How to Clothesline: Mom Tips

Now that the weather is getting nicer (at least down here in Texas), it’s time to get the clothesline out again.

Some may be wondering: why bother, when you have a perfectly good dryer in the laundry room?

Best reason? It’s FREE.

Dryers run on a 220 outlet, not a standard 110, which means every time you turn it on, you’re automatically using more electricity. I’m not a tree-hugging greenie or anything like that, but let’s face it. Thanks to the current jerks running the country, the cost of electricity has skyrocketed. Who wants high bills? Other than the initial cost to purchase the clothesline and the accessories you need to use it, the thing is free.

Did I mention it’s FREE?

Also, it gets you outside into the nice weather, and involves at least some movement, which is healthier. I also noticed that it gets towels dryer and more absorbent, and the clothes just smell nice if they’ve been outside. UV also kills germs, which is another plus for things like baby diapers and kitchen rags.

So, for anybody who’s interested in trying it, here are my tips on how to make a clothesline work for you.

There are two popular types of clothesline: the regular line, and the umbrella type. You can find both kids online, either at Amazon or Home Depot.

My mom has the umbrella kind, and I use the line. Mine is retractable, which is a big plus for getting it out of the way easily, especially on lawn mowing days. This is the version I have (it was cheaper through Home Depot when I bought it last year, but it’s basically the same one).

Just to put it in perspective, I made up the cost of that line in less than two months of using it, that’s how much my electric bill went down without using the dryer. Now, I have two little kids, and I do a lot of laundry, so you might not get that much out of it as quickly, but the point still stands: your electric bill goes down.

The other items you’ll need are (obviously): clothespins, a bag to put them in, and at least two laundry baskets, one for wet items, and one for dry (more on that later).

For clothespins, I use wooden ones. Plastic ones are available, but they are usually more expensive per pin, and less reliable. They seem to shatter and rust more easily than the wooden ones. I found reasonably priced wooden clothespins in our local Walmart.

Note: always get MORE clothespins than you think you need. I started out with a pack of one hundred, and thought “oh, that should be plenty, right?”

I ended up having to go back for a second pack of a hundred. All you really need to try is a single load of underwear and socks, and you realize that you always need more pins. Always. Better to have more than run out in the middle of doing the laundry.

I made my own clothespin bag (crocheted), but there are all kinds of different ones for sale wherever you buy the clothespins. Just make absolutely sure, whatever kind you get, that you can slide it down the line as you go. I used a diaper pin to secure mine, but you can use Velcro, snaps, a simple tie, whatever you like if you make your own.

I use the full length of my retractable clothesline. One end is attached to the fence, and the other to a metal fence post that my dad helped me install. He put it in the ground and used a bag of concrete to anchor it.

I pick a day off to do ALL the laundry in one day, including kitchen rags, sheets, or anything like that. It’s a little simpler than a single load once in a while, or at least I like it better. For weather, you can do it if it’s cloudy out, as long as you have some breeze. The best is both: sun and breeze, but one or the other will do in a pinch.

We’ve been getting a lot of gale-force winds down here, and those make it a little more complicated, but you can do the laundry in that weather if you have to.

Do the bath towels first. They’re heavy, and take longer to dry, so the best way is to take care of them first, and let them dry while you’re washing the other stuff. If I was doing it inside in the regular dryer, I’d save the towels for last, so that I wasn’t held up waiting for them to dry with another load waiting. Towels first also helps if it’s especially windy outside. They’re heavy, and it keeps the lines from flipping around each other with lighter stuff like t-shirts on them.

I like to start at the end opposite the fence, and then use all five lines. I start with a towel on the line farthest away from me, then the next one towards me, and so on. You can also go down one whole line, and then go back to the beginning, but that seems to add a lot of weight on one line, and I prefer keeping things a little more balanced.

I like to fold the hem over the line, and pin it down that way. Remember to put the pin all the way down over whatever you’re hanging, sort of jammed up towards the metal spring. That will keep it from sliding.

If you don’t have a whole lot of loads, you can hang the towels horizontal instead of vertical, with three pins instead of two, but when I took these pictures, I had ALL the laundry to do, and wanted to save the space and the pins. If you are getting closer to the middle of your line and don’t want them to drag on the grass, go with horizontal towels instead of vertical.

For clothes, I always hang the t-shirts from the bottom hem, not the shoulder. It seems to keep it from stretching. The harder the wind is blowing, the more likely it is to stretch a little, so be careful. When you hang them, be sure you aren’t pulling the hem or stretching it. Just loosely line it up on the clothesline, and pin it with three pins, instead of two. Kid’s shirts are smaller, so two pins is plenty for those.

My mom likes to hang her shirts from the bottom so that when they’re dry, she can put them on a hanger when she takes them down. She has an umbrella clothesline, though, so she can hang the hangers from the metal bar instead of the line. I don’t like putting that weight on my lines, though, so I just put the dry shirts in a basket and put them on hangers once I’m inside.

When hanging, do it this way:

Not this way:

All you’ll get if you don’t secure it to the line (in the first picture, not this one immediately above) is stuff sliding all over everywhere, and then getting pulled down if the wind picks up.

Pants I hang up by the waist, but only the back, instead of trying to get a pin around two folds of fabric:

But, don’t stretch the waistband:

Also, if you have a very tall Husband with seriously long jeans, either let them drag the ground a little, or just go down to the opposite end of the clothesline and hang them right by the end. That will keep it from dragging.

For large items like sheets or blankets, I like to throw the whole thing across all five lines (to the great delight of Munchkin and Rascal, who like running through the “tunnel,” of course), and just pinning the corners to keep it from sliding off or getting blown away.

On a sunny day with a nice breeze, I can usually take one load of wet clothes or other laundry outside, hang them up, and then that load will be dry by the time I come out with the next load. So, as mentioned above, I have one basket to bring out the wet stuff, and a second one for the dry. It saves trips and trouble that way.

On a day with no breeze, or when it’s a little cloudy, it takes longer to dry each load, so all those clothespins I mentioned usually get used, along with every inch of all five lines. As I said, it’s better to have more clothespins at the outset.

Now it’s time for some answers to objections. Please note that all of the following must be read in the whiniest, most Karen-like tone, in order to be more entertaining.

Objection One:

“But but but my clothes will be wrinkled!

I Answer That:

The only people who get to complain that their clothes are more wrinkled on the clothesline than in the dryer are the ones who always take their clothes out of the dryer WHILE IT’S STILL RUNNING and IMMEDIATELY hang them up and put them away.

Otherwise, if you’re worried about wrinkles in your shirts, just smooth them with your hands while they’re hanging there, and then let the breeze take care of the rest. If you’re really concerned about wrinkles, the dryer can give them a quick ten-minute fluff, and even that’s better for your electric bill than drying everything in there.

Objection Two:

“But but but my super-sensitive skin can’t handle the stiffness of the clothes and especially of the towels!”

I Answer That:

In this case, fabric softener is your friend. My preferred fabric softener is actually white vinegar. It’s so much cheaper than all other fabric softener brands, and it isn’t an oil. It won’t coat your clothes; it softens them (also kills germs) and then rinses out clean. For other pro-vinegar tips, see this article. If you have a Sam’s Club membership, that is the cheapest and easiest way to use white vinegar. You can get it in a huge bottle for very cheap.

On that note, my favorite detergent is a combination of Fels-Naptha and Borax: much much cheaper than brand-name detergents, AND you don’t have to smell like Tide all the time. When you can smell your next-door neighbor’s laundry when they run their dryer when you’re standing in your own backyard, that’s NOT the kind of crap you want in your clothes all day every day (up against your skin all the time with those chemicals). Fels-Naptha rinses clean, and doesn’t smell as strong. Borax is a natural laundry booster as well.

*NOTE: If you’re using Fels-Naptha, make sure the label says “Purex” and NOT “Zout.” Zout is a Mexican company who apparently now have the right to the Fels-Naptha name, and the soap is NOT the same as it was under Purex. It’s more yellow, stronger scented, and much more oily. Purex only.

Towels rinsed with white vinegar instead of fabric softener and then hung outside should be plenty soft enough even for the most sensitive skin. They also absorb a LOT more water than machine-dried towels.

My husband said that his t-shirts are a little stiff only when hanging in the closet, not after he puts them on.

Objection Three:

“But but but my clothes will fade in the sunlight!”

I Answer That:

No, they won’t. I’ve been doing this for two years, and I haven’t noticed a single brightly-colored shirt (mine, my husband’s, or my kids’) fading in the sunlight. The only thing that might change is that the line-dried shirts might be a little stretched if you put them on the line on a VERY windy day (as in, Texas-style, gale-force winds). The rest of the time, they’re perfectly fine.

As a matter of fact, I’m fairly sure that screen-printed shirts actually do a little better on a clothesline. The designs printed on the shirts don’t seem to crack or fade as quickly.

So, there you have it. The basics of a clothesline. It will save you a ton of money in electric bills, and the clothes are much cleaner, and you get a little outdoor activity to go along with it. So, take advantage of all the sunny spring days ahead, and you will love the results. Clean clothes, for cheaper.

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