Leave it hanging

Clothesline culture on the green front

In an energy-saving move, Andy Mitchell hangs his laundry on the clothesline at his Reno house.

In an energy-saving move, Andy Mitchell hangs his laundry on the clothesline at his Reno house.

Photo By David Robert

For information and tips about clotheslines and other environmental laundering, visit Project Laundry List at www.laundrylist.org.

When Andy Mitchell moved into his rental home on Washington Street, awaiting him was what he calls an “apocalyptic-proof” clothesline—metal posts bookending two lines of heavy-duty wire.

“This thing could withstand a hurricane,” says Mitchell, a sales rep with Patagonia. “It looks like it’s been there since 1945. Who decided you need to make these strong enough to hang Winnebagos?”

He has a dryer in the basement, but with the heat it emits during already hot weather and the money it saves in energy costs, he hangs most of his laundry on the line.

While the clothesline may seem outdated, even quaint, using one is a small, easy step people can take to both reduce energy bills and greenhouse gases.

Following the refrigerator and washing machine, the dryer is the third most energy-sucking appliance in the home. According to TerraPass, a carbon offset company, a load of laundry in an electric dryer costs about 35 cents and uses 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). If a family of four does four loads a week, that’s a savings of $81.20 and about 1,300 pounds of CO2 per year.

Yet, clotheslines have been deemed unsightly by many of the 300,000-plus homeowners associations in the United States. To hang in the name of green is downright insubordinate in some cul-de-sac circles.

Under the rules of the Vistas Home Owners Association in Spanish Springs, for example: “No clotheslines are allowed which are visible from any street, common area or other lot.” Then there’s this from the Southwest Vistas Homeowners Association in Reno: “No clotheslines shall be constructed or erected.”

For those who can hang, there are more options available than the string tied between two trees, though that works, too. Examples range from simple plastic or polyester lines for about $5-$10 to aluminum, umbrella-like structures for $30 to $50 to rotating racks for more than $200.

A simple, 40-foot retractable clothesline can be purchase for $15. A canister of sorts holds the wrapped-up line on one end that’s screwed into the side of the house, while the other end hooks onto a tree. When the clothes are dry—after 1-2 hours on a summer day—the line is unhooked and—zip—it’s back in the line holder and out of sight.

There are some downsides to air drying. It takes longer, not only to dry, but also to hang—about 5-10 minutes compared to 30 seconds spent throwing a load in the dryer. Clothes may carry indentations where the line or clothes pins meet the cloth. And sun-dried clothes also tend to come out a bit stiff.

“I give them a sharp shaking when I take them off,” says Mitchell. “A nice whip-crack sometimes gets the crustiness out.”

For those with dryers, a couple minutes on the fluff cycle helps soften clothes. Throwing a little vinegar in the wash can also help keep clothing softer as it dries.

Other tips: Turn all clothes inside out to reduce sun bleaching (and to make sure pockets get dry). A squirt from a spray bottle on hot days can cut down on wrinkles.

Mitchell finds it amusing that there are detergents and dryer sheets that boast giving an “outdoor clean smell” to clothes. “You don’t have to buy that stuff,” he says. “You can really do it for real here in Nevada.”