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Fighting for the Right to Hang…Laundry

July 26, 2008

Anyone who doubts how important it is to scrutinize the manner in which our culture understands (or fails to understand) its construction of nature should consider the recent clothes line controversy that is riddling homeowners in many planned living communities. Only in the United States would drying clothes outside, in the air and sunlight, be considered as an “unnatural” detriment to property value.  Apparently, our undergarments are too ghastly to display in public.

That is the claim made by some opponents of clotheslines, I discovered this week while watching TV. In the last few days, I’ve happened upon Alexander Lee’s name twice: first in Orion Magazine’s “Ear to the Ground” section and then again last night on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson. Lee, an environmental activist and founder of Project Laundry List, has dedicated his life to promoting the clothesline.

According to the ABC report, U.S. households spend at least $100 per year drying their clothes. A simple, energy efficient solution, and one that requires a little space and about $10 worth of technology, is to hang clothes outside to dry. Especially in the summer months, clothes actually dry faster hanging outside than in a dryer. Towels especially develop a nice crispness that actually allows you to absorb more water from your naked body when stepping out the the shower than towels dried in electric dryers. And, of course, hanging clothes outside is a zen-like experience, a meditative experience like gardening and fishing that allows you to consider anything from the patterns of your wardrobe to nothing at all.

In our current energy crisis, which is actually a more widespread environmental conservation problem, why wouldn’t all U.S. citizens dry their clothes outside? Apparently, many are prohibited from doing so. The ABC report appealed to the sentiments of Richard Jacques, a homeowner association president in New Hampshire who explains his resistance to clothes hanging: “I don’t want to see any [clothes] out. I want to see nature. Sheets are not nature.” Of course, depending on how one defines nature, especially if the definition is expanded beyond “trees, flowers, and grass,” nothing in planned communities is “nature.” Jacques isn’t just a cranky neighbor worried about his suburban vistas being compromised. He’s among many people who refuse to acknowledge the extent that our ideas of what is “natural” depend on and are implicated by what our culture dictates.

Several states have already passed laws that prohibit homeowner associations and apartment complex owners from forbidding residents to hang clothes out to dry. And while it’s a good thing that Florida is among these states, it’s also a bitter irony because of its extreme humidity. If you live in a state where neighborhood associations, bastions of contrived community, prohibit drying clothes outside, please put them in touch with Project Laundry List. It’s the right thing to do.

Finally, for those who already do hang clothes out to dry, but live in an area riddled by mosquitoes, here’s a tip.  Dry your clothes, and then throw them in a dryer for about 5 minutes.  That should do the trick.

  1. Aimee permalink

    Hanging clothes on the line is also usually better for the clothes themselves. It wears them out less and prevents wrinkling.

    Personally, I think clotheslines lend a nice homey touch. But maybe that’s just because my Mom always used to dry our clothes out on the line.

    Too bad I live in an apartment and that there is a sparrow’s nest right outside my door! Otherwise, I’d do it myself.

  2. Phil permalink


    This piece is very funny and informative. I had no idea that clotheslines were prohibited anywhere.

    By the way, I advocate clotheslines as an appropriate follow-up to a firm punch in the gut.


  3. Who knew clotheslines would be treated with such contempt? I agree with Aimee, even if it were not about conserving energy, it is much better to hang clothes out to dry in order to preserve the longevity of the articles. Dryers eat socks, lace, buttons, and even tear stitching loose. I use the line as much as I can, but I admit that I would be less comfortable doing so if my clothesline was in public view. Nobody wants to drive by and see the pastor and his wife’s undergarments! (Or, maybe they do! SHUDDER).

  4. amanda rollins permalink

    i am sssooo glad to see that i am not the only person that thinks the rules against hanging your cloths on a line to dry are some of the most idiotic rules that i have seen yet !!!!
    On the same hand i do agree that hanging your unmetionables outside might be pushing it a lil to far but my question is this , think back to before they had dryers was the ozon going away like it is today?

    NO it was not , i personally do not like to hang my undies out side but when you are on a fixed income like myself and you have laundry to do well what is the most important thing to me is to make sure my children have clean cloths to wear and food in their tummies. And if that means my clothes ,minus undies and such, get hung out to dry well then there should be no way that i will get looked at as being trashy or for that matter actually get in trouble with the law based simply on that alone then we are in worse times than even i thought.

    I find it sad that people are looking at this as a trashy thing to when there are all kinds of people doing alot worse that could be concidered trashy, the nit- picking that goes on in this country has become rediculus, and with the economy looking the way it does who can blame anyone for cutting corners where they can ?

    So heck ya i am all for any effort that you may find to get some of these things fixed, it is a greener way to live , and yes it does save money in the long run , so my hats are off to you for helping to give the lil guy a voice!!

  5. mom permalink

    I live in an area where nobody hangs laundry but I have a huge backyard and would love to. In my earlier childhood clothes were hung out still.
    Yes it would save money, but I really just miss that most wonderful smell of sheets and clothes hung in the sunshine.
    It cannot be duplicated! My husband says he has never smelled it. How sad!

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