Using Your Clothesline in Winter

By Rachel
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My husband came home after getting the mail and said that our electricity bill has been high the last few months. His first thought was that we should start unplugging things after we were done using them (which we should). My first thought was, “The dryer…” It has been cold and wet since the end of October in our area, so I have had to dry our clothes in the dryer.

I only launder our clothes every other week. Thankfully my husband has a uniform service at work, so that cuts down my washing duty significantly. However, we use prefold cloth diapers; currently all three of our little ones are in diapers. I wash diapers three days a week on average, then I dry them in the dryer in winter — sometimes it takes two cycles in the dryer to fully dry the diapers since they retain moisture so well. In the spring, summer, and fall months, all my laundry goes out on our big, 40-foot-long clothesline, barring inclement weather. But I have always had to dry indoors in winter. Not this year! This year, I’m not letting my clothesline hibernate through winter.

Some of you may ask, how on earth can anything ever get dry without heat in freezing temperatures? Its called sublimation, and this is how it works: When you hang damp clothes out on the line, they will freeze. The ice then gets evaporated by the sun, leaving no more moisture in the clothing. Simply put, you are freeze-drying your laundry!

A nice, sun-shiny, snow-covered day with a little bit of breeze is ideal! Especially if you have whites or diapers that need a little bit of stain removal. The snow is key for this, since it reflects the sunlight and maximizes the sun’s natural bleaching super powers. It eliminates even blueberry stains on cloth diapers! Can I get a hallelujah from all my cloth-diapering mommas out there? Breast-fed baby poo stains disappear magically, too! Your white T-shirts might even look like they had a spa day. And the smell! If you love the scent of line-dried laundry in the summer … just wait until you try it in winter! It is the best!

Here are a few tips for using the clothesline in the depths of winter:

WARNING: In winter you cannot line-dry diaper covers with a PUL lining. It can cause the PUL to crack and therefore ruin your covers! Use a drying rack inside for your covers instead and protect your investment.

• Take a little extra time in the laundry room and pre-clip your clothes pins to your laundry. The chill of the air combined with the dampness of the clothing can make for finger-freezing experience.

• I like to wear a mitten on my clothes-grabbing hand and a thin glove on my pinning hand. It really helps to keep your hands warm as you work.

• Work quickly! You will find that some items will start to freeze instantly; the quicker you work, the faster you can get everything hung up before it becomes an ice block in your basket.

• When the time comes to take things down the laundry will be stiff, so take things down gently since some fabric can become brittle. Avoid hanging up dress shirts and things of that nature.

• If your laundry doesn’t get totally dry, just pop it in the dryer for a short cycle, or let it finish drying on a drying rack indoors. You may need to go out to your line periodically and wiggle your clothes if you notice ice buildup.

• Get yourself a wicker basket for laundry hauling. Plastic laundry baskets can become brittle and break in these temperatures.

I got a lot of pointers from my grandmother, who used to do this regularly as she grew up, and a friend whose mother used to hang clothes out in the winter. I love to be outside even in the freezing cold. Even if I have to work in it, I still get to enjoy the beauty of the season. Good luck, and happy freeze-drying!

 Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!