Clothesline users of the world, unite!

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Today’s Wall Street Journal writes about how the trend of using a clothesline for the eco-friendly reason of using less energy is running up against many homeowner association rules designed to keep a neighborhood looking “nice.”

The clothesline was once a ubiquitous part of the residential landscape. But as postwar Americans embraced labor-saving appliances, clotheslines came to be associated with people who couldn’t afford a dryer. Now they are a rarity, purged from the suburban landscape by legally enforceable development restrictions.

Nationwide, about 60 million people now live in about 300,000 “association governed” communities, most of which restrict outdoor laundry hanging, says Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, an Alexandria, Va., group that lobbies on behalf of homeowners associations.

But the rules are costly to the environment — and to consumers — clothesline advocates argue. Clothes dryers account for 6% of total electricity consumed by U.S. households, third behind refrigerators and lighting, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. It costs the typical household $80 a year to run a standard electric dryer, according to a calculation by E Source Cos., in Boulder, Colo., which advises businesses on reducing energy consumption.

Alexander Lee, founder of clothesline advocacy group Project Laundry List in Concord, N.H., says the clothesline movement is “an outgrowth of interest in what-can-I-do environmentalism.” Mr. Lee says he gets more and more email seeking advice on how to hang a clothesline despite neighborhood covenants restricting them.

Ten states, including Nevada and Wisconsin, limit homeowners associations’ ability to restrict the installation of solar-energy systems, or assign that power to local authorities, says Erik J.A. Swenson, a Washington, D.C.-based partner at law firm King & Spalding LLP, who has written about the policies. He says it’s unclear in most of these states whether clotheslines qualify as “solar” devices. Only the laws in Florida and Utah expressly include clotheslines.

One can only hope that parking an abandoned car on top of cinderblocks in the front yard never creates an environmental advantage, because I’m pretty sure that homeowner associations don’t go for that either.

For more information, visit the Project Laundry List site.


  1. I always hang the wash out to dry. Its cheap and also bleaches whites. Thankful for the article and will remember not to move to a house with restrictions. Lower property values indeed: I have seen the wash hung out in the gardens of country estates, and behind Castles in England.

  2. Open-air dryed sheets are a luxury item. The neighbors here who use machine dryers are missing out on the wonderful experience when your face sinks into a sun-kissed pillowcase. (Unless of course they send their laundry to their maid’s house to be hung.)

  3. Apparently, our culture continues on its relentless quest to divorce itself from the physical realities of life on this planet. This laundry hanging issue ires me senseless.

    When I was growing up in Toronto Ontario, hanging a clothes-line was not a statement of social status or environmentalism – it was just sensible and practical. If somebody didn’t like looking at underwear flapping in the breeze, then that was their problem to get over.

    Now I find myself in Hawaii surrounded by highly-leveraged-nouveau-riches who’ve spent an exorbitant amount of money on houses they couldn’t afford. They appear to feel the need to enforce absolute conformity in the landscaping and design in a desperate attempt to insure their properties against loss of value. In the case of our subdivision, the rules were handed down from on high through a private company that poses as a “community association” (Hawaiiana) whose offices are located 50 miles away from our town. Nobody voted on these rules, and at the time many of the owners did not even reside in the subdivision itself.

    Maybe I’m imagining things, but wasn’t there a time in this country when a house and a yard was something primarily to live in; a place where one was (more-or-less) free to express one’s own sense of aesthetics. Apparently this is no longer the case.

    God forbid the day we all live in designer houses.

  4. I personally think sheets hanging and blowing in the wind are beautiful. I have been hanging my laundry for decades. I would hate to be restricted from doing so. Being a conservationist, I also compost, grow most of our vegetables, and have never owned an air conditioner (we live in the high desert of Idaho). I plan my driving routes to minimize gasoline use and drive a small truck that gets 30 mpg.
    Folks in most countries do not own clothes dryers.
    I would suggest to the lady who is having so much trouble with her neighbors that she hang her clothes after dark. She won’t get the benefits of the sun but she will get the fresh air smell. It works here in Idaho.

  5. In almost every other country besides the US, people hang their laundry to dry. Most people do not own a dryer or use it only when necessary. I have always hung mine outside, and was shocked when the landlord told me I couldn’t anymore.
    I was looking for alternatives to make the laundry process more green, and a friend told me about dropps. It’s a new detergent that comes in liquid packets that dissolve in the washer. I was amazed at how light the package is compared to the typical heavy plastic containers of detergent. I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to conserve water and packaging materials. They are also enzyme-free, so they don’t damage my delicates or irritate my kids’ skin. I found them at WholeFoods, and i think my friend usually orders them from

  6. ‘The eye of the beholder’ — to me, laundry drying naturally, in atmosphere and light is like the Tibetan Prayer Flag. It’s a prayer to the elements of our planet, our living space, that humans are embracing the impact of our abuse of resouces. This simple action may be the small thing that makes the big difference, especially when added to all those other simple steps.

  7. Hey-let’s try this-STOP REPRODUCTION NOW! (not the act though) By 2050 we’ll need about 9+or- planet earths if we keep making people. Sooo, how about -STOP REPRODUCTION NOW! Also. you can dry the cloths inside when it’s cold. Then you get a passive humidifier for your indoor air. Peas and Care alots, Daoboy Bob

Comments are closed.