Jan Rader dries her laundry on a clothesline, at least in part to save energy. But she doesn't consider it a sacrifice. Instead, she focuses on the positives: the fresh smell, the contemplative nature of the activity, the pleasant memories it evokes of grandmothers who dried their laundry outdoors.
For the last two years or so, Rader has relied almost exclusively on line drying.
If the weather's bad, she just moves the job indoors, using a second shower rod she installed over her bathtub and a couple of drying racks in her Kent, Ohio, basement.
"I almost never use my dryer. In fact, I can't remember the last time I used it," she said.
Rader is a rarity in these days of automatic appliances and overstuffed schedules.
But she's among a dedicated -- and in some cases, vocal -- few who are returning to the old ways of drying laundry. They're fueled by a concern for the environment, a desire to save money or just the allure of what they consider one of life's simple pleasures.
Rader has long been a line dryer, but she stepped up her use from sporadic to frequent after her husband's death left her with a smaller income about the same time natural gas prices went up. (She has a gas dryer.) She's seen her gas bill drop, she said, but she doesn't know how much is attributable to her drying habits and how much to keeping her thermostat lower.
Drying clothes outdoors isn't always convenient, she said. She has to watch the weather and plan around her laundry. But she considers that a minor nuisance compared with the benefits.
"It's just a peaceful kind of activity," she said.
It's not an activity everyone can participate in, however. Many homeowners associations and even some communities ban or restrict outdoor clotheslines.
The issue is primarily aesthetics, said Frank Rathbun of the Community Associations Institute, an advocacy and support organization for homeowners associations. Some people just don't think laundry hanging on a line is attractive, and they fear the effect on property values.
Often such restrictions are put in place initially by the developer to maintain the neighborhood's appearance and character, Rathbun said. Eventually, though, the homeowners take control, and they can modify or eliminate a rule if there's enough support for a change. That's the point of a homeowners association, he said. "We just believe the homeowners of each association should decide the way they want to live."
Alexander Lee scoffs at the idea that clotheslines detract from property values. He's executive director of Project Laundry List, an organization that advocates outdoor drying and touts its environmental benefits.
With energy costs rising and concern over energy security heightening, "it seems to me this is an overwhelming public policy concern," Lee said.
There are no exact figures on how many associations and communities ban clotheslines, he said. However, the group estimates half of U.S. homeowners associations have some sort of restrictions, either specifically on drying laundry or on related issues such as putting up outdoor structures.
The country has about 300,000 homeowners associations representing some 60 million residents, or about one in five Americans, Rathbun said.
RIGHT TO DRY LAUNDRY
Florida, Colorado and Utah have laws protecting the right to dry, but similar legislation failed in Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire, Lee said.
A homeowners association ban meant Traci O'Donnell had to give up drying her laundry outdoors when she and her family moved last year to Creekside Chase, a development in Sharon Township, Ohio.
It's a trade-off she made reluctantly because she wanted her children to be in a development with sidewalks and other kids, she said. So now O'Donnell dries her clothes partway in a dryer and then hangs them in a hall closet to finish drying. It's cramped, but she thinks it's important to set an example of environmental stewardship for her children, she said. She approached the president of the homeowners association about lifting the restriction, but she said his response wasn't encouraging. In her development, the lots are two acres, and she argues that because her property has a farm behind it, her neighbors wouldn't even see her clothesline.
"I always say, we live in the country, not the country club," she said.
Both O'Donnell and line dryer Henri Glaus chalk up such restrictions to elitism.
"I think there's a kind of snobbery attached to it," Glaus said. In some people's view, "it's lower class, and that's not right."
Glaus lives in Fairways II at Prestwick, a condominium development in Green, Ohio. The association restricts clotheslines in common areas, so Glaus hangs her sheets on her deck, on lines strung between a wall and a privacy screen so they're shielded from her neighbors' view. Other items are hung on drying racks.
She hasn't had a problem, other than a notice that appeared briefly on a kiosk in the spring, saying residents were prohibited from hanging laundry on decks. That prompted her husband, Cordell, to research the bylaws, which convinced them she was within her rights. But the Glauses haven't heard anything more about the matter.
"If they're keeping things to themselves, it's not going to be an issue," the condo association's president, Bob Eberwine, said.
SMELL BRINGS MEMORIES
Henri Glaus' primary motivation for drying her clothes outdoors is simple: She loves the smell. She also has pleasant memories of laundry hanging on the line in front of her childhood home in Sheffield Township, Ohio. She even asked her artist husband to capture that detail in his painting of the house, which hangs over their fireplace. "It's just such a homey look to me," she said. Sensory benefits and nostalgia aside, line drying makes economic and ecologic sense, advocates argue.
The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration says clothes dryers account for about 5.8 percent of residential electricity use, but Project Laundry List argues that figure underestimates their impact because it doesn't take into account households that use shared laundry facilities in multifamily housing or coin-operated laundries.
CUTS ELECTRIC BILL
For most households with electric dryers, line drying would cut the electric bill more than $100 a year, Project Laundry List says. Similar statistics aren't available on gas dryers, which are more efficient, but the advocacy group says only 16 percent of American households use them.
There are other benefits to line drying, as well, advocates say. Drying clothes outdoors promotes physical activity and takes advantage of the bleaching and disinfecting properties of sunlight. It helps clothes last longer and prevents dryer fires. And drying indoors on racks or lines helps humidify dry winter air.
Besides, Rader just kind of likes the way a full clothesline looks in her backyard. She's always liked the sight of laundry blowing in the breeze, she said. "I can't imagine how someone would think that is ugly or terrible."