Line drying is a great way to save energy and make your laundry routine a little greener. Plus, there is nothing quite like the smell of sun-dried sheets or the sight of them flapping in the wind. Maine may not seem like an ideal place to line dry clothing because of the humidity and the icy winters, but Mainers have found a way.
“You don’t need bleach if you line dry, and your linens have the best smell,” said Natalie Allen from Midcoast Maine. “Watching a line full of white sheets snap in the wind on a sunny summer day is one of the most beautiful chores. Drying outside is economical, environmentally friendly as well as just plain satisfying.”
Here’s what you need to know to start line drying.
Setting up for line drying
If you are interested in line drying for yourself, the first thing you need to do is set up your apparatus. It can be as simple as two stakes in the ground with lines strung between them.
“I would probably recommend materials that are weather resistant — so, pressure treated wood, and a plastic-coated rope so it doesn’t grow mold from uncoated rope being out in the rain and heat,” said Morgan Harper in Berwick. “Don’t want that on your clean clothes!”
If you aren’t able to set up stakes, Allen said she is always on the lookout for a nice straight branch with a crook in it. Allen added that having a sturdy, notched pole on hand to help with line sag or to lift sheets a few extra inches off the ground is a must.
Choosing a good location for your line drying apparatus is also important. Harper, for example, recommended that you don’t put it next to a duck or chicken coop, or under a tree where it might get covered in bird poop or other critters.
Line drying is not exclusively done outdoors, either. Kari Pfister, who lives near Bangor, said that she line-dries clothes in her upstairs loft.
“It works out well for us,” Pfister said. “In the winter, the wood stove makes them dry quickly. We just strung a line of paracord through some eyelets and it holds even the heaviest of our bedding just fine.”
Allen said that sometimes, she will line dry in her basement, using both lines and a folding rack.
“My dry basement has lines crisscrossing the ceiling,” Allen said. “Make sure you leave plenty of space for good airflow. Running a fan helps to keep the air from getting musty. We sometimes keep a rack in front of the wood stove for extra damp items.”
Not every item needs to be line dried, either. Even Mainers who love line drying will leave certain things to an electric clothes dryer.
“We have found that jeans and bath towels, for our preference, come out a bit too stiff on the line so we use our machine dryer for those,” Harper said.
To combat stiffness, you can also run a little bit of fabric softener or even a splash of white vinegar in with the wash before line drying.
Line drying in the winter
Most Mainers stick to drying clothing on the line during the warmer months — spring, summer and even early fall. On humid days, some will move their laundry inside, or pop them in the dryer for a shorter amount of time after allowing them to hang dry.
However, some Mainers also line dry well into the winter.
Jj Starwalker, a homesteader based in Corinth, said she will wait for “good drying days” in the winter, which she defines as having no precipitation and a bit of wind and sun.
“It is not necessary for it to be above freezing. Just hang quickly! The breeze and the sublimation of the water from the laundry to the air will make them relax as they dry,” Starwalker said.
Starwalker said she also hangs her clothes strategically in the winter, offering plenty of space between items, staggering the placement on my four lines and hanging in such a way that maximum surface area is exposed for maximum drying potential.
“For example, this time of year, washcloths and cleaning rags are hung by a corner with one pin,” Starwalker said. “In the winter, each gets spread out, with two pins. Often even in the winter everything will get dry; [the] possible exceptions are heavy, lined jeans and sweats.”
Whatever doesn’t dry, Starwalker said she will hang on wooden racks indoors until they do.
Even if you are line drying in the spring or summer, though, choosing a good drying day is important.
“I prefer to do it on days with less humidity than we have been receiving lately,” Harper said. “A slight breeze is preferable.”
How browntail moths can impact line drying
Mainers who want to line dry their clothes have a new problem to face: browntail moths, whose itch-inducing caterpillars crawl onto laundry lines or drop from trees on clothing, sheets and other drying fabrics as they flutter in the wind.
“I’ve stopped line drying because of the browntail moths and the itching it causes,” Becky Choate from South Gardiner said. “I do feel like we have fewer moths this year than the last two summers, which is encouraging.”
Alexis Zimba from Saint George said that when she was pregnant, she got a browntail moth rash on her stomach that she blamed on a line-dried t-shirt that mingled with a moth. She said that location is important if you want to avoid browntail moths.
“[I] never line dried clothes again at that spot, and didn’t get re-exposed to the rash,” Zimba said. “Our clothes line was tied to a tree at one end, so that may have contributed, but still, I wouldn’t risk it now, other than on an enclosed sun porch or something.”
If you live in an area plagued with browntail moths, Choate added that strategically choosing what you line dry may help.
“I’m still only putting outer blankets on the line — nothing that touches our skin,” she said.