I grew up in sunny Australia where it was, and still is, normal to hang your wet laundry out to dry on an outdoors clothes line. With the luxury of space and a warm climate, most Australians either do not have a tumble dryer at all or regard it as a back-up for emergencies only. Rich or poor, city or country, culturally this is how things are commonly done.
In my mid twenties, I moved to London. Suddenly I had neither space, nor climate, on my side. My partner and I lived in one-bedroom apartments for nearly five years, with no outdoor space. As is common in London, the apartments came furnished with a front-loading washing machine in the kitchen. I had no experience with drying clothes inside in a confined space, so I might have been tempted to use a dryer had one been provided.
But none of the four London apartments we lived in came with a dryer. And it seemed that no one I knew in London had one either. Of course, tumble dryers do exist in Britain – and they are a big contributor to the nation’s greenhouse gases – but they are certainly not ubiquitous. We looked around and saw that people got by with indoor folding clothes racks and by putting clothes on the central heating radiators, backs of chairs or stair rails, so that’s what we did too. For bigger items such as sheets, we hung them over the backs of doors. My family in Scotland had a clothes pulley installed above the stairs – a clever device where an indoors clothes line is raised or lowered with a pulley system – but we never had this luxury as a renter.
Now in California, our rental home comes with a washing machine and a dryer on top. This is normal around these parts, despite the relatively warm climate and the fact that many houses have backyards. But my drying habits have stayed with me and knowing what I know now, I am not prepared to start using a tumble dryer for my clothes. Firstly, they are tremendous energy vampires – one of the most power-hungry appliances in the home. By not using a dryer I am saving money and helping the planet. Secondly, dryers are rough on your clothes and even garments that are marked as safe for the dryer will not last as long if dried this way regularly. Finally, I now know that drying your clothes naturally is really very easy, no matter the space or the climate. I might only have a two-bedroom cottage and no outdoor clothes line but if I can do it in a one-bedroom apartment, I can certainly do it in my comparatively spacious California home.
I’ve been asked to share with you some of my tricks and tips from a lifetime of doing laundry. I’m not some Martha Stewart wannabe and these are not amazing revelations that will come as news to anyone who has experience with natural clothes drying. Also, I’m not trying to lecture you about how to live your life but simply telling you what I do at home. Perhaps it will help!
Obviously every home and family is different but this is our current set-up.
We have floor space in the laundry room, which gets reasonable sunlight, so we have a folding clothes rack here. It’s a wonderful luxury for us to actually have a laundry room, since we generally had the rack in the living room when we lived in London. We dry dress pants, jeans, skirts and towels (done in a separate load of course) by hanging them on the rack. Most clothes only take a day or so to dry. Jeans can take longer and may need turning over after a day to ensure air can circulate around the waistband. On an outdoor line we would hang jeans upside down and not fold them over at all, but our clothes rack is not high enough for this.
We also use the rack to peg out underwear and socks. The pegs are not strictly necessary but they do prevent the clothes falling on the floor and they allow more surface area to be exposed to air. I always sort the socks and hang them out as a pair, so they can be put away more easily and I can hunt for missing socks straight away.
We have a curtain rail in the bathroom. This was not installed especially for this purpose but since it’s there, we use it. A clothes rail on wheels would serve the same purpose if you have a convenient place to put it. We generally put shirts and t-shirts and dresses on a coat hanger and hang them on the rail in the bathroom. That way they can be transferred straight to the wardrobe when dry and, except for formal wear, they often do not require ironing.
We hang sheets over the backs of doors. It looks a bit messy but it’s one day once every few weeks (we have several sheet sets) so it’s not a big deal. I do miss an outdoor clothes line for this.
There are only two of us at present and of course this makes things easier because the laundry loads are smaller than a larger family. However, I think the biggest factor is habits and space. Based on my experience growing up and that of other families in Australia and Europe, I believe if I had an outdoor clothes line or a clothes pulley or space for several drying racks, then I could easily accommodate family-size laundry loads.
Hanging out clothes takes about five minutes so I don’t regard it as a significant amount of work. It’s not an unpleasant chore, it’s just about being in the habit of doing it this way. We might find it difficult to cope with the increased laundry with a family but only because we have a small home. We would probably want to move somewhere bigger when and if we have children anyway, for many reasons besides the demands of laundry.
Do what works for you and don’t be afraid to improvise. Even if you can’t eliminate dryer usage altogether, cutting down would benefit the environment and your wallet.
- The most important thing when you are hanging out clothes to dry is to shake them out so they are straight. Don’t hang out a shirt with the arm bunched up inside itself or it will dry crushed.
- Outside, I like to fold t-shirts over the line and peg them on the seam under the arms so the peg marks do not show. Inside, I usually put them on a hanger, like the shirts, to save space on the rack.
- The more surface area exposed to the air, the faster the clothes will dry. If you need clothes to dry quickly, peg them upside down with no doubling over. The rack has more limitations in this regard than an outdoor clothes line or pulley because it is lower to the ground.
- Hang socks in pairs. This makes it easier to sort the dry laundry and reduces missing sock syndrome.
- If you are low on pegs, you can share one peg between the edges of two different items of clothing. Any difference in drying time is marginal.