The Fight for the Right to Hang a Clothesline

Photo (cc) by Rob Pearce

Clotheslines. Ugly nuisance or thrifty household friend? You’ll find strong opinions on both sides of the question.

Many homeowners associations across the country ban clotheslines as unsightly. They raise a number of objections, as the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal explains:

[C]oncern that publicly airing clean laundry attached with clothespins to a rope or wire was unsightly, or obstructed views, or even created a safety risk (strangulation is sometimes cited) led a number of condominium associations and rental property managers to ban clotheslines.

Right-to-dry movement

This being America, a movement has sprung up for — yes — the right to dry your clothes outdoors. The “right-to-dry” movement points out that clotheslines save households money and have the added virtue of reducing the 32 million metric tons of carbon put into the atmosphere by clothes dryers each year.

Six states — Maryland, Maine, Florida, Colorado, Vermont and Hawaii — have passed laws to overturn HOA clothesline bans, according to Sightline, a nonprofit organization that researches environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest. Another 13 states protect the use of “solar devices” or “solar energy systems,” which includes laundry dried by the sun.

What’s at stake, budget-wise?

Aesthetic arguments hinge on taste, but what’s less open to disagreement is the fact that an electric dryer is one of your home’s biggest energy users.

“Today’s typical electric clothes dryer sometimes consumes as much energy per year as a new energy-efficient refrigerator, clothes washer, and dishwasher combined,” says the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Clothes dryers account for 4 percent of all residential electricity use, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Maybe these arguments are persuasive or maybe lots of Americans just never dropped the old-fashioned tradition. According to Energy Star, only 82 percent of homes with a dryer use it for every load of wash.

10 tips for cheaper laundry

Politics, environment and aesthetics aside, line drying laundry is good for the budget. The NRDC and others offer these money-saving tips for drying by air and using laundry appliances efficiently:

  • Dry free. You’ll save at least $100 a year by air drying laundry rather than using an electric dryer, and a $40 savings if you have a gas dryer, the NRDC says. The savings grow when you also consider you’ll need to replace your clothes less often.
  • Move indoors. When the weather isn’t cooperating, use an indoor clothesline or drying rack. You’ll find a variety of inexpensive types for sale.
  • Go with gas. If you can’t air dry all the time, buy a gas dryer when it’s time to switch. Three-quarters of dryers in U.S. homes are electric, but natural gas dryers cost 50 to 75 percent less to use, the NRDC says.
  • Wait for the best. More energy-efficient clothes dryers are available elsewhere in the world but have not yet come to the United States, says the NRDC. Simply “updating residential dryers to the level of the most efficient versions sold overseas could save U.S. consumers a whopping $4 billion a year,” the group says.
  • Wash in cold water. Save up to 50 cents a load by using cold water instead of warm or hot, says the NRDC: Used correctly, newer detergents and washing machines are meant for cold water washing. Hot water is required only for laundry that’s very dirty or bacteria-laden.
  • Use a high spin. Set your washer to the highest spin cycle to wring out more moisture, cutting the energy required to dry your clothes.
  • Lower the heat. Dropping the temperature on your dryer cuts energy use, too. Have patience: It takes a little longer for clothes to dry.
  • Pull clothes out early. Stop the dryer cycle before clothes are 100 percent dry. You’ll save energy and reduce wrinkling.
  • Forget perfection. Energy Star says the average American household washes 300 loads of laundry yearly. Try cutting back — on the number of loads you wash, on the hot or warm water you use and the loads you put in the dryer. For example, try air drying 50 percent of your laundry, at least to start.
  • Calculate your use. Use Project Laundry List’s calculator to see how to cut costs on laundry.

Ready to hang a clothesline? Check out these 12 tips for air drying laundry from Care2.com.

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