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How to Line-Dry Your Linens

How to Line-Dry Your Linens

There are two views of line-drying linens. One is the elegant image of sheets— held up by old-fashioned clothespins and buoyed by the breeze—with their sun-dried, air-kissed softness. (See image above.) The other is the one where your neighbors accuse you of sullying your lawn (and therefore the neighborhood) with your laundry.

Yes, there is a time and a place to line-dry your linens—the backyard may be better than the front, and for small-space dwellers, there are some great indoor options. Or else maybe you have some really understanding neighbors! Because the benefits to line-drying your linens are plentiful.

We spoke to two laundry experts to learn the do’s and don’ts of line-drying:

As the owner of E. Braun & Co. in West Hollywood, CA and The Laundry at Linens Limited, a fine laundry and linens restoration service in Milwaukee, Liz Barbatelli has over 25 years of experience in caring for linens—not to mention she’s a line-drying devotee.

The founder of The Daily Basics and a former editor at Better Homes & Gardens, Cynthia Bogart is passionate about “cultivating traditions” for a healthier, cleaner lifestyle—even when it means taking a little more time. My kids do not know any different from fresh, air-dried clothes and sheets, the beds made neatly every day, homemade meals from scratch with good ingredients, and cooking from our garden. To me, it is just the right thing to do,” she says.

Here’s what Liz and Cynthia had to say about line-drying:

There are a lot of good reasons to line-dry your linens:

“Line-drying prolongs the life of both your clothing and your linens,” says Cynthia. “The heat and tumbling in the dryer is abusive to fabric and over a period of time, you will see the wear.”

Line-drying your linens lets you avoid shrinkage and wrinkles. You’ll save energy (according to the Los Angeles Times, clothes dryers account for at least 6 percent of the electricity used by U.S. households) and money, while lowering your carbon footprint.

And then there’s that irreplicable fresh smell of line-dried sheets. “People spend a lot of time and energy on their health,” says Liz. “Why not spend a little time on the health of your clothing and linens?”

Be careful how you hang your sheets:

“However you hang your laundry is how it will dry,” offers Cynthia. “If you love your sheets pressed, line drying almost presses them perfectly,” making ironing practically unnecessary!

Says Liz: “It’s the return—the part of the sheet that you fold over the top cover— that gets all crumpled if you aren’t careful. I re-shape the embroidery or the applique band (like the one on Matouk’s Lowell), fold the sheet in half, and place it neatly over the line, being sure to smooth the corners.”

Pillowcases get special treatment.

“Take the two corners of a sham or pillowcase and line them up, smooth them, and pull them into a nice, neat-looking piece so that the corners are lined up and it’s smoothed out. Then lay it over the line,” says Liz. If you do iron shams or pillowcases, it’s easier than if they were dried in a drier because there is a less contracting of the fibers.

Please, if you are going to iron, do it when your linens are damp!

If you put something on the line that you want to iron, do the ironing when the item is a little bit damp.

Offers Liz: “When fibers are wet, they will stretch and as they dry, they contract. If you are ironing something that’s damp, you are not trying to take a fiber that’s already contracted and iron it out through heat. You are taking a fiber that is more elastic because it’s still damp, so it irons more easily.”

There are a few tricks for table linens, too.

Because heat shrinks fibers, your table linens will retain their shape better if you line-dry them. “I inherited all of my grandmother's Italian table linens, and I line-dry them until they are damp,” says Cynthia. “If I have time, I press them immediately. They come out beautifully. Here's the crazy part: If I don't have time, I wash them on gentle and lay them out, one on top of the other, and roll them up into a cylinder. I put them in a non-food section of the freezer or refrigerator until I have time to press them. They come our fantastic!” (Liz uses a similar trick.)

You can line-dry almost everything. But not your towels.

“They come out like cardboard,” says Cynthia. You need the heat to create the fluff. 

What do you do when you don’t have room for a line?

“Of course you can line-dry in an apartment or where you don't have the space to do it outside,” says Cynthia. “How do you think they did it when there weren't dryers? Hop on down to Walmart or go to the Clothesline Shop and you will see the variety of clotheslines you can use. Some are super space saving. When I was growing up, in the winter, my mom used a triple clothesline rigged in the laundry room in the basement. Since the boiler room was close by, the space was always warm and it dried everything really nicely.”

What should you do about disapproving neighbors?

Says Cynthia: “Today, the name of the game is living a cleaner and greener life. I would hope neighbors would respect that line-drying your clothes is in deference to that.”

Any more tips?

“You want to use a line that isn’t going to have any color transfer,” advises Liz. “Use a plastic line or something that’s coated—or else use a drying rack.” And if you’re drying outside, don’t forget to watch the weather!