Energy tip #4: get yourself a clothesline

airdry.gifMark Twain obviously lived in a different era. Summer in San Francisco has been hot — so hot that I’ve thought about switching to iced coffee in an attempt to beat the heat.

So given the current weather, I think it’s an appropriate time to put forth possibly the least sexy tip in the bunch: Air dry your clothes. But, but…no excuses. When it’s 108 degrees in inland California you could dry out a t-shirt faster than you could say, “rolling blackouts.”

Now, I’ve had the privilege of spending some time abroad and it seems that in almost every locale, people unabashedly hang their clothes up to dry out (even in the ever so sunny UK), presumably to save some money and space in their homes. I’m not sure whether it’s a status conscious decision or because energy has been abundant and cheap, but if Americans are really going to fight climate change, one obvious place to start is by reducing the use of the third most energy sapping appliance in the home (after the refrigerator and washing machine).

Not only does it save us money, but it cuts down on CO2 use as well. Let’s look to see what kind of impact letting our garments air dry on a clothes horse has (advanced spreadsheet here, including gas dryers).

Cost/load (electric): $ .35
CO2/load (electric): 5.6 lbs.
Loads/year for a family: 365
Cost of a clothes horse: $ 5-10
$ saving/year (1/2 loads air dried): $63.88
lbs CO2 saved/year (1/2 loads air dried): 1016 lbs.

So there you have it, throw your weekly washing to the wind and you can drop a couple of 10-spots on our Intercontinental flight offset without feeling the pinch.

Last week 27 people pledged to change their air filter. Each pledge represented 1088 lbs. So, thank you to every one who made the swap. Be proud that together you reduced 29,364 lbs of CO2 or roughly removed 2.5 cars from the road for an entire year. Let’s keep it up!

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  1. Jacquie - July 26, 2006

    About a month ago I purchased a 5 line rollup rack at Home depot. Installed it in my garage. At first, it was for the more delicate clothes, but I quickly figured out that the heavyier stuff could be airdried and then just tossed in for 5 minutes to soften them up. Maked a big difference, even though I have natural gas drier. Now I use the line continuously and only throw the occational item in. The positive for hanging them in the garage – no bird droppings, don’t have to worried about the summer thunderstorms, neihgbor’s opinion is a non issue. Total cost $14. And if it is in the way (of the ladder) then I unhook it and it rolls itself up. It is very discreet.

  2. Terry - July 26, 2006

    Sorry Orrin, if you air dry your clothes you have to include the cost of running an electric iron to take the wrinkles out, unless you want to look like a ragbag that is

  3. ryran - July 26, 2006

    Mmmm. I voted yes on the air filter poll, but totally forgot to do anything about it.

  4. Austin - July 26, 2006

    I’ve been air drying my clothes for the past couple of years. It has saved our household a significant amount of money, not to mention CO2 output. I’ve not had a significant problem with having to iron clothes any more than I would had I dried them in the dryer. A side benefit of air drying your clothes is that they end up lasting longer. The dryer removes a lot of “lint” from your clothes which isn’t removed by air drying. Just use a lint brush to remove the real lint and you’re good to go.

  5. Trish - July 26, 2006

    I’ve been hanging clothes in the backyard whenever possible since I’ve been tall enough to reach a clothesline–for reasons as much aesthetic as environmental. The smell of “yard-dried” clothes–especially sheets–is wonderful. My mother used to say that hanging out clothes was the one bit of housework she didn’t mind, as it let her commune with the birds.

  6. Mitch Jacobson - July 26, 2006

    Regarding those nasty wrinkles in clothes: Reducing energy use and, therefore, pollution, is slightly more important than getting the crease just right in your pants. Should anyone think less of you because your “I’m not going to contribute to the destruction of the planet we as a human race are privileged – not entitled, but privileged – to live on” look, either A) Tell them you “dry green”, and/or B) Chuck their opinion out the window. Yes, modern society cares a great deal about the wrinkles in our face and the wrinkles in our shirts, but such ideas were at one time merely the opinion of one individual that just happened to “catch on”. Have a different opinion. You can do it.

  7. Meagen in Cleveland - July 26, 2006

    When I lived in the suburbs and could leave my car unlocked, airdrying was the best option. But living in a poor community where even paving stones get stolen out of the ground, airdrying clothes wouldn’t work without a mean guard dog. Would the added yearly cost of a big dog outweigh the dryer savings?

  8. Mali Dahl - July 26, 2006

    Unfortunately, here in hot CA, living in a complex, clotheslines are prohibited. Property rules forbid their use and I do not have any internal space to hang clothes (other than the shower rod, which would not hold the whole load). I love the idea that someone suggested about “drying green”, but I am not permitted to do so~!

  9. Tom - July 26, 2006

    On ironing:
    Most irons draw 1000 watts, so you would have to iron for about 4 times as long as you tumble dry each load for the savings to disappear. Probably not an issue unless you wear tux shirts every day.
    On Dogs:
    Average yearly cost of keeping a dog, according to SPCA is $1070.

  10. Charronne - July 26, 2006

    As above, laundry smells wonderful dried in the sun and air. Sheets are crisp and smooth, and the fresh air fragrance fills the whole bedroom. Sunlight is also a great deodorizer and disinfectant, so great for all those sweaty items. For relatively wirnkle free clothes, hang on clothes hangers with pegs at the shoulders if necessary, do up the buttons, then hang on the line. Use a peg to secure to line on windy days, Clothes come in ready to go straight into the closet or onto the wearer. Pillows, mattress pads, duvets and blankets all benefit from a regular airing, I drpae mine on lawn chairs, clotheslines and anything else handy. Turn everything over after about an hour, then return, with the clean sheets, for a great smelling bedroom.

  11. susan - July 28, 2006

    After I visited relatives in Denmark two years ago, I decided to air dry my clothes on a “solar dryer.” My relatives in Denmark, prosperous middle class folk, do not have a dryer, but use a clothes line. If they can do it with their climate, I figured that I could do it on California. I also bought a front loading washer after seening that most Europeans, including my British relatives, used front loading machines because they are more energy efficient. Now if I could just afford a Prius…. (even though I did not see any in Europe.)

  12. Claire - August 5, 2006

    I just wanted to say that in many many places outdoor clotheslines are prohibited. I suppose its a holdover from when “poor” people dried outside — we wouldn’t want my suburb looking poor,would we? I can’t imagine a safety reason for enacting something like that. I think its the same people who don’t want work vehicles parked in the driveways — including vans, pickup trucks and taxis. We wouldn’t want to look like we worked for a living, either. Again, I can’t think of any public safety reason for this either. Its another of those push factors that send us out into the rural areas.

  13. Maria - August 11, 2006

    I dry my clothes inside the house. I have a line strung in my laundry room. Also, I picked up a couple of drying racks that are sold in stores like Target. I’ve noticed less wrinkles, not more. When I forgot my load in the dryer, the clothes got wrinkled after sitting for a while. On the drying rack and clothesline, they are hung so the wrinkles don’t happen.

  14. Rose Marie - March 31, 2007

    I am the inventor of a new product called the Tibbe-Line. This product every time it is used saves time,money,energy,space and adds longevity to your clothes by air drying them. Please go to my web-site at LOVENROSES.COM (LINK)TIBBE-LINE to view my product and infomercial. You can order on-line or by mail order. I have actually cut my laundry time in more than half and I don’t ever have to worry about getting wrinkled clothes out of the dryer. Hope you try my Tibbe-Lines, I do.

  15. Anonymous - May 25, 2007

    Guys, I like the idea, but my wife gets mad at me about this because of how it makes the clothes look. Any ideas?

  16. Sandra - July 9, 2007

    I received my Tibbe-line today & it is wonderful. Just what I’ve been looking for. Don’t hesitate to order. I may order a second set I like it so much!

  17. Ernesto R. - July 11, 2007

    Locally, the problem I\’ve observed regarding the conservation mission is two-fold: ignorance and apathy towards the environment. Americans where I live (Florida) suffer seriously from the side effects of a decrepit educational system (trust me; I was appalled when an administrative staff member confessed that Orange County, FL had lower its certification standards due to a teacher shortage). Scary, huh? Secondly, the conservation drive requires an “extra” effort to be effective. Americans have become incresingly more allergic to hard work. The agriculture and construction industry are prime examples of the “kind” of work Americans are unwilling to do. We don\’t care to do menial jobs so why do we think that Americans are going to start air drying? A greater emphasis on all levels of education is essential so that those most affected by global warming – our children – are capable of making effective and responsible decisions.

  18. sandy - July 27, 2007

    100 million washing machines using cold water.
    100 million clothes lines flapping in the breeze.
    100 million dishwasher with the heat shut off.
    100 million t.v’s shut off in order to read.
    100 million pellet stoves for renewable heat
    1 trillion light bulbs all floresent and sweet
    100 million people taking a walk with their kids, staying home the weekend. what a wonderful savings this would be.
    recycle recycle recycle times three
    so many things we can do to cut down on global warming. things that don’t cost a lot. how lazy can the people of this country be.

  19. sandy - July 28, 2007

    Why, with all the attention on alternative energies I find no mention of pellet stoves on this web site. We had a fireplace insert pellet stove installed on jan 1, 2006. our heating bill was averaging 150 plus a month on natural gas. Our home is 2300 sq. ft. The pellet stove heats our entire home for 65.00 a month and it is clean, beautiful to watch, and we were able to keep our home at 72 instead of 68. pellets are made from waste materials of pine and firs. some are made from hardwoods but they are not as efficient or as clean as the fir family. Once a year the place we purchased our stove from comes out and thoughly cleans the stove and chimmey and delivers the next years supply of pellets. I smile every time I see the price of fuels going up and up. My excel energy bill is 10 dollars or less for the cooking I do per month. Pellet stoves should be a must for homes. They are even approved for mobile homes. The venting system is simple. Go Green go pellets. These stoves will also burn corn. But there is enough stress on the corn market with ethenol and stock feed. We do all we can to be green, wash our clothes in cold water, hang them out, shut off whats not in use. Set a pan of ice cubes in front of the fan, (freezer has to keep meat froze so extra spaces goes to ice), shop in bulk instead of everyday, stay home and conserve fuel, its just a little little dent in global warming. We’re praying that it catches on and multiply’s by the millions. You do a great job.

  20. Anonymous - August 1, 2007

    Just a thought from a person living with the desert heat and drying clothes on the line.The “desert iron” is a sqirt bottle of water. Squire the wrinkles and they go away. I have an iron but it is very dusty and who knows if it works.

  21. Anonymous - August 3, 2007

    I first want to preface my comments by saying that I do not say this in order to offend anyone:

    I live in Australia. As near as I can tell, almost everyone uses clotheslines here. A famous Australian invented a clothesline known as the “Hills Hoist”, an icon of the Australian backyard for the past 50 years. Australians use clotheslines as a rule, and only use tumble driers when bad weather persists for several days at a stretch, and even then, most have indoor clothes horses that they use instead.

    Your tip seems to suggest that most Americans use tumble driers all the time, even if they live in the sunny south, or desert, or both. If this is true, then I find myself gobsmacked at how far behind the eight ball America is starting from, environmentally speaking. I wonder how much ground could be gained merely by eliminating all those things which are senselessly wastefull?

    To those who worry about the neighbours seeing their underwear, bird poo on their clothes, or having their clothes stolen from their yard, may I suggest installing a retractable line in their garage, basement or laundry room? For those who are prepared to hang their clothes outside, I will say that the warmth of the sun dries the clothes faster, and that sunlight is a chemical-free sanitizer, that eliminates mould spores, bacteria and dust mites from bedding, among other things.

  22. Anonymous - October 9, 2007

    When did the citizens of America get so uppity that they can’t hang laundry out? I have hung my laundry on the line from April through October for 30 years. So no one sees your skivvies, hang them to the inside of the lines and hang less “offensive” items in front of them. In the winter, wet laundry goes on a folding rack in the bedroom or in a corner. It dries while we are at work or school. We did this even when living in a teeny apartment. They’re only clothes; get over yourself that some underpants are offensive. It’s likely nearly everyone wears some. AND in the hot weather, even the towels dry faster than if they’re placed in the dryer. Those complainers probably are 50 lb. or more overweight too. A little bending and stretching might just help.

  23. John - December 12, 2007

    Next year I will be living in a very small apartment, and it practically has no space at all to air dry anything. Even dishes. I would like to tumble dry, but the electric power that the landlord allow for each unit is so small that we can only use one electric appliance at a time. Any suggestions?

  24. Adam Stein - December 12, 2007

    Hi John,
    What do you mean, your landlord only allows you enough power for one appliance? This strikes me as a bit strange, and possibly illegal.
    On a more practical level, you could consider a folding drying rack. Cheap and compact.
    Or you could look elsewhere for carbon savings. It sounds like your footprint is quite low.
    – Adam

  25. joan - December 21, 2007

    I grew up with a wringer washer and clothes lines. As a senior, I now unfortunately live in a condo complex in Santa Clara Ca struggling with high utility costs but unwilling to allow us to line dry our clothes. I hear many complaints about the lint and chemical laden dryer sheets in our laundry rooms.
    Despite being “cited” several times for hanging my laundry on my tiny balcony, I persist. The less visible folding racks just don’t work as well as a line.

  26. Jinx - March 8, 2008

    To John –
    I don’t quite understand the appliance rule, but I can tell you about living in an extra-tiny studio with no w/d hook-ups. For $80 I bought a washing machine that hooks up to the sink (I seem to remember it had an Energy Star rating but I don’t know what it was). I found a very compact drying rack and had nice clean clothes whenever I needed them. I was influenced by a trip to visit my sister in London where I did my laundry in an under-counter washer and then hung it up to dry while we walked around all day. We in America have this idea that dryers are expressly manufactured to replace an outdated way of drying clothes. Warm, fluffy towels are good but not necessary. In most cases I prefer air drying: less static.
    And, seriously, I think clothes billowing on their lines in the sunshine is pretty.

  27. Nancy - March 11, 2008

    WOW I read the first post – 35c for a dryer load? According to our electric company’s calculator around here it’s $2.25 a load. I tried really hard to only hang clothes for an entire month (it takes some getting used to) and dropped my electric bill $30.00. I need to work on getting that habit more established in my life! I have one each of Mrs. Pegg’s Handy Line, 2 lines going from my house to the (no longer utilized) swingset and an umbrella clothesline and a gazillion clothespins :)

  28. Carlo - March 15, 2008

    Hoy estoy hasta el cuello de deudas y el dinero no me alcanza, el recibo del gas en Mexico me salio casi en $50 dolares lo cual me parece una fortuna, asi que dejare de usar la secadora, asi como la lavadora de platos. No pienso regalar mi dinero a la empresa de gas que ni siquiera en mexicana, es espa

  29. Rose Marie - March 18, 2008


  30. Chelsea - May 31, 2008

    I’m a student at Pomona College in Claremont, California and recently spent a good amount of time looking into the various clothesline and drying rack options since Pomona is going to purchase some for student use and I wanted to make sure we purchased the best available option.
    In my research, I was shocked to find that there is NO good website explaining all the different clotheslines and drying rack options, so I made my own! It’s a wiki page on the Tip the Planet sustainable living wiki that ANYONE CAN EDIT. You can check it out here:
    I’m trying to spread the word so that the site becomes a clearing house for drying rack information, and people have to spend less time scouring the web for the best products. Have a look, share it with your friends, and by all means add your wisdom!
    Take care,

  31. Kore - June 6, 2008

    The cost of running a dryer depends on how old the machine is. My dryer is about three years old and it’s much more energy efficient than older models. My energy company estimates that we’ll save the $0.30 per load that was mentioned on this site. I’m trying to air dry our clothes all month to see if that’s accurate.

  32. Nityananda Chandra Das - September 25, 2008

    Hello and Hare Krishna,
    I wear long white robes for I am Hare Krishna priest. If it put the robes (dhotis) in the dryer then there is no possibility of wearing them without thoroughly ironing them. However I put the robes on a clothesline then they come out quite nice and may need a little quick ironing. I prefer installing lines in my house (I have them in my laundry room) for it helps with allergies whereas outside permits the possibilities of picking up pollen.
    Hare Krishna,
    Nityananda Chandra Das
    Dallas, TX

  33. Mary - May 23, 2009

    This regulation of not permitting clothes lines found in some higher end communities will continue until the residents of such communities confront the governing boards that make up such out dated rules. Time to inform neighbors and petition those that make such archaic rules. The environmental benefits of clothes lines are worth the effort of getting such communities to change this rule. So educated your communities and boards so the clothes line rule can be overturned. Here here to clothes lines!

  34. Nicky - August 1, 2009

    I see that the original post is a little old, but just wanted to say thanks for collecting the data on costs and CO2 impact. I’ve been searching for this.
    It’s unfortunate that people got out of the habit of using clotheslines. They save so much energy, and it is kind of peaceful to hang the clothes.
    Even apartment dwellers can air dry their clothes by using a clothes drying rack like this one I use. Being round it works really nice under a ceiling fan!

  35. Mark Spicer - August 28, 2009

    If you would like to air dry you clothes but think you do not have enough space or don’t want to deal with folding/storing a traditional rack take a a look at
    Ceiling Laundry Drying Rack at
    AirDry does not need any floor space. It comprises of six rods that can be individually raised or lowered, and can accommodate a full load of laundry. Imagine how simple it will be to lower the rods and hang your damp laundry right out of the washing machine. Raise each rod and let the warm air trapped near the ceiling finish off the drying.