Monday, March 26, 2012

Clothesline 101: How to Get Softer Line-Dried Clothes

Spring makes me giddy. The boys and I have spent the last couple days out in the garden, digging, planting, and playing in the mud. How we've needed some fresh air in our lungs and some dirt under our fingernails! One other thing I've been looking forward to through the winter months: the return of the clothesline. I'm telling you, I've missed that sweet dried-on-the-clothesline smell!

A couple years ago when I decided to start hanging our clothes outside to dry, my husband was a little less enthusiastic about the idea than I was. He hated how stiff clothes get when they're dried on a clothesline. To be honest, I felt the same way, but having that line-dried, fresh air smell on our clothes and sheets was worth it to me. {I still don't line dry my towels, though.}

So I understand why some people would skip clotheslines because of the stiff clothes, especially when we're all so used to soft and fluffy laundry. There are ways to keep your laundry from feeling like cardboard when line-drying. Granted, these solutions won't make your clothes feel exactly like they do when they're warm and soft from the dryer, but they do make a difference.

Solution #1 -- Vinegar
Ah, vinegar. *sigh* Is there anything it can't do?  I've been using vinegar in place of dryer sheets and fabric softeners for a couple years now. Vinegar is a natural fabric softener. I keep a jug of white vinegar in my laundry room and whenever I do a load of laundry, I pour about 1/4-1/2 cup of it into the washing machine's agitator (where the fabric softener dispenser is). If your machine doesn't have a designated spot for the fabric softener, you can just pour in the vinegar during the rinse cycle yourself or use one of those fabric softener balls. Don't worry: adding vinegar to your washing machine will not leave your laundry smelling like a salad. The vinegar smell disappears once the clothes are dry.

Using vinegar on your line-dried laundry does help with softening it a bit, but your laundry may still have the roughness and stiffness. Enter Solution #2....

Solution #2 -- The Dryer
It seems odd to use your dryer, I know. Doesn't that defeat the purpose? Nope. Last year, when I mentioned how stiff and rough my baby's line-dried diapers were, my mom suggested doing what she did for years (after my grandma suggested it to her) and throw them in the dryer before hanging them. I'd always heard of tossing laundry in the dryer after they were on the line to soften up dried clothes, but I never did it. When I take my laundry off the line, I usually like to fold it right there and put it the basket (folding laundry is much nicer outside in the sunshine, you know?).  Putting it in the dryer before I put it on the line made more sense to me. So, lately, I've just been putting it in the dryer for ten minutes on the 'fluff' setting. This way, it's not heated and uses hardly any energy, so as not to defeat the money-saving purpose of line-drying altogether.

But does it really make a difference? Does the extra step make clothes softer?  I did some quick tests just make sure. I mean, I was doing the laundry anyway...

First, I tried it with two of my son's shirts. The green shirt was fluffed in the dryer and the orange one was put directly on the line after I took it out of the washing machine. Was there a difference? I'll be honest: not much of one. I had my husband close his eyes and tell me which one was softer: he chose the green one, though he also said that it was "just barely softer."

So tried it again the next day with a batch of cloth diapers.  The diaper on the left was put in the dryer, the one on the right was put directly on the line. I didn't take this picture at an angle -- the straight-from-the-washer diaper was more bunched up and wrinkled than the other, making it look smaller.

Up close, you can see the difference between the two (I took this picture at about the halfway-dry point). The diaper on the right is a lot more stiff and holding all those wrinkles in place.

{Sidenote: the house behind mine is for sale. There have been tons of people looking at the place over the last few days. Of course, right when I was busy taking pictures of wet diapers on a clothesline, I looked up and saw some prospective neighbors looking directly at me, most likely wondering what kind of weirdo takes pictures of wet diapers on a clothesline. Nice.}

Once the diapers were dry, I brought them in for the final test. The diaper on the right, the one that was taken straight from the washing machine, was definitely more stiff than the other. You can actually see how it held its shape on the clothesline by the way the top-center of the diaper sags in the middle like it did while it was hanging. The diaper on the left, the one fluffed in the dryer first, is still a little stiff, but not nearly as much as the other. The difference between the two diapers was much more noticeable than it was with the shirts.

Solution #3 -- Ignore it.
That may seem like not much of a solution, but it is. Sure, the stiff clothes bugged me a bit at first, but it's really not a big deal anymore. Everyone in my house is pretty used to it. Once you've worn the line-dried clothes for a little while, the stiffness goes away anyway. Plus there's a trade-off in all of it: you might not have the softness the dryer produces, but you get that wonderful smell of clothes dried in the sunshine and the breeze. Oh yeah, and it saves money, too (almost six percent of your annual household energy usage). Seems like a pretty decent trade-off to me.

7 comments:

Josh and Sharalee said...

I'm definitely going to try popping some of my diapers in the dryer before hanging next time and see, what a great idea! Loving that I can actually get them back out on the line with the weather being ideal in Nebraska again :-)
Thanks for the tip!

Angie said...

I usually run the fluff cycle after line drying. Not only to soften, but also to beat the pollen out so we can actually wear our clothes without having allergy fits. On low pollen days though, I just fold. Especially sheets...I *love* sleeping on fresh line dried sheets.

Heather said...

That totally makes sense about the pollen. And I completely agree about sheets from the clothesline -- sleeping on them is divine!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

I don't mind the stiffness EXCEPT with my newborn's diapers. For kitchen towels, bath towels, rags, under shirts, kids' clothes, and prefolds for anyone over 6 months I don't care enough to do the dryer first. But maybe I'll try this with my baby's diapers. I haven't been line drying them b/c it was too sad to put the stiff crunchy diaper over her soft bum. And I totally agree -- better to do the dryer first. I also like to sort/fold clothes straight off the line. But I confess, I've been lazy this winter and with the new baby -- mostly using the dryer.

Jana @ Collected Quotidian said...

The simplest solution for me, especially for diapers and towels, is to give the clothes a good snap along both sides (the short end and the long end). I'm not sure why this helps, but it does. And it's ever so satisfying.

dznangl said...

I actually like the stiffness in MOST of my stuff... the towels though, NO. Plus we have animals, the dryer takes the fur/dust/hair from the towels where hanging them to dry and doing the tried-n-true whip/snap isn't enough. Today I've told the man the dryer has to get hooked up. I'm so trying this fluff idea, thanks!!

Unknown said...

I have been adding just a bit of baking soda to the wash and then hang the load in the sun. Now curious to know if vinegar is more effective.

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