth it to me to hang stuff outside for three hours to save six or nine hours inside. Sheets and towels don’t rack well so I save up that laundry for better weather.

My clothesline also serves as a prewash area. When I pick up blankets or rugs or clothing alongside the road, I hang it on the line and let the wind and rain do a prewash. Very dirty blankets may need several hard rains to get enough mud off to put the item in the washer. Setting up more clothesline space than you think you need will free up space for these kinds of finds.

It doesn’t take very long to hang laundry on a clothesline and it can save you quite a bit of money over the years. Dryers use a lot of electricity, and I doubt you can run one off of your solar panels. Anyway, when you need the dryer the most, the solar panels will give you the least power. You can assume that each load of clothes dried in a dryer costs from 50 cents to $1 per load. This varies depending on your rates, the wattage of your dryer, the amount and wetness of the load, and how long it takes to run a load. Seven loads of laundry a week equals about $15 a month or $182 a year. If you wash more laundry or your electricity rates are higher, you will pay more.

Laundry racks from Lehman's.

Laundry racks from Lehman’s.

After the setup of clothes poles, lines, and clothespins, solar drying is free. Extra-large drying racks can be expensive (my pair cost $110) but they pay for themselves in a few years. If you get lucky and find them in the trash or as pass-alongs, they cost nothing. A dryer costs hundreds of dollars upfront and then you pay more every time you use it. Dryers are hard on clothes; they wear out the elastic and rub off the fibers into dryer lint. Items like bras and bathing suits should never be put into a dryer. A good quality, well-maintained dryer will last for years. Steel powder-coated clothes poles set in concrete with vinyl-coated steel cable with last forever.

The hardest part of using a clothesline is getting started early enough in the day so that you can get the wash on the line and catch all that free sun. It’s easier during the summer. I have put laundry on the line as late as 4 p.m. in July and had it dry. In the winter, I need to be fast and organized and have the laundry outside by 10 a.m.. It simply takes longer to dry with less sun and lower temperatures. It can take a lot longer to dry than one day which is why I got my drying racks. I haven’t done this personally, but I have read of people leaving the wash out for several days until it freezes dry. I like racks better. Dryers are a convenience but do you want to pay for them? My dollars have better places to go than the electric company. I use my dryer perhaps a dozen times a year now, for those week-long rains. With some planning and a clothesline, you can hang out 95% of your laundry too, and put your dryer dollars to better use.

Next Week: Making Choices and Accepting Consequences