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.

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