Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hanging it up

Looks like I am moving my laundry drying operation indoors for the winter. While it was sunny and 41 yesterday, my clothes hanging outside on the line never did get completely dry and I ended up re-hanging them inside to finish them off. I think that the sun lays too far down in the sky at this time of year and my clothesline doesn't get the sun it needs for as long as it needs given the colder temperatures. Even just a few weeks back, I was able to dry at 41 degrees and sunny, but the sun was just that much higher in the sky. Once we get past the winter solstice and the days get longer, I will bring my wash back outdoors.

Moving my drying indoors does present some challenges given that I wash at least 3 loads a week. I have figured out a way to hang a total 2 loads of laundry at a time in my laundry room and because the room has a south facing window, things dry fairly fast in there. Larger bedsheets present some problems but I can string them across the room using a combination of hooks and clothespins. It will simply require some creative planning.

Creative planning is really all that has been required to make living without a dryer possible. When my dryer broke at the beginning of the summer, I didn't have a clue about how to go about all of this, but things fell into place fairly easily. Because I didn't have a working dryer to fall back on when things got tough, I just made it work.

Here are a few bits of information I have discovered along the way to make living without a dryer easier:

- reduce the sheer amount of laundry that goes into your wash in the first place. Don't wash clothing until it needs to be washed. Many items can be worn several days before laundering. This is especially important for kids to understand when they seem to think it is easier to wear something once and then throw it into the hamper. I take things out of the dirty wash pile and give them back to my son to put in his closet if they don't pass the "dirty enough" test.

-Don't wash bedsheets or towels as often. Believe me, you can go much longer than what grandma told you when it comes to washing these items, with no adverse affects.

-clothes don't need to be finished off in the dryer to get the wrinkles out after hanging on the line. Granted, clothes do come off the line more wrinkled than out of the dryer, but these wrinkles will fall out soon after you put the clothing on. I believe that your body heat acts like a natural iron, allowing the wrinkes to naturally subside.

I find it interesting that exactly when the outdoor air becomes too cold to dry clothing outdoors, it is exactly when we need more humidity indoors anyway. Bringing the outdoor drying operation indoors at this time of year will add much needed humidity to dry heated indoor air. When the cycles of my life work out and connect like this, I feel like I am operating more in tune with the natural world.

All of my experiments with outdoor line drying can be found by clicking here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Line Drying in the Winter

Am I committed or crazy?

According to, the temperature in Chicago was 29 degrees this morning when I was hanging my clothes out on the line, with a feel-like temp of 19. I wondered then what the feel-like temperature was for my hands as they repeatedly dipped into my laundry basket full of wet clothing and pinned it to the line. Based on how frozen my hands were as I came back insidethe house, they must have been around 10 degrees at least! I can see where a pair of warm gloves would come in handy.

It was five months ago to the day that my dryer gave out and I have been exclusively line drying all of my clothes since then. This really hasn't been an accomplishment given the sun kissed days of summer, with its balmy breezes, perfect for line drying. No, the real accomplishment as I see it will come this winter as I tackle outdoor winter line drying.

There is a great website devoted to the cause of clotheslines called Project Laundry List where they discuss drying clothes outdoors in the winter amongst many other clothesline topics. Here is their response to the question, "Can clothes be hung out to dry in the winter?"

In northern climates, people often ask, "What do you do in the winter time?" Ironically, historic districts are one of the prevalent places that restrict or even ban clotheslines. We ask, "What do you think people did 100 years ago?" Because of sublimation, it is possible to hang out on many below-freezing days. As long as it's sunny, your sheets and other laundry will dry quickly. You just need tough fingers! We suggest purchasing a wooden drying rack or getting another apparatus for indoors.

So, I wondered, did people 100 years ago hang their clothes outside all winter long, or did they hang them in a basement or a sheltered semi-warm place? Also, what is sublimation?

The Library of Congress website offers up information of what winter line drying was like in the mid-nineteenth century. Here is an excerpt from the page "The History of Household Technology":

One homemaker wrote in her diary on a cold December day, "Left our clothes out but, they cannot dry. They are frozen too hard." The clothes had to be brought indoors and draped on furniture or racks to dry.

After doing a bit of searching, I also discovered the following from the "How Stuff Works" website:

Sublimation can occur when wet clothes are hung out on the line on a winter day when the temperature is below freezing. The water on the clothes freezes and then evaporates into vapor without melting.

I guess in a perfect world, clothes would go from wet to dry on a winter day due to sublimation, but the Library of Congress explanation above probably is closer to the truth. The clothes freeze and fail to dry and end up draped onto racks in the house.

It sounds like winter drying depends on a combination of temperature, humidity, wind, and sunshine just like the factors that impact summer drying. Determining good days for drying in the summer meant keeping a close eye on the weather and I can see this skill will be ever more important in the winter. As fall gives way to winter, I'd like to be able to hang my clothing out as long as possible into November or December before resorting to the use of indoor drying racks.

But I certainly don't want to end up the way my son predicts I will, with a load of wash hung out on the line the day that a foot of snow falls, snowshoes needing to be employed to retrieve my clothing. My neighbors really would think I was crazy then.

By the way, I just checked on the laundry that I hung out almost four hours ago. The sunny day and high temperature of 41 degrees is certainly helping to move things along. The clothing closest to the sun is dry and I removed those items so that the second line will receive full sun. Keeping my fingers crossed that everything is dry by nightfall.

Have any of you tried to dry clothes in the winter and if so, how did it go? I would like to hear from you.

All of my experiences with outdoor line drying can be found by clicking here.