How to hang laundry out on the line


On these lovely July days I am enjoying hanging out the laundry so much. Here is a chore that fits well into what we were discussing last week. It seems almost incredible that anyone would hang all the laundry outside in this day and age! Is it a waste of time? Don’t we have a machine for this?

The paradox is that if the keeper of the home, the wife, the… housewife (to use a word that I love for its shock value)… hasn’t scheduled every moment in a bid for efficiency*, what seems like a useless chore becomes a real pleasure. Getting away from the hum of the house, doing a repetitive task out where the birds are singing and you can enjoy the sun on the leaves and the dew on the grass, well, it’s not so bad! In fact, the job satisfaction, as I once heard an Indian gentleman say in an interview on NPR, is extremely very high!

*You know I love efficiency — my father was an engineer and I am all about not wasting movements and so on. But there is a true efficiency of doing the task in an orderly and rational fashion and a false efficiency that doesn’t take into account a universal openness to unknowns, hard to measure, and it’s this latter type that I am challenging.

And of course, there’s saving money and sanitizing your clothing in the sun. I though I would give you my how-tos, even though my mother would have laughed at the idea of a post about this! Just hang it, she’d say! But it’s fun to talk about such things anyway…


Set up your line:

In my previous house I had a line that went from my covered back porch landing out to the edge of the garage, and it was on pulleys. That was great. I could stand there even in a light shower (knowing it would clear up shortly), with my pins in a hanging bag on a hook under the low roof and my basket on the floor of the porch.

Even my little kids would perch on the railing and pin the clothes up! Deirdre thought it was magical and cried tears of anguish when we moved. “How can we leave the clothesline?” I know, baby…

I don’t have a picture of that setup, unfortunately. Maybe she can draw one some day!

My yard here where we put the line is downhill from the house; it’s the one spot that is handy to the door, in the sun, and not near trees or where kids throw balls, but it’s pretty wet underfoot in the spring.

Well, it used to be quite handy, when the laundry was in the mudroom; now my machines are way upstairs on the other side of the house, and I briefly considered a pulley line out of the window up there. However, the line would then be in the shade.

Turns out, though, that it’s not the hardship you would think to carry the basket down. However, the wetness underfoot does limit my line-drying season. Otherwise it’s a good spot.

So do what you can. Obviously the closer to where the wet clothes emerge, the better. But don’t be daunted by a little distance — you can deduct it from your upper-arm exercises and steps later, if you keep track of such things, which I certainly do not!

If all you have is a balcony, a folding rack can work, or a line stretched from one side to the other. Keep the area swept and free of spider webs. An umbrella clothesline can work in a small yard and holds more than you think. The main thing is to have it relatively clean under your feet and in the breezy sunshine. Try not to be walking through mud or weeds to your line, because you won’t be up to facing the task if it’s not pleasant.

I advise you to put up enough line for several loads of washing if you have the room. You want to get that washer going early in the morning and be able to hang your clothes out by noon so things dry all in the one day. If you have to wait on things to dry before you can hang more, you’ll be frustrated.

With all the laundry I was doing (seven kids and the household that goes along with that size family), I knew I wanted a lot of line! I have achieved the ideal setup as far as that goes (thanks to my husband of course!): The poles are 20 feet apart. They are 6 feet high (and at least two feet into the ground, in cement, although in the spring even the footings lean in the rush of water from the hill. I try to remember to push them in place before the ground dries out again but I don’t always, so they may appear wonky some years!

The lines are 2 feet apart from each other. The crossbars are 8 feet long, so the outside lines are one foot in. This gives me 80 feet of line! Usually enough!

Hang the clothes: 

I prefer spring clothespins; you can get them at the hardware store. I like having them in a clothespin bag or in my apron pocket, bringing them in every time — that way they last longer and don’t get moldy. You can leave them out on the line and just replace them more often. On a porch or balcony they will last longer. I need to open the new pack I got in the spring!

Change your clothesline when it gets dirty. Clothesline is not expensive and a new one in the new season is a refreshing lift.

If your neighbors or visitors can see the line and you’d like some modest privacy, hang the undies and so on behind the shirts and towels, out of direct view.


I use one pin per small undergarment, two for underwear t-shirts. Hang shirts by the lower hem so you don’t get awkward stretch marks on the shoulders. Hang pants, shorts, and skirts by the waistband so the hem isn’t distorted.

Don’t stretch the garment along the line — that way you have more room on your line and the item doesn’t get pulled out. The exception is dish towels and napkins, which dry neater pulled to their full width (but not under tension, so that when you fold them they aren’t pulled out on one edge, and will fold neatly).

If you are running out of room or clothespins, you can use one clothespin to secure two items — two dishcloths together or shirts sharing a pin on each edge with the next one, for instance. And put the ends of shirts closer to each other — they can hang down and will dry just fine.

Heavy mats can be doubled over the line, or their weight will cause them to pull out of the pins, especially if a strong breeze comes up. Big sheets and blankets can be pinned across two rows with four or six pins, hanging down between but not touching the ground.

Long ago I posted about one time when my friend’s dryer was broken and she came over to hang her things. Her children did the chore for her and the littler kids pinned small garments to the bottoms of the bigger items that the taller kids had hung normally! It was pretty cute. And worked just fine.

I can get extremely OCD while hanging clothes, and have to remind myself that it’s not that important! I end up fussing about whether dishtowels are arranged by kind together and socks as well… too silly.


Take them in:

I leave my basket out in the path between the asparagus beds. Be aware that the basket will kill the grass under it in the hot sun, even after just an hour or two! Somehow it doesn’t kill the weeds on that path, though…

Before getting the clothes down, I shake the basket out so as not to import stray spiders and so on.

Take your clothes down, throw them into the basket, and voilà! Your laundry is ready to fold!


Stiff towels? Doesn’t bother me! I don’t like wimpy, soft, one-tick-above-damp towels. I am always happy when I pull out a line-dried towel! That said, you can give them a fluff in the dryer if you really need to.

Bird poop? Because you’ve located your line away from trees, this rarely happens. If it does, you can spot clean easily or just re-wash. But I can count on one hand the times this has happened, really.

Rain? I try to time the drying to avoid the rain, obviously. Sometimes it rains, and you know what? The sun comes out and the things dry! They are on a clothesline! Worst case, you have to put them in the dryer for a little while, or hang inside. Oh well!

Bugs? Give the things a snap as you throw them into the basket.

Fading? I like to have an inside rack no matter what. The things that would fade outside will fade in the dryer too.

Pollen? In some seasons, the trees are spewing pollen and that can be a problem for those with allergies. I do the sheets in the dryer when the pollen is high. But usually it’s not a problem. I wonder, too, if more exposure builds immunity? I don’t know. But normally we don’t worry about it. I will say that when the pollen is bad, it’s a good idea to wipe the clothesline down with a damp towel so you don’t get a yellow line on your clothes!

I hope you have a chance to hang your laundry out! If you do, what are your tips?

Remember, most things in life are learned by doing!

bits & pieces

  • Of course, hanging laundry is part of daily life. Not being over-scheduled allows the woman to be free to meet the unusual and sometimes difficult aspects of life that are not so peaceful — but a peaceful existence requires that someone be available, and with a loving heart. I appreciated this reflection from Lucille Foley on her journey to the hidden life of home, the woman’s secret weapon.


  • I personally played Für Elise to death back in the day, and normally cringe whenever I hear it these days. I don’t know how piano teachers get through the Für Elise stage… but here’s a version that makes it all better again! Beethoven meets Flamenco





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