Line Drying Trouble-shooting

Yesterday, Joy wrote  about saving money and reducing carbon emissions by line drying clothes.  I lived without a dryer for three years, which forced me to hang all my clothes on a big indoor rack, over the radiator, or out on the balcony.  Later, I lived in an apartment with coin-operated dryers, but I was so used to line-drying that I continued doing it.  Then, after about five solid years of dryer abstinence,  I started using the dryer again.  I felt guilty about it, but it was just so much easier, especially in during those nine rainy months of the year.

So why do people give up on line-drying?  Here are some of the biggest line-drying problems you may encounter–and how to solve them.

1. Problem: Your homeowners’ association or neighborhood association does not allow clotheslines.

Solution:  This could be an issue to raise at a meeting.  With more people striving to go green, the “unsightliness” of laundry lines may seem less important than the hole in the ozone layer.  Alternately, you could dry your clothes on a rack indoors.

2. Problem: Bugs get in your laundry.

Solution: Keep your clotheslines away from trees and bushes.  I admit that one reason I stopped drying clothes outside was because of the earwigs that climbed into my clothes and hung on for dear life.  They would not shake out, and that disgusted me!  I even tried setting my rack on a table, but they still managed to get in my clothes.  If anyone has a solution to this problem, please post a comment. 

3. Problem: It’s so humid, cold, or damp that your laundry never dries.

Solution: Unfortunately, drying your clothes indoors in the winter means that you are using more heat from your furnace to dry your clothes.  Still, doing this uses less energy than your dryer.  The average household does a load of laundry every day, so it’s not practical to leave one load hanging all over the house for a several days.   One idea is to let clothes air dry for a day, then toss them in the dryer to finish the job.  You’ll find they need a fraction of the normal time in the dryer once they’ve had a head start on the clothesline. 

4. Problem: Your laundry emerges stiff as a board from the clothesline.

Solution: A vinegar rinse can help soften line-dried clothes, as can some brisk shaking before hanging on the line.  In Europe, where almost everyone line-dries, they seem to iron all of their clothes.  Most Americans, on the other hand, are used to relying on the dryer to smooth out the wrinkles.  Ironing uses far less energy than the dryer–though obviously it also takes more time.  Again, you can throw the clothes in the dryer just before they dry.  Or add a wet towel to a load of air-dried clothes.  After just about five minutes, they will soften up. 

5. Problem: There is nowhere to hang your laundry.

Solution: Look into some of the clothes-drying racks that make a good use of space.  This one lowers from the ceiling, and this one retracts against the wall when you’re done using it.

6. Problem: It takes too much time to hang the laundry and then wait for it to dry.

Solution: Back when I was a line-drying purist, I scoffed at this excuse.  I have to admit, though, that there’s some merit to it.  It takes me over fifteen minutes to hang a load of laundry.  If you do a load of laundry a day (which I don’t), that would add 105 minutes to your laundry time each week.  In the summer, I’ve found that laundry dries just as fast on the line as it does in the dryer.  In the winter, it can take over a week to dry on the line (see #3), which may not work for some people.   Joy is a much fast clothes-hanger than I am, taking just seven minutes to hang a load.  And remember it’s not all or nothing–even hanging one load out to dry each week will make a difference! 

For someone who is trying to promote line-drying, I sound very negative!  Whenever I am grumbling about line-drying  my clothes, I just remember how much energy and money I’m saving.  That’s motivation enough for me!   Despite my laundry woes, I  also love line-drying for all the reasons Joy enumerated in yesterday’s post.  Please, everyone, post your line-drying tips and suggestions so I no longer have any reason to resort to my electricity-guzzling dryer!


  1. A brilliant idea (but totally obvious) idea just occurred to me. People can use two (or more) drying racks! You’d be able to take more space to drape wet clothes and wouldn’t need to fiddle with clothespins as much. Plus, there would be plenty of room for sun bleaching cloth diapers.

  2. I grew up in a missionary family in South America, where we hung dry all our clothes and hand washed them too. I still remember stomping on our clothes in a big sink to agitate them. When our electric bill hit $275 (1400 sq ft hm in Florida) hubby and I decided to try hang drying clothes. Since it’s soooo rainy this summer we’re doing like some others and hanging a couple lines in the garage. Honestly, it’s so hot in there, the clothes might dry faster than in our old dryer. As long as I don’t have start hand washing clothes, I’ll be ok.

  3. You guys inspired me! I had 2 sickies the past 2 days which meant LOADS of extra laundry. We are still working on the idea of a bucket. lol. So I decided to line dry lots of things. I am one of those people who isn’t allowed to hang clothes outside, and it’s an apartment so the landlord makes the rules. But I have a shower curtain rod over the washer and dryer. I hung stuff on hangers there and in the shower. Large blankets I hung over the railing of our stairs. There are some things that line dry super fast and I found that if I ran out of space, I could throw things like towels in the dryer but not start it until the next load. Does that make sense? Like one dryer run for every 2 or three loads of wash and then only hang the stuff that will dry fast.

    This works for me because I am one of those once a week laundry people so that when I’m doing laundry, I usually have 2 or 3 loads in a row at least. I can’t do it more than that because I have serious issues with mixing colors and doing small loads. I get a lot of joy from sorting. =)

  4. Rebecca,
    I did find some info about optical brighteners and why they make line-dried clothes feel stifff:

    There’s a list of detergents that don’t have them here (the article doesn’t care that they make clothes stiff, as you will see):

    Hope that helps someone- I hate crunchy laundry! I’m off to act on a tip that my local Big Lots has 7th generation laundry detergent for $7!

  5. Joy, I do have two drying racks, as well as some lines outside for things like sheets. I need two racks, a line, and some chairs to hang a full load. When we lived in our very small house, we got kind of crowded with the racks sitting there drying a partial load of laundry for over a week. I think that turned me off of line-drying for a while . . . but now I am BACK!

    Clare, if you have a garage for clothes-hanging, I think that would work perfectly. Another bonus is that if it happens to rain or something, you wouldn’t have to rush out to gather the laundry.

    Eileen, I admire you for draping the laundry everywhere in order to reduce those carbon emissions! Let us know if you come up with a winter line-drying scheme that works–that’s what I had trouble with in a small space.

    Blythe, thanks for the optical brighteners information. Let us know if you see a difference in laundry-crunchiness after switching. I use a laundry detergent without optical brighteners (Biokleen–I wrote a whole post on it a while back), but my laundry is still a bit stiff. Not extremely so, though.

  6. I use my hot water cupboard to finish off my laundry that hasn’t quite dried properly – particularly in winter, or if I’ve forgotten to take it off the line outside before the “chill” night air gets to it.

    I actually prefer crispier towels to dry myself with 😉 None of this wussy soft towel business for me! LOL!

  7. I live in Italy and can’t dry clothes outside in the winter, takes too long. BUT it is just as cold IN my house. LONG story short we have no heat, therefore it is cold inside. The REAL reason folks in Italy line dry is because we don’t have enough electricity to run more than two large appliances at once with the fridge being one of them. I have to ration power or risk tripping the breaker. (And then you have to start the washer over from the tart of the cycle because it is a front loading piece of s*&@) So I can wash clothes but while the clothes are washing I can’t use anyother appliance, and havew to keep some lights and tv off too. The washers in this country only hold 1/3 the typical “American” load so it is VERY FRUSTRATING. I am an American (military) stationed here and honestly it is a nice place to visit but I hate living here. I habe two kids and laundry is a huge sore spot for me.

  8. PS

    HOT water is a HOT commadity. We can either use it ALL to wash one load of clothes OR bathe two people…uh there are 4 bodies in my house so the clothes almost always get washed in cold water, dishes too…sigh

    GOD BLESS AMERICA, as a soldier (Airman actually) I am not only fighting for your freedon and rights, I am fighting for your right and freedom and LUXERY of HOT WATER…wahhhhhhhh I’m just so missing a real hotwater heater right now….

    good tips all !ciao!

Speak Your Mind