Line-drying, the forgotten art.
June 2, 2011 6:19 AM   Subscribe

A long time ago somewhere on Metafilter there was a discussion about line drying versus machine dying clothes. In that thread, people cast aspersions on other peoples line drying skills because their clothes finished stiff. This is a question about stiff line drying. Specifically, HTF do I line-dry clothes and not have them end up like boards?

I don't use fabric softener, because it's nasty and because I'm one of those people with real sensitivities to perfumes. This isn't a problem in my machine, but I've finally gotten the back yard all perfect and it's eight bazillion degrees outside and dagnabbit I want to line dry my stuff.

I also want to wear it.


In case it matters, my washer is a front loading high-efficiency LG that almost dries the clothes enough to wear on its own.
posted by TomMelee to Home & Garden (41 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in Japan, where everybody line-dries. They seem to like the stiff aspect. At least that's what I've been told by many.

Good line-drying tip: Hang pants upside-down by clipping the bottom of each leg to the line. They'll dry much less wrinkly that way.
posted by zachawry at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2011

I never use the dryer - many many people in the UK line-dry - and haven't had issue with particular stiffness. Have you tried using a clothes horse rather than pegging?
posted by mippy at 6:28 AM on June 2, 2011

Back in the day when everyone line-dried they also ironed their clothes and that took the stiffness out, unless they used starch to make them even stiffer. Cotton stuff is gonna be stiff if you line-dry. Synthetic fabrics or blends won't be as bad.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on June 2, 2011

It is very simple actually - you just need to bring the clothes in as soon as they are dry, rather than leaving them to bake in the sun all day. You also want to bring them in before dusk, otherwise they'll be damp from dew.
posted by susanvance at 6:31 AM on June 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Aha, this is all very interesting advice. Those of you who line-dry year round, how do you do that when it's 5 degrees outside?
posted by TomMelee at 6:35 AM on June 2, 2011

Oh, and since forgetting about laundry is a fact of life - if something dries stiff and wrinkled I just hang it in the bathroom while I take my morning shower, the steam will usually put it back to normal.
posted by susanvance at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

And what is a clothes horse? I feel like this is some very funny UK inside-joke.
posted by TomMelee at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2011

Growing up, we line-dried 90% of our clothes (for purposes of making them last longer and not shrinking them/wearing them out in the dryer) indoors (because they'd get full of pollen and bugs outside). We were avid users of fabric softener, and the only clothes that were ever "crunchy" were blue jeans. Downey makes an allergen-free, scent-free fabric softener that works pretty well and leaves no noticeable smell, if that's something you might be interested in.

These days, I do my laundry in my apartment's communal machines, all the way down in the dank basement. I don't care to trek all the way down there just to add fabric softener, so I generally leave it out. I hang dry (in my apartment, from the door frames) any clothes I don't want to sacrifice to the dryer gods. Something that helps the crunch factor is to give your clothes a good shake and jiggle periodically as they're drying. They won't have enough time to bake into any one configuration, so while they'll never be as soft as machine dried clothes, they won't be nearly as stiff and gross as regular line-dried clothes.
posted by phunniemee at 6:37 AM on June 2, 2011

Those of you who line-dry year round, how do you do that when it's 5 degrees outside?

Hang inside (where presumably the heating is on) on a drying rack and/or radiator.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:37 AM on June 2, 2011

You do it inside!
posted by ocherdraco at 6:37 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Clothes horse = drying rack = one of these.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:38 AM on June 2, 2011

Also, to add on - I used to have the same stiffness issues, until one day a washing machine repair man told me modern washing machines only need half the amount of detergent that the detergent box recommends. Said it would make my machine last longer.

So I tried it, with no negative effects on the smell or state of my clothes, but VOILA, no more stiffness!

Since then, my skin sensitivities seem to be lessened too, so maybe soap isn't washing OUT of your clothes adequately?
posted by shazzam! at 6:39 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

nthing the fabric softener -- I find it makes all the difference. Hypo-allergenic fragrance-free fabric softener isn't supper hard to find these days, either.

Oh, and on preview, nthing use less soap, especially if you're not using fabric softener since one of things fabric softener does is help remove the laundry soap.
posted by davidjohnfox at 6:42 AM on June 2, 2011

On the detergent front, the folks over at GardenWeb on the Laundry forums say that a front load washer only needs like a tablespoon of detergent. You could check there for specific brand or quantity recommendations.
posted by cabingirl at 6:45 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

shazzam! has it. I prefer line drying my clothes, and they were stiff as boards until I did two things:
1) switched to the non-scented, phosphate-free detergent
2) started using about 1/4 of the amount I was using before.

Works like a charm.
posted by LN at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2011

There are two factors to stiffness...I'm Australian, I consider us a continent of experts on drying clothes...

The first factor is the speed at which your clothes dry. The dryer they ate when you put them on the line from the machine, thenharder they will go. Slow down your spin cycle and get them out when they are wetter.

The second part is fabric softener. It's evil for machines and clothes alike. Use plain white vinegar in it's stead and it will soften without odour or irritation. I promise, it won't smell, and won't discolour your whites like fabric softener.

Clothes horses are wire or wooden drying frames. Here we call them clothes racks.

Also, and in addition, reduce your detergent dose by about two thirds, your clothes will be softer, attract less dirt (detergents are made from fats which attract dirt) and you will save yourself a lot of dosh.

Concentrated detergents are far more effective when used in smaller doses and whizz-bang front loaders are very, very efficient.

Best of luck possum!
posted by taff at 6:49 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also ...if drying your stuff from a starting point that is "wetter" is difficult...dry them in the shade or in the morning/afternoon/overnight.
posted by taff at 6:52 AM on June 2, 2011

Sorry, I didn't realise 'clothes horse' is a British term - I was trying to avoid 'airer' which I thought was the more regional one. But yes, one of these is good - you can put it outside on a sunny day.

what the.. are you talking about ? "your clothes are too stiff"? cry me a river.. .
Please, OP is hardly suggesting this ranks more highly on the scale than world peace and where to get some decent yoghurt.
posted by mippy at 6:54 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Add a little vinegar to the last rinse cycle. I do this with my towels and they come out lovely and fluffy. I don't use fabric softener on them because it makes them less absorbent. They will smell slightly of vinegar when you take them out of the machine, but that will quickly evaporate.

FWIW, my mom thinks that it's wind speed that dries clothes, not temperature. She seems to be right, and clothes get hung outside in all temperatures. They dry just fine.

I've never noticed a problem with stiffness in line-dried clothes. In fact, the only time I noticed this was when clothes were dried in a roasting hot conservatory for three days, on a clothes horse.
posted by Solomon at 7:04 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the record, I use either homemade (fels + washing soda) or Ecos detergent. My issues with fabric softeners are what they're made of and the potential chemical side effects. I'm not all save-the-earth and chicken-little-everything-is-killing-us, but I feel like it represents and non-zero threat that's easily enough eliminated. I already use a quite-small amount of detergent, but I will try using less.

I was wondering about turning down the spin some.

I had heard the vinegar trick, I will try it.

Unfortunately, my basement is a typical Appalachian "wet" basement. Stuff may dry down there, but our persistent battles with mildew make me loathe to keep anything down there in a non-dry state. The rest of the house is small-ish, but I could probably put a folding rack in the dining room. I realize that sun isn't necessarily my friend, it's moving air thats less humid than the clothes are. We do hang smaller stuff (washcloths, socks, etc) from the porch (no sun) and that seems to help.

Really really thanks so far!
posted by TomMelee at 7:06 AM on June 2, 2011

If possible dry your clothes when it is at least breezy. I find my clothes are the stiffest on hot, sunny still days.

taff writes "The second part is fabric softener. It's evil for machines"

About the worst that happens is you'll get a build up on the dispenser. That is only an esthetic problem and the rest of the machine doesn't care.

taff writes "Also, and in addition, reduce your detergent dose by about two thirds, your clothes will be softer, attract less dirt (detergents are made from fats which attract dirt) and you will save yourself a lot of dosh. "

Soaps are made from fats, detergents aren't. Very few laundry soaps are soaps. Most people do use too much detergent. For sure if you are using the maximum recommended amount or you aren't measuring.

TomMelee i writes "Those of you who line-dry year round, how do you do that when it's 5 degrees outside?"

Even in the dead of winter if it's sunny and breezy clothes will dry eventually when hung outdoors. However we hang inside, the clothes drying help mitigate the low winter humidity.
posted by Mitheral at 7:09 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have standard American door frames, you should be able to fit a clothes hanger over the lip at the top of the frame. Instant hang space. Only bad part is that while the clothes are drying, you have to duck to get in and out of your room.
posted by phunniemee at 7:09 AM on June 2, 2011

When we had a top loading machine, we had many more problems with the clothes being stiff. Now that I have a front-loader, and use just a little bit of a low-sudsing, plant-based detergent, the clothes dry great on the line without softener.

The big exception for me is towels, which just don't get fluffy enough so I still put those through the dryer.

When I take the clothes outside, I shake each garment firmly and pull the wrinkles out while pinning them up. I shake them a little when I take them down as well.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:10 AM on June 2, 2011

Clothes will be stiff if they have any residue of either detergent or starch in them. For my large HE front-loader I use just under a tablespoon of Charlie's Soap, recommended by the laundry freaks over on Garden Web. I also rinse three times. I have little kids with eczema-prone skin so I need to keep the chemicals to a minimum. This system has worked nicely for us for the past three years.
posted by Dragonness at 7:20 AM on June 2, 2011

Oh, and does it matter that I pretty well guarantee we have the hardest water you've ever experienced? Seriously, this stuff is brutal.
posted by TomMelee at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2011

I throw in few spoonfuls of baking soda into the mix. My clothes come out really soft and bright, much nicer than they would have been without the baking soda.
posted by so much modern time at 8:00 AM on June 2, 2011

I have been living in line-drying locales for a couple years now, and my sister also lived in Japan for a couple years. When I was visiting her in the middle of summer in the middle of a heat wave, the laundry was crunchy and unpleasant, but when I moved to Japan myself, I found that my laundry never ended up crunchy! It was a lot windier where I lived, so I think wind is a contributing factor. There was less direct sun where I dried my laundry as well.

For winter time, I found that the best thing to do was to do very small loads of laundry (around 10 items total) at night, and just hang them up to dry in my room. I would take them off the rack the following evening and they were always dry. Small loads don't take up much space and seem to take less time to dry.

I would try different laundry detergents and different quantities of laundry detergent to see if that helps at all. And then don't leave the laundry hanging out in the sun for a long time after they've dried.
posted by that girl at 8:04 AM on June 2, 2011

Since moving to an apartment in the US from sunny Australia where I'd line dried pretty much everything I was annoyed to find how much my clothes shrunk and got worn out from being dried in a dryer all the time so now I dry most of my clothes on their hangers. I simply put them on a plastic coat hanger and hang them over my shower curtain rail. I can't put too much up there but as there is only two of us the rail seems to hold the weight no worries.

Most of the clothes are dry by the time I take my shower the next morning so before we shower we simply hang them up in the closet and all done.

I use less detergent my clothes than recommended as I have always felt its a rip off the amount they expect you to use, that and drying inside seems to cut down on the stiffness, but to be honest if you wear them for a few minutes any residual stiffness seems to go anyway anyway and in my opinion one of the nicest feelings in the world is falling asleep on sundried sheets that smell of summer. My mum grew lavender under the clothes line on purpose so the clothes and sheets would smell amazing when I was a kid.
posted by wwax at 8:26 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and does it matter that I pretty well guarantee we have the hardest water you've ever experienced? Seriously, this stuff is brutal.

Well, you could try a water softener additive like Calgon if it doesn't violate your desire to avoid chemicals. I used it when we lived in a house with terrible hard water and no softener system. It seemed to work, our clothes were clean and not crunchy, although alot of my whites eventually turned grey. I am not sure if that was from the water or the water softener though.

And our water was brutal too, the cat's water bowl used to get scale in it.
posted by cabingirl at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2011

I live somewhere with water that's so hard it tastes dry when you drink it. (Joking, joking...kind of.) I've never had trouble with stiffness except for jeans, so I don't think hard water should matter.

In my experience the best thing for line-drying is if you can hang stuff out when it's windy so it moves around a bit. Alternatively, giving slightly-stiff laundry one or two hard shakes before you fold it generally works for me to get rid of the stiffness.
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 8:58 AM on June 2, 2011

My water is really hard and I've found that using a bit less detergent (I use Ecos too) helps with stiffness.

Do you have a dryer? If so, you can just pop the stuff that gets stiff (jeans, towels, etc) into it for 2-3 minutes. That should soften them up with only a minimum of energy used.
posted by annaramma at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can get these balls that are sort of spiky (they look to me like puffer fish) that you throw in your dryer with your clothes; they allow you to totally ignore fabric softener, which is a product that is not good for people or clothes or the environment. You could line dry your clothes, and then if they feel too stiff, throw them in the dryer on "air" setting (no heat) with the balls, and five minutes should have them nice and fluffy. I have these, but I imagine tennis balls would work just as well.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I line dry most of my laundry. Pants, skirts & shirts get a quick spin in the dryer for de-wrinkle-izing. I don't mind the slight stiffness in sheets and towels, but I like work clothes to be less wrinkled.
posted by theora55 at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

o, duh, the dryer time is after the line-drying. I dry clothes in the furnace room where it's warm and dry, and which is next to the room w/ the washer/dryer, so it's no hassle.
posted by theora55 at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2011

As tractorfeed says, five minutes in the dryer will do the trick. Try wringing out a washcloth tightly after wetting with hot water and throw it in on low heat if the tennis ball trick doesn't work. Gets wrinkles out and softens clothes.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:27 PM on June 2, 2011

London has terrible hard water - I can feel the difference in my hair when I wash it at my SO's house, 35 miles away, and it never seems to go stagnant overnight - but the instructions on the detergent I use (I think it's Surf liquid) suggest using a half-portion more. It seems to do the trick for me.

(apparently Scots call the clothes-horse a 'winterdyke'. This is a much better word and I am tempted to adopt it from now on.)
posted by mippy at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2011

I put just about everything on hangers to dry. I'm lucky enough to have plenty of room and a non-damp basement to hang my clothes now, but in the winter, I'll often bring my clothes upstairs to dry, since the furnace makes sure there's so little moisture in the air. I hang them on over-the-door racks, which are really handy, and sometimes I shove all the clothes in the closet to the side and put some in the closet to dry. When I didn't have a basement I bought an extra spring-tension shower curtain rod and put it over the middle of the tub - high enough that I didn't bonk my head when I was showering - and I'd hang clothes to dry there.
posted by lemniskate at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2011

See, the stereotypical British weather is rain, but several of my born abroad friends tell me that what we actually have a lot of is wind. Which helps stop the stiffness, but doesn't help when you have to dry inside because it's grim and grey out.

In winter, it's traditional here to hang your bed sheets out overnight to freeze and then dry. It's supposed to soften them.

Think carefully about your pegging to prevent visible peg marks. As a rule, I don't peg on the shoulders, as it makes tops dry out of shape.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:29 AM on June 3, 2011

Oh and drying inside in poorly, ventilated spaces can lead to damp, so be careful.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:30 AM on June 3, 2011

Thanks everyone. We're doing an exciting combo of everything. We also have a fairly small house, ~1500 ft2, and our bathroom is probably as big as your closet. No joke. It's 60 inches wide and 8 feet deep, and the halo over the claw-foot is about raggedy and barely strong enough to hold up the shower curtain. On my honeydew list is to make a new one from shined up copper pipe, but I'm not to that task yet, and right now it's certainly not strong enough to support *clothing*, but I'll give it a shot once I redo the halo.

3 dogs, one of whom is a golden retriever who absolutely ADORES eating (yes, eating and then pooping) socks makes indoor drying a bit of a task, but we'll try it. My Epagnul Bleu d'Picardie likes to steal laundry when he feels neglected, and then when you don't chase him he'll just drop it and move to the next thing. He's been trained to open doors and cabinets and whatnot, so he'll just keep stealing until he finds something you care if he steals. Then my border collie mutt comes along and finds said laundry article, and promptly uses it to conceal her food or, more frustratingly, to conceal the water bowl. (Which is a 3 gallon water-cooler type.) Which makes a mess.

Added into that, we've got a just-short-of 6-months old tiny man who isn't too shabby at both making messes and generating extra laundry.

So anyway, I'm sure nobody cares about my overshare, but you can't ever have too much squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee so it's my gift to you. (heh.)

Dragonness mentioned Charlie's Soap, so I went looking for it. Since I bought it, it's gone up about $3, but it's still way cheaper at amazon than anywhere else. Bonus, free shipping on orders over $25, so I managed to get 3 boxes of 80 loads for like $26. It's a little steeper now, but I'll link it since I think MF gets revenue if someone buys after clicking.

Charlie's Soap At Amazon
posted by TomMelee at 8:09 PM on June 4, 2011

He really is a tiny man! He has a man-sized hat, and that photo makes him almost look like he has man-sized hands, but with the head of a baby! Forced perspective, woooo.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:35 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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