Bring Back the Clothesline — It’s the Ultimate Solar Machine

Jacquelyn Ottman Posted by Jacquelyn Ottman.

Jacquelyn is the founder of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., which helps businesses develop and market the next generation of products designed with sustainability in mind.

Bring Back the Clothesline — It’s the Ultimate Solar Machine

“Why are we so attached to our tumble dryers?” is the question asked by ‘Drying for Freedom,’ Steven Lake’s documentary about the loss of the clothesline (Image: Steven Lake)

In 2009 I read on Wikipedia that the clothesline is banned in communities across the U.S. My response to reading that was ‘There’s a documentary to be made out of this’. Four years later I had a feature film called, “Drying For Freedom” all about line drying on my hands and I had become an accidental expert on the clothesline.

It turns out that homeowners have been fined for hanging out their laundry, that line drying is considered garish, unsightly and supposedly damaging to property values by up to 15% percent. Why? The answers I received making the film were more often than not the same, that clotheslines are ‘ugly’, ‘why not just use a tumble dryer?’ and ‘hanging your clothes outside looks ‘ghetto’.

I Wanted to Meet With Homeowners Who Were Being Forced to Tumble Dry Against Their Will

Clothesline Steven Lake Documentary

Developing nations need to resist going down the same path with tumble dryers in the fight against climate change (Image: Steven Lake)

These people did exist but not as many as I had hoped. As an Englishman I had wrongly assumed that people’s default process for drying clothes was on the line. This wasn’t the case. Most people living in communities that banned clotheslines didn’t even realize they were disallowed or that they’d be fined for using one. It just never came up for most people who use a tumble dryer to dry clothes.

The Clothesline is the Ultimate Solar Machine.

Line drying cuts out the ‘middleman’ and receives its energy directly from the sun.  The tumble dryer is the second most energy-hungry appliance in the household (beaten by the fridge/ freezer).  It creates 350 pounds of CO2 per household a year (according to  A conservative estimate would place a tumble dryer in 75% of homes within the U.S. (It’s likely to be closer to 91% of homes).  Get the boring math out of the way and this adds up to 15 and a half million tons of carbon waste created a year by the tumble dryer in the U.S.

My Issue With The Tumble Dryer Is What It Represents In Our Fight To Battle Climate Change

Drying for Freedom documentary poster about the clothesline

In his documentary, Drying for Freedom, Steven Lake travels the world for answers on why anyone would ban the clothesline.

The tumble dryer was sold to the U.S. along with a host of other appliances in the late 1950’s as the U.S. became electrified. It started with the television, which, in turn was used to sell other appliances.

During this time Ronald Reagan was a representative for General Electric and in a series of infomercials alongside his wife and daughter he would show you the benefits of an all-electric life. The tag line being ‘Live Better Electrically’.

The Ethos Behind Advertising Touting the Benefits of Electrical Appliances Stuck.

It seems that the idea of having anything less than an all-electric house is not only unthinkable, but any signs that suggest otherwise (such as the clothesline) can send out a bad message about your neighborhood.

So now an electric standard has been set. The all-electric lifestyle of homes in the U.S. means that if you are seen to be line drying, it can only mean one thing; that you can’t afford a tumble dryer. It couldn’t possibly be because line drying is better for your clothes, the environment, and your health.

To Make A Change, We Need to Look in Our Own Backyards

Fast forward to present day and we see similar marketing tactics that were used in the U.S. in the 50’s being applied to developing nations. We could look to our friends in the East and implore them to pick a more sustainable mode of development. Sadly it’s not our place to say. The advertising of electrical appliances on developing nations is coming from within the countries biggest electronic giants.

We can fight against all the fracking and oil drilling and gas guzzling cars we want, but progress will be slow and painful in the long run for the fight to save our planet. In order to make a real change, we need to begin to look at ourselves — our definitions of necessity and luxury, and most importantly, we need to look in our own backyards.

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