A good, sturdy clothesline saves so much time and money, while a poorly-built one can be an endless source of frustration. Here are some tips for building a clothesline right the first time!
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Over the years, I've had many, many different clotheslines. From store-bought swiveling contraptions to hastily-built flunkies. From lines strung between trees, to the sturdy structure I have now.
As I was joyfully hanging out a load of towels the other day, it hit me that having a great clothesline is one of those things that's easy to take for granted if you've got one, but can be a huge frustration if you don't.
For anyone who goes through lots of laundry, and wants (or needs) to dry their clothes without electricity, having a truly sturdy and well-built clothesline is a game-changer.
If you happen to have tree trunks spaced nicely, in a sunny location, it's hard to beat that for both sturdiness and old-timey esthetic. I once had a lovely situation like this at a beach house I rented during the off-season on Martha's Vineyard. My clothes smelled like sunshine and the sea, and drying laundry on the line was truly a pleasure.
For those of us not currently blessed with this magical tree-and-sunshine scenario though, I have some tips from my long and varied experience with clotheslines, for building a setup that truly saves time, money, and energy, and that's a joy to use.
Tips for building better clotheslines
1. Make it large enough
For this busy mother of two little mud monsters, that means having enough feet of line to handle at least two full loads of laundry at a time. Even in the fall and winter when we're not getting so dirty in the garden, I find it very helpful to be able to fit two full loads of laundry on the line.
Over the years, I've found that 40' per load of laundry is a pretty good rule of thumb. (Keep in mind that a load with twin sheets, for example, takes more space than a load of adult-sized pants or overalls.)
That means that for my family, a clothesline with end posts 20' apart, holding 4 lines spaced about 6" apart, works very well for drying up to two loads of laundry at a time.
2. Use heavy duty materials
Our clothesline is built using 4" square posts, and 2"x"4"s. You don't want to go any lighter than this. Keep in mind that there's going to be quite a lot of weight pulling on the lines between the arms of your clothesline.
3. Choose sturdy construction plans
There are MANY construction plans out there for clotheslines. I suggest opting for a style that uses a solid piece of wood to create the arms, fitted behind the vertical posts (like this one).
In my opinion, arms that are formed from separate pieces of wood and nailed to the sides of the vertical posts, simply are not as sturdy as those made from a single cross-beam anchored behind the vertical post.
I also feel that cross-beams nailed to the tops of the verticals are not as sturdy as those anchored behind them, since the main pressure the arms need to withstand is an inward pull, from the weight of clothing on the lines, rather than a downward one.
4. Treat the wood for longevity.
To help reduce decomposition of the wood, I chose to paint my clothesline, including the full length of the timbers below the soil line. Building the whole clothesline with pressure treated or composite wood would be another option.
In recent years, there's also been a resurgence among online homesteading groups in the recommendation of charring as a way of treating the portions of the posts that will be underground. Interestingly though, most studies have shown charring to actually reduce the longevity of the subterranean wood, rather than having the desired effect.
5. Sink the posts deep, and use concrete
Keep in mind that I dish out this advice as someone who lives in Maine, where the ground undergoes extreme freeze and thaw cycles every year.
In dryer, warmer climates, securing clothesline posts with concrete may not be so necessary. But here in Maine, where the ground freezes, thaws, and gets pretty saturated with water every spring, it's an absolute necessity.
Use 10' vertical beams, so that you can sink 3-4' of that depth under ground. Your clothesline is going to withstand much more pressure than pretty much any fence, so don't sink it less deeply than you would a primary fence post.
I recommend also using a full bag of fast-setting Quickrete to strongly set each post. The relatively small investment of time and money that goes into setting the posts with concrete will prove more than worthwhile when you have a sturdy, two-loads-of-laundry clothesline that doesn't need to be "firmed up" every spring. This step is not one to skip.
6. Choose a sunny location if you possibly can
Not everyone has a sunny property, and sometimes there's just nothing you can do about that. I also understand that you might not want to give precious sunny space over to laundry, if much of your lot is shaded.
That said, clothing just dries faster in the sun. It also has a bleaching effect on laundry, which is something I appreciate since I'm terribly allergic to actual bleach.
If drying laundry as quickly as possible is a goal, aim for placing your clothesline in an area that gets at least partial sun in the middle of each day.
7. String your clotheslines as high as you can comfortably reach
I've found it really helpful to string my lines as high as I can reach without strain. Even well-tautened clothesline is going to stretch and sag a little bit with the weight of laundry. You want to be able to dry your sheets without having to fold them up more than once.
Pants dry faster if they're hung from the hem or waistband, than if they have to be folded over so they won't touch the ground.
Having a line as high as you can comfortably reach, is a good strategy for helping your laundry to dry as quickly as possible.
Some common clothesline questions
Do clotheslines really save money?
When I exclusively use a clothesline and not an electric dryer for drying our clothing, I estimate that it saves about $40 per month on our electric bill.
I would have to put a meter on my dryer (and I don't currently have a working dryer), to come up with an accurate and exact number.
BUT, I can say this. In the 7 years I've been living on our homestead, more than 14 months of that time have been spent without a dryer, and I pay very close attention to our electric usage--so that estimate is a pretty good one.
It is clothesline or clothes line?
Is clothesline one word or two? In the United States, it's generally spelled as one word: clothesline. Most English language dictionaries list it this way. An exception to this is the Oxford English Dictionary, which lists it as two words: clothes line. It seems that the two word usage may be more common in the UK, while the single word spelling is otherwise standard.
Is cotton, PVC, or vinyl clothesline best?
In my opinion, the vinyl-coated wire or PVC options are best for clotheslines. If you regularly hang heavy items, and it's important that your clothesline stretch as little as possible, the vinyl-coated wire would be your best bet.
For longevity, I prefer the regular white PVC clothesline. I find that it lasts for many years, doesn't stretch excessively, and (most importantly to me) doesn't harbor bugs' eggs, mold or mildew, like cotton clotheslines.
What type of clothes pins are the best?
When it comes to clothespins, you can choose from plastic, metal, or wood, and they come in quite a variety of styles.
Personally, I like using wooden spring-style clothespins. Some are much, much better than others. I haven't been able to justify buying some of the really expensive clothespins out there, though I can understand why folks would.
As a rule, the inexpensive wooden clothespins I've bought at the hardware store or feed store always tend to have pretty wimpy springs, and don't grip clothing as securely as I'd like.
I recently bought this 200 pack of wooden clothespins, and they have springs that are noticeably stronger than any others I've bought in recent years. As long as they don't change manufacturers, these are a good and economical choice, in my opinion.
Those are my best tips for creating a good, high-use, clothesline setup. After many years of using many different types of clotheslines, I've become pretty opinionated about them, as you can tell!
I hope these tips serve you well! If you also have strong opinions about clotheslines and have tips you'd like to share, please feel free to add them in the comments below. Questions I haven't answered? Drop those in the comments too, and I'll try to help!