Knickers to the Red, White & Blue

Visiting my home town in the UK last week, I experienced a new perspective on some of the cultural oddities of these United States. For instance, people in England, as elsewhere across the planet, hang their washing to dry outside on clear days. This obvious solution to the final stage of the laundry cycle – drying clothes en plein air – is anathema to most Americans, who see clotheslines as a symbol of poverty and despair.

Matthew Engel writes in the Weekend Financial Times about one woman’s fight to air her dirty laundry, highlighting key aspects of the oddly American prohibition on hanging washing outside. Neighbors are quick to complain that “trailer trash” inhabit a home where the clothes dry outside. Like Victorians who insisted on demure skirting around piano legs, they object to seeing the neighbor’s knickers. In many upscale communities there are strictly enforced laws banning outside clotheslines. The gas or electric tumble dryer is fired up even on the warmest of days.

Engel identifies the historical origins of the uniquely American obsession with burning carbon fuels in order to dry laundry in tumble driers, come rain or shine:

This one is just a very strange and very American prejudice, which is at odds with some of the country’s other priorities: far greater piety than is now normal in Europe (surely sun and wind are part of God’s benison?) and the right to do what the hell you want on your own property. As Ms Froehlich said: “If my husband has a right to have guns in the house, I have a right to hang laundry.”

This seems, however, to clash with two other American traits: the puritan tradition, lingering from the 17th century, and an unshakeable faith in technology, lingering from the 1950s. So now battle is joined between the anti-hangers and environmentalists who accuse driers of being responsible for 6 per cent of domestic US electricity consumption.

Hills Hoist An increasing number of environmentally aware citizens are pointing out the ecological advantages of the humble clothesline. Project Laundry List is a pressure group attempting to communicate the common-sense values and benefits to the planet of hanging laundry outside. I would encourage anyone interested in a sensible alternative to the foolish use of tumble dryers on warm and sunny days to join. My own family clothes are hung out on the Hills Hoist we purchased from the Australian supplier over ten years ago. And yes, those are my underpants (above) hanging out in the California sunshine.

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thank you! we used a clothesline when i was growing up and i have been drying my clothes exclusively on the line outdoors or on a rack indoors for the past several years. i am a firm believer in the concept and the practice. i realize that this act alone isn’t going to save the environment but i certainly feel good about doing one less thing that would make it worse!

I just want to say, I think it is a very sad thing that American’s feel that way. However, I am an American which has been breaking tradition for a few years now. Most of my life (OK, since I started doing the family washing)I have always hung up in the spring/summer months. In the last 3 years it has been hang drying year round. This means in the basement on drying racks in the winter. I completely gave up my tumble dryer. I live in the rainy pacific northwest near Seattle. If I can do it, then anyone can 😉

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