The traditional clothesline: a more eco-friendly option than the dryer

By Stéphane Blanchard
Sustainable development officer and assistant executive director
RDÉE Prince Edward Island

At first glance, using modern appliances like the clothes dryer may seem very practical and convenient. But compared to the many advantages of using a traditional clothesline, the clothes dryer may not be so practical after all.

RDÉE Prince Edward Island (the provincial francophone economic development council) encourages you to consider the following important factors.

COSTS: First of all, to buy a dryer on the Island, you’ll have to shell out between $500 (a really basic model) and $1,600 (a deluxe model), plus taxes. After that, a typical family probably does seven or eight loads of laundry a week. That’s almost 400 loads a year. Depending on the brand, age and efficiency of the dryer, that can add up to $100 to $150 a year in electricity costs. Most people also use dryer sheets (like Bounce or All) to soften their laundry and prevent static cling. So that’s another $50 to $60 a year. So we’re talking about a total cost of $200 a year, on top of the initial purchase of the dryer.

Comparatively, to install a clothesline, buying two 16-foot-long 4X4s (for the clothesline poles) from a lumber yard such as Arsenault Family Lumber in St-Chrysostome costs about $50. Then, a clothesline kit with pulleys, purchased at one of the Island’s hardware stores, ranges from $30 to $70. So a maximum total of $120. And that setup should last for many years, even decades. So, from a financial point of view, using a clothesline is considerably less expensive.

ENVIRONMENTALLY BENEFICIAL: In North America alone, there are over 90 million clothes dryers. More widespread use of clotheslines could eliminate millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. It’s a small, simple measure that could be of huge benefit to the environment. The energy from the sun and wind that dries the clothes on the clothesline doesn’t cost you a cent and doesn’t consume any electricity, so it’s a very eco-responsible drying method. It’s an option worth considering, especially in the spring, summer and fall (and even winter) months.

DURABILITY OF YOUR CLOTHES: Air-dried clothes last longer. This applies not only to delicate garments, but also to everyday clothes, bed linen (sheets, pillowcases, blankets, etc.) and towels. That’s because heat and friction in the dryer are the enemies of fabric longevity. Just take a look at your dryer’s lint trap and you’ll see how the fabric of your clothes deteriorates and comes apart.

WRINKLES: Have you ever taken clean clothes out of the dryer that were all wrinkled because you left them in there a little too long after the cycle was finished? Clothes are often forgotten in the dryer. This may not be a major problem for nightwear and underwear, but it can be very unpleasant for other garments, especially those worn in public. However, shirts and pants laid out on the clothesline dry with almost no creases. (Do you really need a better excuse for not needing to get the iron out?).

What’s more, large pieces, such as sheets and blankets, lay easily on the clothesline and aren’t all bunched up in a little barrel spinning around as they would be in a dryer. It’s easy to fold them up and put them away when they’re dry.

FRESH AIR AND HEALTH: Dried in fresh air, clothes smell fresh and don’t have that chemical smell of dryer sheets. The sun’s UV light kills any micro-organisms on your clothes that might not have been killed during washing (often in cold water these days). And, it’s always good for us to go outside for some fresh air, even if it’s only for a few minutes to hang your clothes on the line or bring them back in. Take advantage of this time to relax and absorb some free vitamin D.

HEATING: Typical tumble dryers operate between 51°C and 57°C, depending on the cycle. Even though tumble dryers are connected to an exhaust pipe, the residual heat they produce when running warms your home. This is not a problem in winter. However, in summer (the ideal season to use the clothesline), this extra heat is not desirable in the home. What’s more, when the dryer is running, your air-conditioning system has to work harder to maintain an ideal home temperature.

FIRES: Have you ever forgotten to clean your dryer’s lint trap? According to Statistics Canada, a small percentage of house fires are caused by clothes dryers. Clogged filters and vents are the main causes of dryer-initiated fires. If you hang your clothes on a clothesline, you automatically reduce the risk of fire in your home.

WHAT ABOUT WINTER?: Well, you just need to plan your schedule around sunny days when the temperature is milder and the winds aren’t too strong. Simply shake your clothes slightly to remove excess water before hanging out. It’s also a good idea to space your laundry out a little more on the line. It’s best to hang them in the morning to give them a little more sun time to dry. You should also use sturdy clothes pins in winter. If your clothes aren’t dry by the end of the day, it’s best to take them inside and let them dry indoors to prevent them from freezing. (It’s a good idea to have an indoor drying area near a heat source, like a radiator).

In conclusion, we suggest you rethink your parents’ and grandparents’ clothes-drying practices, and consider using clotheslines yourself.

Thanks to SaveEnergy NB for inspiring this article.

This publication was produced through the project called
« IMPACT: Towards a responsible and sustainable economy in Atlantic Canada ».For more information or to participate: