Line drying clothes isn’t just a thing of the past

Published 11:46 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2013

While getting freshly dried clothes out of the dryer, the clean smell brought back thoughts of other times when doing the laundry was more complicated and a lot more work.

When we first married, we started out with a stove, two chairs his parents gave us and a bed. There was no refrigerator, and there certainly was no washing machine. A dryer for the home had yet to be invented.

There were commercial dryers at the laundry, where they would wash, dry and fold your clothes for a per piece price, which was quite reasonable. This was way before coin-operated washing machines allowed you to go and wash and dry your own clothes.

So for a while we sent our dirty clothes there, and when we picked them up they were clean, dried and folded, but not ironed.

We finally purchased a wringer washer, and I was so proud! I should have been happy sending the clothes out to be done, but I was thrilled to be taking care of our clothes at home. No more bleach spotted towels and wash cloths. No more taking clothes and picking them up.

A clothes line in the back yard was my dryer. A damp cloth wiped across the line cleaned it before hanging up wet clothes. A bag slid along the line held wooden spring clothes pins, used to hold clothes on the line.

The breeze to dry the clothes was free as was the sunshine, which bleached the whites. Although they have tried, the smell of line-dried clothing and particularly household linens has never been duplicated by the makers of detergent or dryer sheets. If you’ve ever slept in a bed made up with sheets dried in the sunshine, you know what I mean.

The old custom of washing white clothes first was still in place. When women in my grandmother’s era laundered with wash pots, scrub boards and the same tubs for washing and others for rinsing, the white and lighter colors were washed first, with the darker clothes coming last.

It occurred to me that I still wash and dry whites first, pastels second and dark colors last. Old habits die hard.

When clothes were hung on the line it tended to sag, and a long pole, usually with a nail at the end to catch the line, was used to push the line up to keep the clothes from brushing the ground.

We were taught when hanging clothes first give the piece a good shake to help get rid of the wrinkles, then smooth it out with the hand. Less wrinkles, less ironing. I always took dry clothes in from the line in the afternoon and put them all on a bed before sorting, with some to be hung and others to be folded and put away.

Some had been starched and had to be sprinkled with water, rolled and placed in a pillow case before getting ready to iron, usually the next day. If it was warm weather, this could all be placed in the refrigerator to keep the damp clothes from becoming sour until they could be ironed.

My mother-in-law had several boys at home, so on wash day she used pants stretchers for all their jeans. This made for less ironing as the stretchers pulled the jeans into shape and even put a crease in the legs.

However, most things were cotton and had to be ironed. For a time I sent out our good clothes to be ironed on a per piece basis.

As I thought about the hard work of washing and drying clothes, we modern day people have it made. You put the clothes in the washer along with detergent, turn it on and the machine does the rest. When finished, you take out the clothes and put them in the dryer, turn it on and walk away until you hear the buzzer telling you it is finished.

Take out the clothes and either fold them or hang them up, and there’s very little ironing with modern fabrics. Just don’t leave them in the dryer. That’s asking for more work.

A lot of people have gone back to line drying their wash, saving the expense of running a gas or electric dryer. If you should decide to line dry your clothes and find the items stiff, you can always throw them in the dryer for a quick tumble. It will make the clothes nice and soft, and they will smell like sunshine and the great outdoors.

Just remember, if you want a sweet smelling wash, you have to hang clothes in a sweet smelling environment. They will absorb whatever is near. You should also shake them when taking off the line as little insects can find their way into your clean wash.

You might also look for spots on your clothes that are signs that birds have flown over. It can make you wring your hands and cry!

Retired Lifestyle Editor Bob Ann Breland, a resident of Pine, may be contacted at