Clotheslines Redux

[This post was first published April 27, 2016 as Is There A Clothesline In Your Backyard. I like it and thought I’d send it around a second time. I hope you enjoy it.]

Light Wash, Andrew Wyeth, Permanent collection @ The Cummer Museum, Jacksonville, FL With my thanks
Light Wash, Andrew Wyeth, Permanent collection @ The Cummer Museum, Jacksonville, FL With my thanks

Such an idyllic scene. Clean sheets blowing in the breeze.  The sun warming the fabric (100% organic cotton, I’m thinking), filling it with the scent of the outdoors.

These days, with Americans disagreeing on issues from bathrooms to vaccines, you’d think clotheslines — their existence, their value, their esthetic — would be pretty far down the list of causes to examine. Turns out,  our planet’s economic and environmental future hangs on this unlikely thread, the clothesline.

Did you know that your clothes dryer uses more electricity than your refrigerator?

I didn’t either.

Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimate households in the Northwestern states use 4.3 % of their annual electricity consumption to dry laundry.  Compared to the 3.5% from refrigerators. (They didn’t mention if those were self-defrosting refrigerators.)

Here’s an old photo of visiting son Jon hanging out the clothes in our backyard with help from Kendall, age two at the time.

Here’s how the issue settles out.

On the down-with-clotheslines side, we have various homeowner associations, condominium boards, and trailer park owners, all worried about property values, who have established bans on outdoor clotheslines across the country.

Thanks to for image.
Thanks to for image.

On the pro-clothesline side, (aka, the-right-to-dry movement) we have Project Laundry List out of Concord, NH, whose goal is “to make air-drying and cold-water washing laundry acceptable and desirable as simple and effective ways to save energy.” There are other groups, I’m sure, but Project Laundry List has a website where they list the top ten reasons to line-dry and a Facebook Page (Drying for Freedom).

According to the website, The New York Times has reported that the typical US household could prevent 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year by simply turning off its dryer and hanging the clothes outside in the sun. AND, as an aside, dryers cause more than 12,000 residential fires annually.

[editorial note here: I could not find this NYTimes article. 2021 update: the article is now also missing.]

Then there is the electricity industry — where the politics comes in — which has, from 1945, promised “we could live better electrically.” That’s a link to a 1950s era commercial that features some familiar faces. Take a peak.

Want more? Here’s another with the same “cast.” 

We did “live better” too. Electricity brought us toasters and dishwashers and vacuums and irons and heaters and coolers and ovens and ranges and power washers and toys. But it was based on an electric dream that increased the demand for coal across the globe where developing nations were beginning their own love affair with an electric utopia.

And has there ever been a Utopia that ended well?

Here’s my firstborn, Dave, hanging sheets on his clothesline in Cincinnati.

“It seems like such a mundane thing, hanging laundry, and yet it draws in all these questions about individual rights, private property, class, aesthetics, the environment,” says British filmmaker Steven Lake, who crisscrossed the world to unravel the reasons and consequences for the banishing of the clotheslines in favor of tumble dryers. His documentary, DRYING FOR FREEDOM, “is a voyage into the new environmental battlefield where money, status and class come first and our planet is a poor second.”

Here’s a newer trailer for the film.

Thanks to for image.

Do you live in a “right to dry” state?

Here are the 20 states that are listed as “right-to-dry” states as of November, 2020. (yes, updated from my 2016 post)

IllinoisNew MexicoWisconsin
IndianaNorth Carolina 
Twenty “right-to-dry” states that consider clothesline bans unenforceable.

Just remember, the next time you do your laundry,

Our future is hanging on the line.

(cute, huh? It’s not original with me.)

How about you? Where do you stand vis a vis your own clothesline?

13 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I remember this post when it was originally published. The embellishments are cool. Apparently, I live in a right to dry state and you do too.

    Alas, our HOA won’t allow clotheslines. However, my neighbor has one, hidden in the back yard. I also hang out the odd item from tree branches, especially towels that would require too much electricity.

    Good one, Janet!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Mother’s Day MementoMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Good morning Marian. I love the idea of you and your neighbor sneaking a bit of clothesline liberation. Viva la difference
      Janet Givens recently posted…Clotheslines ReduxMy Profile

  2. Shirley Showalter
    | Reply

    Janet, this is a good post, worthy of a second life. I would love for our solar panels, our daughter’s electric car, and a new clothesline to combine in one place. We have friends who generate more energy than they use and are totally independent of fossil fuels. We must all move in this direction, and installing clotheslines are a good step. We use our deck to sun-dry towels and sheets. That keeps the time of use much lower for the dryer. I hope to become an advocate for installing solar and clotheslines at our new home.

    Pennsylvania is not on the list! That’s funny, because if you take the train from Lancaster to NYC on a Monday, you can see miles of clotheslines with Amish clothing flying high in the sky! So picturesque and good for the earth.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Shirley. How nice to welcome you back. And yes, you raise a point I’d wondered too — with attention now (finally) focused on renewable sources of electricity, will this “to hang or not to hang” remain such an issue. I see a future where folks who want to hang do so only because the clothes smell so good. Thanks for adding your voice. And my very best wishes on your move.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Clotheslines ReduxMy Profile

  3. Jenny Cressman
    | Reply

    Interesting post, Janet! I missed it the first time around. This point, particularly caught my eye: “…4.3 % of their annual electricity consumption to dry laundry. Compared to the 3.5% from refrigerators.” You wondered about self-cleaning refrigerators. I wonder about washing in only cold water. I’ve been doing that for years, assuming it would be less energy consuming.

    I do have a clothesline but tend to use my dryer more often than not. The weather here in the Great White North is one factor; it’s hard to fold frozen clothes. In Cuba, of course, dryers are not a “thing.” Unfortunately, clothespins are sometimes hard to come by – they’re appreciated gifts – and clotheslines can be too. Thus, Cubans have developed creative coping strategies such as draping clothing over fences or bushes. As long as it’s not too windy, that usually works out fine and, luckily for them, the incessant sun dries things quite quickly!
    Jenny Cressman recently posted…Looking ahead to Friday & NovemberMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Jenny. I apologize for the delay. Turns out I’m not getting notified of new Comments any longer. Must look into that. You might be interested to know that when I lived in Kazakhstan, no one had a dryer, so we always hung our clothes out, and usually on the outdoor balcony, winter too. I was amazed to learn that the clothes dried in the frigid air just fine. The “folding frozen clothes” does not stay in my memory; can’t attest to that. Thanks for the comparison to life in Cuba. They don’t need to concern themselves with the frozen folding. I’ll remember to pack some clothespins next time I go. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…Clotheslines ReduxMy Profile

  4. Joan Z Rough
    | Reply

    Line drying is the best in the world!!!

  5. Nancy Drye (no pun intended)
    | Reply

    I line-dry a few things, especially on nice sunny days, but got put off greater reliance on line drying after the setback of a couple of bird poops.
    And my dryer is gas–is that better or worse for the environment?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are a riot, Nancy. See my response to Jenny above as far as being so tardy here. Speaking of gas — the latest good news has to do with methane (a gas byproduct as I recall). Turns out if cows are fed a certain type of algae to eat, the amount of methane THEY produce (release?) is cut by some impressive amount. Was there a segue there?

      Glad you stopped by, Nancy.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Clotheslines ReduxMy Profile

  6. Bette A Stevens
    | Reply

    I live in a right-to-dry state (ME), but haven’t used a clothes line in the last several years. Looks like it’s time to stop taking my right-to-dry for granted.

  7. Darlene Dale Foster
    | Reply

    We hang our laundry out to dry here in Spain. Since the weather is usually nice, it´s not a problem. I did have a dryer in Vancouver. But it rains there so much it was necessary. Although I hung certain things in the spare bathroom to dry as I think dryers are hard on many things. No dryer for 6 years now and I have never missed it.
    Darlene Dale Foster recently posted…Smorgasbord Book Reviews – #YA – Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady (An Amanda Travels Adventure Book 8) by Darlene fosterMy Profile

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