Let It All Hang Out: A Clothesline Buying Guide

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | May 20th, 2010 | 7 Comments
topic: Green Living, Healthy Home

Hanging Laundry on a CloselineI don’t know about you, but I love doing the laundry when it involves line drying the load outside instead of using the dryer. It’s part pure eco-satisfaction, and I love how fresh the clothes seem as a result. It also appeals to my frugal side, since line drying can save $135 annually.

Other reasons why I love line drying clothes:

  • It’s gentle on fabric.
  • Direct sunlight kills bacteria (good for cloth diapers) and dust mites (good for bedding).
  • Not running the dryer keeps the house cooler in the summer.
  • There’s no shrinking.

I just have one big problem: Our umbrella clothesline was destroyed by a big tree limb. So I’m shopping around for a replacement.

4 line-drying options

Here is my list of pros and cons as I ponder my options:

Umbrella clothesline — highest price tag, but most efficient

If I had the budget for it, this would be the no-brainer choice. Our old umbrella line could easily handle a big load, including sheets, quilts, etc. Maintenance-wise, I just had to wipe dirt and pollen off the lines at the start of spring. Since I don’t know how long we will stay in this house, and money is tight right now, I’m probably not going to go this route.

Retractable clothesline — discreet, but watch out for sag

This is probably the front-runner for me because I could attach one end to the house and the other end to the garage. And even though its placement could be in the way, that’s only when I have clothes drying. But I’ve been reading about a lot of sag issues with these, and I also wonder how long it takes before the retracting mechanism breaks. If it’s like our vacuum cord retractor, not long. On the plus side, the line stays clean since it’s not exposed to the elements all year.

Portable drying rack — perfect for small spaces and strict HOAs

I think a portable rack is always a good investment. It can be used inside in the winter and on rainy days. I’ve been lugging mine outside now, as well, until we get a more permanent solution. I have to be careful on windy days that it doesn’t blow over. And while it can handle a whole load, it can’t really handle sheets.

While not an issue for me, this might be the best option for people in restrictive HOAs, where clotheslines in public view are prohibited.

Nylon cord strung between two trees — cheap and simple if you have the space and the trees

This is the method that worked for my mom when I was growing up. We had a big yard with a few big trees at one end of it, so the clothesline wasn’t in the way of backyard Wiffle ball and Frisbee games. In my current home, we have a decent-sized yard, but (sigh) I can’t think of a good spot to hang a permanent line.

What’s your line-drying solution of choice? I would love any tips that could help with my dilemma.


  1. Thanks for the article. My husband is planning on making me a clothesline and I appreciate your buying guide. I had not considered the sagging issue with retractable lines, so that is good information. Though the umbrella seems like a great option, it is out of my price range. Most likely we will have the nylon cord, but that’s okay with me. I’m just looking forward to taking advantage of that hot sun, having the option not to use the dryer and saving on electricity.

    Allison | May 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Hi Ginny, I agree with you whole heartedly that line drying is the best if you have the space. I live in Texas and while we live on 8 acres, most of that is wooded which makes my biggest challenge where to put the line? I do have some suggestions for your sagging dilemma, however. When I was a child growing up in Canada, my mother always hung our laundry out to dry on a double clothesline. One end was attached to the corner of the house and another to a pole attached to the fence in the far corner of the yard. This line was a pulley system and she often hung laundry on both the top and bottom lines. To prevent sagging, she had this figure eight device that had a wheel on each end to connect the top clothesline to the bottom one. She usually placed this in the middle of her line once her laundry was up. Hope this helps!

    Alanna | May 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. From my experience the umbrella close line is best as it really holds the whole wash load. We live in a two family house with clothes lines on pulleys so you can hang wash out thefirst or second floor. There are gizmos you can use that look like a pulley with a hook that hang from the top clothes line to keep the bottom line from sagging too much when its full of clothes.
    My biggest problem is I usually do more than one load of wash a day. And if I really want to put the wash out to dry I need to get up early, run a load, and hang it out to dry before I take the kids to school or I go to work.

    Sarah | May 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. Hi Ginny
    Being originally from the UK, line drying is much more natural to me as well as the great smell as you said. The rotary line (umbrella line) is the most space saving and if you put it in carefully you should be able to take it with you when you move. Usually they come with a lawn stake for example. For a retractable line, which is what I use right now, I got it at Home Depot, very cheap and its now 5 years old and the mechanism sticks a little bit but otherwise still works. As far as sag, as long as you a) know how far down it will sag and have located a hook accordingly, or b) use a pole to put the line up higher, you should be good. Congrats on not wanting to use a dryer all the time, although I often use it to fluff towels when they are 80-90% dry. Pretty much everything else dries outside if I can manage it!

    Pip | May 30th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. Hi Ginny,

    I live in Queens NY, I use 2 or three drying racks that go from inside to outside. To prevent the racks from tipping over, I use 2 bricks on each side or the rack and balance the weight on the racks, they do not tip over. The racks I have have 2 arms that open up and the total top length is about 6 ft long, which is enough room to hang up sheets and comforters.

    Nancy | June 2nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. Thanks for all the tips, everyone. I finally got tired of our portable drying rack and found some small- to medium-sized trees to hang a 20-meter clothesline (in the form of a “v” between 3 trees). Did my first load on it this weekend! Pip, you are right… the line sags but not too bad. Someday I’d love to do the pulley from a second-floor window! Although, I do enjoy carting the basket outside on a nice sunny morning. :)

    ginny figlar colon | June 7th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Go to Home Depot and tell them you want to fix a clothesline. If you know someone who welds get some pipe and make 2 “T” shaped poles….Drill 2 holes on each end of the cross piece and screw in things with that look like stick with an O on top. I know these have names but right now it has left the building…lol Get the green clothes line wire. I can’t explain everything that you need but if you have a Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware or True Value they should be able to help you make a GOOD clothesline.

    Lisa | June 8th, 2010 | Comment Permalink

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