Where Laundry is Garden Art


As reported here a few years back, a group called Project Laundry List is hard at work defending our  Right to Dry.  And since most of us grew up with indoor drying, they have to start with some public education – like their Top Ten Reasons to Line-Dry.

Project Laundry List would surely love my newly adopted town, a planned community built by the federal government in the ’30s.  Clothes lines were installed here before the first buyers ever moved in, and from what I can tell, most residents take advantage of them.  Proudly.

I’ve discovered a couple of interesting limitations on line-drying in the town’s history, though.  Originally, line-drying wasn’t alowed on Sundays.  (Remember blue laws?  Reading up on them, I’m shocked to discover how many are still in effect.  Wikipedia contributors also can’t agree on the origin of the term.)

Another local law that’s long gone is that laundry had to be taken in before dinnertime, which long-time residents tell me had to do with making the home look nice for the return of the breadwinner.  We can imagine the little woman putting on her nicest housedress around that time, too, a la June Cleaver.

Today, with those silly restrictions gone and energy conservation a big concern, my neighbors proudly adorn their gardens with laundry and some have even asked – where’s MINE?  I guiltily confess to removing the poles to make room for more plants.

My plant-stuffed but laundry-free garden seems a bit out of step in a town where the Sun-Drying Garmenture Society Drill Team struts its stuff every year in the Labor Day Parade.

So I’m curious.  Readers, do YOU line-dry?  Do your neighbors?  Or has line-drying gone the way of party lines and black and white TVs?


  1. Love it!!! I’m way too lazy to line dry, but I certainly support my sun-dried garmenture society comrades! Would looooove to see my neighbors’ reaction if I stuck a clothesline in my side yard and festooned it with my husband’s Homer Simpson boxers.

  2. problem….the only good spot in the yard is where the bird feeders are. Dilemma-birds, line dry, birds, line dry

    • Every so often in the spring I have a bird dilemma as well. It usually involves house wrens and dress shirts with pockets and long sleeves.
      If I leave a shirt on the line all day and come back about dusk to remove it, I am sometimes surprised by an energetic ball of noisy feathers that comes bursting out of the shirt sleeve in a panic. Quite a surprise for everyone involved!

  3. I live in France and we and many of the people we know dry our clothes on folding racks in the house (or outside if it’s really nice). When I lived in the US I line dried a bit, but the towels and shirts got too stiff, but on the racks here everything stays pretty soft and the racks just go next to the ironing board quite easily.

  4. I regret taking out one of our laundry poles when we moved in our home 17 years ago (I did not even think of it back then). So now I have to figure out where to attach the line from the remaining one. Line drying is definitely on my list of projects. Even doing one or two loads a week would make a difference. I think the GSGS is terrific!

    On the negatives. Our neighbor used theirs regularly and Colorado is a dry, dusty and windy state (and one of the reasons I haven’t done it yet). It is sort of gross when clothes are left on for days, the dust blows in, and you know the clothes on the line are dirty. I’d wager that a few of those limitations have good reasons behind them.

  5. My dryer died in late fall two years ago. I had no set up outside to dry so I used a line in the basement and draped wet laundry all over the house. It worked OK (except towels unless you like a loofah feel) until humidity levels started to rise again in the spring and I broke down and got the dryer fixed. If I could find a spot in the garden to place a line I would dry outside but as far as I can see no such place exists.

  6. Weather permitting, I line dry my sheets and towels. They do stiffen up, but will soften after one use.
    The way they smell is divine. Even after being in the closet for awhile they smell like sunshine and fresh air.
    The towels dry better also. They really soak up a lot of moisture after a line dry.

  7. We look forward to line-drying weather! Some of my neighbors up here in Northeast PA line dry year-round – I guess freeze drying works? – but we only put our laundry out from Spring to Fall. Nothing beats snuggling into fresh sheets that have been gently dried in the sunny breeze. Yes, the clothes can get a bit stiff in humid weather, but a quick (5-minute) tumble in the dryer softens them right up. I love the lower electric bills, too.

  8. The buyer of my house stipulated that I leave the clothesline! That was fine with me because it is a circular clothesline. Those don’t dry as well as the straight lines, which I am putting up at our new house. Both properties are in the country though, so we don’t have to worry about zoning and neighbors.

  9. I live in Columbia, MD–in a pre-Columbian outparcel, so I’m allowed to line dry. We do it mainly because it’s better for the clothes. I’ve noticed that hanging even a couple of loads a weekend really cuts down on the electric bill, which is a nice side effect. Unfortunately, summers are so humid here that it takes almost all day for the clothes to dry. I know of two other neighbors that use their clothes lines, including one that’s regularly loaded with diapers. Thought I’d hate hanging wash, but I really love it and my husband’s become a convert.

  10. All year round, weather permitting (cold is not an exclusion, but precipitation for days on end is)

    We can usually wait to do laundry until the forecast is favorable.

  11. If I use the electric clothes dryer in southern Alberta, I might be using wind energy, but am probably burning coal. With line drying I know it’s wind and solar power at work. That really leaves me no choice in the matter and I don’t mind that our bath towels can stand up by themselves.

  12. Would love to line dry, but can’t . Our son has asthma and is severlh allergic to line dried clothes. ~ We found out the hard way. I’d try indoors but with no garage, 1200 sq ft of living space, and a family of seven; it just doesn’t work out. Maybe I’ll try again when nubby and I are empty nesters.

  13. When I built a sculptural clothesline for one of my garden clients, my wife asked “when are you going to build one for us?” She was taking flamenco lessons at the time, so the posts I built have a flamenco-flair and I call them Spanish Dancers.

    I have since built another sculptural clothesline for another client and used those glass insulators from old electric poles–I call that one Sunshine Power Line and my client loves it. You can see a pick of the clothesline I built for me and my wife (it gets regular use, year-round) at my blog:


  14. I grew up line-drying and kept it up where possible until I went to see an allergist about the allergies that had plagued me my whole life. Turned out that I was basically coating my clothes and sheets in allergens, which made everything much worse. So now I use the dryer or an inside drying rack with the windows closed. But we have no prohibition on clotheslines in our neighborhood, and when we had a roommate he dried his clothes outside all the time. I do miss the smell of line-dried sheets.

  15. I do have a drying rack which I use.
    I’d like to line dry. All I have to do is put a line on the pulleys on my house and a nearby tree. The problem? The house is built on the side of a hill and the pulley on the tree is at least 20 feet off the ground. I haven’t been adequately motivated to climb up there yet.

  16. Lived for years in the UK without a dryer and so we hung everything to dry, either on a rack or outside on the line. Now, we don’t have a line but one will be going into the new yard, once we have decided on positioning.


  17. Yesterday, I used the post hole digger, the prybar; mixed concrete and set my new clothes line. If the sun is going to shine in the Pacific NW, I am going to make use of it!

  18. The local humidity is so incredible that I can’t imagine line drying anything–I’d expect it to mold on the line!

    Mind you, I loved living in Arizona, because you could step out of the shower, LOOK at the towel, and you’d be dry. Not really an option here.

  19. I’ve wanted a clothesline since I moved out of my parents’ home. Unfortunately, 20 years & two homes later, I still put my clothes in the dryer. Why ? Because with a 40+ hour workweek & 8-10 hours of commuting, tending the gardens & volunteering at the kids’ school, attending their extracurriculars & providing homework guidance … there’s no time left to hang laundry. My mom hung our laundry out (3+ loads a day !) & I wanted to do the same. I miss that sun-fresh smell so much, especially on bedsheets.

  20. Outside drying is very bad for people with pollen allergies. The clothes get covered with pollen.

  21. How interesting that so many commenters line dry–at least sometimes! It is rare that I see it here in Southern Maryland. I suspect that when there are two breadwinners in the house hanging clothes out on days off is not high on the priority list. Most likely laundry gets done after dinner and before bed. Or stretched over multiple days. It’s too bad, really. Aside from saving energy (and money), line dried clothes really do smell better–as long as you avoid high pollen count days. And if you don’t like stiff towels? After line drying just toss them into the dryer with the air setting for five minutes and they are nice and fluffy. (Not a full cycle, mind you!)

  22. I line dry everything, and use drying racks inside when it’s raining or too atmospherically damp.
    Main reasons: it’s free.

  23. I would gladly partake in this if someone could properly demonstrate how to prevent cotton from turning into what feels like papier mache after line drying. Maybe it’s our very alkaline water or something, but it makes clothes feel horrible.

  24. I live in an area of the country with lots of Amish and Olde German. I love all the line drying they do out on their farms. We just bought our first house and we are getting ready for first baby. The plan is to do cloth diaper and line dry them. I hear the sun does a good job of bleaching out stains. Step one will be installing a clothes line and until then I have three foldable drying racks. It will be interesting to see what the neighbors think.

  25. We line dry all year long. (In the winter or when it’s raining, we hang the clothes up in the basement to take advantage of the dry air near the furnace.) In our blue collar neighborhood, almost all homes have a laundry pole or line but no one uses it as often as we use ours.

    I’ve noticed that the heavenly line dry smell only happens when the plants have leaves. Another reminder that plants bring pleasure into our lives.

  26. Yes! I rent, but after years of living in a place with a huge yard I couldn’t use, I recently found a place where I can use the clothesline. One of the other housemates line-dries; the other uses the electric dryer. Hanging up clothes and taking them down does cut into my gardening time, but I can’t imagine not using the clothesline. In the rainy season, I hang some clothes indoors for added moisture in the air, or under the eaves. And having a clothesline was great this spring when I got all muddy from working in my garden in the rain — I just hung up the clothes and either sprayed them with the hose or let the rain wash away the mud. On breezy days, it takes only a couple hours to dry the clothes, so it’s much more efficient than an electric dryer. I can do 2 loads and have them dry by the time my housemate is ready to hang up 2 or 3 more.

  27. I think 99% of our days since mid March have been high pollen days. I’m all about the dryer and air conditioning here. My allergies are bad enough without bringing more in. My neighbours line dry though. But they are all retired.

  28. We line dry and use the drier depending on weather. I grew up in the northern Shenandoah Valley of VA in an old apartment complex that had a huge clothesline – half over concrete and half over grass. We didn’t even have a drier then 🙂 College was all drier because there wasn’t an option or time. Now we live in very rural central VA and line dry again. Mostly we line dried because we liked it…until our drier died and we tried to replace it with an energy star rated drier and couldn’t find one. Are they all such energy pigs that they don’t exist? Since then, we dry outside as much as possible 🙂

  29. Oh, I love it pretty much!
    My problem is that I’ve not enough time to line dry and the weather doesn’t allow me to line dry
    everything. But before your post I didn’t know anything about the project Laundry.
    The picture on their site about the positive proof of global warming is very funny 🙂

  30. Here in RI, I have been line drying outside on sunny days, or indoors in our basement, for the past 27 years. Most of my neighbors line dry. I couldn’t live in a development where outside clothes lines were prohibited!

  31. I have retractable clothes lines attached to my garden house and I pull them out and hook them on shepherd’s hooks and dry my sheets and other laundry out there whenever I can. Love my clotheslines.

  32. Ok…I confess..I took my clothes line down like you did. I thought it was ugly and I did have a lot more room for my lovely roses.

    I hit a compromise with the dryer however. To save my clothes and my electric bill I purchased fold-able clothes racks and still one a week hang my clothes outside.

    I think I have the best of both worlds-energy savings and room for more flowers! :}

  33. I use a drying rack indoors. It works great. I machine dry stuff that would otherwise need ironing and linens because of allergies. I’d love to dry sheets outdoors for the smell if my husband could tolerate the pollen. It only takes a few minutes extra per load to line dry, especially since folding is a snap on the drying rack.

  34. I’ve been line drying for most of my life, and I’m a member of Project Laundry List.

    Not that it makes one bit of difference to the clothing, but I also went the extra mile to make my clothes line look pretty. It has finials and four iron plant brackets beneath the wood arms for hanging wind-chimes and hanging baskets. It also has a lovely woman’s pottery head to store the clothespins. I own a dryer, but it’s the exception rather than the rule when I use my dryer. I admit living in Texas and not living in an HOA-restricted neighborhood makes line drying clothes easier.

  35. ABSOLUTELY! And all year. I do wait for it to stop raining but I’ve hung laundry plenty of times when it was cold enough that it froze stiff in the basket before I got it on the line. In the winter, a rack in front of the wood stove provides overnight drying as well

  36. I’m with Barbara: birds. My allergens have been cat dander (or whatever it is: didn’t prevent me from living with one), ewwwclayptus and CA acacia, crape myrtles (just because of the volume of their pollen, right outside (grrr) our window.

    There’s also not the right setup for line-drying in this yard. In our Santa Cruz house, there might have been a good siting, but the rambunctious and sometimes carelessly destructive pre-teen would have made that less practical than might be.

    I did grow up with line drying–often because there was no money to repair the dryer. I could hang queen sheets without them hitting the ground, as well as fold them when dry, there at the line.

  37. Always line dry when possible. Sheets and towels only. I don’t get the complaint about too much time. involved. Now if I did all the laundry that way, yes. I have lines in the basement, too. Not the full length like when we moved in, but enough to hang dry the delicates and a few other things. Love the feel of sheets and towels off the line. My fantasy would be to have a fresh line dried towel every day- it is like a brisk massage the first time you use it. I hang my clothes exactly like my grandma- in descending order- here are the kitchen towels then the batth towels (cloths, handtowels, bathtowels, then the sheets, in order by bed). OVer lap each item to save on space and the number of pins, give a little twitch to the bottom to make sure it is straight, take them off the line in reverse order, folding neatly as I go. Geeze I am so meticulous about the clothes drying. (And weeding in the spring) Too bad this doesn’t apply to housework and job.

  38. I line dry everything but under garments, and that’s because I’m too lazy to hang each and every piece. My light bill dropped $30. In the winter (Maine) I use a rack by the wood stove.

    Wind and sunshine are renewable, safe resources.

  39. When we moved into our house we removed the two giant clothes line poles (built to last a milennium). Now we have one of the umbrella clothes lines. I love it, and it takes up a lot less room. And although we never do this, you can take it down if you’re having a garden party.

  40. Dedicated line dryer here — I think I’ve used my electric dryer 3 times in the last couple of years. Why? I’m cheap and contrary — oh, and I’m not doing laundry for a passel of kids (that would probably send me to the dryer). My concession to neighborliness is to make sure I hang the underwear to the inside of the line — both because my wonderful neighbors shouldn’t have to look at it and because they tease me if I don’t.

  41. I’ve been line drying for 5 years and am quite pleased with myself for making the switch. And unlike some other people, I actually like the rough feel of line-dried towels.

    How wonderful is the Sun-Drying Garmenture Society Drill Team?! Just gives me one more reason for planning to move to Greenbelt when it’s time to downsize. Actually NOW is the time to downsize but first I have to declutter my house (like that’s going to happen).

  42. My dryer broke, I paid $$ for a new circuit board, still not working and I have been line drying. Takes a little more,time, but I am,enjoying it and feellike I am being green. Saving money also,helps and I,like the fact that it is better for,clothes

  43. We line dry a lot b/w April and October. I put heavy eye-hooks in the posts holding the roof over our deck, and thread cotton line through them when I have laundry to dry. We usually have a nice breeze, and the clothes are in the sun during the afternoon.

    I thought that I would find line-drying clothes to be a hassle, but I quite like it. If I start the washer early on a summer day I can dry three loads in succession before sundown.

  44. I feel sorry for those with bad allergies.

    We’ve lived “off the grid” for about 40 years, raised 2 sons, and ALWAYS line-dried everything. Living in California helps (Solar power is abundant!), but even when we lived in Northern Maine for awhile we hung up all the clothes – even in winter – just like they did before dryers were invented. I do have a dryer but,seriously, the only people who use it here are house-guests. I laughingly acknowledge that I have elevated hanging clothes to an “art form” – no ironing ever needed and I don’t miss that. I find hanging clothes to be the most mindful, meditative, and pleasurable of household tasks. I do use an indoor rack if I am desperate but that does not happen often. If it rains for a week or so, the laundry just waits patiently for the sunshine to return. Life is good.

  45. Hanging clothes outside is my favorite housekeeping task — because it’s outside! Fabrics blowing in the wind on a bright day are such a festive and wholesome sight!

    Some tips I’ve learned over the years:

    Clothes dry softer and with fewer wrinkles when they dry slowly, as on a cloudy day or in the shade.

    Cloudy and breezy nights with no dew will dry clothes beautifully.

    If laundry is hanging and it starts to rain you can just leave it and get an additional rinse. Unless the fabric gets totally soaked, it will dry quickly after the rain passes.

    Use racks or the edges of the laundry basket to drape socks, underwear and other small garments for greater convenience and to avoid presenting neighbors with a view of your unmentionables.

  46. I have a 200′ line on pulleys from outside the laundry room up a hemlock tree. The clothes catch the side breeze and dry in no time at all, smell so fresh. I can fit 2 loads on easily – which is all I ever want to do in one day.

  47. Hell yes I line dry. This year I started early in April and will continue until October-ish. I tuck the “unmentionables” in between regular clothes and towels. My washer has a delay feature so I can se tit the night before and have a load ready to hang before I’m off to work. have to watch out through when the farmers are spread manure as I do not want that special scent on my laundry. We heat our home with wood so in the winter I hang many items as well.

  48. OK, laundry in the garden.
    I am currently living in China and as some are aware there is plenty of accommodation being built.
    But most do not know that the vast number of accommodation units are apartments.
    Now, the young seem to have adapted very well and hang the washing out, either of the windows or on the balcony.
    But the older inhabitants still insist on taking the washing down into the garden areas (normally every apartment block has a surrounding public garden area) and draping everything from sheets to pants over any tree or shrub that happens to offer the right support. Hey, it works, no pegs.

  49. I line dry laundry all year round unless there is some kind of precipitation falling from the sky. I live well north of the Mason-Dixon line and winters are generally very cold, but laundry will dry, at least mostly, even in winter because the air is so dry and there’s usually air movement. I knitted myself a pair of fingerless gloves so that my hands don’t freeze and there are days that I can feel the clothing harden to a freeze while I’m still hanging it, but using the dryer is like burning money to me. Laundry goes out early in the morning and comes in at dusk; anything that’s still damp spends the night on a rack near the wood stove.
    A suggestion to anyone who likes to hang out laundry but does not like sandpaper towels: I have discovered that a mere three or four minutes in the dryer (high heat) immediately after removing them from the washer and before hanging them outside goes a long way in keeping towels soft. Putting them in the dryer after they’ve hung out doesn’t work; you’ve got to do the short dryer thing first.

  50. We don’t even own a dryer here in Houston TX, it is year round line drying country. So crazy as soon as I saw the first picture I thought…wonder if that is Greenbelt (I grew up there:-)

  51. I don’t line-dry because the tendinitis in my arms is so bad. I can either use all my arm strength & stamina for the day doing laundry or I can do… well, anything and nearly everything else I need to do. And as no one else in the household is interested in line-drying (or in doing laundry, for that matter), we stick with the electric dryer. That, and where I live, it rains about as often as not, so line-drying isn’t a great option a good share of the time anyway.

  52. I grew up with a clothesline, though I also remember an electric dryer appearing at some point in my childhood — hey, it was the ’50’s and my mom probably listened to Uncle Ronnie. Despite one memorable evening when my brother and I were banned to the backyard (beneath the clothesline) to eat our dinner outside, as a result of some naughty dinnertime behavior, I have hung clothes outside everywhere I have lived. This has included Humboldt County, known for its, um, wetness in all seasons ….. several US Forest Service guard stations in the middle of nowhere …. and thankfully, for the last 34 years, in Bend, Oregon (site of the hilarious Stephen Colbert report — thanks to the commenter who included a link), where it is very very dry. On hot summer days, the wet clothes in the bottom of the laundry basket are already half dry by the time I get to them to hang on the line. In winter we mostly dry in our not-a-garage/shed, on racks, though I do hang stuff outside when it’s not snowing or pouring rain. BTW the word for the way clothes dry in sub-freezing weather is sublimation — the water evaporates directly without going through a liquid phase, one of the amazingly cool properties of water.

    I can appreciate the problems for people with allergies or icky humid climates. There are so many problems with dryer use, however, that it seems insane to me that most people in other areas still use them. The smell of freshly sun-dried clothes is amazing, and as another person mentioned, if you DO have a dryer and want to avoid the stiff-as-a-board towel syndrome, just pop them into the — ahem — electric clothes dryer for about 5 minutes before hanging, and they dry soft and flexible. Most garments and other items do not seem to be such a problem.

    I adore the Greenbelt Sun-Drying Garmenture Society Drill Team! I love the word ‘garmenture’ and plan to use it in everyday conversation this coming week.

    Lastly, we have just returned from a 2 week visit with various friends in Scotland. You know Scotland? About as wet as it gets. Every time we go there I am astonished anew at how few people even own dryers. Many home have these cool hanging racks that lower from the ceiling on pulleys. Originally they would have hung over the Rayburn or Aga stoves. But everyone has an outside clothesline as well. I say, if the folks in cool, rainy Scotland can line dry their clothes, most anybody can do it too.

  53. Yes, I hang our laundry out to dry. We have a line on a reel that I spin out to use, and an old fashioned wooden drying rack with about 25 linear feet available.

    I’m happy doing this because we don’t like to live with the dryer running in the basement and of course, we like the savings in energy.

    In winter I hang clothes on hangers in the basement next to the oil burner where they try overnight. Towels and socks go on drying rack.

    I toss the dry laundry in the dryer for 5 minutes to soften the clothes; everything comes out ready to wear!

    I’d love to send photos…but I see by your photos that people are hip to hanging clothes in the garden/patio, which is what we do.

    It takes a certain attitude to feel comfortable with this: we don’t dress for other people and we work at home so can tend to everything that needs attention but we also love the feeling of doing something good for the earth: we compost everything, too, including newspapers.

    Yes, we can all do this!

  54. My mother line-dried for about 40 years – til my parents moved to a townhouse. I’ve line-dried all my life and have no intention of stopping til my ashes are thrown in the Potomac River. I have a dryer for those times when it rains for a week and we desperately need clothes, but otherwise, out they go every day and will continue as long as I can move. We ARE fortunate to live where there is no HOA and not a lot of houses. About 1/2 the people on our mountain line dry as well. Have rifles too, in case anyone wants to complain about the clothes outside.

  55. What a great article. I have just decided not only to start a garden in the back yard, but to put up a clothes line, and maybe sit a small drying rack on the back porch for my lingerie. I’m making a vow to use the dryer less because it heats the house up, and would rather not do central air. The sun disinfects and of course it’s free!

  56. Clotheslines are so 19th century. Here in these “Green Times” we have a “solar dryer”! Now, our solar dryer does need clothes pins, a good view of the sun and about 70′ of sturdy cotton line, but still I maintain that it is a solar dryer! It works best on low humidity, sunny, breezy, 12 hour long days (on those ideal days we can dry at least three loads of wash if we are paying attention…) but we can use it all year long if the temperature stays above freezing during the day. We started using this solar dryer in the city but have now moved to the country where we notice that many of our neighbors also have solar dryers. Yep, solar dryers are the wave of the future to keep costs down (ours cost about $30.00) and to laugh in the face of the utility company while we enjoy fresh smelling sheets and clothes.

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