Living with credit

Airing my dirty laundry? No. Just saving $$ and the environment

Connie Prater

This week’s New York Times editorial about using clotheslines to dry laundry with the crisp freshness of the afternoon sun reminded me of what has become a ritual in my home. For the past three months — all through a very long, hot summer in Texas — I’ve been hanging some of my clothes outside to dry. (Er, not everything, mind you; undies hang on racks in the garage.) On the days when it was 100 degrees or more, this didn’t take very long.

The comeback for the clothesline is tinted green

To air is divine
Why air dry? The heating element in my gas dryer stopped working and I haven’t bothered to get someone out to take a look at it. After the clothes come out of the washer, I shake them out, put them on hangers and place them along the top rail of a gazebo in my back yard. I don’t know how much this practice has saved me on my utility bills. It was both a frugal and environmental gesture on my part (and avoidance of making an appointment for yet another repairman to come to my home).

The Times editorial talks about how much both electric and natural gas powered clothes dryers drain our energy resources. In the United States, nearly 80 percent of households own dryers, according to a commentary by Alexander P. Lee, executive director of Project Laundry List, a nonprofit group that promotes energy conservation one clothesline at a time.

The right to dry
As the Los Angeles Times reported in this February 2009 article, line-drying is making a comeback and pitting “right-to-dry” advocates against code enforcement officers who say they are illegal, unsightly nuisances.

Many cities, communities and homeowners’ associations ban the dreaded clothesline as an eyesore, a property value downer. It’s true you don’t see many clotheslines in well-manicured neighborhoods. And let’s face it, many clotheslines are pieces of rope strung between tree branches or held up by rickety poles or leaning metal posts. As the New York Times reports, some cities are working to prohibit clothesline bans. At least one college has set aside space for students to set up indoor drying racks for their clothes. What the green movement wants us to realize is that hanging clothes out to dry saves the environment. Financial advisors also point out that it saves money on energy costs.

As a child growing up in South Florida, my mother always hung her (I mean, our) clothes out to dry, even when she owned a dryer. “I like the way my clothes smell when they dry in the sun,” she used to say. For my brother and I, it meant schlepping clothes out to the line and then in. The whole process seemed to add oh-so-many steps to the weekend chores. When an afternoon rain shower whipped up, we’d have to dash out there to take in those clothes or endure a lecture from my mother about why we let the clothes get wet.

I remember my adolescent and teenage years and hauling clothes to and from a clothesline was back-breaking work. I also remember vowing to myself back then to have a dryer and actually use it when I grew up. Fast forward to today: I’ve got a dryer but I’m not using it. And, well, I’m OK with that.

This blog was featured in the frugality section of The Centsible Life for the 229th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Each week, a different blogger hosts the carnival, which features the best of the blogsphere in personal finance topics.

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  • Kay

    I remember our clothesline of my childhood home, especially two circumstances.
    1. Hurrying to get the clothes, sometimes still damp, in before a West Texas sandstorm hit and required that they all be rewashed.
    2. The birds that insisted on using as nesting places the open-ended T-bars that held the clotheslines. The avian proximity also meant that some items also got rewashed, even without a sand storm!
    But when things worked out, I agree with your mother: They smelled great! Downy tries to capture that scent, but just like a new car smell, it can’t be bottled.

  • I don’t remember too many bird dive-bombings in South Florida. Sometimes a playful dog would go after the low-hanging clothes. Their flapping about in the wind was irresistable for them.

  • Project Laundry List and Ben Davis’ firm I Shot Him have teamed up to urge the Obama White House to install a clothesline. See and sign the petition. If they have time to garden, they have time to hang the laundry.

  • Well, a clothesline at the White House would send the message about saving the environment. That would probably be controversial (what about the Obama White House isn’t controversial?)
    Some might see it as an eyesore. Hmmm. Is there a homeowner’s association governing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? Others might say it would be an important green statement for the Obamas to make — just like the vegetable garden. Still, others may see racial undertones.
    I’m curious what laundry they would hang out to dry? Boxers? Briefs?

  • Nicky

    If the neighbors are a bit freaked out by a clothesline (a permanent addition to your yard) perhaps they could be gently conditioned to the idea by seeing a nice clothes drying rack like we use on the patio or deck during the warm months?
    Then after awhile of getting used to the laundry concept they would be OK with a clothesline and neighborhood peace would be maintained 🙂

  • Debbie

    Most clothes-drying structures are legally defined as racks (check the US Patent Office website), even if the supporting elements consist of straps or cords! So the umbrella structure, or more conventional racks, are legally not clotheslines.
    If drying clothes out-of-doors reduces property values, then why have property values dropped wherever clotheslines are banned?
    Finally, your neighbors’ clean wash on the line means they’re home, which discourages burglary.
    3 Cheers for drying laundry out-of-doors!