Friday, July 22, 2011

Support Solar Energy Now: Hang Dry Laundry

Eyesore? I don't think so. Laundry out to dry in Burano, Italy.

"If 95 percent of Italians, some of earth's most fashion-conscious inhabitants, don't own a dryer, then why are Americans so adamant about tumble drying their clothes?" This was the question posed by Chelsea Hodge in a New York Times piece, "Rethinking Laundry in the 21st Century." Compare that to the approximate 80% of U.S. households that owns a dryer.

We're in the midst of a major heat wave on the East Coast, and when I get off the bus after work and pass laundry rooms in my apartment complex, I hear the sound of dryers, instead of seeing sheets, towels, and socks drying in the sun. Why? We can't hang dry our laundry due to restrictions in our lease. Why: because like the lunacy of objectors to solar panels on telephone polls, some think it's worse to look at sheets blowing in the wind than having invisible pollution they can't see blowing through the air.

Alexander Lee, when he was president of Project Laundry List, says the group is fighting the idea that clotheslines are ugly. "It's much uglier to look out the window and see rising sea levels," he remarks.

My view on hang drying laundry: it is an act of environmentalism, economic empowerment, exercise and beauty. I am tired of it being associated with poverty, like in the dark film Winter's Bone, about an impoverished family in the Ozarks.

Liberator of household drudgery? "We would work less and vacation more. In fact, we work more and vacation less than any of the countries we compare ourselves to. And we sit behind a desk and earn thousands of dollars to buy appliances."

Since I can't dry outside, I hang dry year round on a drying rack in my apartment, clothes on hangers on my shower curtain rod, and towels on the racks. Even sheets and blankets air dry. No wasting $1.50 per load in the dryer (it adds up!) or polluting our air.

I think the idea of power consumption as a "status symbol" is intriguing. At a Fourth of July picnic, a guest said what I agreed with: she's offended by people who "flaunt" it (meaning being wasteful with energy). I'm offended too.

And with all these modern conveniences, doesn't it seem like so many don't have enough "time?"

Drying For Freedom Trailer

When I travel abroad, I adore the sight of laundry hanging out to dry. I think of our ignorance on the matter. What is so offensive about the sight of our neighbors trying to save money and energy? If a small act can help provide cleaner air and more money in wallets, I support it. I also ponder how detrimental it would be if everyone consumed resources at the rate Americans do.

Fondly recalling laundry out to dry, on the balconies of Barcelona.

In romantic Tangier.

In a Lisbon courtyard, with bicycles at the ready for a trip to the market.

Also, in Lisbon, I spied a laundry rainbow.

Floating over a quaint cafe in Rome.

Above the canals of Venice.

In colorful Burano, where laundry out to dry is part of the charm. Upon viewing the beauty of laundry drying in the sun, a man declared to his wife, "We're going to start hang drying our laundry at home!"

Also in Burano. What if all these people used an electric dryer instead of the sun?

In this video by American Josh Soskin living in Spain, he calls the act of hang drying "beautiful," "meditative" and "a small difference in how we live" and wonders "if these small details aren't ultimately what will make or break us in the future." I completely concur.

"The tumble dryer is the second largest energy-consuming appliance and the leading cause of house fires among appliances. There is no such sense as an Energy Star dryer; these machines are inherently inefficient, using natural gas or electricity to heat air," Lee asserts in the New York Times.

Check out Project Laundry List's Top 10 Reasons to Line Dry. Quiz yourself on "How Green is My Laundry Routine" from the Sierra Club.

A few years ago, CBS Sunday Morning's Bill Geist featured this amusing, bewildering and though-provoking piece on one woman's battle to combat global warming, one clean shirt, towel and sock at a time.

Watch CBS Videos Online

I like what Rob, a resident of Staten Island, said in the comments section of The New York Times article on Rethinking Laundry. "It's funny how so many of the 'green' things I do, like hanging clothes outside, keeping a vegetable garden, composting yard and food waste, re-using bags (paper and plastic) and walking instead of driving are the kind of things my grandparents did before anybody called it 'green'.

"Green" living to me isn't some fad or about buying some expensive product, it's about being respectful of the planet and current and future generations in my daily lifestyle. Clothes are one of the few things we consume that is a 'need', but caring for them also is a need. I reduce my impact by hang drying, avoid dry cleaning as much as possible, and wash on cold water. Project Laundry List tells us an astounding 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine goes to just heating the water, and you could save $60 or more on your annual energy spending by washing at least four out of every five loads in cold water.

In Burano. Do you hang dry laundry?


  1. I couldn't agree with your more. I don't know why we have this obsession with wasting everything in this country. I do not own a dryer and I don't intend to. I recently bought myself a stylish clothes drying rack from IKEA. The only reason I don't dry my stuff outside is because the color fades and I don't like shopping for new clothes. I have been to Italy, and Spain and find it charming that they dry their clothes outside.

  2. Hi. Thanks for the support! That’s great. I have one from Bed, Bath and Beyond I bought a decade ago and still use it. I also have two others that were destined for the landfills I got on the roadside. Wasting everything is right. I wish we were as a nation as obsessed with bettering our land and our minds instead of being the land of waste and excess.

  3. Yes, I line dry my laundry. Outside in the summer and inside on racks by the wood stove.

  4. Excellent! More line drying power! So many people say they can't find time to line dry, but are we really that busy? How does everyone in Spain and Italy function?

    I wash things I need like sheets on a weekend morning and by evening they are dry, and clothes anytime. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I have always dried most (not all--I generally don't hang my undies outside) of my clothes out on the line. It's common where I'm from, although we'd use a dryer in the winter months, even though things dry just fine out in the snow.

    I live in a 14 story building in downtown Long Beach, CA, and we have multiple lines out on the roof for clothes. Our gas lines have been shut off for the past 3 months as they do repairs and a few people have sheepishly said something about "saving money" or mentioned the gas lines if we're out hanging clothes at the same time. It's almost as if they are ashamed. I always tell them that I've always hung our clothes out on the line. I love doing it. It connects me to home. I can't explain exactly, but it is a grounding activity that makes me feel just a little bit more human while living in all this concrete.

    But I want to tell the dude who complained about being compared to poor folks in the Ozarks (aka me!)--ain't nothing wrong with being poor, son!

  6. AnonymousJuly 25, 2011

    This is the first time for me that I have moved somewhere that doesn't explicitly prohibit line drying. I've been line drying a lot of stuff indoors, but I'm hoping to set up a small line on my patio that I can use soon.

  7. I really do love hanging out clothes too - it feels nostalgic and of simpler times before we were told our wants were needs and we couldn't function without these things. With all these devices and appliances, when is all of this leisure time coming to the American people?

    And yes, nothing wrong with not having money! I feel the same snobbish attitude exists with secondhand clothes – oh that's for poor people!

    Thanks for the comment Erica! Good luck with the patio line. I pass a house on the bus that line dries laundry and have clothesline envy!

  8. Of course I hang dry our laundry! But I live in Germany - so maybe that doesn't count.
    I inherited my grandmother's rotary clothesline. It's about 40 years old but still makes laundry a blast on a nice, warm and sunny Saturday! In winter and if it's rainy we hang our clothes in the attic to dry or just put up a rack in the living room.

    My mother has used a dryer for 25 years, for sheets and towels only, but I don't like the touch of them.
    During my time in the states I used to put up my clothes in the bathroom since racks seemed ridiculous expensive to me! And neither of my roommates owned one. But I just had the impression that tumbling my clothes dry wasn't just expensive, but tough in my clothes,too!

    Congrats to you, guys!

  9. Greetings to you in Germany, Kate! Thanks for sharing your story. How wonderful to have your grandmother's clothesline!

    I agree about it being tough on your clothes. I've hung dry my clothes for years for that reason but did use the dryer for sheets, jeans, and towels. Thanks to Project Laundry list, I stopped. I decided cleaner air was more important than fluffy towels!