By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Line drying the clothes. How did this become such a radical idea? Just 50 years ago, it was the norm.
Then everyone got electric dryers, and we burned more coal to run them. But now that we’re enlightened about that, we’re heading to the backyard line, the basement or the patio with our basket of wet clothes. We don’t know how many people are participating, but the momentum seems to be building. Check out this map of Americans proudly airing their laundry.
Re-adopting the ways of past generations is energy efficient — and it’s easy to get the hang of.
This summer we tried it ourselves. We’d been hanging out our shirts for a long time, but lazily drying other items because we didn’t have a proper line. Then Seventh Generation, the Vermont maker of eco-friendly household cleaners (including laundry detergent) invited us to join their campaign to line dry. They even sent us a portable clothesline by Household Essentials to use and a complimentary bottle of laundry detergent. It was time to hang it all out.
What did we learn? Line drying makes clothes smell undeniably fresh. Except for that day our neighbor’s lawnmower coughed up a cloud of gassy smelling exhaust preceding a breakdown, our clothes were pristine.
This fresh smell puts all those synthetic dryer sheets to shame. We haven’t used those in years, but we get a whiff from exhausts when out walking. It really makes you realize how over-engineered our lives have become. First comes the dryer. Then along come these sheets to make the clothes smell good and not cling — like before the dryer came along!
Line drying can save a household money, $75 to $85 a year, according to DOE and California Energy Commission estimates. Which may be part of the problem in the U.S., where line drying is not as common as in other cultures. The savings probably isn’t enough to sway most Americans. Of course, if you add the cost of an electric dryer to the equation….
We found that it was the whole package that made us want to put it on the line.
True, it’s not always hot and sunny. In some places, rain can really put a damper on drying clothes. That’s why it’s nice to have an inside rack. And, yeah, there are times and places for electric drying. Not everyone can make the extra effort. But for many people, this is an easy call. And remember to call your HOA, to make sure you know the rules. If you need to fight an all-out ban, there’s help.
- For advice, or to learn more about the movement toward line drying, see the clearinghouse website called Project Laundry List.
- To read some thoughtful vignettes about line drying, see the blog by staffers at Seventh Generation. The staff wrote about their own experiences in support of Project Laundry List.
- The Right to Dry campaign is petitioning the White House, asking the first family to symbolically hang their laundry out to dry for just one day.
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