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Clothesline Comeback | Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine

It’s that unmistakable smell of sunshine and fresh air. There is no spray, no fragrance, that lingers like that. — Anne Lawrence

Line Drying provides money, energy savings, and fresh air

By Laurena Mayne Davis

Photography by iStock


Once an old-fashioned laundry necessity, clotheslines are making a comeback as a smart and forward-thinking way to save both energy and money — and enjoy some fresh air.

Clotheslines use the most basic solar energy: the drying power of the sun. But consumer tastes started to change in the 1940s when appliance dryers became widely available, affordable, and aggressively advertised as a necessary modern convenience.

Since then, clotheslines, once a natural and authentic part of every home’s yard, became associated with families who were “not keeping up” with technology, says Anne Lawrence, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Lawrence, a retired Brandeis University college administrator, has made a retirement hobby of presenting workshops on clotheslines, with facts about their history, influence on the arts, and important role in families’ lives. She speaks to classrooms, senior center residents, service organizations, and other groups.

Oftentimes their discussion comes around to the nostalgia of simpler times, Lawrence says, when household chores were not only purposeful, but also mindful, particularly in the repetitive motion of hanging clothes, she says.

“As women were doing that they could let their minds go free,” Lawrence says. “It was almost like a meditation of sorts.”

Women, who did the bulk of housework, labored largely indoors and isolated, until it came time to hang clothes on the line on Monday wash days, when they could “leave that little bit of chaos behind, come out of the home, and breathe deeply,” Lawrence explains.

She fondly remembers her important job as a young child of handing wooden pins to her mother, one at a time, while they hung clothes and savored the warmth of the sun, a slight breeze on their faces, or the chattering of birds.

“Every single sense is brought into play when you’re hanging clothes, and the most powerful sense is the smell,” Lawrence says. “It’s that unmistakable smell of sunshine and fresh air. There is no spray, no fragrance, that lingers like that.”

The great irony for Lawrence is that as much as she would like to hang clothes on the line now, for energy savings and because it’s her preference, clotheslines are prohibited by her condominium homeowners’ association. So, instead, she uses drying racks indoors. Her situation is not unusual, as many subdivisions restrict clotheslines as “unsightly.”

Lawrence and others disagree, and advocates have emerged to try to change people’s perceptions of clothesline aesthetics, as well as lobby for legislation that would protect the “Right to Dry.”

COMING CLEAN WITH COSTS - Want to see how much money you could save by washing clothes in cold water and air-drying instead of using an appliance dryer? Go to Under the “Why Line Dry” tab is a cost calculator. Enter your estimated loads of laundry a week. The annual cost of washing eight loads a week in hot water, for instance, is $531.40. Drying that laundry in an appliance dryer costs an additional $221.90.

Project Laundry List

Clothes dryer appliances account for some 5 percent of household energy use, according to Project Laundry List, a New Hampshire-based organization advocating for energy-saving cold-water washing and air-drying, whether that’s a clothesline or indoor drying racks.

John Beeson, a Project Laundry List board member, remembers his mother hanging the family’s laundry on the line.

“She had four kids and she was constantly doing laundry,” says Beeson, also of Ann Arbor.

When his two children were in diapers, he line-dried their cloth diapers when the weather was nice and draped them indoors during cold winter months.

Now working from home as a green-building consultant, he uses laundry chores as a stretch break.

“During conference calls I just stand up and fold laundry,” he says. His children make a game of dashing through the linens strung on the line outside.

Beeson’s friend Alexander Lee founded Project Laundry List in 1995 while he was a college student after being inspired by the words of environmental activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, who urged that small changes at the individual level could add up to big changes for the environment.

“I think the right to dry is worth the effort, and we’ve had success in several states,” Lee says.

Project Laundry List encourages legislators to introduce Right to Dry legislation. Seven states have laws that ensure, to varying degrees, the right to line-dry: Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Utah, and Vermont. Florida has the broadest protection, allowing clotheslines everywhere. Colorado’s law, by contrast, extends only to retractable clotheslines.

Even by line-drying only part of the time, people will save energy and money, and reconnect with the pleasures of simple tasks, Lee says.

For those who don’t like the “crunchiness” of line-dried cotton towels, he offers this remedy: Add a half-cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle during washing, and give the towels a good snap before hanging, to fluff their nap.

Lawrence sums up her interest in both commemorating and practicing air-drying: “Laundry is life,” she says. “Basically, where there’s life there’s laundry.”


Laurena Mayne Davis uses a clothesline at her western Colorado home.

Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine Home Page