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What you'll save -- and enjoy -- if you skip the dryer

Clotheslines save you money, and there's nothing like the fragrance of laundry dried in the wind and sun. And it's eco-friendly to boot.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 22, 2013 9:38AM

Logo: Laundry (Brand X Pictures/Getty Images/Getty Images)The sun doesn't have a scent, but if it did I know what it would smell like: the sheets that I took off the clothesline the other day. We're so crazy about the fragrance that we also put the pillows and comforter outdoors each week, to freshen in the sun and the summer wind.

We hang clothes outdoors in the winter, too. It's just that things dry a lot faster in the spring and summer.

Line-drying saves money (more on that below) and also conserves energy -- clothes dryers account for up to 10% of residential energy use in the United States, according to Project Laundry List.

Some people are startled by the budgetary boost provided by an old-fashioned clothesline. Sarah, who writes the Dogs or Dollars blog, estimates her savings at $3.60 to $5.40 per week. That $187-to-$280 annual savings can make a big difference if you're living close to the bone. 

Not that she doesn't ever use the "money-guzzling heat box." But Sarah greatly prefers the smell of air-dried laundry: "I cannot even describe it, but it's bliss . . . I bury my nose in them for no particular reason other than satisfaction."

Maybe that's why the Yankee Candle company has a scent called Clean Cotton, whose primary fragrance is "sun-dried cotton." 

Some housing covenants restrict or prohibit outdoor laundry, to the point of nixing clothes racks on balconies. The "right to dry" movement has gotten serious press in the past, especially during the worst of the recession. One homeowner association industry group explains that laundry dried outdoors "can dramatically alter the visual landscape" of a community.

Heaven forbid that tablecloths or tube socks spend a few hours where the neighbors could see. Then again, it's not surprising that any organization that limits mailbox colors would get its own knickers in a twist over the potential sight of someone else's.

The 'slow laundry' movement
Line drying is kinder to fabrics, which means they last longer. A blogger who calls herself Homestead Homemaker points out that line drying "won't melt the graphics on a T-shirt or disintegrate the elastic in your underwear."

Calling it the "slow laundry" movement, Project Laundry List urges people to line-dry for environmental reasons. According to the website, 92% of single-family homes in the U.S. have dryers but fewer than 4% of Italian households contain the appliance.

The organization also suggests that if all Americans who don't use clotheslines used them for 10 months per year, "we could avoid 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually."

Worried about creased shirts, scratchy socks or board-stiff towels? Go ahead and use a dryer -- but only for a few minutes, i.e., just long enough to get the spin-cycle wrinkles out of shirts, and to soften up the towels. (Or look at it as frugal exfoliation.)

It doesn't take as long as you might think. Bloggers say they spend anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes at the clothesline, depending on what they're hanging up (e.g., four sheets and two pillowcases vs. a basket of children's clothes).

While the size of your family might dictate how many loads you can dry in a day, don't rule out using a line. Sharon Astyk, author of "Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place," lives dryer-free on an upstate New York farm -- and she has four kids and as many as five foster children at a time.

"If I can keep up with my laundry through a New York winter with no dryer," Astyk writes, "odds are most of you can do so as well."

Racking up savings

Not everyone can hang laundry outdoors. Folks with allergies would be foolish to bring in sheets and pillowcases dotted with pollen. Those who live in sooty cities might find their air-dried clothes dirtier than before they went into the wash. But indoor clotheslines or drying racks work well.

Or get creative. My partner and I drape sheets over an unplugged floor lamp and across the tops of doors. Shirts and slacks go on hangers over the shower curtain rod. Belinda, who blogs at Frugal Workshop, cobbles together a temporary rack using broom handles and kitchen chairs.


Incidentally, if your homeowner association gives you grief about your laundry you should check to see if the law is actually on your side. Jon Howland of the Sightline Daily website says that new or existing laws in 19 states address the issue -- whether that's specifically permitting clotheslines, or protecting a homeowner's right to install a "solar energy system," "solar energy device," "solar collector," "system for obtaining solar energy" or "solar energy collection device."

Howland suggests that "the letter and spirit of these laws (have) one overarching message: homeowners may utilize the power of the sun."


"If anyone hassles you, point to the relevant statute," Howland says. "The worst that could happen is that you might become part of a (lawsuit) that cements the right to dry in your state."

Do you hang laundry to dry? Have you noticed any impact on your utility bill?

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Jul 23, 2013 3:40AM

most of the time I hang my laundry in the hall bathroom (I have a master bath).  Sheets & pillowcases cett spread over my livingroom sofas (2).  I have ALWAYS hung my bras to dry.  They hod up a LOT longer.


The only thing I dryer dry regularly is my towels.  They take WAAAY too long to hang up dry

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