Clotheslines

Hanging laundry on a clothesline isn’t a chore for me — it’s a delight! And climbing into freshly line-dried sheets at night is one of life’s simple luxuries.

I’ve almost always had a clothesline. Growing up in Manhattan, my mom had a pulley-type line strung between our top-floor apartment building and the one across the expanse of a missing building. It was shared by the woman on the other side of the line, who would send a jar of her homemade pea soup over occasionally via a cloth bag securely clipped to the line. In college I strung a line inside my apartment (which saved trips to the laundromat as well as countless quarters). And when our kids were growing up, I had four long lines strung on T-posts. Those were often full of cloth diapers whitening and disinfecting in the sunshine. 

pulley clothesline between city buildings

Whether it’s because I want to stay outdoors or because I so enjoy watching the clothes and bedding blowing in the wind from my kitchen window, I admit to sometimes getting quite involved in my clothesline drying. I’ll hang the white tee shirts in one row and congregate the jeans in another, clip the little socks in one area, and arrange the small washcloths and towels so that they graduate to larger ones, sometimes color coordinating their arrangements. I’m not alone (well, historically, anyway) in appreciating the art of clothesline hanging. Diaries of women report the hanging of “a proper line,” including tips such as hanging undergarments on inside lines, out of sight of neighbors!

Hanging your laundry on a clothesline outdoors does more than offer some fresh air, exercise, and an opportunity for artistic vision. It saves money, eliminates pollution from electric or gas dryers, and prolongs the life of your clothes and linens. (That lint that you empty from the dryer filter? It’s wear and tear on the fabric.) Clothes rarely shrink on the line, and you won’t have to iron them if you catch a good breeze on drying day. 

Some tips:

• Hang dark clothes inside out to prevent fading, especially on a sunny day.

• Bring dark items in off the line as soon as they’re dry, but leave white items out to bleach in the sun. 

• For the softest laundry, hang on a dry, slightly breezy day. Those scratchy, stiff, line-dried towels (which some people enjoy and others point to as a reason for not line drying!) happen on still days. Take advantage of Mother Nature’s fabric softener, the wind.

• Try different clothespins to find your fave. I like wooden clothespins best, but there are all kinds (even colorful ones) to give a try. (Fun fact: Between 1840 and 1887, there were over 150 patents issued for clothespin designs!)

wooden clothespins hang alone on a line

• Keep your clothespins clean. I wash mine in hot soapy water a couple of times a year and hang them on their own to dry in the sun. 

• Hang your line at a comfortable height for you. (But make sure it’s high enough to hang your large items. Remember, they’ll hang lower when they’re wet.) My sweet friend Ona was a short woman, and her clothesline was very low — right about my neck height, I discovered unpleasantly when crossing her yard one evening at dusk!

• Consider hanging a low little clothesline for your young children to use. Kids love to hang laundry! (And picking them up and down to “help” with the task isn’t fun for long.) You might also give them a little wash basin to wash their doll clothes in for hanging.

• Take advantage of clothespin bags or clothespin aprons. For years I simply kept my clothespins in a metal bucket. Then my dear friend Ann made me a clothespin apron. It’s so pretty and so practical — no more getting to the end of the line and discovering I left my clothespins at the other end! Clothespin bags are also handy. They hang on the line and slide ahead of you as you hang. I find both the aprons and bags charming.

The home we moved into recently doesn’t have a clothesline yet. I’m thinking hard about what type would work best here and exactly where we can put it. (The sunniest spot is our front yard, and while I love the sight of a “proper” clothesline, I’m sure the neighborhood wouldn’t entirely share my fondness.) I’ll probably opt for the classic T-post line in the back yard, though I’m thinking of fancying it up a bit this time. Something like this. Or this.

Here are some of the types of clotheslines now available:

Retractable clothesline — These save space (because they retract when not in use) and can be hung indoors or out. They range from a single spool with a single line to six lines that retract into a cabinet that looks attractive when closed. 

red and white floral sheets hanging on a clothesline

T-post clothesline — The standard issue, old-fashioned, classic clothesline, consists of ropes strung between two T-post steel poles, usually cemented into the ground. These hold a lot of laundry (depending on the distance between the poles and the number of lines strung). You can string them with nylon or cotton rope. (Don’t use wire because it’ll rust and stain your clothes.) I like cotton lines the best. When you string your line, leave a tail hanging at the end. This will make it easier to tighten your line once in a while if it stretches out.

Amish clothesline — The Amish clothesline is similar to what my mom had, using a pulley system to hang and draw laundry to and away from you. Some people like to affix one end of theirs to a porch so they can hang the laundry from there.

Wall-mounted folding rack — These racks are mounted onto indoor or outdoor walls. They open, accordion-style, then push back out of the way when not in use. 

Umbrella clothesline or rotary clothesline — These are sturdy fixtures that provide quite a bit of hanging space. At the same time, they save space because they close (like an umbrella) when not in use. They also rotate around, so you can stand in one place and hang your laundry.

Drying rack — For hanging laundry indoors (or on your porch), these come in plastic, metal, and wood. I have a large wooden drying rack in my basement, next to the washer, for drying delicate items.

Here are some good directions (and considerations) for installing a permanent clothesline.

Do you have a clothesline? Have you come across local ordinances banning clotheslines? Do you enjoy line-dried laundry?

You might also like: Reel lawn mower, How to take care of your garden hoses so they last, unkinked! and Washing machine care — How to make yours last.

2 thoughts on “Clotheslines”

  1. I do miss the smell of sheets hung out to dry!! When straight line winds toppled a full grown maple tree in our yard, our t-post clothesline was the resulting victim. Since the clothesline was positioned to cut our yard in half and since we had three children who spent a lot of hours outside, we decided not to replace it. While I love the convenience of my electric dryer, there are certainly times when I would prefer a hanging option, most notably for sheets and whites!

    Reply
    • Yes, even if you don’t use a clothesline for every little sock and shirt, it’s great to have one for bedding! Have a neighbor you can share with?

      Reply

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