I don’t use a dryer. I have a dryer, but about 95% of the time it stands idle. I prefer to line dry my clothes. Whenever I tell people this, their reaction follows a predictable pattern. First surprise. “How can you do that with six people in the family? It’s so much laundry.” Next comes defensiveness. “Well, we could never do that. I don’t like the crunchy feel.” “It takes too much time.” “It isn’t worth it.”
So I thought I’d take some time to explain how we make line drying work for us and why it’s completely awesome and you should do it, too.
First off, why should you line dry? Dryers are easy and convenient, it’s true. But they are also horrendously energy inefficient. So much so that the energy star program took one look at dryers and decided there wasn’t any point in trying to come up with an energy efficient standard. They use a lot of energy and there’s no getting around it. Even worse, you have to pay for this energy. So basically, you’re using a lot of energy and some money to accomplish something that will happen with just a bit of time and patience. Line drying is also more environmentally friendly. Looking to decrease your carbon footprint? Look into line drying. Additionally, your clothes will last longer if they don’t go in the dryer. All that lint in the lint catcher? That was part of your clothes.
So here are some tips on how to make line drying work for you.
1) Wear your clothes more than once.
When I was leafing through an IKEA catalog, I came across one of their “helpful tips.” They showed a chair with a pair of pants draped over it with the suggestion that customers do this to air out their clothes so they can wear them again the next day. I showed it to my husbands. “Americans will never go for this.”
“Why not?” he asked, puzzled.
“Because they don’t wear their clothes more then once. They wear them and they throw them in the laundry.”
“But that makes a lot of laundry!” he protested. “Why wash them when they’re basically still clean?”
Why indeed. But this is how Americans roll and this is why they have so much laundry. This is also what I used to do until I went to Germany for a year. After a few weeks with my host family, my host sister pulled me aside. “Stop putting your pants in the wash after wearing them once,” she told me. “My mom’s complaining that it makes too much laundry.” So I stopped. And I’ve stopped every since. In Germany, jeans can be worn until they’re actually physically dirty. Shirts as well, but it’s more common to switch those out daily.
Finns do this as well, but they take things a step further. They tend to wear junky clothes, like sweatshirts and t-shirts at home and change into ‘nicer’ clothes, like jeans or whatever, only when they go out. This keeps their nicer clothes clean longer, so they have even less to wash. Once my in-laws asked me to take a picture of their whole family together and I obliged. All of them are in sweatpants and t-shirts, except for my mother-in-law, who quickly changed into something nicer for the picture.
Since living with my husband, I’ve adopted his habit of wearing shitty clothes around the house and changing into nicer ones when I leave. My shitty clothes I can usually wear 2-3 days before they need washing. In the evenings, we hang them up on a chair to let them air out so we don’t smell horrible the next day. Most of our kids are too young to do this; their stuff gets dirty every day and we don’t try to arrange wardrobe changes when they leave the house. But Alpha is getting to the point where his pants can be worn more than one day at a time before they’re dirty, so we remind him to hang them up after he takes them off so he can wear them again.
2) Do your laundry in the evening or according to the weather.
In the winter, we use two drying racks we bought from IKEA to dry our clothes. These take up a lot of room, so in order to use them most efficiently, I wash the clothes in the evenings and Alpha and I hang them out before he goes to bed. By the time morning rolls around, most of the laundry is dry. After breakfast, I can take it off, fold it right on the racks and we put it away. No laundry baskets full of clean laundry waiting to be folded.
In the summer, things work a bit differently because I hang them on my rotary clothesline. I do one load of laundry before I go to bed. When I get up in the morning, I take it out, start the next one and hang them both up after breakfast. They usually dry within an hour.
In the summer, I also keep a close eye on the weather forecast so I can plan my laundry according to what the weather is going to do. I’ve noticed you need at least two of three factors in order for laundry to dry well outdoors:
1) Warmth. By which I mean 50F or above.
I consider 50F to be the minimum temperature for hanging clothes outside. While clothes do dry in freezing weather, I’ve never managed to make that happen before the sun goes down and once that happens, I no longer have two of the three. It’s also really hard to tell if clothes are dry when they’re cold. Rubbing them against your check helps.
3) Getting rid of that crunchy feeling.
This is probably the number one objection to line drying I hear. People just don’t like the fact that their clothes are stiff when they’re line dried. To that, all I can say is, “Kaikkeen tottuu, paitsi jääpuikkoon perseessä – se ehtii sulaa ennen.” You can get used to anything except for an icicle up your ass because it melts too quickly. In other words, you’ll get used to it. At this point, whenever I’ve worn clothes dried in the dryer I feel like they aren’t clean. Like I’ve pulled them out of someone else’s closet and they’ve already been worn.
The last solution is the most labor intensive: iron your clothes. My host mother irons all of their clothes, even their socks and underwear. A bonus side effect is that their clothes are always very neat and nicely folded. But she used to get up at 5am to start ironing and would iron after dinner while watching TV. My host sister and I would pitch in as well. Germany is actually where I learned how to iron. At my house, we didn’t iron anything. If my dad needed to iron his dress clothes, he did it himself. But in Germany, ironing is common enough that my sociology teacher asked the class who did the ironing at their house and singled me out specifically. I stared at him blankly. “No one. We don’t iron.” He didn’t quite know how to respond to this, so he just moved right along. In Germany, however, I would go home after school and stand in my host sister’s room, ironing the clothes.