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How to Use a Clothesline Correctly

If you’ve read Line Drying Clothes in Winter, you know I’m an avid fan of my clothesline. There are a few tricks I’ve picked up along my clothesline journey and I’m excited to share these tips and tricks with you today. Yes, line drying clothes can be as simple as flinging your clothes over a line, but with the right technique, you’ll see how amazing line drying really can be. You might even take to bragging to your friends that you are a clothesline master. Don’t laugh, I do it.

Yes, line drying clothes can be as simple as flinging your clothes over a line, but with the right technique, you'll see how amazing a clothesline really can be.

Tip #1: Go with cotton lines.

Nylon and plastic lines may last longer than cotton without sagging, but they accumulate gunk on them. There is nothing worse than going out in public and discovering you have an odd greenish brown line along the hem of your white shirt. This is the one I use. It’s cheap, but it does the job.

Tip #2: Being obsessively organized pays off.

Hanging like items saves time and, when you become a Clothesline Jedi Master, you can fold as you pull things off the line. Keep towels with towels and shirts with shirts. One word of caution, hanging them together does not mean hanging them on the same line. If you have multiple lines on your setup, don’t hang all your towels on one cord. Instead, disperse the weight between the lines. I like to hang my towels right near the support so they don’t make the line sag.

Tip #3: Hang it opposite to where it’s worn.

If it’s a top, hang it from the bottom hem. If it’s a bottom, hang it from the waist band. If it’s a dress or one-piece Catwoman uniform, go with what your gut instincts tell you. Hanging from the correct area will prevent clothespin marks on the visible part of your clothes.

Tip #4: The lighter the color, the closer to the sun.

As mentioned in Line Drying Clothes in Winter, sunlight is a wonderful bleaching agent. Whites should be hung so they take advantage of direct sunlight. Darks should be hung towards the back to avoid fading. You may also want to turn your very dark clothes inside out to preserve the color.

Tip #5: Vinegar softens line-dried clothes.

If you add white vinegar to your rinse cycle, you can avoid that crispy feel that clothesline clothes seem to be plagued with. I personally enjoy the feel of a crisp, clean shirt (and I truly believe that line-dried jeans make you look more put together), but I know it’s not for everyone.

Tip #6: “Snap” before hanging.

Wrinkles happen, but if you snap your clothes in the air before hanging, they will be a thing of the past.

Tip #7: A cute apron goes a long way.

There are hundreds of clothespin bags on the market, but there are a few flaws with using a bag. First, it’s only where you need it for the first few times your hanging. After that, you are running back and forth or holding pins in your teeth. The only exception would be if you have one of those lines that rotates so you can stay in one place and pull the clothes towards you or away from you. The second problem with bags is that it’s easy to forget them outside. Clothespins should not be exposed to the elements when not in use. It seriously reduces their lifespan.

I like the cute aprons for holding pins, though any apron with pockets will do. The pins travel with you as you hang or remove clothes and they come indoors when you do. Here are some cute DIY aprons to try out:

And don’t forget, bed sheets make great free or cheap fabric.

Tip #8: Sock hangers actually will save your sanity.

The sky is darkening and the wind is picking up. You know it’s going to start raining soon. Socks take forever to put on the line and when it seems it’s going to rain, they take forever to take off the line. Sock hangers allow you to pair up socks and hang them all together. When dry, bring the whole kit and caboodle inside for easy sorting. I have this one which holds 26 pairs when they are hung with their mates. It’s a bit flimsy, but keeping it out of the elements when not in use has kept it going for a few years now.

Tip #9: Hang items off items to save space.

We use Unpaper Towels on this homestead. They can rob a lot of space on the line and I prefer to have them all in the direct sunlight to bleach out ketchup stains and such. To save space, I hang them four or five long, securing the top of one to the bottom of another.

Tip #10: Not all clothespins are created equal.

Kevin's Quality Clothespins have a lifetime guarantee, so you can feel confident investing in these high quality pins.
I am absolutely in L-O-V-E with Kevin’s Quality Clothespins.

It’s true. High quality clothespins bring high quality results. I can’t tell you how many packages of $1.99 Walmart clothespins I’ve gone through. Really, the cheap clothespins serve no purpose beyond keeping the bag of Reese’s Cups you have hiding in the freezer closed. Here are a few things to look for when you are buying clothespins:

  • Get a traditional style. Fancy pins may look cute, but no one will be envying your line when you are out there picking up your underpants that blew all over your yard. The style that worked best 100 years ago still works best.
  • Check the spring. Flimsy springs not only quit quickly, but they don’t hold heavier items such as jeans or towels.
  • Don’t get softwoods or plastic. Softwoods tend to warp and plastic is prone to breaking. Although plastic lasts longer than the cheap softwood clothespins you are able to buy at most big box stores, they will eventually snap from the strain of being opened.
  • Get pins you can actually open. I bought some clothespins a while back that were very heavy duty, but it took two hands to open them. Imagine trying to hang your clothes when you need two hands on the pin. It isn’t graceful (or very successful). I like the ones with the little grooves on them.

Tip #11: Try Out Kevin’s Quality Clothespins.

If you may have caught on from tip number ten, I’m sort of a clothespin snob. Kevin’s Quality Clothespins have everything I look for in a clothespin and more. They are American handmade by none other than Kevin himself. They are sealed with linseed oil, but as with any wooden pin, do not leave them on the line when not in use. The linseed oil helps preserve them, but wood is wood.

I was really impressed with the grip these babies had. I had all the towels out on the line and winds came on strong while I was away. I came home assuming that I would need to rewash them. I was wrong. Not only were they still on the line, but the wind made the towels super soft and fluffy. My little boy played with them when I wasn’t looking (he was building a robot out of them) and they stood up to his crafting. My Walmart ones never survive kid crafts.

I’m sure if you try them, you’ll fall in love with these clothespins just like I have. Kevin’s Quality Clothespins have a lifetime guarantee, so you can feel confident investing in these high quality pins.

Yes, line drying clothes can be as simple as flinging your clothes over a line, but with the right technique, you'll see how amazing a clothesline really can be.

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  1. VickiWilson says:

    I purchased cheap carpenter nail aprons to wear while hanging my laundry out. I also hang clothing out on hangers to speed up the process. I’ve been hanging my laundry out for 40 years. Years ago, I had a dryer that was only used in bad weather. I haven’t even had one for 15 years. I hang them inside on a retractable line and the drying racks. I also use the hangers for multiple items (socks, underwear ,dish cloths etc.) I love hearing about others doing it too. People think it’s too much work when they can just toss them in a dryer.

  2. I am using a wringer washer and hanging laundry on a clothes line for my family of eight. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. I have always used a wooden clothes dryer, and dry everything on it. My last one lasted 30 years. Even when I dry clothes on the line, I dry my underclothes on the rack,less hassle (neighbors don’t see them either)! My 1 clothesline post broke today,& I feel lost!!

  4. Jackie Frentz says:

    I have been hanging clothes outside for past 18 yrs, except for raining days then hang them on rack in the house. I do suggest turning good clothes inside out to prevent fading. I also wipe my lines with a wet paper towel before hanging up clothes. You would be surprised how dirty the lines get with dirt, pollen, and mold. I use a vinyl line that the package does not show causes cancer.

  5. Any tips oh using the spacer? I can’t figure out where to start with my winch/rachet thing and when to put in my spacer. They bump and then I can’t go any further with hanging clothes. My line is high so I can’t pop it on/off once everything is hung. Thanks for any suggestions!!

    1. Yes tips on spacers with the winch please!

  6. We have a new adopted 14 year old daughter we have had now for three months.Due to her having daytime wetting accidents and bedwetting,we have her in cloth diapers and rubberpants[plasticpants] 24/7.I washer her diapers and rubberpants together in Dreft detergent and then hang them on the clothes line to dry.The diapers smell nice,but the rubberpants still have the smell of babypowder in them.Every once in a while,one of the neighborhood teen boys will sneak into our back yard and quickly grab a pair of her rubberpants off the clothesline and take off with them!

    1. What are they doing with them!?!?

      1. I really hate to think what the boys are doing with the rubberpants! When our daughter finially made her First Holy Communion at 14,i washed the tee shirt,cloth diaper,rubberpants and white tights that she wore with her communion dress and hung them on the clothes line.Some one snatched the tights and rubberpants of the clothesline so i didnt have them to put away with her dress and veil!

    2. OMG! Our daughter is 15 and a bedwetter and like Gloria J.we use the cloth diapers and rubberpants on her at night for the bedwetting.I also hang her diapers and rubberpants on the clothesline after they are washed and we also have had the problem of the neighbor boys stealing a pair or two of her rubberpants off the clothesline! Its been only the rubberpants and never any of her diapers.I went around to the neighbors and talked to the moms of the boys and told them what was happening and they said they would be on the lookout for any of their sons with the daughters rubberpants

      1. Clarice A. says:

        Our daughter is 13 and bedwetting in puberty.After washing her cloth diapers and rubberpants,i hang them on the clothes line and in a short time they are dry and fresh smelling.

  7. In Australia, almost everyone line dries their washing so I am always fascinated by posts about line drying from the US. We have metal or plastic coated lines and sometimes there are little black things on the plastic that I’m not sure are either bug eggs or bug poo. I just wipe them off. If we have little space we hang tea towels, face washers etc from line to line to save space (you can hang about 8 tea towels in the space it would take to hang two this way) though they don’t get the same amount of sun bleaching if that is what you are after. I never thought to hang from hanging before. I hang pants line to line from the seams at the bottom of the leg. The sun is harsh here and this stops a faded triangle from forming on the front of jeans in particular, where an unbuttoned waistband allows half the front to fold over. I have stainless steel pegs that my sister gave me but they are a bit exey.https://www.biome.com.au/clothes-pegs/18890-wire-pegs-strong-windy.html

  8. Omg. Someone who is like me. I have been hanging up my laundry like this for years. I even have been using the vinegar in the rinse cycle. I have a front loader and have not had any trouble. When we bought our home I made sure we could put in a clothes line.

  9. I highly recommend making the apron utilitarian, like a simple tool apron, so the man of the house will also feel comfortable wearing it!

  10. I have been hanging my clothes out for years. I love the smell of sun dried sheets! Hanging my laundry brings back many memories of my mom. I also went on a clothes pin hunt, trying everything from dollar store pins to wood and plastic. I have discovered what I think is the best clothes pin ever. Stainless steal clothespins from a company call Lee Valley. They are so strong and easy to use! I will never go back to wood or plastic again. Thanks for the blog. I think I will have to make myself a clothespin apron! What a good idea!

  11. First rule taught when I was a little girl first thing you do take a wet rag and clean the clotheslines before you hung your clothes on them. Still do that 50 years later.

  12. Amy Young Miller says:

    Great tips! It’s nice to meet another clothesline devotee, too, by the way. I’m going to share this post over on my Facebook page. We oughta connect, girl! We have a lot in common!

  13. Keith George says:

    I found a few at a yard sale that were made of bamboo. The people didn’t know where they got them but said they hold up to the elements much better then wood.what are your thoughts

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I haven’t tried bamboo, so I’m not sure. It wouldn’t be as prone to mold and gunk as cotton (based on cloth diaper experience – our bamboo diapers out performed cotton), but it might stretch.

  14. We hang our clothes on their hangers and peg the hangers to the line. We can bring in the washing FAST if it’s looking like rain.

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I keep meaning to do that and I just haven’t begun yet. Thank you for pushing me. Tomorrow I will try that out.

  15. Fabulous article – life without a clothesline? I think not 🙂 And you are so right about cheap clothes pins – a cut above is money WELL SPENT !

  16. I am an outdoor clotheslineaholic!!! The best place I have found for getting good clothes pins is the antique malls. They are usually the tried and true pins that have worked a lifetime already and are ready for more. Also I have used vinegar in a front loader for years and never had any problems with the seal. I just fill my fabric softener compartment with vinegar and let the machine dilute it.

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      Great tip! I never would have thought of looking for clothespins there.

  17. Jess,
    Great post, I learned a lot and apparently the readers at Simple Saturdays Blog Hop do too! Your entry was selected as most favorite last week. I hope you will hop on over and claim your featured button, and please, join us this coming Saturday!

  18. Jeanie Graves says:

    I love using a clothes line, and I like using white vinegar for my softner. I put all my clothes on hangers and then put them on the line, and I put my pants on hangers designed for pants. This way, when they are dry, I can just grab them and put them in the right closets.

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      That is definitely the way to go. I am adding a new line to my setup that has little loops for hooking hangers so they stay separated. In my head it seems like a brilliant idea. We will see how it goes in real life…

  19. This was a great post! I have a question about vinegar. I use it all the time for laundry. It takes away the moldy smell that sometimes happens when I am unorganized/lazy and leave the laundry for too long in the washer. But I have heard that using vinegar in the washer can wear out some of the parts of the washer. I have not had this problem yet but wanted to hear from another vinegar user. Have you had any problems or heard of any? Thanks!

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I’ve heard rumor that vinegar can erode the rubber seal on front load washers, but I have yet to experience that myself. I think moderation is the key.

  20. Jamie @ Medium Sized Family says:

    I’ve finally gotten back to using my clothesline. You have some good tips here! I tend to hang my pants from the leg bottoms, because they never seem to dry well at the waist if I hang them that way.

  21. I would love stronger pins as well. I don’t like the cheap little clothespins that are everywhere. I have some vintage ones that are in much better condition than those! I want some more to add to my collection please!

  22. Christayla V. says:

    I just found your website and I have to tell you, I absolutely love it!
    My mom has hung clothes to dry on a line since I can remember.
    I’m not sure what I look for in a high-quality clothes pin, other than a pin that will stand up to the job of keeping towels, jeans, and other heavy things in windy NW Oklahoma!

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I love hearing that 🙂 Happy homesteading!

      1. Sheila Larkins says:

        I have been using a clothesline for ever. When my Mom passed away I inherited all her clothespins. Some were pretty old, but I still use them and they work real well. Your website post are wonderful, I get asked by people all the time, “You still hang clothes out”? “Nobody does that anymore. I DO Although you don’t see many clothes out hanging on the clotheslines anymore, you do still see them in use every once in awhile. I have a front loader that broke 4 years ago, “needs a new pulley.” I have opted Not to fix it. I hang clothes on the line and also on a wooden drying rack. Works real
        well and in the heat drying air in the winter, puts a little moisture back into the air as well.

  23. I used to hang all of my clothes when I was younger and got away from it through the busy years, but I’m ready to start again.

  24. Linda Mahoney says:

    Just started hanging my laundry again. I love it!! Thanks for the great tips – very helpful. Thanks also for the chance to win these great clothes pins

  25. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE hanging out my laundry. I would love some stronger pins. Thanks, for this contest.

  26. Lisa Wright says:

    I LOVE hanging out my laundry. I would love some stronger pins. Thanks, for this contest.

  27. Carole West @ Garden Up Green says:

    The vinegar I must try, crispy towels is getting old. However I did save over $100 on my electric bill this summer because I decided to line dry back in June. I went simple with my line and got a rope that I tied between two trees. I’m hooked the clothes smell nice and fresh and I’m reminded that once again grandma was right. Enjoyed these tips!

  28. We are in the process of buying a home and this post is timely. I need clothespins and a clothesline!

  29. I have some 20 year old clothespins I got from my mom, back from when she taught school and bought a new set each year to write the kids’ name on and use in the classroom. I’ve bought a lot myself, too, but mine, the newer ones, always seem to twist apart or break easily. I can identify “the good ones” because they have names on them. Were I to be buying more pins now, I would try opening them with pressure slightly off center and see if they begin to twist apart. I’ve been able to fix some that “break” this way, but it’s not easy and not worth the time and effort really. I’d love some solid, heavy duty- pins.

  30. Love the fresh aroma of outdoor drying.

  31. Thanks for the tips. I like to hang out my clothes but my husband hates how stiff his jeans get. I’ll try the vinegar in the rinse cycle and see how that goes.

  32. I’m just thinking how amused my mother would have been to hear that we needed “tips” for how to use a clothesline. 🙂 I can see her shaking her head and rolling her eyes. I grew up hanging clothes outside (I’m 64), but I thought your tips were pretty solid and helpful for the younger set who only knows about clothes dryer appliances. Don’t know why I never thought about an apron to carry the pins! Great idea.

  33. Fee Roberts says:

    I look for a tight spring. The tighter the spring, the easier time I have keeping the clothes pinned to the line.

  34. I like and use my grandma’s old clothes pins! (When they used to make things to last.) Cheap ones suck. I have some of those too and some plastic ones. I have a mix LOL. I’m sure Kevin’s are made like the “old days” ones, made to last, but I haven’t been able to afford any yet. They are on my wishlist. Thank you for the chance to win some!

    Great tips! I need to find a good cotton line. My line just broke from sun exposure. 🙁 But I used a cheap line from the dollar store (I think that’s where it came from… and it was not cotton.) There’s still a section up in the shade, but it’s not enough for a whole load!

    I keep my clothespins in an old tshirt of my daughters that I sewed closed along the bottom hemline. It hangs from a wood hanger. It travels with me as I put up and down the laundry.

  35. Dawn Williams says:

    We just bought our house at the beginning of summer. Getting a clothesline is high on my list of things to do! I grew up with a clothesline and the quality of the clothes pins is very important – wet jeans and towels are HEAVY!

  36. Just Plain Marie says:

    They’re great tips and I can’t argue with or add to any, except …. what in the world is a cotton clothesline? The only ones I’ve *ever* known are, well, I guess they’re a metal wire wrapped in nylon. They’re indestructible but I don’t think I’ve ever known them to accumulate dirt. They just wash off whenever it rains. Anyway, I’m just super curious about cotton clotheslines.

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      It’s simple a braided cotton fiber cord. You can get them at most hardware stores. They do sag a bit over time, but we just tighten ours from time to time. Maybe once or twice a year. http://amzn.to/1Up3Uky

      1. I just stumbled across this article, I’m a super late bloomer! I’d love to set up a line in my backyard and am looking at your cotton recommendation – do you leave it up outside all the time? also how do you have your line up? just curious since there’s no hardware that comes with it and I’m looking for recommendations on ways to put it up! thank you!!