A Clothesline Can Save BIG Money, Energy and Carbon Emissions

Updated August 2014

Years ago nearly every home had those old T-shaped clothesline poles in the back yard, and most clothes drying was done by line drying. Even people who had a dryer would only use it on rainy days or in the winter. Today, line drying is fairly rare in the United States. This is very unfortunate for the environment because the electric clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the household. It’s estimated that six to ten percent of residential energy is used running clothes dryers.

There’s a building movement underway to return Americans to line drying. One example is Project Laundry List is a non-profit organization that aims to making air-drying laundry acceptable and desirable as a simple and effective way to save energy. In 1998 they created National Hanging Out Day to demonstrate how it’s possible to save money and energy by using a clothesline. Every year it’s celebrated on April 19th, and this year hundreds of organizations from around the country will educate communities about energy consumption.

At Simple Ecology we’ve calculated the personal and environmental costs of clothes dryers, in terms of money, energy fuel and carbon emissions. The numbers are staggering! Let’s review some of the main points.

Energy costs for clothes drying:
The typical household dries over 400 loads of clothes per year, and 80% use electric clothes dryers. Looking at the average power consumption and power cost, it equates to over $120 per year for electricity to run your clothes dryer. You might ask, what about gas dryers? Industry experts state that gas dryers are 25% to 50% less costly to run than electric models, but the initial dryer cost is higher. So in either case, the cost is considerable.

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Energy resources consumed to generate the power:
The most commonly used fuel for electric power generation in the United States is coal, over 2½ times more than natural gas or nuclear. Looking at the amount of electricity consumed by your dryer and the coal needed to generate that power, we’ve calculated that nearly 900 pounds of coal will be burned to generate the power for your electric dryer every year.

Carbon emissions created by the power generation:
We’ve calculated the carbon emissions created from coal power generation. It equates to nearly 2300 pounds of CO2 emissions each year. A mature tree consumes about 50 pounds of CO2 in one year, so it will take about 46 trees to offset the CO2 emissions from electric clothes drying by each household.

It’s a no-brainer; line drying clothes will save both money and the environment.

If you line dry your clothes just
you can save over $60 in a year. We’ll burn 450 pounds less coal and save 1150 pounds of CO2 emissions…

the work of 23 Trees!

Click  to see our detailed calculations and data sources.

Selecting the Right Line Drying Solution for You
Once we made the decision to try line drying. It seemed like it would be very easy… BUT it wasn’t at all. The first decision was; what type of clothesline would be best suited for us. We found that there are four basic types: the old fashion permanent T-pole line that my mom used for decades, the freestanding rotary (umbrella) clothesline, the fold down clothes drying rack and retractable clothesline units. Since we have a small back yard, we decided on a retractable clothesline that could easily be put away when not in use. I also really like the fact that the retractable clotheslines keep the line rolled up and clean. Depending on your situation, you may need a different type.

I searched the local hardware stores and home centers and found that they carry a very limited selection of the “cheap & flimsy” products. The retractable units had plastic housings, very thin lines and weak springs. The prices ranged from $15 to $55 so I guess you get what you pay for. These products may work for occasional use but they are NOT a solution for regular use. In the online reviews of these units, many customers are very disappointed. I decided that if I’m going through the trouble of installing a clothesline, I’d like it to last for a few years. I researched online for quite a while, mostly running across the same products of the hardware stores.

I finally stumbled upon a company from Australia. Hills Industries Ltd. has been around for over 50 years. They make “industrial” strength products like hoists, trolleys and wheelbarrows. It turns out they are gaining quite a following among the “Aussie” celebrity set, with endorsements from Rachel Bilson, Matthew Rhys, Olivia Newton-John and Dannii Minogue. They were available through Amazon.com so I ordered a unit.

We chose the Extendaline Quatro 4 model, which has 4 clotheslines that extend up to 20 feet in length. Since we tend to wash a couple of batches a few times a week, I thought this model would provide us with enough drying capacity. Most of the time it does, but now I wish that I'd gotten the larger unit. It would come in handy when we wash sheets and towels. The Extendaline Sietro 6 model provides 6 clotheslines that extend up to 21 feet in length.

The package arrived within a week. I was very impressed with the sturdiness of the Hills unit. It has a steel cover and the clotheslines are much thicker than the "cheap" units. The lines roll up on individual reels, rather than one, and the springs are very strong. It’s really simple to install. I attached the main retracting unit to our back patio wall, right next to the door, with two lag screws. The receiving bracket attached to a pergola post about 18 feet away with two more lag screws. We set the clotheslines about 7 feet high so our dogs don’t hit the hanging clothes when they are drying. The Extendaline was ready to go in less than 30 minutes.

We are extremely happy with our new retractable clothesline drying solution. The fall weather was beautiful so we used it most of the time. During the winter months we were able to line dry when the weather was nice. Now that spring is here, we are using it most of the time. I would estimate that we’ve line dried about two-thirds of the time. I’m now looking to add an indoor clothesline or clothes drying rack for drying at night or when the weather is bad. Line drying is easy, the cloths smell great and we are saving money on the electric bill, PLUS it’s great way to be more eco-friendly.

2014 UPDATE:   After more than 5 years of use our Hills clothesline is still going strong.  Hills has updated the models, they're now called the Extenda 4 and 6, but the pictures and specifications look very similar to our model.  They are available through Amazon.com and a number of other online stores.