The ineffable scent of sunbeams and happiness
June 5, 2008 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Line laundry smells awesome and rack laundry... doesn't. Why?

Details, if desired: I don't scent my house, and there are always windows open, so "inside" smells to me like "outside" most of the time. I use the same detergent and (rarely) fabric softener regardless of where the laundry is going to hang. I live in a smallish city with minimal air pollution compared to major urban centres (but I think this outdoor/indoor laundry-smell thing is universal regardless, unless you live next to a hog rendering plant or similar).
posted by Shepherd to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would guess that it's a combination of airflow and sunlight adding and removing smells that aren't perceptible, but that make a difference. In your house, the water just evaporates. Outside, it's exposed to other things.
posted by gjc at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2008

The general wisdom I've heard is that the UV light in sunshine kills a lot of bacteria. I can see how that would help reduce smells. Also, there's probably more of a breeze outside, which helps your clothes dry more quickly, which leaves less time for tiny beasties like bacteria and mildew to grow in their dampness.
posted by vytae at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2008

Seconding the "sunlight" explanation-- UV rays are a great disinfectant, and may also be breaking down any odor-producing residues left on the clothes.
posted by Bardolph at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2008

During the winter, we dry our clothes inside, on a line, with a fan aimed at them. The stuff gets dry, but it doesn't get the outdoorsy smell. So it's probably the sun, and the wind, and any outdoor flower/tree/cut grass smells that get stuck in the clothes.
posted by Lucinda at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2008

Yup, UV.

My run-at-lunch workout clothes stink much less if I leave them outside in the sun than inside.
posted by notsnot at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2008

What they all said, but I think an important factor is that drying outside dries more completely. My mother's generation would always carefully 'air' washing as well as drying it, keeping it in a hot airing cupboard until the last few water molecules were driven out. Stuff that has just been dried on a rack or whatever is never going to be quite as throroughly dehydrated as stuff that's been in a dry wind, or been thoroughly aired.
posted by Phanx at 8:25 AM on June 5, 2008

Outdoor air is full of microbes too, and they smell a lot better than the indoor varieties, I imagine.
posted by jamjam at 8:34 AM on June 5, 2008

Pollen contributes, which is why allergy sufferers might do better to dry their clothes and linens inside. I miss that smell but it's worth not waking up all congested.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:01 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excellent, fiercecupcake! I'm sure you're right; pollen is often loaded with the fragrance of the flowers it came from, of course, and you can experience just how good it smells from sniffing beeswax.
posted by jamjam at 9:33 AM on June 5, 2008

It's not just pollen, though, because line-dried laundry will have that smell even when it's been freeze-dried in the dead of winter with four feet of snow on the ground. I'm sure it must be the UV rays.
posted by HotToddy at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2008

Cool! The UV explanation makes a lot of sense, as does the airing -- the pollen less so, because there's a very consistent smell regardless of season or what's flowering.

So -- for the sake of argument -- if I dried my clothes in a tanning bed, would I be able to replicate this outdoor smell?
posted by Shepherd at 11:02 AM on June 5, 2008

Good point, HotToddy and Shepherd. I used to have a dryer incorporating a UV bulb, but I didn't think my laundry smelled anything like as good as line dried.
posted by jamjam at 12:06 PM on June 5, 2008

Oddly, I find the smell of outdoor-dried linen much less pleasant than the stuff I dry indoors. To my nose it has a sort of metallic tang (like ozone) about it. I live in the countryside and the air generally smells really nice here... puzzling but there you go.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:09 PM on June 5, 2008

Oddly, I find the smell of outdoor-dried linen much less pleasant than the stuff I dry indoors.

I agree--I am sensitive to ozone and the smell of; that is exactly what line laundry smells like to me. Never realized it 'til now.
posted by wafaa at 4:52 PM on June 5, 2008

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