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Ditching the dryer: tips for airing clean laundry

  • Associated Press
  • Published Saturday, August 4, 2012, at 7:48 a.m.

Think clotheslines are a relic of a bygone era, a time when our grandmothers slaved over their dainties with stiff birch-wood pins?

Think again. Hanging clothes is hot, due in no small part to the rising costs of, well, everything. Between soaring utility bills, concerns for the environment and a growing interest in traditional home arts, forgoing the dryer is the newest (oldest) way to tackle laundry.

Abigail Gehring, author and editor of books including “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Living” and “The Homesteading Handbook,” has this advice to get you started:

“The biggest complaint people have with line-dried clothes is that they’re stiff and wrinkled,” Gehring says. She says you can avoid this problem by giving your clothes a good shake, then hanging them with a little space between each item for maximum air circulation.

Gehring doesn’t recommend using fabric softener, saying that 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar added to clothes in the rinse cycle will make them lighter and fluffier. “You might notice a faint vinegar smell on your clothes,” Gehring says, “but that can be easily masked by adding a couple drops of essential oil to the wash.”

Gehring advises against hanging stretchy knits because they could lose their shape. Instead, she suggests laying them on an elevated drying screen. “In the absence of a laundry screen, I’ve even used a window screen and a couple of bricks,” Gehring says.

For less finicky knits, she recommends hanging shirts upside down with pins on the bottom side seams to reduce clip marks.

Pants should be draped at the knees and clipped on the sides to keep their shape. To avoid fading and keep clothes soft, Gehring hangs her wash in the shade, as direct sun can bleach fabrics and leave clothes stiff.

Emily McClements, a South Bend, Ind., mother who blogs about simple living on her site LiveRenewed.com, prefers direct sun-drying for her army’s worth of laundry.

“My kids are hard on their clothes,” McClements says. “The sun helps bleach out the stains, but doesn’t set them the way a dryer would.” To avoid fading colorful knits, she hangs them inside out.

For small items, such as children’s clothes, McClements suggests doubling up clothes and overlapping pins. With more laundry than space on the line, she says a drying rack can be a great addition for undergarments and socks. Because drying racks are portable, they can be moved into the sun or the shade, and offer a great outdoor drying solution for urbanites with small yards or apartment balconies.

“Every little bit you’re not drying in a dryer helps,” McClements says.

Apartment dwellers can take advantage of indoor drying space by hanging clothes on shower curtain rods, drawer knobs and radiators.

“Of course it’s best to have a laundry line, but I’ve used curtain rods inside and tree branches outside,” Gehring says. “Just don’t hang your clothes on wooden furniture or you’ll stain it.”

Despite the benefits of hang-drying in the summer sun, there are a couple of caveats. Neighbors may find your clotheslines unsightly, and some communities ban the practice.

Then there are allergies. Clothes hung outside can pick up pollen – a problem for anyone with seasonal allergies. Kraig Jacobson, an allergist with Oregon Allergy Associates in Eugene, Ore., says allergy sufferers should avoid hanging clothes outside during seasons when they’re suffering from allergies.

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