Rows of colorful clothing flapping in a sunny breeze are no longer a common sight. The practice fell victim to the clothes dryer, the gas- or electric-powered machine nestled next to the washer. It did the job quickly, day or night, and in any kind of weather.
But as climate-change concerns and energy awareness grow, homeowners are getting reacquainted with the clothesline. Using free solar and wind energy instead of a dryer can prevent the emission of 1,500 pounds of greenhouse gases every year, some experts estimate, while saving a family of four up to $100 a year. The benefits don't end there. Line-dried clothing lasts longer because it's not repeatedly banging around in a tumbler, and, for the same reason, there's no static cling. Fresh air naturally sweetens clothing, towels and sheets _ no perfume necessary _ and the sunshine gently bleaches and whitens.
If you're new to the practice, check with your city or housing authority to learn of any restrictions on clotheslines. Some cities allow them only in back or side yards, and the practice may be banned in townhouses, condos or developments with covenants.
Clotheslines are sold at hardware and home improvement stores, and on the Internet (www.clotheslineshop.com, for example). They range in price from $25 to a couple of hundred dollars, depending on what you buy. Three basic types are available: the classic, a set of T-poles sunk into the ground with multiple lines strung between them; the space-saving umbrella type reminiscent of a spider's web that collapses and can be removed when not in use, and the retractable line or lines that, when pulled out, secure to a distant hook.
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If you are new to the task of outdoor drying, ask an elder for pointers. Otherwise, remember:
_ Shake out clothing before hanging to diminish wrinkles.
_ Hang heavy items at the ends of the line, where there's the most support.
_ Hang shirts and tops from the hem or tail so clothespin marks don't show. Put no-press tops and shirts on hangers and then secure to the line with clothespins.
_ Fold sheets in half and be sure they have room to flop out in the breeze. Drape over the line with the pockets of fitted sheets on the inside so they won't collect debris such as leaves.
_ Hang pants and jeans with the pockets pulled out.
_ Consider adding vinegar to the rinse (half cup per load) to prevent stiffness. Vinegar removes soap residues that cause stiffness and the odor disappears as clothing dries, so you won't smell like a pickle.
_ Some suggest hanging undergarments on the middle lines where they won't be seen by neighbors or bringing them in if there's a party next door.
Don't forget the clothesline's other benefits:
_ Sun and wind spell death to mold colonies, so use clotheslines to hang out musty or moldy items.
_ They're ideal for items that can't go into the dryer: rubber-backed throw rugs, extra-large blankets and car mats.
_ The sun can bleach out shadow stains (ghostly gray stains that sometimes haunt clothing after washing). But too much sunshine fades colors over time.
Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-9033, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies.