Sunday, November 7, 2010

Outdoor Clotheslines - a Green Technology

(photo - my mother in 1948 at her backyard clothesline)
Back in the 1950s, when I was a child, women washed the family laundry once a week and hung the wash out on a clothesline so Mother Nature could dry and bleach the clothing, imparting a fragrance that's difficult to describe but unforgettable. I'm reminded of Ray Bradbury's description of dandelion wine - "Dandelion Wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered." Bed sheets hung on the line all day in the sun, then gathered in my arms as brightness changed to twilight offered an irresistable urge to bury my nose in the sheets and inhale deeply - "sunlight caught and stoppered." Later that night when I crawled between fresh sheets and lay my head on the clean pillowcase that wonderful fragrance wafted up to my nostrils and sparked my imagination with its suggestion of wind and weather, sun and butterflies, clouds and rain. Like camping without the bugs and chill.

(photo - me in Hallstadt, Germany at the rooftop clothesline)
My mother taught me her notion of clothesline etiquette - hang all the sheets together, then the towels, then the washcloths, a kind of visual symmetry to let the neighbors know you take pride in your laundry. And hang your underwear on the inside lines, hidden from view by the sheets on one line and the blue jeans and dungarees on the other outside line. And to get the most from your clothes pins, overlap the edges of the clothes so that three pins will do the work of four.

(photo - my clothesline in Colorado circa 1973 - long gone.)

It's no longer necessary to hang laundry outside since the advent of the clothes dryer found in every laundry room in America., including laundromats scattered throughout most towns for college students and renters. And the fabrics we use now are wrinkle-free if tossed in a dryer making the iron and ironing board almost obsolete. In fact, hanging your laundry out on a line is considered "tacky." I have to wonder if promoting it as "green technology" or "solar clothes dryer" would bring back the practice, but probably not. Not many would think the inconvenience of hauling a basket of wet laundry out to the yard to hang it piece by piece from a line then return later to take it all down and bring it back to the house would be offset by the sensory pleasure of burying one's nose in the clothes to inhale that wonderful smell of captured sunshine.


  1. AP! I didn't know you had this fabulous blog! I love this entry and the wonderful photos. I can almost smell Grandma Benoit's sheets fresh from the clothes line. The neighbor who lives behind us has her laundry hanging out right now. The young couple who live beside us also installed a clothes line just last year. I do think it is being promoted as an "eco-friendly" practice. I hope to install my own line once we get our yard fenced in. I'm just not ready to let the neighbors see my unmentionables. ;)

  2. I air dry everything still on a clothes drying rack. There is an environmental group called project laundry list that promotes air drying as a green and environmentally friendly thing to do. It helps people get the laws changed so that if they want to hang laundry they have the right to dry.

  3. I love laundry that has been hung outside. I recall when my husband and I first mom had given us her old dryer when she got a new one. About a year later it developed some terminal illness and when I spoke of a new one my husband informed me he'd take care of it right away...a Ukrainian dryer. When I asked what that was he told me green wire stretched between two poles. LOL I learned to hang out wash then from his mother...with the very same etiquette!