The Nickel Pincher: Humidify Your House This Winter—Using Your Laundry

An indoor clothesline dries your clothes without raising your energy bill or trashing the environment, and may actually improve your health.

October 21, 2009

Those damp T-shirts might shave a few nickels off your energy bill.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As outdoor temperatures drop, you may be thinking about packing up your outdoor clothesline for the winter and falling back on your dryer—if you have a dryer, that is (mine died a few years back and I decided not to replace it, to save money and greenhouse-gas emissions). But if you move it inside, an indoor clothesline can continue to save you money, and boost the comfort of your home a little, as well.

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Get the Hang of Indoor Clotheslines

Drying your laundry indoors can be a good option during the heating season (or anytime, if you live in a dry climate). The simplest indoor clothes dryer is an ordinary hanger onto which you hang or clip items. Plastic hangers work best, but you can also use rust-free metal ones. Hook the hangers over a shower curtain rod or an out-of-the-way doorframe, and use them to hang and dry small batches of laundry. You may be doing this already for items that aren't dryer-friendly.

To dry whole loads at once, you can buy retractable indoor clotheslines. They're inexpensive, and great for areas that you want to have open to traffic most of the time. I have room in my unfinished basement for multiple lines, and since the floor is unfinished cement it doesn’t matter if something drips a little. Or, rack up some more space with a clothes-drying rack. There are more styles than you can imagine, and one is sure to fit your needs, budget, and space. Folding freestanding racks or those that hook over doors are perfect for tight quarters or places where you don’t want to mount anything permanently. Racks that hang from the ceiling and raise and lower with a pulley are super for small spaces with high ceilings. And racks that fold flat against a wall when not in use work well if you have a bit more room. A drying rack on wheels is convenient if space is not a problem, and if your laundry is on the same level as your bedrooms, you can just roll them into the room to put clothes away when they're dry. Select a wooden or metal drying rack rather than a plastic one, and buy the sturdiest model you can afford so it will last a long time. If you're a bit handy, you can build your own sturdy clothes-drying rack to suit your needs. Be sure to sand any rough spots smooth so you don’t snag your laundry.

Dry Clothes, Humid Air

In the winter, when we're running the central heating in our house, the humidity level really drops. Drying laundry indoors saves me from running a humidifier to make the house more comfortable. Increasing the humidity may save you some cash on your heating bill, too, as moisture makes people feel warmer. Even if you don’t have central air, you may notice your home becoming uncomfortably dry thanks to leaks in the foundation and around windows that let in dry outdoor air. Fifty percent humidity is generally considered optimal, and anything below 30 percent will be dry enough to make your skin and mucous membranes dry, which can make you more susceptible to infections like swine flu.

Conversely, if you live in a very well sealed home or you have moisture problems like mildew or condensation, the indoor air may already be humid. In which case, you shouldn't dry more than a few items at a time indoors to keep from adding to the problem.
If you have an out-of-the-way area where the air is dry, such as an unheated and well-ventilated porch, garage, or shed, consider drying laundry there. Use a small electric fan to increase air movement if your space is short on cross-ventilation.

No need to worry if you're short on indoor space or have a moisture problem; just keep using an outdoor clothesline. Clothing dries fine in cool weather. You will be happier, though, if you dress for success. I wear my dishwashing gloves when I’m hanging out wet laundry—I still get a good grip, and my hands stay dry and thus much warmer when the temperatures drop into the 50s or 40s or lower. You can even dry laundry outside when it is below freezing. The items will freeze, but the ice crystals slowly dissipate into the dry winter air. Sometimes I hang just the large items outside if I’m short on inside drying space. It takes a few seconds to hang a couple of big towels and pairs of jeans, and they are easy to handle even wearing my insulated outdoor gloves.

Want even more info? Project Laundry List is a super resource for drying tips, reliable laundry-drying supplies, and advice on fighting city hall or a homeowners’ association, if outdoor lines are verboten in your neck of the woods.

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.