July 17, 2009

The Dry Cleaner's Daughter: "Hang It Up!"

I practically grew up in the household of my mother’s mother—a strong-willed “Arky” who had made it through the murder of her first husband (lesson: don’t play around with the bootlegger’s wife), the Great Depression, and WWII as a Rosie the Riveter, whose duty on the assembly line was to load bombs with explosive material. When I stayed at her house, I had several “chores”: hoe the garden, iron Grandpa’s handkerchiefs (I think this was just to keep me away from real clothes), and pull the clothes off the line. Because my grandmother had worked for my dad and his parents in their dry cleaners as a seamstress before my folks were even married, I think she sort of groomed me to take care of clothes. So it’s funny to me that I loved to iron when I was really young: I would grow to hate it with a passion in plenty of time. But this isn’t about ironing—which I still refuse to do, recession be damned.

If you want to save a little money, help the environment, get some exercise, and mess with the fussbudgets in your covenant neighborhood, I’ve got your answer: buy a retractable clothesline and some clothespins.

I know you know this, just as well as I know the reason you aren’t doing it: line drying makes your clothes stiff and rough, right? Not if you do it properly. There are several secrets to line drying : here’s my foolproof method, gleaned from lessons from my dad and my grandmother:

  1. Make sure you buy a plastic, retractable clothesline. Plastic lines can be “washed” periodically by extending and fastening them and then wiping them, all the way around, with a wet, soapy rag. Since they’re retractable, they get less dirty (and keep you from violating covenant rules or city code—if you’re fortunate enough to live out in the country, you don’t have this problem, lucky you).
  2. Wash your clothes. I recommend a liquid detergent because it won’t leave “soap streaks” on your darker clothing. You probably only need ½ to ¾ of the manufacturer’s recommended amount—experiment. If you want extra savings, use washing powders on your lighter-colored fabrics and liquid on the darker ones.
  3. Dry your clothes, with a fabric softening sheet, in the dryer for 7 minutes. That’s right, put your clothes in the dryer BEFORE you put them on the line. This is the most important step because this is what will keep them feeling soft and comfortable. The softener sheet can be re-used like this several times. Once the softening agent is exhausted, the sheets can be used for dusting the top of the dryer and the lint screen.
  4. Hang your clothes on the line is such a way that you’ll avoid obvious line marks. I like to put shirts on plastic hangers (which I got free from the stores where I purchased my more expensive clothing). If they’re woven shirts, I stretch them out a bit to save me the trouble of having to iron them (don’t do this with knits). I usually hang shorts by folding them over the line on the seat seam.
  5. Find a spot in the shade to dry your clothes, preferably NOT under a tree (unless you consider bird poop a fashion accessory). Direct sun can damage your clothes worse than bleach, so avoid it if you can. If you can’t, be sure to take your clothes down as soon as they’re dry.

Voilà, you’re done! Next post: “Spots 101, Part I.”

Posted by Jennifer. Visit my mid-life blog at Life in the Fast Lane


  1. Welcome to the blog, Jennifer! I'm so glad you posted this. I do a version of this indoors with selected clothes. No wire hangers.

    I miss having the old clothesline poles. I learned a mean flip on those old things.

  2. Lord, I thought bad thoughts about my mama while standing at the clotheseline. This was never a chore I liked doing.

    We were never very particular about our clothes hanging in the sun--that was where the clotheseline always seemed to be. It was a good way to keep your whites white, though, and it's still a good way to brighten up an old flea market find.

    Monda--I completely forgot about hanging upside down and flipping off the T-bar.

  3. I imagine flipping on the retractable clothesline is a no-go.


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