Grandma's Tips for Using a Clothesline

How to Use a Laundry Line
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When I was a kid, every summer my Dad and I went to a magical place called Missouri. Now, maybe you don't think Missouri is magical (though you might understandably think it's beautiful), but as a child, I sure did. It was the place where Grandma lived, and it was a radically different world from the suburban California where I spent my early years. It was a place with summers that lasted forever, sweet tea, a hand pump in the front yard, and Grandma's huge, musty basement with a huge musty bed for my cousins and I to sleep in. Plus cows in the nearby pasture. And a pond to fish in and a "crick" to play in. And my Grandma's clothesline.

It might seem strange that, at a tender age, I was fascinated by Grandma's clothesline. Certainly part of my interest was that I didn't know anyone else who used one. And I loved the way Grandma hummed as she pulled pins from her apron and hung my summer shorts on the line. In other words, clotheslines hold good memories and romantic notions for me.

But there are plenty of down-to-earth reasons to have and use a clothesline on the modern day homestead, whether that's in the city or in the country. I love that my clothesline takes my household chores outside. I also appreciate that it conserves electricity and saves money while eliminating static cling (and the need for fabric softeners or dryer sheets).

Today, the art of hanging clothes isn't known to many people. However, I still remember a few tips from Grandma.

Setting Up the Clothesline

At its simplest, a clothesline is just a rope connected to two poles. Those poles should be sturdy, though, because one load of wash that's been spin-dried in the washer weighs about 15 to18 pounds. There are three basic choices for the rope itself: Plastic, nylon, and cotton. Plastic clothesline  is stretch-resistant and inexpensive, but clothespins and fabric tend to slip from it. Nylon clothesline is mildew-resistant and strong, but again, it's quite slippery, making it harder to securely hang the laundry. Cotton clothesline is traditional, and although it might be counter-intuitive, seems easier to clean than synthetics. It's also not slippery.

How long should your line be? One load of laundry requires approximately 35 feet of clothesline. Don't make the line longer than this (unless you have a double pulley line) because it will sag significantly.

Where you put your clothesline matters, too. Don't place it near trees - because trees can have ticks and ticks can jump onto your laundry and then onto you. Trees may also leave debris (leaves, seeds, and so on) on your freshly washed laundry.

Generally speaking, you don't want the clothesline in full sun, either, because all that sunshine fades fabric and causes it to wear thin. Open shade is a better option. On the other hand, Grandma taught me that if your whites are looking dingy, a good hang in the sun will help brighten them.

Sometimes indoor drying is the only option. In cities and suburbs, for instance, there are sometimes ordinances against hanging laundry outdoors. Or maybe someone in your household is allergic to pollen - in which case an outdoor line may lead to clothes that cause misery. In rainy climates, indoor clotheslines may also be best.

Which brings up a good point: You don't have to use a clothesline to air dry clothes. For years,  I hung clothes on hangers and hooked them over the shower stall or on the edges of doors. It didn't look pretty, but it sure got the job done.

And while you're setting up, be sure to purchase some good clothespins (like Kevin's Quality Clothespins). There are an awful lot of cheap, China-made clothespins on the market. Many of them, such as those found at The Dollar Tree or Walmart, might be fine for crafts, but they just don't hold up well for laundry. They also tend to have rough edges that can snag fabric. It's smarter to buy clothespins that are a bit more expensive, but do a better job.

Prepping the Wash 

When I mention line drying clothes, people often remark how they hate stiff garments and linens. This is easily remedied, though. Just add about 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the wash and your clothes will dry softer. If you use a modern washing machine, pour the vinegar into the fabric softener chute and it will only enter the wash tub during the rinse cycle - perfect! If you have an older machine that doesn't have a softener chute, you can either catch the last rinse cycle and add the vinegar manually, or (less effectively) you may add the vinegar at the beginning of the wash.

Another cause of stiffly-dried clothes is using too much laundry detergent. I recommend using less detergent than suggested on the box; Consumer Reports claims that too much laundry detergent leaves behind lint and soap deposits, which can lead to mold and restricted filters, which in turn can result in mechanical failures.

Finally, the sooner you remove laundry from the washing machine, the better. Letting wet clothes sit not only makes them musty-smelling, but makes them a whole lot more wrinkled, too.

Hanging Up 

To prevent soiling freshly washed laundry, it's best to wipe down the clothesline before each use. Grandma kept an old washcloth handy for just this purpose.

When she hung the laundry, Grandma always gave each piece a good snap in the air to help remove wrinkles. She also took the time to un-crinkle wadded up clothing, like pant legs, shirt sleeves, and collars. Once again, this helps make wrinkle-free laundry (and if you're like me, the last thing you need to do is add another item - in this case, ironing - to your chore list).

It's helpful to hang like items together, since it saves time when you're folding and putting away the laundry. For example, I'll often hang all my son's clothing together on the line, followed by my daughter's clothing. Or I hang all the towels, then all the socks.

A little care in hanging clothes goes a long way toward having line-dried clothes that look wrinkle-free. Not everyone agrees on the best way to hang laundry, but Grandma taught me to hang shirts and pants from the hem. Other people tell me they prefer to hang shirts right side up with clothespins in the armhole seams. Another option I sometimes use is to place shirts on a hanger and hook the hanger onto the clothesline (which saves space, too).

You can also save space on the laundry line by hanging smaller towels on one another. For example, hang one washcloth on the line, then use clothespins to attach another washcloth to the first, and so on. In addition, I often overlap items. For instance, my placemats overlap each other slightly, so I can use three clothespins to hold up two placemats, instead of four. Some people also like using store-bought sock hangers (like this one) to save space; you can use them for washcloths, too.

Whatever you do, always hang items securely or they may end up on the ground, filthy. When in doubt, use more clothespins instead of fewer - especially with heavy items. When I hang bath towels, for instance, I fold them over the clothesline almost to the halfway point and use four clothespins to keep each in place. Yes, they take a bit longer to dry this way, but they don't fall off the line, either.

Removing Laundry 

Once the laundry is fully dry, Grandma removed each item, then snapped it in the air. This flicks off any little bugs that might cling to the laundry. Then she folded each item as she put it in her laundry basket. This - again - helps prevent wrinkles (do I seem preoccupied with that?) and saves time.

I'm thankful to Grandma for introducing me to her clothesline. Through experience, I've learned line-drying laundry isn't difficult - I even find it relaxing, as Grandma did. I hope you'll consider reaping the benefits of a clothesline, too.

This post was featured at Farm Fresh Tuesday Blog Hop.

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