Thursday, April 12, 2007

How to Use a Clothesline

Skills are usually passed down from parent to child. But, what happens when a skill is lost and your parents don't know how to use a clothesline? Then people turn to search engines or the media.

Today, the NY Times ran an article entitled, to fight global warming, some use a clothesline. Unfortunately, the pictures show her using it wrong. The LA Times ran a similar article a few weeks ago in which the pictures also showed the writer using the clothesline wrong.

If you hang your shirts up right side up and clip them at the shoulders, you will have funny-looking peaks at your shoulders. Is that really what you want?

  • Hang your t-shirts up-side down so that the clip marks are in a less noticeable location. You wouldn't want to have to iron your shirts to get those marks out. Irons draw a huge amount of wattage, negating some of your energy savings from using the clothesline in the first place.
  • Smooth out your clothes while you hang them up to minimize ironing.
  • Fold the top of your towels and sheets over the line slightly. That will make them more secure and less likely to blow off the line. Use more than 2 clothespins for heavy items.
  • Hang your clothes in the shade. Sun fades dyes. Our grandmothers knew to hang their clothes in a covered or partly covered area so that their clothes did not fade. It also gave them more time to get the clothes inside in case it started to rain.
  • Keep an eye on pollen count. If someone in your household is allergic to pollen that is flying at the time, hang your clothes inside or use your dryer. I give you permission. In our household, we dry all bedclothes and sheets inside because of our allergies.
  • Wipe down your clothesline before each use. Pollution, pollen and dust cling to them.
  • Indoor clotheslines make a great deal of sense in areas with afternoon thunderstorms. In fact, I knew two families in the Boulder foothills who hung their laundry indoors as a way to save energy and to humidify their homes. Who cares if you have laundry in your living room if you are at work or school?
The NY Times article was written by a woman who evidently lives less than 10 miles away from me. Her electricity bill hit $1,120 in a single month last summer. In contrast, mine is $50-60 $35-$45 per month. I've written plenty about lifestyle choices in energy use and I won't belabor the point here. (Amended to reflect lower bills after we zapped energy vampires around the house.)

She also complained about how the wooden clothespins she initially bought fell apart quickly. I took a picture of clothespins you will find in my house. The one on the left, with the pom poms glued to it, is the style you will find most frequently in the stores. They are made in China and extremely cheap. The other two are made in the American Midwest and harder to find. They cost twice as much as the ones from China.

I have used the one on the extreme right since 1990. I bought the one in the middle about two years ago. The American-made ones come from McGuckin Hardware in Boulder; they don't even bother to stock the cheap imported ones.

Compare the gauge of the metal used in the spring that holds the clip together. The cheap imported ones are used in my household for Iris' art projects, hence the pom poms. We would never entrust our wet and heavy laundry to the cheap clothespins. (We learned this the hard way.)

Anyway, our local Home Depot only stocks the cheap ones that you don't want to use. In case you do not live near McGuckin Hardware, you can go to your independent hardware store. Our local owner stocks only the cheap Chinese-made ones but will special order the American-made ones for you. It takes a few days, but it is worth the wait. Maybe if enough people insist on the better American-made ones, the default item stocked in stores will be the American ones.

The writer of the article also bemoaned the 7 minutes it took her to hang up her laundry. Perhaps she is one of those people who drives to the gym to lift weights. Think of it as an upper body workout.

She should also not worry about her neighborhood clothesline police. Since the California electricity crisis of summers of 1999 and 2000, the state legislature has passed a law preventing homeowner's associations from punishing clothesline users.

It is interesting that she wrote,
“It looks beautiful,” she said when we stepped back. “It looks like we care about the earth.”
I do find hanging laundry beautiful. But we should do it because it makes sense, not to signal our environmental convictions.

Addendum (8 Nov 2009)
I learned that Penley, the maker of my old sturdy wooden clothespins, has discontinued domestic production. They now make their clothespins in China. I have no idea if the quality is the same. McGuckins hardware sells both the Penley wooden ones made in China, and a plastic variety.  Has anyone used them?  Do they hold wet, heavy laundry?

I have no use for the high-style ones mentioned in this story:
Nowadays plastic clothespins are available in endless variations, including a new one that has gone into widespread production, Zebra’s “sweet clip,” made with both hard and soft plastics, using a dual-injection manufacturing process. The hard plastic is in the long handles, while two softer cushions sit where the pin grips the clothes. Zebra developed a dual-plastic toothbrush 15 years ago, applied the principle to clothespins in Europe in the late 1990s, obtained a worldwide patent, and captured 8 percent of the global clothespin market. The pin is sold in North America under the name Urbana.
     “We love to target stupid products,” says Xavier Gibert of Zebra. “When you walk into a megastore, most of the time you see stupid products, boring products. You buy them because you need them. We target basic products to make them come alive, able to talk to people.” And what does the Urbana clothespin say? Something along the lines of “I’ll be gentle.”
     “The key of this peg is not to be able to hold very heavy clothes,” says Gibert. “It’s much more dedicated to sensitive clothes.” Response to the pin has been enthusiastic. “People were attracted by the design. They said, ‘Wow, we love the shape.’”

If we want to save carbon and achieve energy independence, we will need a clothespin that can securely hold heavy and wet laundry.

More about clotheslines:
  • Clotheslines Again shows how I hang my laundry.
  • Clothespin Extinction discusses the end of clothespin production in the US. A reader offers her own favorite clothespins and source.
  • The comments for this post offer many tips.


  1. Anonymous12:21

    What a great bit of info.

    I'm going to pass it along to my friends.


  2. I've always hung my shirts from the top, but I fold them over a bit, so there isn't a peak (just sometimes an extra crease). Dress clothes get hung on clotheshangers and stay in the laundry room.

    If you don't have shade for a clothesline (I don't), you can turn your clothes inside out and that will greatly reduce the fading.

    I love the look of clothes on clothesline. I love the way they flutter in the breeze.

  3. I hang my clothes on the clothesrack, at midpoint.. And that helps minimise stain on the wet areas. Also, I did not get a dryer for my home.. Its really waste of energy.. It usuallt takes 2days to dry the clothes, but its ok.. We got 2 racks to alternate around..

  4. Anonymous19:28

    I love the act of hanging clothes on a clothesline. I love seeing them there. I love folding them and taking them down. It doesn't really take that long, but the act itself seems to slow down the perception of time, at least for me, making life a little calmer.

  5. "Hang your t-shirts up-side down so that the clip marks are in a less noticeable location. "

    Ideally, hang them at a seam so that they hang straight. Are seams in women's blouses straight?

  6. I put my clips at the seams of T-shirts. However, not all T-shirts have seams. If they do, depending upon the twist of the thread and the type of knit, the seam may not be straight. Jersey knits are notorious for this.

    Blouses are another matter. As BAM pointed out, they may have curved seams. We hang those up on hangers.

  7. I once visited an old farmhouse in England, where they'd made an indoor clothesline in the big old kitchen.

    It was made from broomsticks (minus the brooms, obviously), and was on a pulley so you could lower it to put clothes on, and then raise it so it sat right up near the ceiling. Because hot air rises, the clothes dried quickly up there, even in winter, and because it's made of broomsticks and they're quite close together you can even dry things up there that need to be dried flat.

    It was brilliant.

    That said, we just use a little indoor clothes horse (not having a big old farmhouse) and hang sheets over the stair rail.

  8. Anonymous14:35

    What do you think about using the older style non-spring clothes pins? We use those and they seem to work really well. Also what is the best way to hang socks?

  9. I have never used the springless ones except for art projects. Some people swear by them. I am happy with the ones I have.

    I hang socks up by the top of the cuffs. How do you do it?

  10. Interesting article. I found it through a 16 May 2008 post on which was about easy ways to go green. I remember hanging clothes when I was a kid in the 1980s because my parents wanted to save money. I would love to hang clothes now but our homeowners' association doesn't allow clotheslines. Perhaps I'll make room in my garage for a small one.

  11. I did have the opportunity to use plastic "clothes pegs" in New Zealand. They work quite well and I would not hesitate to buy them if they were available in the US.

  12. Anonymous23:33

    I bought an umbrella type clothesline that came with ground spikes that the pole fits into to use, then the line can be lifted out and put away, if desired.

    What I've since discovered is that the pole of the clothesline also fits perfectly into a standard patio umbrella base. So, now I set my clothesline up on my fenced deck area (more privacy for personal laundry items, and it's in the shade). Come winter (or rain), I can also bring it inside.

    Having it portable using the umbrella base makes be able to use it anywhere I like-- heck, I could even take it camping.

    Thought this idea might be a versatile solution for others, too.

    Btw... I tried the link for the US made clothespins, and a search at the site didn't turn up anything. Did anyone else have better luck? Or does anyone have a name brand to search? I had read that there were no longer any domestic clothespin manufacturers, so was really excited to see this link. If anyone knows a source, please post it...

  13. Call McGuckin's. Their website offers only a small sampling of the stuff the carry in the store. They will ship just about anything in the store to you. Just ask.

  14. Hey, I'm an editor at and I was wondering if you'd be willing to share this post for us, especially since "International Clothesline Week" begins on June 6. These are really insightful tips that would be helpful to our readers, and we could link back to your blog. Here's are more details:

    Please get back to me soon, this might make a good page to feature on the front page if we get the content up early enough!

  15. been hangin' for awhile, but keep coming up with the same problem. i dig being cruchy-groovey, but don't want it in my clothes. have tried switching soaps, eliminating softners, adding vinegar, more and less salt in the water (on a well out in the middle of nowher), and any other number of things. any suggestions? i don't remember grams clothes being hard and crusty when she brought them in....

  16. Clothes right off the clothesline will be initially stiffer than ones from the dryer. Once you wear or use the fabric, it will soften up again.

    Fabric softeners give me a rash so I don't use them. Consumers Reports wrote that fabric softeners contain mostly soap and perfume with a few anti-static chemicals. FS put the soap back into your clothes so that they attract water from the air. That keeps the clothes moist enough not to become stiff.

    As soon as you put on clothes that had been hanging on the clothesline, the moisture from your body will soften them right up.

  17. david11:41

    refuse to buy made in china pins had a talk to our memeber of parliment and should be talking to the wall Might have to make my own and strt a store with made in canada or the usa but might not have anything to sell what can one do when they have 400 m slaves working god help our children

  18. Anonymous08:07

    I have been hanging my laundry for approximately 5 years now, either outside or inside if the weather is bad. Not only do I save money on the electricity but the biggest money saver to me is that I need to buy less clothes and linens.
    Honestly, I can't seem to wear out my clothes any more.
    I have not bought new towels or wash clothes in approximately 3 years. They simply do not wear out if you don't put them in the dryer. I will be honest and say I throw the towels in the dryer for about 10 minutes to get them fluffy.
    My underwear and socks last a lot longer as well, the elastic in both do not hold up well in the heat of the dryer.
    It dawned on my one day as to why I remember my grandparents having the same towels and sheets FOREVER, they never used a dryer.

  19. Anonymous07:17

    A bath in some light bleach will clean those old clothespins up

  20. As a clothesline user for years, I learned the hard way or those with words of wisdom helped me. I washed clothing inside out to keep the clothes from fading on the line. I always gave my towels a couple "cracks" by holding one of the narrower sides and firmly/quickly giving the towels a couple snaps. This will help fluff the towels so they aren't stiff when they dry. Always take clothes pins off the line and store them inside the house between uses, they will last longer. Always take the clothes off the line by 4:00 p.m. in the summer to avoid the evening dew/moisture. You may want to shake or give the clothing a "crack" or two when taking the clothing off the line and folding to avoid taking bugs in the house. There are many more things...

  21. Finally! Someone who knows how to hang clothes. ;) I learned from my Mom many years ago and have always hung shirts from their bottoms, pants from their tops and towels, sheets and so on, folded over slightly with as many clothespins as needed. As to clothespins, I have some that are over 20 years old that I use weekly. I had to buy new ones (China made junk) and was appalled at their wimpy springs. I hope they'll last out the year.


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