Do We Have a Right to Line Dry Our Clothes?

By Staff

I don’t have many memories of my dad’s parents, because unfortunately they passed away when I was still young. However, one thing I distinctly remember was my grandmother hanging her laundry out to dry on her clothesline.

One day I asked my mom why we didn’t dry our clothes outside, too, and she said grumbled about the neighbors or the neighborhood or something. I didn’t really understand it all. I mean, who cares if you dry your clothes on a clothesline? Apparently, many people do.

Line Dryers vs HOAs

The latest issue of People magazine (September 13, 2010) has a small story featuring couples fighting for their right to line dry their clothes. The homeowners’ association in their area decided clotheslines were off-limits, forcing the couples to continue using their electric clothes dryer or indoor drying racks.

When one Oregon couple challenged the ruling by drying clothes outside despite the rules against it, they were hit with a $1,000 fine by their HOA.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of homeowners’ associations threatening legal action over clotheslines. Homeowners’ associations are notorious for setting some seemingly ridiculous rules for their members.

Naturally, HOA defenders will say a neighborhood needs rules to protect property values, etc. But I say we have enough rules – who wants yet another authority telling us what we can and can’t do within our own backyards?

How Much Does Line Drying Clothes Save?

It is difficult to estimate the energy efficiency of one particular drying method over the other because dryers are not rated similar to other appliances. Here’s the explanation from the Energy Star program website (

“ENERGY STAR does not label clothes dryers because there is little difference in energy use among models.”

However, the EnergyStar website does list a few tips for improved drying, should you decide to use an electric clothes dryer (or gas):

  • When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save the wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
  • Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked.

Even if Energy Star won’t rate how much energy my dryer is using, I know from experience that not running my dryer as often reduces my electric bill.

Alternatives to a Clothesline

Before considering a retractable clothes line, my wife and I used an indoor clothes drying rack similar to this one. It was a little smaller than the one shown, but still large enough to hold a load of towels or jeans (the two items that seemed to hold the most moisture after the final spin around the washer).

The downside to indoor clothes drying racks is that the evaporating moisture often increases the humidity in the room you are drying clothes, which makes air conditioning work a little harder in the summer months. For this reason, we often set up the drying rack in our master bathroom, because that’s a room that is expected to be a more humid than others.

Drying racks, and even outside clothes lines, are also thought to change the shape of clothes (as in clothes often get stretched out a bit rather than returning to their normal size). One remedy for this, and perhaps a good compromise for those still unsure about line drying, is to partially dry clothes outside and then toss them in a clothes dryer on a light, cooler setting with a dryer sheet for a few minutes.

Using this method, the  dryer does not have to produce much heat, and therefore drains less energy, while fluffing clothes, removing static and giving them the scent you are used to (although for me, nothing beats the scent of clothes dried outside).

Any readers personally use a clothes line to dry laundry? Anyone prohibited from using them, but would like to?