Install a Clothesline In Time For Summer

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Clothesline diarama with cutout dresses and shirts against a painted background.

Photo: mmmcrafts

I can’t help but write about this, because I just replaced my aging clothesline. The old one was a piece of clothesline rope from the hardware store strung between two fence posts. The elements and heavy loads had stretched it out, and towels were starting to hang on the ground! I got another piece of rope out of my shed, and restrung it last week. Simple.

While I was putting the clothespins on the new line, I thought about how much I love hanging laundry. I’ve been putting my clothes out to dry since the mid-70s. We strung a piece of rope between two maple trees, and I’ve never been tempted to own a dryer since.

Hanging laundry, or not running a clothes dryer, is eco-friendly. You will:

  • Save natural resources and reduce the need for fossil fuels.
  • Save money on your utility bill.
  • Lower your carbon footprint.
  • Disinfect and bleach your clothes by the sun.
  • Extend the life of your clothes.
  • Learn the cycles of the weather and how to cooperate with them.
  • Spend quiet time outside.
  • Have clothes and sheets with that fresh-air smell.

First, check your zoning and/or covenants to be sure you can have a clothesline! If you are allowed, then read on.

Clothesline location, location, location

Pick an open spot that gets quite a bit of sun. Keep in mind that clothes blowing in the wind need space. You don’t want your laundry getting hung up on structures or bushes. Allow room for air to circulate for faster drying. Stay away from trees and overhead lines, where birds like to perch and poop.

You want your laundry out of sight, especially if you spend time outdoors. Who wants sheets blowing around when they are relaxing on the back porch with a drink or dinner? There is a ‘service area’ in a yard, which usually includes a back entrance, utility hook-ups, the garage, a shed and anything else that has to do with home maintenance. My dad built a dog pen off the back of our garage, and the clothesline was not far from it. It was not visible from the main part of the house, and no one could see it from the street, either. (Our sandbox was in the same area.)

Choosing clothesline materials

Just like I did, you can buy clothesline rope at the hardware store, wrap it around two posts, add clothespins, and be in business. I don’t recommend the line that is coated in plastic. Yes, it will last longer, but the clothespins slide around on it. Your clothes get bunched up on the line, and they pick up dirt that has settled on it. Nylon rope is a little better, but is still slippery. I use heavy cotton rope that is made for clotheslines, and the texture holds the clothespins.

Posts can be galvanized metal or wood. Do not use pressure treated lumber! It is treated with arsenic, which leaches into the soil. Sustainably harvested cedar or redwood are naturally resistant to the elements.

How to secure a clothesline

Installing T-posts in cement is the most common and secure way to build a clothesline. The more laundry you intend to hang, the sturdier the posts should be and the deeper they should be in the ground. Wet clothes are heavy! Depending on how much room you have and how much laundry you intend to hang at a time, determine a distance to set them apart.

Dig holes below your frost line, use fence concrete that you mix right in the hole, then set your poles so they are level. Let them dry for at least a day before stringing your line on pulleys.

Umbrella clothesline

Umbrella clothesline and pegs against a sky at dusk.

Photo: Shovelling Son

An umbrella clothesline needs only one hole. The benefits of this type are that it takes up less space, and you can take it with you if you move. A plastic tube is placed in the cement, and the clothesline goes in the tube, making it portable. The arms of this type can also be put down when not in use, freeing up a bit of space in the yard. You can actually remove and store it out of sight.

T-post and umbrella types are the two most common clotheslines varieties. There are multi- or single-line retractable models, which attach to a stud in a wall and hook up to an opposing wall, indoors or outdoors. The single-line retractable model is great to take camping!

If you are lacking space outside, look into a fold-down model. A frame is easily installed on an exterior wall, and a rack with lines pulls up and out from it. It is unobtrusive until you need it.

Drying clothes during inclement weather

For bad weather or in winter, consider buying drying racks. I have been using free-standing wooden racks for almost 20 years, and they are a blessing in winter. There are several other types – wall mounted, ceiling mounted and rotary – and all are easy to install in an afternoon. They come in many sizes for small hand-wash loads to family size loads. Each of my racks holds a full load of wash, which was handy when raising children!

Summer is definitely the time to give serious consideration to hanging your laundry outside! This is an easy DIY project that can be done quickly and inexpensively and is a great investment.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.