Don't Stop Hanging Clothes Out to Dry This Winter

Old woman hanging laundry outdoors

 Pixavril / Getty Images

Even though your clothes may dry into odd shapes, they're still drying out there – and you're saving energy and money.

All winter long, my mother hangs laundry out to dry. In fact, she doesn't own a dryer anymore. When you live in a place where temperatures dip regularly to -35C (-22F), the pieces of clothing freeze into caricatures of themselves, stiff upright forms that, for some reason, are utterly hilarious to see. There's nothing quite like bringing in a basket of 'standalone' pants to induce laughter in the family.

Needless to say, I learned from a young age that it's possible to line-dry clothes all year round, so I continue to do the same. You get many of the same benefits as line-drying in the summer – a fresh scent, a bleaching effect on whites from the somewhat weaker sun, and energy savings (more than $25/month, according to Project Laundry List). But it's not exactly the same; here are a few things to note about hanging laundry in wintertime.

Cold Clothes Dry Too

There are three factors at play when it comes to line-drying at any time of year – heat, humidity, and time. In winter, you have less heat, so you need to optimize the other two factors. You'll need more time for the clothes to dry, so hang as early in the day as you can and leave until late. If there's a breeze, you're in luck; agitation speeds up the process. Avoid hanging on damp, grey days when the moisturize that needs to evaporate from the clothing has nowhere to go.

Writing for her blog Eco Babysteps, Attached Mama has a good breakdown of how different conditions affect the drying process:

"If it’s humid and cold outside, your clothes might dry only very slowly or not at all. That would be an ideal situation to use an indoor drying rack to take advantage of the heat inside your house.
If it’s dry and cold outside, you might get freeze-dried clothes. What you think is frozen might actually turn out to be mostly dry. If you get a coating of ice on the side away from the sun, turn the clothes around to encourage the ice to melt and evaporate. If your clothes freeze before they dry completely, you might need to finish the drying inside.
If it’s windy and cold, you might get freeze-dried clothes that are frozen into interesting shapes. The wind, though, can help soften your clothes a bit as well as help with evaporation. A dry breeze on a sunny day, even if it is cold, is idle winter line-drying weather."

Frozen Clothes Aren't Bad

Clothes that freeze on the line are surprisingly dry after coming back into the house. Sometimes they're slightly damp and need a quick touch-up in the dryer, but it's a fraction of the time it would have taken to dry a full load from start to finish. Umbra explained on Grist a few years ago,

"Clothes can still dry outside. For this we must thank sublimation – when a solid (ice, in this case) changes directly to a gas, skipping the liquid phase. What this means for your laundry in theory: Wet jeans on the line in a Chicago January will freeze stiff, then the ice will eventually sublimate into water vapor. Tadaa! Dry clothes!"

If there's the slightest bit of sun in the forecast, I plan to wash and hang my whites, although I hang out dark-colored clothes on any day, as long as there's no precipitation. If it's snowing or raining, I use an indoor laundry rack, usually setting it up in the evenings; I only run loads after 7 PM, when electricity costs half of what it does during the day. In winter, when the air is bone dry in the house, thin clothes hung on a rack are dry by morning, jeans and thicker sweaters within 24 hours.

Do not desist when it comes to line-drying at this time of year, or give it a try if you haven't yet! You might get some real satisfaction from it, as I do. Be sure to dress warmly; my secret to success is fingerless gloves and a line mounted on my back deck that's easy to reach.