Green Laundry Drying

Green Laundry Drying
By Audrey McCollum
Imagine that you were a hawk soaring over the Connecticut River Valley on April 19th. Would your sharp gaze have spotted a plethora of shirts and sheets, towels and skirts blowing in the breeze?
It could have happened, since that was National Hanging Out Day.
No, not hanging out in a mall parking lot, passing the time. It was a day to recapture a dwindling practice ­ hanging out the laundry.
When I was a child living in a New York City apartment, our laundry was sent out every week and returned to us washed, ironed and neatly folded. It probably went to a commercial service, although I never thought to inquire.
But my husband, Bob, recalls clearly the jovial laundress who received his family’s washing at her house in Texas, and hung it out on her lines to dry. When I asked Bob why his family didn’t use a clothesline outside their own home, he seemed startled.
“It would have been unsightly,” he said. Unsightly? Underwear and bedclothes deserved some privacy, I think he meant, and his home was exposed to the neighborhood.
It may have been a quest for privacy (or frequent rainy weather ­ or both) that gave impetus to the invention of dryers in England and France during the early 1800s. These dryers were usually ventilators, barrel-shaped metal drums with holes in them, turned by hand over a fire.
In the Unites States, a patent was granted to George T. Sampson in 1892 for a ventilator-type dryer using heat from a stove. Electric dryers appeared around 1915. I have no idea whether the commercial laundry my family used in the ’20s and ’30s had an electric dryer, but Bob’s laundress certainly did not.
However, electric dryers have come to be taken for granted in our privileged nation. Those people who feel appropriately concerned about conservation of fuel are gradually replacing their dryers with ones carrying an Energy Star rating that denotes low consumption of energy.
But to move forward significantly we need, ironically, to move backward. Throughout the ages, and in much of today’s world too, most people (usually women) have dried their washing by draping if over rocks near a stream, arranging it on tree branches, or hanging it over a line.
Yet line drying has become disdained in our nation, as thought it is a mark of economic failure. In fact, some residential developments forbid it.
This narrow-minded notion is being challenged by Project Laundry List, which has joined in partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to promote cold-water washing and air drying of laundry. According to Project Laundry List (, air drying offers benefits such as these (I have adapted them slightly):
* Saves money
* Clothes last longer (lint in the dryer attests to wear)
* Sunlight bleaches and disinfects
* Clothes and linens smell better
* Laundry doesn’t need careful timing
* Conserves energy and helps to offset climate change
* Provides moderate physical activity inside or out
* Offers a meditative experience
* Enhances neighborliness through over-the-fence conversations
* Indoor racks can humidify in dry winter weather
* Avoids the risk of fire (clothes dryer fires account for about 15,600 structural fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually
* Demonstrates that small steps can make a difference
This is the time of year to try it out. Please let me know what you experience.
This column was published in the Connecticut Valley Spectator on April 30th