Deborah E. Gauthier: Sun-dried laundry

Deborah E. Gauthier

Most of us of a certain age have clothesline memories. Helping mom hang the laundry, one clothespin at a time, and feeling oh so important; the distinct sound of sheets flapping in the breeze; pleasantly rough towels; the comforting odor of line-dried linen when we climb into bed at the end of the day.

My lasting memory of clotheslines isn't a pleasant one, however. Pajamas fresh from the line sheltered a hornet in the waistband. I put on the pajamas. The hornet, angry over the intrusion, stung, and stung, and stung some more.

I screamed and bounced around the room like the Mexican jumping beans we played with at the time. My skinny, 9-year-old body swelled to enormous proportions. It was a rush to the hospital and I swear to this day the needle delivering serum to counteract my body's reaction to the stings was 10 inches long.

Never again did I trust line-dried clothing, though there was no choice at the time. Clothes dryers were for the rich. Saturday was wash day and every yard in the neighborhood was a kaleidoscope of color and cacophony of flips and flaps and slaps as clothing dried in the wind and children played chicken with the blowing sheets.

With the advance of cheap appliances and cheaper energy, those days went the way of the dinosaurs. Clothes dryers became the norm and many communities today even forbid the use of clotheslines, though there's movement in many states to have those bans lifted, and with good reason.

In the 21st century, energy costs are rising quicker than the global temperature and just like dinosaurs resurrected through the use of DNA in the fantasy film Jurassic Park, clotheslines are making a comeback.

My youngest daughter spent a significant amount of money on a clothesline that folds up into almost nothing when she's done. She uses it on her deck and her neighbors, some of whom might complain though there is no ban, are none the wiser.

With four children and an endless amount of laundry, she's saving energy and money. "Mom, you should be doing it too," she said. My husband agreed, though it will be a cold day in Hades before he hangs a load of wash.

When we bought our house more than 35 years ago, a pulley clothesline stretched from the second-floor bathroom window to a large tree at the other end of the wooded back yard. After a few hours on the line, clothing more often than not had to be re-washed because of bird poop.

When we could afford it, I jumped at a chance to buy a clothes dryer and I've never looked back. Until now.

Given the state of the world and my budget, I know it's time to rethink the way I run the household. I don't worry about the opinion of neighbors - we don't live in a fancy condominium or high-brow development.

And since the old clothesline days, we've taken down several trees in the yard so we receive more sun and less bird droppings. A line on the deck is easier on the back than hanging outside a window and it can easily be taken down if company is coming and I want the deck to look nice.

I'm not fully committed to line-drying, however. It seems to take forever for a pair of blue jeans to dry on the line, and I no longer take pleasure in rough and scratchy towels. They still go into the dryer.

According to Project Laundry List, the average household saves as much as $100 a year by not using a clothes dryer, at the same time conserving energy and helping the environment.

Not only that, clothes smell better, last longer (You know the thick slab of lint you take off the dryer filter after every use? That lint is tiny bits of clothing), there's no annoying static cling, and less ironing is required.

Hanging laundry burns calories, and sunlight bleaches and disinfects.

It isn't likely that clothes dryers will disappear from the average home, but the world is changing, and if we want to leave a healthy planet to our children's children, we've got to change with it.

Hanging laundry seems a sensible place to start. Just beware stinging insects.

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Deb Gauthier can be reached at