Let It All Hang Out

Thrifty environmentalists are rediscovering the clothesline.

September 14, 2012

The bra is once again a symbol of activism—this time, drying on a backyard clothesline. Line-drying laundry is a great way to save electricity, reduce one’s carbon footprint, and make clothes last longer. In some communities, it’s also an act of defiance. Nationwide, thousands of homeowner and condominium association covenants and city zoning laws prohibit the use of clotheslines, even in private back yards.

Nonprofit group Project Laundry List is lining up supporters for the “Right to Dry” movement and promotes National Hanging Out Day every April 19. The group’s executive director, Glen Berkowitz, considers line drying “an easy step that individuals can take to conserve energy, promote self-sufficiency, and live a more sustainable lifestyle.” Several states, including Florida, Colorado, and Vermont, as well as the Canadian province of Ontario, have stepped in with laws that uphold the right to use clotheslines.


Using Earth’s free “solar dryer” will help your checkbook and the environment. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Saver website suggests air drying as a no-cost way to save energy since the clothes dryer is second to the water heater in household appliance electricity use. And every time you choose to line-dry laundry instead of using a dryer, you avoid adding more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere.

For modesty’s sake (a common grievance among detractors), pin up undergarments inside a pillowcase, hints Laura Shafer, clothesline designer and eco-activist who helped tenants at a federal housing complex in California’s Bay Area to overturn clothesline restrictions. “If you live where there are rules against laundry lines,” she advises, “get on your homeowners’ association board or tenants’ council and change the rules. Most people aren’t even aware these restrictions exist.”


Photo: Maxwell Holyoke-Hirsch