NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Are clotheslines making a comeback?

By Donna Vickory
Chicago Sun-Times
July 10, 2010

All that's old is new.

The recession has reintroduced us to a lot of things: home cooking, gardening, the notion of saving money.

There are signs it may also be breathing new life into another once ubiquitous habit: hanging clothes out to dry.

For many generations, the clothesline was a colorful and necessary part of the American landscape. Then came the invention of the forced air dryer and, seemingly overnight, Americans opted for the faster, easier - albeit more expensive and less energy efficient - method of drying clothes.

No longer a necessity, clotheslines were deemed unsightly and even unwelcome in many parts. Some communities outlawed their presence. Some still do.

But in increasing numbers, the clothesline is reappearing. Clothesline holdouts and newcomers are taking pride in their efforts to save money, save energy or simply savor the great outdoors.

Judy Dunk, of Hometown, uses her clothesline all the time.

"My kids don't like the smell, though, so I usually throw their T-shirts in the dryer for about five minutes after I take them down. It's definitely nice to save on that gas bill once in awhile."

One of the first things Dunk's sister, Sue Foley Polgar, also of Hometown, did when she bought her house in 2001 was put a pole up with five lines.

"I hang out all of the clothes except towels, my husband's jeans and underwear. Sheets and pillowcases feel so fresh afterwards. Why pay Nicor when you can use Mother Nature?"

Soon after Claudia Krohn moved into her Orland Park ranch five years ago, she put up a clothesline.

"I've always loved the outdoors," she said. "I like to be able to be outside as much as I can."

During the ' 80s and ' 90s, the quest for convenience nearly rendered the clothesline extinct. An environmental crisis, followed quickly by the economic crisis, compelled many adults to rethink the price of convenience.

Everything's different now. Now we reuse grocery bags, we recycle paper and plastic and we make a conscious effort to buy food that is grown or raised close to home.

Now, simplicity and frugality are back in style. And, slowly, the clothesline is making a comeback.

Laura Lake Olewinski, of Tinley Park, is also a fan of making the most of Mother Nature's drying mechanisms.

"I always used a clothesline when we were first married (my mom always had one, so I thought it was commonplace)," Olewinski said.

"When we moved to Tinley Park, I didn't put one up right away, because none of my neighbors had one, and still don't.

"About three or four years ago, my kids convinced me to put up another clothesline because of all they had been hearing about global warming and the environment. I love hanging out clothes to dry - they smell wonderful, I feel like I'm helping the earth, and it helps me save money on my gas bill every summer."

Jennifer Hirsch, urban anthropology director at the Field Museum in Chicago, said there are lots of parallels between budget and environmentally-friendly actions. Erecting a clothesline, much like installing energy-efficient windows, doors and lightbulbs, is among such measures.

The museum addresses ways to reduce carbon footprints in a recently opened exhibit. Climate Change explores the science, history and impact of climate changes on oceans, atmosphere, land and societies and efforts to reduce global warming. The exhibit also provides tips for individuals who want to do their part.

Though estimates vary, some believe using a clothesline can save a homeowner $1,500 over the expected lifetime of a dryer, which is 18 years. The group Project Laundry goes so far as to project that if every American used a clothesline or drying rack, the energy savings would be enough to close several power plants.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a clothes dryer is second only to a refrigerator in the energy-consuming appliances in your home.

Certainly, the actions of one or even a few will not make a significant impact on climate change. Hirsch said her work lies in getting whole communities to get on board.

Easier said than done. Some cultures don't want to return to the old days, either because of the lack of convenience or because of a lingering stigma.

Getting people to cooperate means getting people to incorporate new ways of thinking. One way to do that, Hirsch said, is to get community role models or influential organizations to adopt your cause.

Discussing the idea in the mainstream media can also sway public opinion. A recent issue of Time magazine listed "51 Things We Can Do To Save the Planet." Among them, hanging laundry out to dry.

Will community leaders once again embrace the clothesline? It's not a ridiculous notion by any stretch. Actress Daryl Hannah uses one. So does artist Marian Dioguardi. Phyllis Morris, mayor of Aurora, Ontario, is a huge advocate of clotheslines.

Bob Sullivan, community development director in Orland Park, said he has not noticed an increase in the number of backyard clotheslines in his village, "But my next door neighbor has one."


Many upscale subdivisions and homeowners associations have rules forbidding clotheslines.

"Our declarations (documents governing areas of common interest) currently prohibit such use," said Rosemary Schrank, of Schrank and Associates, managing agent for the Crystal Tree and Southmoor subdivisions in Orland Park.

The only way to change such documents is with a super majority vote of the homeowners in the subdivision or condo complex, she said.

It's doubtful boards would incur the necessary attorney and recording costs for something like a clothesline, Schrank said.

"Honestly, I've never received one call asking if someone could install a clothesline," she said.

Joanne Litman, executive director of the Illinois Chapter Community Associations Institute, said, "People move into community associations so there is control over how their neighbors take care of their property."

While she says she understands that people today want to save energy, some also want common areas to be managed with consistency.


The group the Laundry Project lets you calculate how much money and energy you use by washing and drying your clothes with machines.

Call up the cost calculator and punch in your specifics - number of loads per week, kind of washer and dryer.

For a family of four laundering 10 loads a week - two in hot water and two in warm, the other six in cold - and using a gas dryer, the energy cost is $110.53 per year. Sixty-five percent of that cost is attributed to the dryer.

In terms of carbon dioxide and emissions, that amount of usage would eat up the equivalent of .11 of a forested acre.

To calculate your own costs, visit

Another reason not to put your jeans in the dryer

Levi Strauss & Co. is asking consumers to air their good green laundry ideas.

Green pioneers and inventors can submit original air-drying solutions as part of the company's "Care to Air" contest, with the chance to win $10,000 in prizes. The company is looking for the next generation of air drying design ideas that will improve or replace the typical clothesline.

Design ideas will be accepted until July 31, and winners will be announced August 16. For full details visit