In the "olden days" it was a common sight to see housewives hanging the family's laundry outdoors to dry. It was the only real option, until gas- and electric-powered appliances became available. Now many families depend on dryers to dry their clothing. Environmentally-conscious families are returning to the quaint custom of hanging clothes on a clothesline as part of their effort to reduce energy usage and preserve our environment.
There is more to hanging laundry than just throwing it over the clothesline and pinning it on. Done properly, using a clothesline to dry laundry can reduce the amount of ironing that is necessary, and can give your clothing and linens a fresh, natural scent.
How To Hang Linens So They're Soft and Fluffy
Some folks find that their laundry is uncomfortably stiff after being hung to dry. Hang your laundry on a windy day and this won't be such a problem. The wind is actually more important than the amount of sunlight, since it is the action of the wind that fluffs the fabric. Hanging laundry on a hot, sunny, windless day will only scorch the fabric and stiffen it. You don't need bright sunlight to get your laundry dry, but the sun does have natural disinfectant properties and will bleach your whites their brightest.
To hang sheets, towels, cloth diapers, and linens, pin them on the line so they form a "bag." Fold these items across the middle, so the short ends meet and the fold is at the bottom. Use clothespins to fasten the corners to the line. Then fasten one side of the sheet or towel to the clothesline with several pins, leaving the other side free. The wind will get between the layers of fabric, and make it billow out into a bag shape. It is the action of the wind and the fabric rubbing together that produces soft, fluffy sheets and towels dried on a clothesline.
If You Wear It On Top, Pin It At The Bottom, and Vice Versa
The rule of thumb for hanging clothing is that shirts and tops should be hung by the hem, and pants, skirts, and jeans should be hung by the waistband. As with linens, leave one side unpinned so the wind can get inside the garment and pull it back into shape.
Hang the laundry as flat as possible; don't overcrowd the line, which can result in wrinkles. With strong, high-quality clothespins you won't need to fold the hems over the clothesline to keep the garment from coming loose from the clothesline. Garments should be hung individually. Sheets, towels, and linens can be hung in an overlapping row to reduce the number of clothespins you need.
When laundry is hung carefully you will need to do very little ironing afterwards, and any marks left by the clothespins can be rubbed out. Loosen the fibers by rubbing them between your finger and thumb, or grab a section of the garment in each hand and rub the marked fabric together until the marks are eliminated.
More Helpful Hints
Hanging dark colors like black and navy in bright sunlight may cause fading where the light hits the fabric. It may be best to dry these outdoors on an overcast day, or indoors on a clothing rack or indoor clothesline. Clothing dried indoors will become stiff, since there isn't any wind. When they are still slightly damp, throw them in the dryer to finish drying and they will come out soft.
Jersey tends to become shorter and wider when washed, so you don't want to stretch it when you pin it to the clothesline. The weight of the wet garment will allow it to regain its length. Woven fabrics should be stretched slightly when pinned to the line.
Keep an eye on the weather! It could rain on your efforts, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Your laundry will get an extra rinse with naturally soft rainwater, which seems to make fabric extra soft when it has dried (again).
Be careful not to set up your clothesline in a high bird-traffic area such as under a tree or overhead power line. The only recourse you have when your laundry is accidentally decorated by the birds is to rewash it.
Allergy sufferers may not wish to hang their laundry outdoors. Pollen from trees and plants may be carried by the wind and settle onto the fabric, giving you a noseful when you pull on clothing or snuggle in the sheets. Smoke from a neighbor's woodburning stove or barbecue grill can also drift over and settle on your laundry. Check which way the wind is blowing!
During cold or inclement weather you can hang laundry to dry inside on a clothing rack or indoor clothesline. Air-drying your clothing indoors during the winter will add needed humidity to the dry indoor air. Choose a room that is heated and has plenty of air circulation. Of course, it will take laundry longer to dry indoors; you can finish drying it in the dryer if you wish and still save some money on your energy bills.