Laundry Secrets from our Grandmothers: Best Ways to Line-dry

Of course you can hang your clothes any way y’all please, and they will still dry.  But I love the traditions and arcana of homekeeping.  Our mothers and grandmothers and our grandmothers’ mothers all learned particular ways to line-dry their laundry, and many of their methods result in better-looking clothes (no Pointy Shoulders!), speedier drying times, and even softer towels.  Plus people keep asking me about such things, and I realize many of my generation and younger have never hung clothes out to dry, and have questions about what works best (certain husbands who have been making sweet efforts, but nevertheless return their wive’s t-shirts with wrinkly lines down the middle, shall remain nameless).  So here’s a little line-drying tutorial, gleaned from the wisdom of women far more experienced than I:

  • p1010273Hang shirts, dresses, nightgowns, or anything else with sleeves from the bottom, not the shoulders (or they’ll look like they have 80s shoulder-pads).
  • Light sleeveless tanks and camis may hold their shape better if hung from the shoulders; just clip the very tops without folding over.
  • Hang trousers from the waistband.  If they are too long or heavy, you can clip the cuffs up onto the line just outside of the waist
  • For delicate cotton sweaters or other tops that you don’t want to clip, thread pantyhose through the armholes and pin those to the line.
  • Wet towels are heavy; folding them over helps keep their shape.
    Wet towels are heavy; folding them over helps keep their shape.

    Hang towels from the short end, folded over about three inches.  Give them a sharp snap in each direction before hanging, and again when taking them down to make them a little softer.  (Why does this work? Any physics teachers out there?)  Adding a quarter cup of white vinegar or baking soda to your wash cycle will also help soften towels.

  • Fold sheets in half, then pin the corners of the hemmed, open end to the line.  Pin opposite sides of the hem in different places so air can flow through the middle.

    Sheets like so...
    Sheets like so...
  • Our grandmothers learned to hang socks from the toes, but I can’t see that it makes a difference.  It does help drying time to clip socks and skivvies to the line, though, rather than just draping them over (which is tempting–it’s faster).  If you drape them, the middles take longer to dry, and they often blow off.   I like to shake the smalls to the bottom of the basket, then hang them all together.  Socks can be hung in pairs–it’s pretty easy to find them in the basket as you go.  Then you can just fold them as you take them down, and save sorting time.
  • You may want to hang colored-things wrong side out, and out of direct sunlight.  Most things are fine for a few hours, but whole days of bright sun can cause fading over time.

Any other line-drying tips?  Please share!


  1. Mary Jo

    Few things make me happier than seeing laundry on a line. We use a big loop of line (100 feet of line gives 50 feet of hanging space) between two weatherproof pulleys. That way I can stand at one end and pull the laundry to me. (Think depression-era tenement house technology.) In bad weather, we dry laundry inside over our loft railings. Soon our dryer will go the way of our dishwasher — pretty much unused.

  2. Kelly

    I am a physics teacher, and I think the snapping technique simply keeps the cotton fibers, along with a little residual detergent in the water, from binding to each other. Normally, the agitation of the dryer would do this.

  3. Project Laundry List is a nonprofit that fights anti-clothesline ordinances by helping to pass city or state legislation that invalidates such ordinances:

    You can also see which cities and states have the “right to dry” and urge the First Family to line dry occasionally by visiting

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    1. Bonita O'Dacre

      Anti-wrap-around clothesline devise.
      I need “clothes weights” or something to weight down the sheets and towels preventing “line-wrap-around” on windy days. The spouse has set his “Fred Flintstone” brain to work on this, as yet unsuccessfully.
      Where’s that physics teacher?

  6. Hi Lyanda,

    New to your blog, but heard you on KUOW some time ago. Our family took a 10 day trip to Yellowstone with only 5 days of clothes and washed everything in the sink in the trailer and line-dried in just 2 hours at a campground. Tips include getting the kids to really wring the heck out of everything. We also took advantage of the wind which dried things faster than direct sunlight. Regards, -G

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