Line Drying Your Laundry: Frugal or Foolish?

by Linsey Knerl on 1 August 2011 33 comments

I’ve had the joy of using a new HE washer and dryer for the past year, but life wasn’t always so plush. In fact, there have been times more recently when I have washed by hand and line-dried — out of necessity, not due to a love of energy conservation. I will admit, however, that line-drying has made sense in some instances, and the perks cannot be replaced by any mechanical means. But is it for everyone and every situation? Here are some facts on the perks and put-offs of letting it all hang out. (See also: Kilowatts a Killer? Tips for Air-Drying Clothes)

Line Drying Saves Energy

According to the website Flex Your Power, it costs California residents nearly “30 to 40 cents to dry a load of laundry in an electric dryer and approximately 15 to 20 cents in a gas dryer.” That may not seem like much, but if you have a large family or work a dirty job, it can really add up in costs and drain on the system. Line drying, however, is free after getting the line and pins.

But...

In less-than-ideal situations, you can use more energy line drying. Laundry exposed to the elements has a higher chance of getting soiled again (bird droppings, dust from vehicles, an unexpected rain shower), and may need to be re-washed. Be sure to carefully monitor the weather and conditions of your drying area to avoid having to rinse and repeat.

Line Drying Smells Fabulous

There really is nothing better than the scent of clean sheets on laundry day — provided they are free of chemical perfumes and have been allowed to stay in the sun for at least an hour. While the causes of your laundry smells will vary by location, sun-dried clothing generally rocks.

But...

On the other side of the coin is the laundry that can become stinky from being outdoors. Laundry hung near cattle operations, certain bodies of water, or high-traffic areas, for example, will take on the scent of the air around it…and that may not be a good thing. In addition, pollen, dust, and mold spores can adhere to laundry dried outside and cause sickness in those with sensitivities. Even if you personally aren’t bothered by these allergens, bringing laundry into the home after being outside can wreak havoc on others living with you.

Line Drying Can Extend the Life of Your Clothes

As Andrea already discussed, there are many things you can do to make your clothes last longer. Line drying can be one of those things, especially if you are concerned about keeping your dainties dainty. Shrinking is never a problem with drying on the line, and you won’t run into dryer snags or melted Sharpie pens, either. Anything left in pockets can pretty much stay there when hanging from the line.

But...

While line drying can extend the life of things like blue jeans and t-shirts, it can also stress out other items. Certain hand-made or dyed items may bleach in the sun, and sweaters may fall victim to birds (which have been known to pick a thread for a nest.) Depending on the area, bird droppings can permanently stain light-colored clothing (especially if you are located anywhere near a mulberry tree.) There is also the matter of clothing thieves, which I have not encountered, but who are certain to exist.

If you need another reason to carefully consider line-drying, how about the fact that it could make you a criminal? Some have dared to compare the simplicity of hanging laundry with the art of keeping chickens in your backyard, and laws abound to keep those criminal driers in check. (In all seriousness, you should always check to see if it is legal to hang your clothes. Housing authorities, especially, have more laws concerning this than other populations.)

I’m all for line-drying under the right conditions. You won’t catch me doing it in subzero temps, and I tend to save my best towels for the dryer — I’m not a fan of the exfoliating properties of crunchy towels. I do understand why it’s a good thing for many, however, and for at least four months out of the year, it is my go-to method.

Do you line dry?

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Guest's picture
Laura

I line dry indoors. This prevents all the problems you mentioned. I recommend it.

Guest's picture

This is what I do. I don't always line dry, but some items require it.

Guest's picture
Emily

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but running the dryer heats up my house. I'm not just saving the energy of the dryer itself running, I'm also saving the energy of the a/c running more.

My relationship with my clothesline is one of adoration and annoyance. I hang three loads of clothes on the line, go to the store...and it rains.

Guest's picture
Chris

Here's a Real World anecdote, since I just spent 3 weeks at a beach house with no dryer. We line dried everything! And towels were not meant to be line dried. They come out stiff as a board and felt like sandpaper. So did my jockey shorts. Seriously, it was quite uncomfortable!

But like you said, T-shirts, shorts, jeans, etc all did fine drying on the line, except when a late afternoon thunderstorm soaked everything and blew a lot of stuff clear across the yard (broke the clothespins!)

Guest's picture
Guest

Too much detergent is probably the problem. Also if you leave your clothes out all night and so they end up with an extra "dew rinse" they also tend to be much softer as well.

Guest's picture
Guest

Chris: The ART of LINE DRYING has a few tricks. For towels, before you hang them give them a few snapping shakes to free the nap from the rest of the towel. Then, TAKE THEM OFF THE LINE when about 80% dry, snap/shake them again and finish drying inside, over a clothes horse, or the back of a chair. Still a little stiff, but not sandpaper. Remember, your grandma didn't have a clothes dryer and everyone survived!! LOL

Guest's picture

Line drying is, as far as I'm concerned, the way to go.
Whenever the weather's halfway decent you'll find me pegging out laundry. And when it's raining, I dry on a clothes horse indoors. Tumble dryers are environmentally unfriendly and too hard on clothes - not just shrinkage but bobbling and weakening the fabric.
In years of line drying I don't think I've ever had to relaunder anything because of bird droppings or smells. Though I do remember a teenage urban myth about someone stealing underwear from people's washing lines - but I don't think it ever really happened!

Guest's picture
Beth

You assume everyone lives in a house! I can't line dry because I live in an apartment, but I dry most of my things on drying racks/hangers inside. (I do have to wait for less humid days in the summer though!) Doing so, I avoid most of the hazards mentioned in this article like birds, pollen, sun bleaching, etc. I still machine dry towels (for softness) and sheets (no room to hang!)

For every load of laundry I don't put in the dryer, I save $1.50 because our building has coin laundry. The industrial machines are much harder on clothes than most people's home dryers too. (I sneak my t-shirts, etc in the dryer for about 5 minutes before the towels go in to get out the wrinkles first)!

Cheers!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a carport that I have strung lines from the beams, that means I can line dry outside without getting bird droppings and bleaching from the sun, also, when it rains, I do not have to rush to get it in before it all gets wet! I also line dry indoors.. I have put up tension curtain rods in my hallway and let the air conditioner act as my dryer, it also makes your house smell like your clean laundry. Here in the deep South, it is too dang hot to run a dryer!

Guest's picture
alysa@impulsesave.com

Line drying can work really well! Some fabrics take to being dried in the sun better than others. It also depends on the detergent you use. It's probably a good idea to do a "test-run" of sorts, by trying to find out if your detergent, location, and clothes are well matched before doing the full load!

Guest's picture
David M

No to line dry.

But I hang on wooden racks.

Spend the money to save the money - the rack was $80 but I have had it for about 10 years and its still going strong.

We put this in a spare bedroom.

Guest's picture

Sometimes it's even more beneficial for me to drop off my laundry twice a month when it's a big load like bedding, sheets and towels. I go on the days they have specials like $0.75 a pound or by load and it comes up to about $18 a month for the stuff that would take a long dry time or possibly two dry sessions. Saving time can also be like saving money, and take less A/C to cool my house after the dryer heat.

During the summer drying my clothes on a line is a great idea, especially for swimsuits, beach towels and all. Thank you for sharing this information!

Guest's picture

My wife and I line dry, primarily because we don't even have a drier. Although we live in a large city, we live on the outskirts so the pollution isn't too bad and there is a greenway very close to us which I think helps with any pollution near by. But when it gets rainy or humid, which isn't too frequent in Texas, we bring our cloths inside to the spare bedroom to dry. But drying outside is great here in Texas since it only needs to be outside for about an hour, two hours tops if you're drying towels, and then we can bring them in! I've never had trouble with birds, dust or pollen at all. :-) ::Knocks on wood::

@Chris, you probably had too much detergent in the cloths if they felt like a board after line drying them.

@Emily, I'm completely with you, I definitely think a dryer would heat up the house and push the AC even further, all the more reason to not have one! Not to mention the more you own, the more repairs and energy you have to put into them to run properly. I like our simple life! :-D

Guest's picture
Christie

I never line dry. I grew up with crunchy towels and waiting for hours for things to dry and then having them get wet in a sudden rain shower. I always hated how stiff things were and didn't care for the smell at all. So, it's the dryer for me!!

Guest's picture

My clothes line is in my basement. All problems solved.

Guest's picture
Nutti

We don't own a dryer. So it's line dry indoors or take up the road to a laundromat. We got a new HE washer so things dry in no time flat.

Guest's picture
Janne

Never done anything but line-drying...

Guest's picture
Mimi

I live in Vermont, which has a "right to dry" laws. I hang laundry outside on nice days, the run it through the dryer for 10 minutes, to kill any bugs that stowed away.

"Some have dared to compare the simplicity of hanging laundry with the art of keeping chickens in your backyard,"

When I lived in the ghetto, I had neighbors who hung their laundry outside and neighbors who kept chickens. Drying laundry didn't smell nearly as bad, or crow for hours on end (yes, they had a rooster). If you want to raise chickens, move to the country.

Guest's picture
Jeroen

Yes I do, but I don't have a garden so I just do it in my apartment. I have a small drying rack that I can hang on my door. It's spacious enough for one to two persons, not much more. I don't have room for a dryer, or a washing machine for that matter.

Guest's picture
Frank B

We've been line drying for 2-1/2 years, and I can't see going back to using a dryer. All our drying is done indoors with clothes racks and hangers. The stiff towel syndrome is one we faced, but found via several online line-drying communities that it was due to the detergent we were using. What started as a way to get by while we waiting for parts for our broken dryer led to a new way of life. Our energy bill was cut in half and we're enjoying the savings.

Guest's picture
GuestMaria

ummm , I try to dry all my laundry outside because it smells fresher and does not cost me any money. I live in the country, so yes we have a lot of birds arounds us but RARELy one poops on my washing ( twice in 18 years) and the smells??? oh come on get real. You want to save money you dry outside, it really is as easy as that.

Guest's picture
allison

I must also de-lurk and add that in all my 25 years or so of hanging laundry (my mom gave me laundry duty when I was 16), I have had bird poop incidents only a handful of times, if that. A bird's gotta have pretty good aim/luck to hit something that is hanging...perpendicular? parallel? to its poop chute!

I have one line outside, and a few lines inside the basement. I do use the dryer in the winter for towels, as it takes them soooo long to dry.

I also use a splash of white vinegar in the softener cup to alleviate stiff clothes.

It's been so hot here in St. Louis the past few weeks that I can wash and dry a few loads before noon or 1 pm. One upshot of the triple-digit weather!

Guest's picture
Guest

"You won’t catch me doing it in subzero temps"
In subzero temperature laundry dries faster than ever! As frost brings humidity down to nothing, your laundry is dry in no time. And somehow frost gives a nicer smell to your laundry than warmer-weather line drying. And ofcourse there is no chance of unexpected showers when it freezes. When I was a child my mother would always machine dry all our laundry except when it was freezing, then she would line dry everything. (Maybe this habbit only develops in area's where people are used to cold temperatures?)
I would say that subzero temperatures are the best conditions to line dry your laundry!

Guest's picture
Guest

I've been line-drying for 20 years. I'm such an afficianado that I have an indoor line for winter, and an outdoor line for warm weather.

Shaking the towel out will help reduce the crunchy feel of line-dried towels.

I've only fallen prey (pun intended) to bird droppings once. I have had to re-launder a few times when clothes had to be on the line for days because of unanticipated non-stop rain.

We have had one very odd line-drying horror story. My husband got out of the shower, pulled a towel out of the linen closet, and had a bat fly into his face. The poor thing got his claws stuck in the towel, and as I took down the towel & folded it ina single motion I never noticed it.

Guest's picture
Julie

My family and I have been line drying our laundry for about two decades. And where we live, the only time it's not such a good idea to line dry is during the winter (seriously, frozen sheets of t-shirts is not so fab, especially when you're running late for school). In the summer, we'd only need to hang laundry outside for about 30 to 45 minutes and it would be almost completely dry. Then, we'd pop the line-dried laundry in the dryer to fluff with a dryer sheet to eliminate the crunchy feeling. As for more delicate clothes, such as blouses or dress shirts, we would actually hang them on a 2nd set of clothes line that were in the shade so prevent sun damage. And in regards to exposing freshly washed laundry to the dirty outdoors, I've only encountered a couple of incidents where I had to rewash and that was because I accidentally dropped the items on the ground, not because my laundry was hanging outside.

Unfortunately, my parents moved and I live in San Francisco now. There are no clothes lines at my parents' new house and it's pretty much impossible to hang laundry to dry outside (plus, the city is so dirty and grimy.)

Guest's picture
Carole

I line dry when the weather is decent and when the clothes are suited to being outdoors. Somethings are fragile or might fade in the sun. These I twirl a few minutes in the dryer and then put on hangers and dry inside.

Guest's picture
Emily Ruth

Line dry! I use a natural detergent and vinegar in the rinse for a softener. Towels and all. Rain water is no issue, I had to use rain water in Peace Corps TO wash and bathe.

Guest's picture
flamingo

I live in a apartment. I line my clothes then pop them in the dryer for 10 mins. It is just me and my husband and the clothes are fresh and the dryer is just to fluff. It is on air dry , which means no heat.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have 5 laundry racks in my basement situated near a vent and about 10 steps from my washer and dryer. 3 are collapsable folding racks and 2 are hanging racks. I can fit 3-4 loads of laundry on those racks, which works great for my family. I only use the dryer for underwear, socks and linens.

I avoid stinks, bad weather and bird poops, don't have to haul heavy baskets of wet clothes around, don't have to worry about the neighbors (one is a convicted rapist, one is a convicted murderer) eyeing my undies and if I leave it overnight, oh well. Pretty much everything, including jeans, dry in 1 day so it's a win-win for me.

Guest's picture
Beth

I line dry most of the time. I live in the country so there are no laws against it or very much pollution at all. Most "crispy" laundry problems can be solved easily, it's either your detergent or too much detergent. I've switched to Charlies Laundry Soap, which is non-toxic and biodegradable, and it rinses very cleanly. I switched mostly because of my septic and the harsh chemicals that are in traditional detergents, but it has also eliminated my need for fabric softener. When people say they would miss the scent softener adds, I simply say my hubby doesn't want to smell flower-y and the scent of my lotion doesn't have to compete...lol. The kids don't really care, and no softener scent can compete with that fresh line dried smell!

Also, drying your clothes for 10 minutes in the dryer first helps a lot, or you can hang your laundry on a breezy day.

Guest's picture

Wow, if you really do this I commend you! When I lived in Spain for a semester my roommates and I were completely dumfounded that no one used dryers and everyone hung their clothes on a line. Although it was a little bit of a hassle for 5 girls in one apartment, I really appreciated the eco-friendly way of getting clean clothes (other than when an unexpected rainstorm hit and I had to re-wash everything). But you're arguments are on point, and I do agree that in many instances there is no reason to use energy and money with a dryer, the sun will do just fine!

Guest's picture
Guest

So I am wondering if anyone else has this issue...we have 3 cats (indoors) so our clothes are very cat hairy (even with frequent brushing). The dryer removes the cat hair, but if we hang our clothes outside the hair dries to the clothes. We have tried shaking them out before and after hanging them up with no luck. Throwing them in the dryer for a few minutes helps a little bit. I would love to hang my laundry outside more, but it's not worth having to roll all my clothes with sticky sheets after. Also, I love drying my clothes in the winter in the dryer. When it starts to get cold I disconnect my dryer duct from the wall and hook it up to this doodad (sorry, I don't know what it is) that traps any extra lint for you, but the warm moist air fills my house! I figure I am already paying for running the dryer, I should get the heat too (again, only when it is cold). The moisture is nice too since it is very dry in the winter. My parents have been doing that with their dryer since the 70's without issue, but people often seem surprised when I tell them about it. Also, the clothes dry in about 20 minutes compared to 40 in the summer when the duct is connected to the wall.

Guest's picture
Guest

I live in a tiny apartment with washers & dryers down the hall, so I just adopted the method of drying because we spend about 600$ a year, 50$ (3$/load) a month washing and drying our clothes not including the cost of detergent, softeners, and stain removers, that's just too much, we could have bought our own washer and dryer for how long we've been living there. Then it dawned on me that my fabrics will probably keep for longer saving me even more money. WIN! I buy a pack of underwear and not even a month later there are already holes in them from the dryer heat (on the delicates cycle) doesn't make sense to pay to wreck your own clothes, when you can do it for free. I'll still be paying to dry my bedding though since we don't have any room in my apartment to hang king size comforters.