Let It All Hang Out!


Let It All Hang Out!

Clothes dryers consume copious amounts of energy. Why not use solar and wind power to line-dry your laundry? Another option for apartment dwellers is drying racks.

Even though the electrical clothes dryer was invented in the early 1900s, it never did find its way to my parents’ home. Our clothesline did the drying. It was a simple but sturdy system of heavy-duty wire and pulleys that reached its way across our backyard.  

Unintentionally green

That was the early ’60s when most everyone, by default, used wind and solar power to dry their clothes. And it didn’t matter if it was the middle of winter, 20 C below, with the certainty that the clothes would be so frozen solid they could free-stand on their own: hanging clothes outside was a four-season affair.

In the spring when the rain was relentless, clothes were hung on a makeshift line in the basement, but it was usually a last resort. More often we waited a few days until the weather passed. The feeling of freshness and the clean scent of the clothes was always worth the wait. It is the same scent that manufacturers of laundry detergents and softeners try so hard to chemically replicate.

Eventually I moved out, and by the time I was married with three children, a dog, a cat, two rabbits, and a tarantula, dryers were in all the homes, and it seemed like a necessity we couldn’t imagine living without. Even with a handful of shrunken sweaters, scorched shirts, and Velcro mishaps, the idea of hanging clothes outside was long forgotten. That is until a few years ago, when my environmentally conscious and virtuous friend, Elizabeth, brought me up to date.

Energy expenditure amplified

Dryers, I learned, used more than their fair share of energy, and the rewards of hanging clothes outside far exceed the inconvenience of the extra few minutes it takes to hang them up. Drying clothes outside not only reduces our carbon footprint, but also reduces the cost of our utility bill, putting money back into our pockets.

The energy consumption and costs of using a dryer are considerable. A Canadian utility company, FortisBC, states on its website: “Between heating water to wash your clothes and using the dryer to dry your clothes, laundry is likely the largest energy expense in your home after heating and cooling.”

Statistics from the Natural Resources Canada website show that a single clothes dryer uses more energy than an energy-efficient refrigerator, dishwasher, and clothes washer combined. Unfortunately, few energy-efficient dryers are available for purchase, and none are Energy Star certified.

Dryers seem to be a North American phenomenon. In many countries the cost of purchasing and running a dryer make owning one prohibitive. It is ironic that so many people return from their European vacations (me included) with photos of someone’s colourful laundry blowing in the breeze. We marvel at the creativity and ingenuity of people who have found a way to hang out their laundry, yet it is still illegal in many communities across Canada because it is considered unsightly.

Added air-drying benefits

  • The cost savings, according to Green Calgary, will add up to $100 or more a year when you stop using your dryer.
  • White looks whiter. The UV rays of the sun naturally bleach stains and disinfect clothes, eliminating the need for harsh chemicals. If it is a concern, turn your coloured clothes inside out or keep them in a shaded area.
  • The wind helps eliminate wrinkles. Give your clothes a good shake before hanging them and they will be nearly wrinkle free.
  • Hanging clothes outside is gentler than the tumbling action of the dryer, which is responsible for the breakdown of clothes, lint being the end result of that damage.
  • It is gentle on sensitive skin. The dryer creates static electricity, and when you skip the dryer you eliminate the need for dryer sheets and softeners, thereby avoiding harmful chemicals.
  • Hanging clothes outside in the summer reduces the energy demand of other appliances such as air conditioners that are trying to cool down the house while the dryer is heating it up.
  • Getting outside, if only for a few minutes, can be a refreshing break. It is easy to involve the kids and is also a chance to meet your neighbours. It is a 100 percent stress-free activity.
  • Hanging clothes inside the house during the winter will help to add moisture to the dry winter air. 

Getting started

Ensure that there are no bylaws or community or condo association rules in your area against hanging out your laundry. Although bans are being lifted, it still might be against the rules in your area. If that is the case, consider engaging your friends and neighbours and writing to your member of Parliament.

If you don’t have a backyard, portable drying racks are widely available, and can be purchased for as little as $20. Portable racks can be put outside in the backyard or on the deck, and kept inside when the weather is less favourable. When conditions are just right, it is possible to dry three loads of laundry or more in an afternoon.

If you don’t have a deck or space outside for a portable drying rack, find a sunny and warm spot inside your home. It is easy to move the rack to a different location when company is on its way. Often, clothes hung in the evening will be dry by morning.

If you have the space for it, traditional lines accommodate more loads of laundry than a drying rack, and eliminate the inconvenience of moving it around.

It is worthwhile to mention the embarrassment some people might have around their “delicates” being visible to their neighbours. It requires some discretion and a little lightheartedness.

Start out by just drying a few items at a time, and before you know it you will be a four-seasoner extolling the virtues to everyone you know.


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