Solar Clothes Dryer, aka Backyard Clothesline

What’s old is new again. Our mothers, our grandmothers, and our aunts all hung clothes out in the sun to dry. Matter of fact, so have we.  I really like to hang my clothes, towels, and sheets outside. They smell better, and frankly, I prefer the way they feel against my skin.  Would you like to do this, but don’t know where to start? Let me help!

Location. Location. Location.
Choose a site that gets plenty of sunshine each day, and has room for a breeze to blow. My clothesline is in my open backyard.  Previously, my backyard was about 5′ wide, and that worked fine for the clothesline, too. Now, it runs east-west, but the old one was north-south. It still worked. Even more important though, is that your clothesline is placed conveniently where you will USE IT! Mine is just off the back porch, and the laundry room is near that door.

I’ve never used an Umbrella clothesline, so I can’t comment on the efficacy.  If your site is limited, give it a try. I think they would be great for camping locations and I see they even make portable options.

Retractable clotheslines are great if you have a porch or indoor location for your clothesline, or if you need to hang your clothesline from building-to-building and you don’t want lines strung out all the time.

In movies, many people have seen the Pulley-style clotheslines that were used inside cities, way up in the air, over an alley. These are still available, but look for a clothesline spreader, if you go this route.

I have the most experience with T-Post style clotheslines, usually available in galvanized steel. Set them yourself in a hole in the ground and reinforced with concrete. You will need two posts and will hang several lines from them in parallel rows.

Many of the women of the previous generations would hang these pretty far apart and prop up the center of the long lines with support poles. I am not a fan of the props because they work at a slant rather than perfectly vertical. If the wind catches my sheets, for instance, the line swings, the poles slants too far, and my sheets end up dragging the ground anyway. Ugh!

So, what do I have?  Discarded telephone poles, set in concrete, with a crossbar that is 2×6″ board almost 6′ long. My clothesline poles are set about 22′ feet apart, stand about 6′ high, and the poles are notched to hold the crossbars. I have four lines, which in the summer hold 4 loads of clothes at a time. In the spring & fall, they hold 2-3 loads. I’ll explain the difference in a bit.

This size and distance has worked perfectly for me for decades. I try to have all the clothes on the line by 9:30 am and take them down about 3:00pm. That gives me time to fold & put away before the children and I have a snack about 3:30, and begin supper prep about 4:00. Remember, I like routines. This is a routine for most days.

I can wash & hang clothes easily in the midst of other morning chores … breakfast, sweep & vacuum, etc., and before we start homeschooling for the day. Then, they dry while we do whatever else we are doing. If we go out, I plan to be home by 3-4pm, and start that late afternoon routine. I like to bring in the clothes in the middle of the day so that the insects haven’t landed for their nightly repose.

How to hang the clothes? I like my lines to be neat & orderly, so I will hang like things together: all the bath towels, then the kitchen or hand towels, then the washcloths, or adult tees, then kid tees, then pajama pants.

I started using the spring-type wooden clothes pins because the slip-on got to be too expensive. Plastic clothespins are available, but I still like to use wooden pins, because the sun degrades the plastic and makes them brittle.

I start by hanging my first item with two pins. Then, I hang the second item on by unpinning the second pin, put the second item on and use that pin to hold both, then add another pin to the second item. So, two items and three pins. I keep that up all the way down the line. If a line holds a dozen tee shirts, I’ve used 13 pins, not 24, and I’ve saved room on the line.

My typical rule is to hang from the waist: shirts are hung upside down while pants are hung right side up. My kids prefer to hang their jeans upside down because the waistband can be uncomfortable after being crimped from the clothespin.

Towels. You are thinking about how stiff and scratchy your bath towels are when they are on the line. Here is a hint … shake them. Before you hang them, shake them. I don’t mean a little wiggle, I mean! It fluffs out the fibers and they dry less stiff. No, they won’t get dryer soft, but you will probably find that you like how much better your towels dry your body after they’ve dried on the line.

Oh, goodness!  I just realized that I didn’t mention the line itself.  Tried and true clothesline is made of plastic-coated wire, because it doesn’t stretch.  Plastic or even cotton line is also available. You may want to use a turn-buckle at one end of each line, but it isn’t necessary if your line is made of plastic-coated wire.  Plastic-coated clothesline wire is available at your local hardware store in 25′ or 50′ lengths, or even a box with hundreds of feet in one coil.

Even in the winter, I hang out the blankets on fair days to air out, and if the sun is going to shine all day, I still do my sheets.  I really dislike the smell of sheets from the dryer, so I watch for these nice days.  If you want to air your blankets, you don’t have to wash them first.  Just hang them to get some air & sunshine.

How do I hang more in the summer?  I hang them a little closer together.  In the spring and fall, the sun just doesn’t operate at full power, so I hang things about their full width, but in the summer, I can reduce that distance, making a bigger drape and getting more on the line.  This is especially important for large families using extra-capacity washing machines.  Maybe I’ll talk about washing machines in another post.

For now, have a great day!