Lazy Line Dry




Clothes dryers are among the biggest energy hogs in a typical home*. Line-drying clothes cuts the energy use down to zero, but who has time for that? Here's how you can line-dry clothes without extra work.

The key is to handle each item as little as possible. You can do that by hanging clothes on plastic hangers once, while they are wet. Once the clothes are dry, you just grab the batch and move it to a closet, without any of the folding, hanging or sorting that takes time when you take stuff out of a dryer. A drying rack can make socks and underwear even easier to dry.

People talk about about recovering the lost art of line-drying clothes the way our grandparents did it. But after experiencing modern convenience, it's hard to go back. My goal is to make line drying almost as easy as using a dryer--low energy for me as well as for the power plant.

In addition to saving energy, line drying has lots of other advantages. It can actually work better than a dryer for busy people, because you don't have to worry about being around when the dryer finishes to avoid clothes wrinkling. Clothes can last longer because they don't get overheated--this particularly helps preserve elastic. And rather than using detergents whose chemical scents try to mimic the fresh smell (or lack thereof) of line-dried clothes, you can have the real thing!

For more about the advantages of line drying, check out Project Laundry List, a non-profit dedicated to promoting simple ways of saving energy--such as line drying.

In this instructable, I'll describe strategies and equipment for hanging different kinds of clothes with minimum work, discuss setting up a clothesline (choosing a location, etc.), and finally describe options for minimizing dryer energy use if you do use a dryer. An appendix explains the small effect that drying clothes indoors can have on heating or air-conditioning energy use.

*For more on appliance energy see this summary; dryer energy use is typically 900 to 1000 kWh per year for an electric dryer.

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Step 1: Look at the Energy You'll Save!

This picture shows a TED energy monitor when my dryer is on and pretty much everything else in the house is off. 5 kW is more than anything else in my house, unless I turn on all the burners of the stove at once. Avoiding using high power like this is my goal.

Step 2: Clothes With Plastic Hangers: How to Do It Fast and Easy

To dry shirts, pants, skirts and dresses, use plastic hangers. Take the clothes out of the washer and hang them on the hangers. Hang up the clothes on a line, rod, or hook. Ignore them for a day or so, and then check the thickest cotton item. If it's dry, they'll all be dry. You can then lift the whole batch of clothes off the line and take them to your closet, without handling them individually. If you have a particular organization system in your closet, it can be helpful to sort the clothes according to that system as you hang them, so that they are already sorted when they go in the closet.

You can either carry the clothes in a basket to where you will hang them, and put them on the hangers there, or you can put them on hangers as you take them out of the washer, and then carry the whole batch to the hanging spot. I like the latter because I enjoy spending a few minutes in my hanging spot near my apple tree in my back yard, rather than in my dark basement near the washer.

Let's compare the work involved to the work involved in using a dryer. With a dryer, you move the wet clothes from the washer into the dryer, and then, when the dryer is done, you fold or hang them. That's one "batch" step and one individual handling step. With the plastic hangers, the amount of work is the same, but the order is reversed--you handle them individually hanging them up, and then transfer them in a batch to the closet.

Step 3: Clothes With Plastic Hangers: the Hangers

Plastic hangers are the way to go. Steel wire hangers could rust and stain the clothes. Vinyl-coated wire hangers can work, but they generally aren't quite strong enough to hold their shape with a heavy, wet shirt, and vinyl isn't a very green material. Wood is also a good option. Commenters here have suggested that good wood hangers help avoid shoulder bumps in shirts, and that they are often available on freecycle. You could use this nontoxic waterproof finish if you have unfinished wood hangers. Hollow, large-diameter plastic hangers are widely available at discount stores.

For pants and skirts, clamping hangers with a metal mechanism and plastic arms work nicely and are also readily available.

If you are worried about the petroleum used to make the plastic in the hangers, consider this: One dryer-load can use about 2 kWh of electricity. If that electricity is produced by a power plant burning oil, it requires about a pound of oil. (In practice coal in the predominant fuel used to make electricity in the US but that's even worse, environmentally.) That pound of oil could make a lot of plastic hangers, which can be used for a lifetime of loads of laundry, not just one.

If you have trouble with stuff blowing off the line, you can hold the hanger on the line with a clothespin. But since that's extra work each time, better options are to add a hook to to the hanger or use a commercial product called the Tibbe line. Both of of those also keep the clothes evenly spaced.

Step 4: Socks and Underwear

Hanging each sock or pair of underwear with a clothespin would take a really long time. Instead, put a drying rack in a clean area inside or out, and dump the whole load of laundry over it. It will be in a big clump that won't dry very fast. So you need to do a little work to then spread it out to hang nicely, but that doesn't require handling each piece.

Once it's dry, you can sort it as you collect it from the rack. Or, if you want to be really lazy, you can keep the drying rack in your bedroom, and simply take the clean clothes from it as needed. Then you only need to put stuff away from it when you do the next load of socks and underwear, at which point you've already used most of what was on it.

There are lots of drying racks available. These and these wood racks are made in New England using wood from New England--no tropical rain forests involved. There are more good options for metal racks than I can list; for example this basic model, this high-end stainless steel rack, and this space-saving tall, narrow one.
The Clothesline Shop has a growing collection of different types of indoor and outdoor racks and clotheslines. But my top recommendation is the Project Laundry List Store, because they have lots of those options, and the proceeds support a great cause.

Most of the wood ones come unfinished. Consider de-waxed shellac as a waterproof non-toxic finish.

Step 5: Other Stuff: Towels, Sheets, Etc.

Towels, and particularly sheets, are large enough that there aren't that many in a load of laundry, and so hanging them on a line piece by piece is not a lot of work. You can hang them with clothespins, or just drape them over the line. It's that simple.

A high-tech method that's really cool (though not really necessary) is the Candian Cord-O-Clip system that attaches clothespins automatically as you move the line around pulleys. It's available in the US from The Clothesline Shop, among other sources.

Step 6: Locating and Installing a Clothesline

The classic place for a clothesline is a sunny spot in the back yard. But consider also a porch: the clothes won't dry as fast, but you don't have to worry about whether it's going to rain. You can just leave the clothes hanging on the porch until they dry, without worrying about rain. And it can actually be an advantage to keep them out of the sun, because sunlight can eventually fade the colors in some clothes. (If you are worried about that, you can also hang them inside-out.)

If you don't have a porch or other sheltered outdoor spot, you may want an indoor drying spot, especially for winter (see step 6). An unused living space is great--for example a guest bedroom. A shower curtain rod can be convenient for hanging clothes on hangers, though it would need to be a shower that isn't used regularly. Basement spaces tend to be cool and damp, so unless there is a warm area near a heater, that's not a good choice. Some people make pulley-based systems or use commercial pulley-based systems like this or this to raise the clothes up out of the way once they are hung.

You can buy a simple rope and tie it between two trees or other objects (houses, fences, ...), or you can buy one of many commercial clothesline products: retractable lines, multiple retractable lines, drying "trees", etc. Again, my top recommendation for a source is the Project Laundry List Store because they have a great selection and you'll support a great organization by buying there.

Step 7: What About Winter?

You can actually dry clothes outside even below freezing. If the air is dry, ice will "sublimate" directly from the solid state to water vapor, "freeze drying" the clothes. When you first hang them they freeze stiff; when they become soft, you know all the ice has come out. But that can take a while, and most houses are very dry inside in the winter, so clothes dry very fast inside. That means drying inside is the best option for most people, since it's easy, fast and helps keep the humidity in the house at a comfortable level. This does very slightly increase the energy needed to heat the house, but much less than the energy that would be needed to run a dryer, so it's still a good idea energy-wise. See the appendix for more detail on this effect.

Step 8: If You Use a Dryer

If you do use a dryer, here are some things you can do to reduce its energy use.

-Don't over-dry clothes. Baking them well past dry wastes energy and can damage clothes. Many new dryers have moisture sensors. Whether or not you have such a sensor, experiment with settings to find the minimum setting that still adequately dries the clothes.
-If you are buying a new washer, get one that has a high-speed spin cycle that gets more water out of the clothes. If you aren't anticipating getting a new washer soon, you can add this capability with a stand-alone high-speed spinner. It gets most of the water out of the clothes before you put them in the dryer, using much less energy.
-Some clothes dry much faster than others. If you need to run some clothes through the dryer to have something to wear to tomorrow's meeting, go ahead and put the lightweight dress shirt in the dryer with some other quick-drying stuff, and save out the cotton canvas pants to line dry.
-Don't run the dryer too empty or too full. It's a waste to run it without a full load, but if it's overfilled, the air can't circulate and it doesn't dry effectively or uniformly.
-Gas powered dryers are overall much more efficient than electric dryers, if you consider the energy losses in the power plant that burns gas to produce the electricity. If you have natural gas supplied to your house, but have an electric dryer, consider upgrading to a gas dryer (if you use it a lot). You can also install a propane tank and a propane-powered dryer even if you don't have natural gas.
-In Europe, one can get heat-pump dryers that effectively use a dehumidifier instead of a simple electric heater to remove moisture from the clothes, drastically decreasing the energy use. Appliance manufacturers say that Americans won't buy them because they are a little slower and we're too impatient. If you are in Europe, you can buy one; if you are in the US, you can call appliance manufacturers and tell them you want one even it it's slower.

Step 9: Technical Notes: Effect of Inside Line-drying on Heating and Air Conditioning

In hot, dry conditions, hanging clothes inside will help cool the space by evaporative cooling, and will be beneficial whether you
have air conditioning or not.

In hot, humid conditions, the evaporative cooling will still happen, but the added humidity may make the air overall slightly more uncomfortable, so it's better to hang the clothes outside. But the two effects partly cancel, so it's still OK to hang clothes inside if that's most convenient.

In the winter, many houses are overly dry inside, and the added humidification can be helpful. The small evaporative cooling effect will need to be overcome by the heating system, but, unless you have electric heat, this is reasonably efficient and much better than running an electric humidifier, and that's before even considering the energy savings from avoiding using the dryer.

If your house is very dry in the winter, this may be an indication that there are air leaks in the building envelope or ducts. If you get it sealed well enough that humidity gets higher than you'd like, it may be time to consider installing a heat-recovery ventilator. That will allow bringing in fresh, dry air and exhausting stale, damp air, without losing the heat in it.

In summary, drying clothes indoors can be beneficial to the indoor climate if it's dry inside, in either winter or summer. If it's humid inside, it would be better to dry the clothes outside, but it's still a lot better to line-dry them inside than to use a dryer.



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    129 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Get this guys, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll line dry rather than use the dryer. Why? Because you put them on hangers and an hour later its dry(I live in the desert Southwest). Take the clothes on hangers and put them straight in the closet. If you use the dryer, you have to put the clothes in, take them out, fold them, take them to the bedroom, find the hangers, put the clothes on the hangers and finally, hang them up...too many steps for me. I'm too lazy for that. Even in winter you can still dry you clothes by the end of the day or dry them indoors.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I live in England, and when I was young my clothes were dried on a clothes rack on a pulley (search for a "kitchen pulley clothes airer" and you'll see what I mean) over an Aga (a solid fuel cooker) in the winter or when it rained, and on a clothes line in the summer. When I lived in a tall house I used to dry clothes over the bannisters of the stairs, and an outdoor washing line. I now have indoor clothes lines in the hall upstairs under the picture rails for the winter, and an outdoor washing line. Everything inside dries overnight or in a day, as hot air rises! Tumble driers have only been common here recently, and although I have one I hardly ever use it except in an emergency. The pulley clothes rack is absolutely brilliant, and you don't need a solid fuel cooker either, just a high enough ceiling and a normal indoor temperature. I know someone who put it in her stairwell and it works just as well.


    11 years ago on Step 2

    Put damp clothes on hangers, put hangers on clothes line -- great idea! My Mom loves to line-dry stuff in the nice weather. I'd like to find some kind of clip to hold each hanger on the line in breezy weather. Regular clothes pins can't handle it. Any ideas?

    16 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I used to put pegs on the line beside the hangers to hold them in place. Of course, if it was breezy I sometimes had to peg the clothes on to the hangers as well.

    maybe if you used wire hangers the hooks could be bent over? not completely, or it wouldn't come off the line, but give it more of a loop to make it more likely to stay on?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    string a chain between two posts and hook your hangers in the links. they won't slide, won't blow off.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Between two posts should work well if the posts are well sunk. I had the bright idea ( or so I thought) of using a chain strung between a pair of wall shelf brackets. Unfortunately the weight of the clothes caused the chain to pull at the shelf supports from the sides causing them to loosen and the chain to sag. The weight actually partially pulled one of the shelf brackets from the wall. I replaced the chain with a piece of alumnum pipe (conduit?) . I have been using it f or some years now but only for a place to hang already dried clothes. Since reading a couple of these instructables I think I may try using it to dry some of the clothes. Something someone may try, if they wash more than one load at a time is to hang the first load in the laundry room then put second load in dryer. In my laundry room running the dryer heats the room up considerably. Two loads of laundry dried for the cost of one.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Update to the aluminum pipe hanging rod. It works beautifully. I haven't used the dryer in many months. Shirts, socks & underwear tends to dry within one day. Jeans and pants can take two. If you like your clothes all kitten fur soft then this form of drying isn't for you. Clothes definitely come out stiffer but is not uncomfortable to wear.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 2

    More durable than clothes line and will probably make people think twice about stealing your unmentionables.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Pipe foam insulation cut into small 2inch pieces over the line will keep the clothes on the line separated and stopped from bunching up. Any help?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Try large binder clips they hold 120 sheets of paper and are strong metal with folding handles. I got mine at Office Depot on sale 12 for $1.00..I use them for all kinds of stuff..


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I hung a small Persian rug from a door usiing the large binder clips. I used three of them and I think if I'd only used two the weight of the rug would have pulled it free of the clips. As was, a gentle tug (as when positioning the rug) was enough to dislodge it.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I found some 'bull dog clips' at staples that were super cheap (certain colors only... who cares about color???). They are super strong, and I can even clip the nice plastic hangers to clothesline. They also work great for reclosing non-resealing food bags..


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 2

    Stay tuned for a new instructable with a system for holding hangers on a pulley-based clothesline...but that system is a little overly complex. For now some simpler ideas would be to try these plastic clamps or something similar from a local hardware store, or binder clips from at stationery store. I haven't tried either, but I imagine the plastic clamps could prevent it from blowing off, but wouldn't keep it in place on the line. The binder clips are cheaper, and could be used to clamp it in place, but are probably a little more awkward to use.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    As WhosWho points out, my ideas of plastic clamps or binder clips are pretty silly when clothespins would work better. I also like Grady's idea of bending wire hanger hooks inward. Some difficulties with that: You need to bend it back out to fit on a closet rod, and if you do that enough times eventually it will weaken and break. And the hanger might eventually rust and stain the clothes. Plastic coated hangers are an option, but the plastic is usually vinyl which doesn't have a good environmental reputation.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Redletter If it's windy, use the wire hangars & just bend-in the hook at the time, so they can't blow off. Florida is really hot, so I wash out my uniforms at nighttime & hang them on nails on my porch. When I get up, the next morning, they-re dry & don't need ironing.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I've been doing this for years! the main problem is that if there's a bit of breeze, the hangers side and clump together, which doesn't aid drying: one way to avoid this is to put a clothes ped by each to act as a brake, to keep the hanger in place.