The Things I’ve Learned

When we first put up our clothesline this summer, I had no idea what I was doing.  I had never used one before, my mom never hung clothes on the line, that I can remember.  I really don’t even remember seeing anyone hang clothes on a line.  I wanted one to save money and energy, and because everyone raves about them. But when I put my first clothespin on the line this summer, I was flying by the seat of my pants, as it were.

I would tell people that we had a clothesline and they would gasp jealously and say “Oh the smell, there’s nothing like the smell of clothes dried on the line.”  To which I would think, “Are you crazy?  My line-dried clothes are crunchy and smell like mold”.  I knew I was doing something wrong so I turned to my best resource, the Internet (or interwebs, for some people) and found some excellent ideas to try.

I’m happy to report that I now love my line-dried clothes and I’m sad to think that I won’t be able to hang things out in a month or two.  I really like the slow and deliberate method of taking the basket of wet clothes out on the deck in the cool, quiet morning.  Sorting out and pinning up the clothes, listening to the birds, and watching the sun come up over the trees.  I’ve also developed more strength in my arms from lifting and supporting wet towels and jeans.  And although rising utility costs mean that my electric bill hasn’t gone down since I stopped using the dryer, I still feel good about hanging everything out to dry.

If you’re considering a clothesline, or if you’ve Googled “why do my line-dried clothes smell like a damp basement?” and ended up here, then let me share my collected tips for clothesline love:

1. Use a high efficiency concentrated laundry detergent, even if you have an old machine. The new detergents (made for the fancy front-load washers that I lust after) are designed to produce fewer bubbles and therefore will rinse easier.  I have a 20-year old Kenmore washer, but when I tried washing my clothes with All Free & Clear, I really noticed a difference.  The clothes were softer and there were no more bluish stains on the fabric from the left-over detergent.

2. Hang everything upside down. Hang shirts from the waist, not the shoulders.  This will prevent the shoulder horns you get from the clothespins stretching the fabric on your shirts, and it will help keep them from stretching as much.  Hang your pants from the cuffs and your socks from the toes to help them dry faster.  This was a huge help for the mold smell I was getting from clothes that were taking too long to dry.

3. Let things sag. Your towels, your shirts, even your sheets, let them all sag a little on the line.  I can’t explain it, but if you hang things in a tight line, they don’t dry as well.  If you let them sag a bit, they catch the wind like a sail and dry much faster.  Plus it saves room on the line!

4. Bring your laundry in before dark or you will find beetles in your pockets. No explanation necessary there.

5. Don’t feel guilty using your dryer a little. Luke loves a scratchy bath towel but I can’t stand to dry off with sandpaper.  Line-dried towels will definitely not be as soft as machine-dried ones (although the high efficiency detergent has made a big difference).  I toss the extra crunchy towels in the dryer for about 5 minutes after they come off the line to soften them up a bit.  Also jeans, sometimes those get a bit stiff.  If you’re trying to save energy like we are, you’ll probably feel guilty about it, but don’t.  It’s better than getting a mild abraision from your newly clean towel.

6. Plan ahead. I wash a load of laundry at night and then get up a half hour early to hang it all on the line before work.  Yes, it takes me about 20 minutes to hang a typical load of laundry, but hey, it’s like free exercise.  I’ve definitely noticed that my shoulders and triceps have gotten stronger this summer.  Plus I’ve discovered this odd muscle deep in the back of my arm that I call my “clothesline muscle”.  I only feel it working riding a motorcycle or puling on the clothesline and it’s definitely stronger.  Bonus!

7. My best tip of all, fold it as you take it off the line. I’ve had a few rushed “storms a-coming” episodes where I have to yank everything off the line quick before it rains, and a couple of late night “crap I forgot” episodes of quickly taking clothes off the line in the dark (and shaking the beetles out of the pockets) but other than that, I always fold everything as I take it off the line and wow, does it make a difference.  Where normally a basket of clean clothes would sit in a wrinkled pile for days, I now feel so proud carrying in a basket of crisp, folded clothes, that I am excited to go put them away.  In drawers and stuff.  It’s pretty exciting.

So there you have it.  My newly acquired clothesline wisdom, tried and tested for the past three months.  And honestly, everyone says it but it’s true.  There’s nothing like the smell of sheets dried on the line.  It’s worth the time and the sore muscles and the beetles.  I promise.



  1. Oh, wow! Thanks so much for sharing! I didn’t know about hanging clothes upside down and letting ’em sag would help! I’ll definitely try it. Very informative – thanks again! 🙂


  2. Interesting . . . when I got my new high efficiency washer I seem to remember YOU giving me a hard time because I wanted to buy the proper detergent for it. I remember telling you that some day you would also have a new machine and then you would understand my desire for the better soap. Hmmmm, you didn’t even need the new machine to finally get it. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the little stab 😉 And believe it or not, I hung clothes on the line my entire childhood – even in the cold when the clothes froze solid!


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