A Fairly Simple Way To Save Millions In Energy

From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills

If you sleep between sheets that have been dried in the open air, you will understand why my wife and I never even thought about saving electricity when we put up the clothesline you see in the picture above. Clotheslines bring their own reward. Clothing dried in the open, sunny air smells so good. And sunlight acts as a sterilizer too.

A clothesline like ours makes hanging out the wash fairly easy. The two lines run through pulleys at either end, from the deck of our house to a tree about fifty feet away. To load a line, one merely stands on the deck with the clothes basket at the ready, and pins on the clothing, one piece at a time, then pulling the line around for the next piece. Reverse the process when taking clothes off the line. I got the idea from Amish friends many years ago. Their line ran from their porch to the side of the barn some distance away.

Over the 30 years we have used this clothesline, I suppose the cost has been about fifty cents a year in replacing the line and the pulleys a couple of times. We have an electric dryer which we use during winter, meaning that it lasts three to four times longer than one would with year-round use. So we do save a little money.

A little more savings come in energy costs. Dr. Kamyar Enshayan, an engineer by degree, working at University of Northern Iowa (see link for contact info), wanted to find out how much savings in electricity could be obtained by using a five dollar clothesline (his clothesline doesn’t have pulleys, just stretches between yard trees and posts), and in cold or wet weather, using lines and folding racks in the basement. He and his wife Laura have been drying clothes this way, with two children, for 12 years. When friends offered him a used electric dryer at reduced price, he bought it, but “we’ve only used it about ten times in two years.”

Since an electric dryer uses on average 1440 KWH per year, he says, you can figure the savings on your electric bill from using a clothes line— about a hundred dollars a year for us. It is when you figure the amount of electricity saved if a whole community or a city would invest in five dollar clotheslines that you get some significant numbers. Dr. Enshayan got his local utility company to help and learned that his town, Cedar Falls, Iowa, spends about $1.3 million to dry clothes every year. His county spends something like $5 million, the city of Des Moines $19 million, and the whole state of Iowa, $117 million. Just to dry clothes.

As Dr. Enshayan likes to point out: “This is not a technological issue; it’s a cultural issue.” Many Americans could easily dry clothes on outdoor and indoor lines, like everyone used to do, but the electric way saves time— maybe a whole forty five minutes a week which the average homeowner will use up driving around looking for bargains, or watching television, or gossiping with friends, or reading jokes on the Internet. We are products of our culture of convenience. In the subdivision where our daughter and her family live, outdoor clotheslines aren’t even allowed although all the house lots are over an acre in size.

What is so horrid about a clothesline? Is this one of modern society’s many revolts against what it demeans as manual labor? Or what it considers being too poor to afford better? Is this our way to canonize convenience? Next thing you know, there will be laws against having gardens in the yard so that those families who don’t do it won’t feel guilty. (Actually there are such regulations, I’ve been told.)

In a talk I gave recently, I used the clothesline example as a rather rewarding and fairly easy way to cut down on energy use. I had even read an article in a rural electric magazine advocating the idea. To my surprise, a lady in the front row raised her hand and, visibly upset, objected to the idea that she give up her electric clothes dryer. She had dried clothes on a line for years, and now, by all that was holy, she intended to use her electric dryer until death do us part, thank you kindly. I was taken aback by her vehemence. She even pointed out that clothes on an outside line can get dirty from polluted air (as if the air in a clothes dryer is never polluted), which I suppose is always a possibility. You wouldn’t hang wash out ahead of a dust storm. Carol and I in the first years of our marriage, when we were so poor we could not even think of buying an electric dryer, resorted to a clothesline, but we made the mistake at first of running it underneath a black walnut tree. The squirrels would drop pieces of walnut hull on the wash occasionally, infuriating Carol by putting brown stains on her immaculately clean cloth diapers. (Cloth diapers are another subject that will draw vehement protests from the culture of convenience.)

The upset lady was proof that Dr. Enshayan is exactly right. This is not a technological issue since indoor or outdoor clotheslines work marvelously well even during power outages, but a cultural one. Questioning the culture of convenience in which we have been brought up is considered an affront to our well-being. Giving up any part of it threatens our identity and the way we measure our worth.

Next time you look for someone to blame for high energy costs or for the unraveling of our environment, look in the mirror.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of
The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Photo Credit: Gene Logsdon
OrganicToBe.org | OrganicToGo.com
Gene’s Posts

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I LOVE hanging out the wash! There’s something wonderful about standing in the sun, and feeling the breeze, and hearing the birds sing and the bees buzz while you hang up the wash, one piece at a time. It makes you slow down, and enjoy the out of doors for the few moments it takes to do it.

I have to admit that I’m not too crazy about the stiff clothes and towels that come down from the lines, but enh, who cares. really, when it’s glorious outside!

Teresa Sue Hoke-House July 10, 2009 at 6:18 am

I don’t want to go to heaven if there aren’t any clotheslines there! Lol! Nothing is more beautiful as a clothesline full of clothes, sheets, and quilts flapping in the breeze, and the smell of those fresh clothes,is, well, priceless.

There is an art to hanging out clothes. Pinning them just so-so. Making sure the t-shirts and sweatshirts don’t have their hems pulled all whacky. Having them hanging so perfectly that when you un-pin them, they are wrinkle free. I’ll take a clothesline or a drying rack any day. The mall rats can have my dryer.

Kathy I truly believe that one reason people have so many alergies now a days is that we are not exposed to things like we use to be. We live in bubbles, people go right from air conditioning to heat and vice versa, we almost never opens windows any more. We protect our infants FROM EVERY THING, it’s amazing the human species has survived this long if you listen to the evening news.
So to your point, I think years ago as infants we developed resistance to pollens and such by sleeping on clothes hung outside.

THANK YOU SO MUCH for this! I am an Australian living in the United States and it has always astonished me how every single household in the US has a dryer and no-one has a clothesline! I find it disturbing that everything gets washed in the machine, moved straight to the dryer then folded and put away, never to see the light of day or a breath of fresh air! How stale.

We were confined to a small cottage until last year, when we bought a wonderful property with a big yard. How wonderful it feels to be able to have clothes hanging between the trees, getting sun-bleached and dried with simple, fresh air.

Hardly anyone in my family back in Australia has a dryer and even if they do, they are used only on the wettest days when one cannot avoid using them (running out of towels, for example). Everyone has a clothesline and no-one expects any different.

It all comes down to what you’re used to. Pollution? Ridiculous! There is nothing better than fresh air and pure sunlight to make one’s sheets and pillowcases smell and feel wonderfully fresh!

I used a clothesline when my kids were babies, and it always had a long row of cloth diapers and rubber pants hanging on it. I still use it today and besides the economical benefits of line drying, it looks warm and homey.

I live in Phoenix. My wife and I use a clothesline. It amazes me that more people don’t do it. We live inside of a giant natural clothes drier — the Sonoran Desert. Often during summer, by the time I finish hanging the last of the clothes the first pieces are ready to be taken down.

Our clothes smell fresh. I don’t think clothes from a mechanical drier smell as good.

I lived in Africa for a couple of years as a Peace Corps volunteer. A beautiful sight was all of the clothes from a village hung out to dry on a sunny Saturday morning. The Basotho (the people of Lesotho) wear blankets year round. During the summer it is to protect from the sun. During the winter it is to protect from the cold. Their blankets were very colorful. You would see the clothes and blankets hanging on wire fences. I miss that.

To Kathy, Mary, Steve, Valerie, ed, S, and Tom, Very much enjoyed all your interesting comments. Yes, S, I too have often heard clotheslines looked down upon as something for the poor. So too with burning wood to heat a home, or putting a standing seam metal roof on your house. Some quite wealthy people around here burn wood, and a standing seam roof is often the choice of the rich because they cost so much and last so long. Strange world we live in. Gene Logsdon

Great article. I remember well my grandmother’s clothsline complete with the pulleys. The two houses that I’ve lived in for the past 25 years each had homeowners rules forbidding their use. When my first child was born, my wife and I actually used cloth diapers before succumbing to the convenience of disposables. I was young and dumb and wanted to follow the easy way out. Now I see them for the horrible waste that they are.

In this age of “green” that everyone is touting, it amazes me that these age-old customs are not taken seriously as a small solution. As a nation, we pay lip service to the environment and excess energy consumption but we will never give up the conveniences. Ultimately, I figure we’re doomed.

I have heard stories about “urban renewal” projects, where one of the goals with regards to multi-family and/or public housing was to eliminate clotheslines, as they were considered to be for the poor, but also unsightly.

Thanks for the article!

I got the same pulley idea from my grandfather. For a long time I thought all clotheslines were that way.

I took mine one small step further and used the coated metal line and a fence tightener to take up the line when it sags.

Here’s my “over-engineered clothesline

Great topic! When we visited New Zealand several years back as part of the WWOOF program, we were astonished to see that so many families had clotheslines. It made us question our cultural norm… here in the US it seems that they are thought of as low-class. If more people realized the money that communities save by using a clothesline for even part of the year, perhaps the stigma would be reduced. How about a publicity campaign: Use a clothesline and help fund public schools!

We have a clothes line (actually it’s a more elaborate spinning contraption), which we installed last year in anticipation of have many loads of cloth diapers to dry. The towels and diapers don’t come out as soft as they do in the dryer (which we do use during the rainy winter months), but otherwise it works great.

It’s actually rather like a work of art sometimes, to see the colors and patterns of our laundry on the drying rack, spinning in the sun. And it’s nice to get outside to hang the laundry.

We also installed a rod above in the door to the laundry room where we hang some laundry during the winter… that works great as well. And the baby loves it when we walk through the hanging clothes! (free entertainment value – definitely a plus)

Valerie Blaha
Yamhill, OR

I have neighborhood rules against clotheslines around here. Nevertheless, I doubt we use our electric dryer more than once a month just the same.

We have two folding drying racks. I think we got them from that “Non-Electric” catalog place in your own state of Ohio. Anyhow, we put most of the clothes on the racks. Usually, we set them up in the living room as the washer is in a laundry closet not too far down the hallway. Shirts and jerseys go onto hangers hung from the top of a few door moldings in said hall. Usually we do this before retiring for the night and most stuff is dry the next morning or later when we come home from work, especially if our masonry heater has been fired anytime recently (most of the late fall, winter, and spring.) Thus dried, the stuff on hangers transfers immediately to the closets while the racked items are a quick fold. It does tie up a spot in the living room (horrors!), but only overnight or while we’re gone anyhow.

I have a corner bedroom with decent windows that catch a good breeze off of our neighborhood pond out back and through the room. On a sunny, windy day I can hang stuff inside there and it smells almost as good as really hanging it outside.

Sometimes in good weather, we sneak the drying rack out onto the patio for a while anyway and, despite the neighborhood rule, nobody says anything.

As Peak Oil progresses and all forms of energy get more precious in price along with any monetary wealth, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more clotheslines.

Best regards,

Stephen Beltramini
Walpole, MA

Just after I read your post, I looked at my local news site. Saw this:

Dryer Sparks Deadly House Fire

“According to the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System, in 2006, there were 97 clothes dryer fires that caused one civilian death, two civilian injuries, two firefighter injuries, and an estimated dollar loss of $489,922.”

I only rarely use mine even in the winter here now (MA). I have some racks for hanging in the same room as the furnace (not too close), and they dry off pretty quickly.

I would love to put our clothes out on a clothes line, however, my partner has very bad allergies and would have a difficult time trying to sleep in sheets that have been hung outdoors catching pollen all afternoon. Drying our clothes in a dryer is our only solution since we have limited indoor space.

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