Letting It All Hang Out: The Clothesline Wars

It seems like one of the simplest of household tasks – hanging out the laundry to dry. But this simple task has received quite a bit of controversy. The politics of laundry drying is the subject of a recent New York Times article that chronicles a woman’s struggle to put her laundry out to dry.

After learning about the threat of global warming, Jill Saylor decided to hang her clothes outside on a line behind her mobile home to save some energy. “I figured trailer parks were the one place left where hanging your laundry was actually still allowed,” Saylor told New York Times reporter Ian Urbina. But, she was wrong. Apparently, many people in her trailer park view clothes drying outside as an “eyesore,” so she was forbidden from doing so. According to the New York Times article, what happened to Saylor is not uncommon. In fact, 60 million people living in 300,000 private communities in the U.S. are banned from drying their clothes outside.

However, the laws are changing with implications that are cultural, political, economic and environmental. What’s behind the controversial clothesline wars?

• Proponents believe they should not be prohibited by their neighbors or local community agreements from saving on energy bills or acting in an environmentally-minded way.
• Opponents say the laws lifting bans on outside clothesline drying erode local property rights and undermine the autonomy of private communities.

Clothes dryers use at least six percent of all household electricity consumption and 10-15 percent of domestic energy in the U.S. The environmental impact of using the clothes dryer less could easily help each of us do our part for the planet.

Project Laundry List provides 10 reasons to hang dry laundry:
1. Save money.
2. Clothes last longer.
3. Clothes and linens smell better.
4. It conserves energy and environmental resources.
5. Hanging laundry is a moderate physical activity that can be done outside.
6. Sunlight bleaches and disinfects.
7. Indoor racks can humidify in dry and cold climates.
8. It is safer. Clothes dryer fires account for about 17,700 fires, 15 deaths and 360 injuries annually.
9. It is a fun outdoor experience that can be meditative and community-building.
10. Small steps make a difference.

The cultural and community-building component to laundry drying became evident to me a few years ago when I spent some time in Spain. The fourth floor apartment had a laundry line attached to a windowsill that connected to a neighbor’s window. Looking out the laundry window, as we affectionately called it, all the building occupant’s communal laundry lines crisscrossed up and down the center alley of the building. Everything from towels to underwear to sneakers went on the line to dry. Every few days I would lean out the window, retrieve my line and smile and wave to the other apartment dwellers as we put our laundry out to dry together. There seemed to be no class distinctions, rich and poor hung their laundry up to dry.

Maybe thinking about home building differently can nudge us closer to using the dryer less. Richard Seireeni, a Huffington Post writer suggests adding a “dry room” to homebuilders’ plans: “a place where the furnace, water heater (or tankless water heater) and washer/dryer could live together along with built-in lines or racks for drying [where] all that excess heat that is normally vented and wasted could be used to dry the family laundry, particularly in the winter when outdoor line drying is not always possible.” Seireeni’s idea is simple, efficient, and could save a homeowner a lot of money.

However, if you’re stuck in a house without a “dry room,” and don’t have the means to line dry your clothes outside, especially as the air gets cooler for those of us on the northern hemisphere, here are some tips to lighten your dryer’s energy load.

So, what happened to Ms. Saylor, from the mobile home park? “Pressure makes a difference,” she told NY Times. A petition was delivered to the property owner, who recently complied with Saylor, and victory was hers.

What do you think? Should drying laundry au natural be a cultural, political, economic or environmental clash? Do you believe that sheets dancing in the wind are beautiful because they help heal the environment, or do you want to look outside your window and see nature, not laundry?

And while you’re at it, check out the trailer for Drying For Freedom, a documentary that follows the movement to lift the bans on clothes lines:


Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.

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Jo S.
Jo S.3 months ago

Thank you Ronnie.

Jo Recovering
Jo S.4 months ago

Thank you Ronnie.

Chrissie H.
Chrissie H.2 years ago

I have a tumble dryer but only use it occasionally as I prefer to hang washing outdoors,weather permitting.There is a sense of satisfaction in seeing clothes blowing in the fresh air. Smells nice and cheaper too.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

I had no idea that this was so controversial! Very, very surprised.

Linda T.
Linda T.4 years ago

I can't stand it when the weather won't cooperate with me on the weekend when I wash and air-dry my laundry
! There is extremely limited room in the house for air-drying but I do my best. Communities that ban laundry lines should be chastised and made illegal!!!!!!! Get with the program you idiots!

Carole K.
Carole K.5 years ago

I have hung laundry on the line for the entire 42 yrs. that I have been married. My mind bends in attempting to calculate how much energy I have saved by so doing. For me, there is no other way. Please re-read & consider the top 10 reasons for line drying given here. There's a meditative aspect of line drying that's difficult to describe. I become tranquil as I peg out the laundry; & the smell of line fresh clothing evokes that same inner peacefulness whenever I happen to smell it. No energy hogging dryer can do that!

Now we are in the process of moving to a new location which did not have a clothesline. My family was sort of teasing me bc I insisted that one be installed ASAP. I posted this article on my Facebook page just so everyone knew how serious I was about this issue. Viola! I already have a clothesline; & we are not moved/ living there yet, thanks to my loving husband!

Alice Ducharme
Alice Ducharme5 years ago

Ooooo, Kim, that's gross! But, I agree that no one should be prohibited from drying their laundry outside if they want to and it's not impeding anyones way of life. In Europe you see people drying their clothes outside their apartment windows everywhere.

Kim Stueck
Kim Stueck5 years ago

Why should someone be prohibited from line drying? Doesn't make sense to me. However, I had a tenant that was line drying some very badly blood stained underwear (like 7 or 8 pairs), I made her take them off the line. Let's at least use some discretion on stuff like that. I couldn't believe she did that!!!

Elaine Paiz
Elaine Paiz5 years ago

I think I should be able to dry my clothes however I please when I move out. It's not like you have to hang your clothes on your front porch or something.

Sarah Lee
Sarah Lee5 years ago

Why would you not hang dry your clothes outside?! With the sun blasting their rays all the time, the clothes smell good and clean! If the sun is gone, there is always laundry bags. Stuff your clothes in there and extra spin it on strong mode in the washing machine, so it will dry faster indoors.