laundry on a line

Shortly after moving into our 1955 house, we got rid of the dryer that came with it and got a front-loading Samsung. The old dryer, which sounded approximately like a jet plane, was given away through Freecycle. The people who picked it up said they hadn’t washed any laundry since their old dryer died, because…how would they dry it?

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They seemed to think that line drying was unhygienic or didn’t work or something. This is completely not true, but many Americans probably share this sentiment. According to a 2011 report, 80% of US residences have clothes dryers, and about 80% of those use the dryer every time they wash clothes. Did you know that dryers account for 7% of our electricity consumption?

Well, I’ve seen many an apartment around the world that had a clothes washer but no dryer, and everyone still managed to be impeccably, drily dressed. My friend’s apartment in Rome had laundry lines strung from window to window through the courtyard of the building, and my Romanian friend here in Seattle does the same in her backyard when it’s not pouring out. Winter is a great time to line-dry indoors to get a little humidity into your house while the baseboard heater or “forced hot air” is parching your lips and skin. Put wet laundry where you would otherwise put a humidifier! But spring is when it’s fun to go out in the sun and hang up your clothes while smelling those May flowers.

It turns out that the best way to improve the efficiency of your dryer is to spin the clothes more thoroughly beforehand, so I guess we should’ve replaced our washer as well as our dryer. But a little standalone centrifuge like my aunt uses also works. Look up the Energystar report if you want to hear about heat pump dryers, modulating “smart” machines and other promising ways to engineer more efficient appliances. The future is coming, but for now, I’m moving on to tips:

Tips for Getting Dry Laundry without a Dryer

  1. Don’t feel guilty for not selling your dryer quite yet. Celebrate small victories. You made the most of a sunny day, took the towels out of a load before loading the dryer, went dryer-less for the summer, or tried line-drying for the first time. Report your struggles and successes below so we can all learn from each other!
  2. Use dryer balls made of natural wool. I’ve been using these for the past month or so, and they definitely speed up drying time and leave clothes feelings softer. Not only do they separate items for better airflow, they absorb some moisture, too. Leave them out to dry before putting the next load in. You can also add a few drops of essential oils if you like your laundry scented. So far they have shed no lint, and I will update this post if that changes.
  3. Separate laundry by weight and try to put only heavy or light items in at once so they’ll all require the same amount of drying time. Line dry the heavier items (jeans, towels, sweatshirts) for a while before finishing them in the dryer. Or put the heavy items in but leave the thinner items out – they’ll line dry more easily and you’ll reduce dryer time by having less in there.
  4. Re-think your laundry schedule. If you don’t want to use your dryer for everything, you’ll need to space out your loads to one or two a day instead of doing them all in a row. Unless of course you have set up big drying lines outside or are willing to drape wet laundry over all available surfaces in your home.

Drying Laundry on a Line

  1. Turn items inside out if hanging in the sun so the patterns don’t fade (not really a problem in Seattle!)
  2. Fold larger items neatly before hanging and rotate a few times to dry all sides.
  3. Leave in direct sun to bleach out stains. Some claim this works great for cloth diapers!
  4. Dry indoors to humidify your space in winter, but dry outdoors if your house is already humid or not well-ventilated. The shower rod is a good place to hang clothes to dry (on clothes hangers even), but if anyone has showered recently, they won’t dry very fast.
  5. Make use of the outside vent if you have a heat pump. On a super hot day in Budapest, the items we put out to dry on the terrace next to the A/C vent dried in about 30 minutes, as if they had been in a dryer! As they say, “Make laundry while the sun shines!”
  6. If your clothes feel a bit stiff after drying outside, put them in the dryer for 5 minutes to soften them up.



  1. D

    Awesome tips! You make these small changes to routine feel doable!

  2. This is SO easy and important. My mom and I were just talking about it last night. I’m so glad you provided the facts. I had no idea that it was 7% of our electricity consumption. I’ve been doing this for years and think it’s a easy way that people can make a big difference. Glad you’re encouraging more people to join.

  3. C

    We use a wall-mounted drying rack from Ikea and it’s changed my life. It fits about one load and folds down when not in use. I find that a load generally dries in about 24 hours, and then I throw everything in the dryer for ten minutes to soften the clothes a little. It’s a huge savings, occupies much less space than a line, and if you can fit it near the washer you don’t have to carry wet clothes around.

  4. C

    I also wonder if clothes last longer when they don’t go through the dryer — it seems like all that lint is basically clothing damage. Don’t know if that’s really true, though?

  5. I think you’re right, Chris! says “Every time you put your clothes through the laundry, the system imparts microscopic damage to the fabric. By definition, microscopic damage is invisible to the naked eye, but it’s easy to see the collective damage—just check your dryer’s lint tray. Lint results from tiny tears in the fabric’s fibers, and over time the sum of these tears cause clothing to fall apart.”

    Alis, I’m dreaming up plans for clotheslines in my backyard for summer 🙂 As I get into this more, I’m realizing that being able to do 4 loads of laundry in quick succession on a Sunday is a total luxury. I’m having to plan a bit more if I want to avoid the dryer and keep from maxing out my drying rack, but it is do-able. Do you have a good routine? I’m still developing my new routines for towels and sheets…

  6. C

    Thanks, that’s a neat article! I’m working from home, so it’s pretty easy for me to put in a load on a break if the laundry basket is full enough.

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