Photo credit: Professor Bop
Alrighty, folks. Time for another monthly frugal Action Item. This month, in honor of springtime (in the northern hemisphere), it's back to frugal basics with a call to get yourself a solar laundry dryer. That's what we call a clothesline around here. Solar dryer sounds so fancy though, doesn't it?
Clotheslines have become contentious issues in the appearance obsessed US. This may be difficult for some overseas visitors to believe, but we have numerous homeowners associations over here that forbid the hanging of laundry on clotheslines, or even draping towels over balcony railings. Essentially this boils down to snobbery; the assumption being that only poor people would willingly hang their laundry up to dry outside, rather than use an expensive to buy and expensive to operate dryer. And who wants their largest investment associated, by proximity, with poor people? Needless to say, I despise HOA's that discourage any practice so harmless, so frugal, and so responsible in the use of non-renewable and polluting energy. (Most electrical generation in the US comes from coal. Hardly a green energy.)
Nonetheless, I know some readers have to deal with such monumental stupidity from a HOA. Others don't have any property on which to install an outdoor clothesline. I myself don't have one outside either. So I'm going to talk about ways of air drying your clothes without going outside. By all means, if you have the space and you want one, get yourself an outdoor line. But also consider the advantages of an indoor system. To list a few:
- Save money year-round.
- No need to carry a heavy basket of clothes anywhere.
- Clothes don't get coated with allergenic yellow dust during pollen season.
- Sub-freezing weather or precipitation won't make any difference to the laundry routine.
If space is tight, there are still ways to hang your laundry indoors. Some popular options include the collapsible folding wooden drying racks, or retractable clothes lines. If you go for the drying racks, I recommend getting at least two. A full sized load of laundry in my house will not fit on one rack. Retractable clothes lines can be discreetly installed in a shower stall, where clothes can hang over the tub, on hangers if need be to maximize the use of space.
Another trick I use is to hang my "smalls" with clothespins from the downward facing edge of rubber-coated wire shelving in my laundry room. The shelving is right over my laundry machines, but socks and underwear are short enough that they hang freely. This saves room on the drying rack and indoor clotheslines for larger items. If you've been wanting more storage space in your home, consider this added benefit if you go with this fairly cheap form of shelving.
You can buy ready made retractable clotheslines at the store. Or you can fire up your creative juices and come up with a hanging line on your own. Though I have retractable clotheslines, I find I never retract them. You may end up doing the same, so your homemade setup could be quite simple. Coming up with your own indoor clothesline is likely to be by far the most frugal option. Though wooden drying racks are great and will last for decades, they're still more expensive than some nylon rope and a few hooks to anchor the rope.
The Fine Print
I confess to using the dryer for almost every load of laundry I do. But wait! Before you write me off as a hypocrite, I don't use it to dry the clothes, only to soften them up once they are dry (avoiding the curse of the crunchy towel), and to remove a portion of cat hair. All that takes is five minutes on the unheated "air fluff" cycle. Hardly any energy used for that. And since all the clothes are dry by the time I put them in there, I can really overfill the dryer. So I usually batch two loads in the dryer at a time. Since dry clothes don't weigh much and I'm not asking the dryer to do much work at all, the machine doesn't break down.
If you live in a humid area, or if you do a lot of laundry, be mindful of the risks of adding more humidity to your home by drying indoors. Moisture is slow death for buildings, which is why bathrooms have ventilation fans. So open windows when you dry indoors, or when that doesn't make sense, consider aiming a low fan at your laundry. This will cost a little bit of electricity, but far less than a dryer. It will not only dry your clothes faster, but will disperse the humidity throughout a larger area, rather than allowing it to build up and cause damage over time. On the other hand, if you live in a very dry environment, hanging your laundry to dry inside may save you money in more ways than one. If you normally run a humidifier, hanging wet laundry inside may allow you to turn off that appliance.
If you truly live in a minuscule home, then even finding space to dry some of your laundry is better than nothing. If a few of your clothes hang from the shower curtain rod to dry, you won't need to run the dryer quite as long as you would otherwise. If you absolutely must use a dryer, be diligent about cleaning out the filters, exhaust system, and lint trap so that it works as efficiently as possible and to extend the life of the machine.
Advanced Action Item
Like last month, I'm not offering an alternative, but an additional challenge. I really believe that air drying or solar drying laundry is within the reach of most people. If solar or air drying your laundry is old news for you, consider whipping up a batch of homemade laundry detergent. Homemade laundry detergent is a fun and easy project for kids, because you get to make a cool looking gel. You can also play around with adding fragrance with aromatic herbs from your garden, or with essential oils that you purchase. You'll not only save money, but also save the energy of hauling home a heavy powder or liquid detergent, as well as spare the Pacific plastic gyre yet another new addition. Or try switching to vinegar for your fabric softening and static cling reduction needs. Just add some directly to the wash as you would a store-bought fabric softener. It's cheaper and much less toxic than most alternatives. And if you happen to have an apple tree, you could actually make your own vinegar from apple scraps, for free!
New to these monthly Frugal Action Items? Catch up with more here:
January: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs & Hot Water Pipe Insulation
February: Kitchen Competence
March: Rein In Entertainment Spending
April: Go Paper-less
June: Raise the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
October: Preventative Health Care
November: Frugal Holiday Wish List
December: Plan Next Year's Garden