Saturday Special (05/20/2023): Bring Back the Clothesline

Photo taken in County Mayo, Ireland

A few weeks ago our family enjoyed a great guided tour of Northern Ireland led by the Irish family band The Byrne Brothers.

As we traveled via bus through Ireland’s countryside I spotted more than a few tiny homes with clothes hanging on a line outside. Reminded me of my mother and all her neighbor friends when I was growing up who also used the outdoors during nice weather as their clothes dryers.

Read about the lost art of hanging laundry outdoors by Jeffrey A. Tucker. He’s the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.”

Nothing will shake your faith in technology like your first experience of using a clothesline. The clothes are dried with sun and breezes and come out fresh, sanitized, and wonderful. This is especially true for whites. The sun acts as a natural bleach and actually brings back brightness that all whites have lost over the decades. The comparison with an electric dryer is shocking. To my amazement, clothes hung on a clothesline actually dry faster!

What precisely is the point of using the electric dryer exclusively? We’ll get to that.

To be sure, it’s spring, the breeze is perfect, the sun is shining. These are ideal conditions. Maybe that is the norm in Southern California or Florida but most places in the country have seasonality issues that make exclusive reliance on clotheslines difficult. So perhaps dryers are better seen as second best and that’s fine.

Of course clotheslines take up real estate. But there are workarounds. I’m always charmed when I see older apartment buildings in New York and New England with amazing steel contraptions sticking out of the windows. You pin up all your clothes, push the grate far from the bricks, and let the wind do the rest.

The beauty of this approach is mainly that it restores the whiteness of whites. There is no other path to do this. Maybe those fancy dryers with UV rays work. I somehow doubt it.

There is just no way that using bleach on laundry is a good idea. It seems to work once, then twice, but one day you will notice that your shirts and towels are crumbling into nothingness. This is what bleach does. It’s really a disaster.

The problem of dull whites is deeper even than the methods we use to dry clothes. Several years ago I bumped into a New York Times article on how to do laundry. I won’t bother trying to find it again for you. I promise that it is 100 percent wrong. Indeed, it was full of lies. It recommended cold water on everything and not much of it, with energy-saving front loaders and other such nonsense.

This is complete rot. Cold water does not clean. Neither does warm water. The water needs to be really hot, closer to 130 degrees, which may require an adjustment to your hot-water heater. And there needs to be lots of it. These economizing front loaders simply do not work well. It’s a miracle they work at all.

All of these attempts to save water and power only end in dirty and dingy clothes. It all traces to egregious regulations that are dismantling civilization. This began long before the “Great Reset” put this trajectory on fast forward. It’s the main reason why everything and everyone looks so drab today. Most people are walking around in dirty clothing.

There is another important factor too. Phosphates have been in soaps since the 16th century at least. They are important because they break down soap and whisk it away with the water. Without them, the soap stays in the clothing. So the soap might technically clean the dirt and oil but without a means to drain the soap away, it all ultimately stays in there, resulting in dull sheets, shirts, t-shirts, and napkins.

Why in the world would anyone take phosphate out of soap? Ask the federal government, which imposed the rule in 1993. The supposed reason was of course the environment. The rivers and lakes were getting clogged with algae and the reason was the refuse from phosphates. Never mind that this had nothing to do with home laundry. It’s the fault of big agriculture with their massive use of industrial fertilizer. That’s not restricted. Instead the government went after your home laundry, which is not the problem.

As a result, all the soap manufacturers had to change their formulas. They didn’t announce this. Why would they? Why advertise that their product no longer works? Instead, the same companies started marketing all these additives that are supposed to fix the problem. The home laundry shelf now contains an amazing amount of products. Still the laundry doesn’t come out clean as compared with two generations ago.

The real fix for laundry soap is to head over to the hardware store in the paint section. A product called trisodium phosphate or TSP does the trick (be sure to get the real stuff and not the artificial). Just add a quarter cup to your laundry and observe the difference. Of course even finding TSP can be a problem. I once went into a hardware store that turned out to be woke where they refused on principle to sell TSP. I never went back.

In any case, even with TSP, lots of hot water, and a muscular washing machine, there still remains the problem of drying the clothing. That’s where the clothesline is essential. If you can find one, your clothing will be perfected over time.

But now we bump into the real issue and it has to do with the great modern obsession with class identity and cultural signaling. In “developed” countries, clotheslines have somehow come to be identified with poverty. It’s considered tacky, shabby, and poor. “Those people” have clotheslines while “our people” do not. Hanging clothes on your porch or in your backyard is a sign that you just don’t get it.

As a result, 20 states have various kinds of bans on clothesline. Four (Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida) have banned them entirely (I have no idea if these bans are enforced), and you will notice that these are four states where line drying your clothing makes the most sense.

One might suppose that there would be a big movement these days in light of environmental ideology to emancipate the clothesline but no. This is entirely because it is not about the environment and not about effective techniques for drying clothes. It’s about class identity and visible signs of what constitutes tacky and not.

For the better part of a century or more, and probably ever since the shift from agriculture to industry, we have had this habit of conflating technological and economic progress, which impacts directly on class identity and cultural signaling. Successful people always have the new thing while eschewing the old. This is how the new technologies managed to enjoy a cultural subsidy of sorts.

Then one day someone discovers that the old thing really is better. It is not good to have an Alexa or Google Home in your house because it spies on you and truly it’s no big deal to turn on and off your lights or fuss with your music system by actually touching it. Or people discover that vinyl records sound great. Or they discover that a physical book really is more rewarding than a digital one.

These discoveries fly in the face of the dominant cultural tropes of the whole of modernity. And we have a hard time processing them. But lately we have found more and more cases in which it is clearly true that our tendency to be early adopters and always choose convenience comes at a huge cost. Sometimes the cost is a deprecated service.

The clothesline is a perfect case in point. We’ve been taught that they represent something awful. In fact, the opposite is true. People who use clotheslines as often as the weather allows have cleaner and brighter clothing.

One might suppose that would be enough of a reason to adopt them where they are legal and possible. But the cultural barrier is huge in this case. To hang out your clothes is an advertisement to your neighbors that you are part of them and not us, and that perception alone works as a huge deterrent.

The truth is that much of what we call material progress isn’t that at all. It is new but it is not necessarily progress. Admit it: there are things you admire about the Amish. Those are words I never thought I would write, but it is undeniable. I will promise you this much: their clothing is much cleaner than ours!

2 thoughts on “Saturday Special (05/20/2023): Bring Back the Clothesline

  1. Wow, I didn’t know that clotheslines are illegal in Arizona. I’ll have to check that out. Must be more dangerous than the open carry guns I see in the grocery store.


  2. Fact check… There is no Arizona state law prohibiting clothes lines. However, due to the large number of HOA’s (Home Owners Association) in the state that have restrictions, we have a large number of people who may have some form of restrictions on a local basis. I do not find that restriction in our HOA rules.


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