The simple laundry lesson Americans should be copying from Europeans
Europeans think Americans are missing a trick when it comes to fresh-smelling laundry and lower energy bills
The dryer has been a fundamental part of the American laundry routine for decades, so much so that the appliance has become synonymous with the US around the world. However, it may not be the best way of drying laundry, and such a strong reliance on the appliance has often left Europeans baffled.
While there is no denying that there are some serious cultural differences at play here, there is one lesson that Europeans think Americans should pick up on for doing laundry – and that is hanging clothes outside to dry in the sun.
There are some important caveats to note when line drying, however. Here is how to do it properly and why more of us should give it a go.
Why you should start line drying laundry
Line drying laundry is the oldest way of drying clothes and linens, and Europe has clung to the practice far more than the US – but why?
‘Line drying offers several benefits, but many rely on tumble dryers for convenience and speed. Americans value their time, and tumble drying can dry clothes quickly and easily,’ begins Kay Escobia, laundry expert at Liox laundry services.
‘However, the benefits of line drying should not go unnoticed,’ she adds. ‘As someone in the laundry industry, the convenience tumble drying offers come at a cost. The cost of running a tumble dryer is only getting higher with rising energy prices.
‘Europeans use line drying and take advantage of the sun's heat instead,’ Kay explains. ‘By line-drying clothes, they can save money on their utility bills, reduce their carbon footprint, and extend the lifespan of their clothes. So, if you are in a state with plenty of sunshine and low humidity, it is more efficient to line dry clothes outdoors.’
One thing to note about line drying in the US, however, is the potential for upsetting your local homeowner association. Some HOAs in the US frown upon line-drying laundry outside as it looks ‘cheap’ or lessens the appearance of the neighborhood. While in reality, this is a cultural implication deeply rooted in the idea that a tumble dryer is a sign of prosperity, it is important to check in with your HOA before you go putting your laundry out in view of the neighborhood.
The benefits of line drying your clothes
Besides saving money at home, there is a vast array of benefits when it comes to line-drying clothes - especially if you avoid any line-drying mistakes.
For example, if you want to ensure you avoid shrunken clothes, then line drying is the best way forward, says Carmen Lopez, retail and garment expert, and founder of Current Boutique. Line drying dramatically extends the life of your clothes and linens by preventing the fibers from weakening, shrinking, or snapping – which also results in less lint and pills that make your clothes look older quicker.
‘Extending the life of your clothes will not only save you money but also help your items look and feel as impeccable as the day you bought them – there’s a reason vintage clothing is always trending, a garment that is well-lived is a garment well-loved!’ Carmen says. ‘Also, if you choose to line dry your clothing outside, you also get the added benefit of getting fresh air at the same time.’
Carmen Lopez has over 15 years of experience in the retail industry as the owner of a national designer second-hand and vintage clothing business. She has provided commentary for national media outlets such as InStyle, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and TODAY.com.
How to line dry clothes properly
Line drying your clothes and linens is simple and far less complicated than trying to work out a tumble dryer temperature guide, or understanding laundry symbols.
To line dry, all you will need is a strong outside line in a breezy area and some good clothes pegs, at Amazon, says Carmen Lopez, garment expert. It is best to situate this line in a semi-shaded area to prevent too much sun bleaching or fading your laundry as it dries, she says.
- Run a spin and drain cycle to remove excess water: ‘To hang your clothes to dry, you should start by running a spin and drain cycle on your washing machine to remove a little more water from the laundry before hanging it out,’ advises Millie Hurst, section editor for Homes & Gardens. ‘This helps the laundry dry a little quicker and makes it lighter, so as not to put too much strain on the line.'
- Shake the clothes out and use pegs to secure them into place: When hanging the clothes out, shake them out a little as you pull them from the basket to loosen them out of their wrinkled balls and hang the garment over the line, overlapping a few inches before securing them into place – you want to avoid doubling the clothing over the line completely as this will slow down the drying process. You can hang tops and jumpers from the bottom, rather than the shoulders or arms to prevent them from stretching,’ Millie adds.
- Once dry, fold right away: ‘Lastly, when items are completely dry, remove them from the clothesline to avoid wrinkling and fold them right away,’ says garment expert Carmen Lopez. You should be able to smell the freshness already as you take them down and might be able to notice the lack of wrinkles too – making it easier to steam or iron the garments before use – if they need de-wrinkling at all, that is!
- Use an 'octopus' to hang delicates: As for your delicates or smaller items like cleaning cloths, you can use a clothes octopus, at Amazon, to peg them together and either hang them outside somewhere discreetly or hang them in a warm area of your house.
Clothes Octopus | $19.99 at Amazon
This small peg clothes octopus is great for hanging smaller items together that you don’t need to hang with a large peg on a washing line. I use one myself at home, and it has been the perfect laundry companion.
Millie Hurst is Section Editor at Homes & Gardens, overseeing the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. Millie has written about and tried out countless cleaning and DIY hacks in the six years since she became a journalist, and has worked in both London and New York.
Is it better to let clothes dry naturally?
In many cases, allowing clothes to dry naturally on a rack or line will help to prevent wrinkles, reduce the risk of shrinking clothes, prevent premature wear-and-tear, and save you money on bills, making it more advantageous to hang your linens outside to dry in the sun than it is to put them in a tumble dryer.
What clothes should be line dried?
Certain quality fabrics such as 100% cotton, silks, and wool are best left to line dry rather than put in the tumble dryer to help the garments maintain their shape and prevent stretching or shrinking. Line drying can also help the fabrics to last longer.
Line drying may come with some baggage in the US, but the long list of advantages means it is something that should certainly be considered. Check with your HOA first, or dry in a secluded spot in your backyard, and give this culture shock a go this summer.
Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for six months, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.
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