How to Use a Solar Clothes Dryer

laundry clothesline

Pin overlapped edges so laundry doesn’t blow up and down the line.

OK, this is probably offensive. I apologize to folks who are appalled that I would write a post on hanging out laundry. But here’s a sad fact. Many people who come to my house and ask what they can do to help me have no idea how to hang out clothes. They are used to just popping it in the dryer. On a sunny, breezy day, yet.

I like a dryer as much as the next girl if it is wet and cold out. I love to put on clothes warm from the dryer when it is cold in our bedroom. Dryers even remove a certain amount of lint from black clothes and leave bath towels soft and fluffy. Dryers are great for drying and fluffing pillows and down jackets.

But dryers suck immense amounts of power, which is expensive and bad for the environment, unless you have high tech solar panels or wind turbines. And you don’t. If you did, your lights would probably dim when you used the dryer. Plus drying laundry in the sweet air and sunshine makes it smell nicer, and bleaches and disinfects your clothes. Therefor if you have dark clothes that are liable to fade, dry them on a hanger in the shade.

OK, first you need your low tech solar clothes dryer. Read the rather apologetic post. Once you have all that in place, continue. If you can’t be bothered, make like a camper and hang your laundry on bushes.

While the Sun Shines.

OK, you can dry laundry in cold weather- I have peeled frozen laundry off the line and taken it indoors for a final fluff and dry- at least it saved some dryer time. But basically, if I see a nice sunny, breezy day, I think it would be fun to do some laundry.

hanging laundryObvious Logistics.

Take your laundry out in a basket with your pins in the bag I described how to make in the last post.

Clothespins bag

The bag gaps open so you don’t have to fight to reach the clothespins

Give larger items a good snap to shake out wrinkles as you hang them. My line is long and sags in the middle, and I don’t care to prop it up with a long, wackly pole, so I just hang short things in the middle. Long things like sheets, jeans, and overalls go at the ends. Thin things like sheets and shirts can be held overlapped with one pin. hanging laundry (2)This isn’t because I am too cheap  to buy pins, but so that the wind won’t blow everything up and down the line. You should try not to pin two thick things together as it will leave a wet spot. Just grab something thinner as you hang up the clothes.

hanging laundry

pull out pockets if it’s chilly

Thick things like jeans should be hung by the waist, because when I hang them by the hems, the water drips down into the thickest part of the jeans that are hardest to dry. Pull out the pockets. Shirts should be hung by the corners so the wind bellies them out like a sail; it blows the wrinkles out and you can hang socks and underwear in the space where it sags down in the middle. Dress pants I hang creased by the hems, but I suppose they would be just fine tossed in the dryer for 5 minutes with the very dark lint-loving clothes and then hung up. Dresses I hang by the hem so they belly out in the wind and dry without stiffness or wrinkles.

Fragrant and Clean

Curtains, sheets and pillowcases are obvious. If you only hang one thing, it should be your bed linens. The smell of air dried sheets is so wonderful! You will even sleep better! But you really should dry your socks and underclothes in the sunshine. The sun’s rays are free, non-toxic bleach and disinfectant. You can hang them facing backwards so they don’t look too public if your clothesline is in a place people can ogle knickers, -if you know such people. And one nice thing is that if you used to feel you needed to buy laundry detergent with perfume, you won’t need to anymore. God’s sweet air is nice enough.

How to make a Solar Clothes Dryer

hanging laundry

My line was sagging until I used a toggle to straighten it, as shown below.

If you are a handy person who has built several houses already, skip this post on how to set up a clothesline. Some folks who search my posts are handyman-handicapped, but it’s not their fault. They are handy-minded people who aren’t handy yet.

So here’s your low tech solar clothes dryer.

clothesline retractor

Retractable clothesline: Notice the round whatsit on top you lock the line around- if you loop it twice it holds better.

Clothesline, pole, hook.  You need a clothesline, and you can buy one with a nice plastic coated retractable line at the hardware store.  That makes it easier to tighten when it stretches and you need to take up slack.

Find a good spot. It will be easier if you can attach one end to a building, so you only need to sink one pole, but make sure it is not an area where people are always coming through. The WWF actually has a wrestling move called a “clothesline,” which involves sticking out your arm while your clearly myopic opponent stupidly runs into it and gets knocked out by a surprising blow to the Adam’s Apple. I have actually been clotheslined while galloping a pony bareback around our house when I was 14. Pretty descriptive reason not to put your clothesline where folks will get injured by it. It should obviously receive full sun and be open to breezes. If you live in a place where people you don’t know are constantly around, you might like to put it someplace less visible, so people don’t see underwear, etc., flapping around in the breeze. My aunt actually asked me not to put my clothesline where she would have to see it. Some of us need reminding….

post for clotheslineYou need to sink a post or two posts thick and strong enough to take the weight when the ground is soft and the laundry is heavy. A 4″x4″x 6′ would be a minimum. You can buy them with a cute finial at a Lowes or Home Depot type store. Would be nice to avoid a Big Box though. Dig a hole using a post hole digger. The link shows a how-to video. You can rent or buy one at the hardware store, or perhaps you have a neighbor who can lend you one. It is a good thing to have.  Lift it up and drop/thrust it hard into  the soil, then push the handles apart to take a bite out of the soil. Keep it going until you have a 12 inch hole at least. If you want to set it in Quickrete it will hold up better. Definitely use a rot-resistant wood like cedar, locust, or a pressure treated post.  Since you want your laundry line to be about 5 feet off the ground, and you know it will sag in the middle, you can’t use less than a 6 foot post. Use a level to make sure you are setting it straight. You should own a level, even if it is a small cheap one. It is quite simple. If you are packing it in dirt, pack it hard and let it settle for a few days. I pushed pieces of broken brick down the hole, and that seemed to work. If you are setting it in Quickrete, which is a ready-mix concrete powder, follow the directions and let it set.

Clothesline post with toggle

Clothesline post with toggle

Get a good strong hook while you are at the hardware store. It has a screw end and a hook end.  Using a power drill, (not too many of us have hand drills any more) drill a pilot hole using a drill bit that is slightly thinner than the screw end of your hook. A pilot hole is a hole that guides your screw in to where you want it to be. It is a bit smaller than the screw so the screw will be secure, but makes it easier than driving the screw into the wood without one. Screw it in by hand, twisting the hook end.

If you do not set your post in concrete, it will tend to lean in from the tension of the clothesline, which will make your clothesline sag.  In this case, get another hook with a threaded shank, drill another pilot hole on the other side of the pole, about opposite where the clothesline is attached. ( Notice I failed to do this.) Get a short, sturdy stake of some kind and pound it into the soil at an angle, using a hammer,  like a tent stake, at least 2/3 as far from the pole at the height of the pole. Not rocket science; just so it will hold. Rather than a rope, which will do, or a toggle bolt with two sections of rope, I used a packing strap of the kind you use to strap things to the roof of your car, with a toggle, so I could tighten up all the slack. It comes with handy hooks, as pictured.

Attach your clothesline by screwing the retracting clothesline housing shown above to the building or other post, tie a loop in the end of the line and loop it over the hook, and lock the line at the retractor. TA DA! Solar clothes dryer.

Clothespins bag

The bag gaps open so you don’t have to fight to reach the clothespins

To use your low tech solar clothes dryer, you will need clothespins. Buy 2 packs of wooden clothespins, a cloth grocery bag, and a double ended snap-on clip. Put the clothespins in the bag, attach the clip to the handles, and snap the other end onto the line. This way it can slide along with you while you hang out the clothes. Don’t leave it out in the rain though, as the bag and pins will mildew.