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How I line dry clothes in winter: my top five tips

Posted by on Thursday 20 January 2011 in frugal, meta | 24 comments

Line drying clothes outside has been a near impossibility this winter – but aside from a load of bedding (including a duvet) that got vomited on (thanks Lily-dog), I’ve line dried everything else inside.

Here’s some of the tricks I’ve used:

1) Get lazier – leave stuff to wash later when the weather is better

Aside from when there have been sick dog incidents, I leave stuff like towels & bedding in the washing basket until they really need doing because our stash of spare clean ones are running low – or until it looks like it’ll be a nice enough day to dry a load outside. Our bedding really needs to line dry outside to blow out the animal fluff.

If heavy things like throws and cushions/pillows get dirty, they just get taken out of use until it looks like there will be a run of decent drying days (even if that means waiting until spring).

If I can’t see myself wearing an item of clothing until much later in the year – some piece of occasional wear like a nice dress or skirt – then they won’t get washed until later in the year either.

I’ll catch up washing everything eventually but in the meantime, it means there isn’t as much congestion for my limited airer space.


2) Get more organised

That congestion on the airer is my main problem so I make sure I wash loads regularly, without too much needing doing at once.

If I do get a backlog – for example when I was ill at the start of the year or when our washing machines pipes froze (then unfroze all over the kitchen), I separate by both colour (light/dark) and by weight of fabric – all coloured t-shirts etc in the first load, then heavier stuff such as jeans & hoodies in the next. The t-shirts will be dry in a day or so, emptying the whole airer for the heavier stuff, which takes three days or so to dry – rather than two mixed loads which would both take a 3+ days to dry. (Another reason to batch wash’n’dry towels rather than doing some in each load.)

Socks & underwear etc are used to fill up space whenever there is a bit of empty space. They get dried on the peg airer thing (see below).

3) Use a portable airer and move it the warmest room

We’ve got an accordian-style airer which can be easily moved from room to room – or heck, even outside for the hour of weak sunshine – whether full or empty. I can move it to wherever is warmest – it typically lives in the living room but can be easily moved out if we don’t want our holey pants dangling next to our friends’ heads while they’re here for a Movie Night ;)

Don’t forget though that the moisture from the laundry has to go somewhere. Sometimes this can be a blessing – for example, woodburners and very hot central heating over-dry air in rooms and a little more humidity can be a good thing – but don’t dry clothes in rooms prone to damp or without adequate ventilation.

4) Use a peg airer thing

I mentioned these last time too (I mean these things) but I think it’s well worth repeating, especially at this time of year. They provide a valuable airer extension for small things like underwear and socks – and help them dry more efficiently than being doubled over an airer. We’re going through loads more socks than normal at the moment – doubling up for warmth most days and whenever we’re out in wellies – so I’m feeling the love for these airers more than ever.

(One of mine is slowly breaking more and more each time I use it though – I’m looking forward to making my own like Petra did!)

5) Don’t put stuff on radiators

The peg airer thing also stops the temptation of putting socks on radiators. As Damn the Broccoli so deftly puts it, radiators actually heat rooms via convection – the circulation of warm air – not radiation, and if clothes or whatever are on the radiators, they dramatically reduce the air flow and so the heat output.

It’s much better to put clothes on an airer near – but not too near – the radiator.

How do you find line drying in winter? Any tips or hints to share?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Lynsey aka Swirlyarts

    We live in a large house and have lots of bannister space so I dry our towels and bedlinen over those. Makes the house look a bit untidy but hey it gets the sheets dry!

    • louisa

      Oh yes, they’re perfect for bed linen and towels. We used to do lots of drying on our bannisters at our old house but I had completely forgotten about it (although admittedly the handrails aren’t really suitable for it here) – thanks for the reminder!

  2. Taphophile

    I have pegless washing lines strug in my laundry (utility room). It’s only a small space but it takes care of socks and underwear.

    My mother bought me a portable washing line (www.mrspeggshandyline.com.au)a few years ago and it spends the winter in the spare bedroom or the living room (the only heated room) if I need to dry things quickly.

    We’ve just bought an old-fashioned pulley dryer which we’ll hang over the bath for towels etc. Mostly for the towels in daily use so they have a chance to dry out after use, but also as undie overflow.

    Shirts I usually put on padded coat hangers and suspend in doorways and the shower stall.

    We are lucky enough in winter to have a sunny if cold days, so a we often line dry light things on the weekends even in winter. If we were home during the day on weekdays, we’d rarely use the indoor lines.

  3. Jan

    I have lots of washing with three menfolk and a dog at home. Daughter in law and new baby due to spend some time with us too- so more to come!. I am obsessive about the weather and keep things for a good drying day-even if they don’t dry completely, they smell so much better. I also try and sponge food spills etc off clothes if they are not smelly enough for a wash. My secret weapon is an Aga- expensive to run so needs to earn its keep-can dry lots on the tops and rail, and stand an airer in front every night with the days washing on- its almost always dry by morning. I also use much less detergent than recommended and use a combined wash/conditioner. I have an eco ball for small or delicate items. One son is a welder, the other a chef, so the eco ball doesn’t really cope with their things!Now I am not at work, I wear clothes more than one day if they pass the armpit test, although fresh underwear is a must.Bedding lasts a fortnight if you go to bed clean!

    • louisa

      I noticed when we both started working from home that our laundry load dropped considerably – not only because we don’t have to be particularly presentable, but because we’ve got more control of our environment – no running for buses, sitting in over-heated offices and too long trousers soaking up every puddle…

      I was doing some research about how often people wash their bedding and it, quite frankly, scared me. Some people insist on washing their sheets absolutely every week without fail, some others wash them every day! The idea of washing them when they actually need washing didn’t seem to occur to them!

  4. Melinda

    When I was a kid living in a mobile home, sheets and towels were hung over doors. Not all wood can take it, but we had no troubles. It helped with humidity, too, I think.

  5. sara

    Hi..had a slap my head moment the other day..my lovely MIL..had 7 children and no tumble drier in sight..i asked how she managed..the secret is to hang rods in your airing cupboard and hang the clothes up on coat hangers..put undies and socks on the hot tank and bingo its dry..i have tried this and *ugger me it works..doh sara i really need to talk to that lady more and find out exactly how she did it all…i have my hubby putting more poles in as i type..another thing it smells lovely too and if i wanted to cheat i wouldn’t need to iron it either…hope this helps some of you..


    • louisa

      Ooh, great idea.

      One of the first jobs I did when we moved into our new home was to build myself an airing cupboard — I didn’t leave myself any hanging space but did make removable shelves (in case we needed to access to the boiler) so I could take one out and replace it with poles…

  6. mama b

    we use a clothes horse constantly, year round. mostly because i’m too lazy to gamble on pegging up washing and hoping it’ll dry before i remember to bring it in again…
    i’ve never owned a dryer. luckily i live in a dry(ish) climate with sunny(ish) winters. but, in saying that, we’ve all gotten so used to nappies hanging up in the living room, we forget to put them away when we have visitors!

    • louisa

      Hehe, that’s another advantage of those peg airer things – I hang my scratty knickers on those and can whip them away quickly when visitors descent ;)

      (Also, note to self: both fix the holes in said scratty knickers and stop mentioning them on the internetz ;) )

  7. Anna M.

    My sister has this clothes spinner thingie. It looks like a large salad spinner. When it spins, it removes most of the water from the dripping wet clothes, so when you hang them it takes less time to dry. Obviously I borrow this device from time to time, who wouldn’t?

    • louisa

      I’ve seen things like that before but not used them – I had an idea, possibly unfounded, that they’d result in more creases in the clothes. Is that the case or did I just make that up? :)

      • Anna M.

        If you spin the clothes too long, they do come out a bit wrinkly and quite dry. That’s why I only turn the knob to less than a minute and they come out just fine.

  8. Mary

    I no longer own a dryer. Here are a few tips that I use to get me things dry on my clothes drying rack. Do not put your rack in a corner there is little to no air movement in the corners and they need air to dry. Spin every thing twice. I actually bought on of those clothes spinners to help get the water out. I get an additional 4-5 cups of water out just with the spinner that I then don’t have to wait to evaporate. If I am in a ‘hurry’ I will leave the ceiling fan on. that is usually enough air movement to get everything dry overnight.

  9. ang fry

    I love my towels dried on the line but with the weather we are having lately hav 2 put them in the dryer but for some reason my towels are smelling after drying they take nearly 2hrs 2 dry any ideas plz??

  10. bydrered

    That’s why I only turn the knob to less than a minute and they come out just fine.

  11. riaztk


    Lots of interesting suggestions here. Hope someone can offer suggestions for our situation.

    We live in London where the winter is now upon us. We have a washer cum dryer but do not want to use the dryer to fully dry our clothes as we understand they can shorten their life. So what we do is dry the cottons a bit so that it is not fully damp and hang them on an airer in our spare bedroon and leave the window open to let is some fresh and cold air. With non cottons we just hang them on the airer without putting them through the drying cycle. We find that sometimes the clothes get that damp musty smell. Is this because we leave the window open and let in the cold air because of which the clothes take longer to dry. Should we close the window in that bedroom so that it get a little warmer…we would ideally like to avoid turnng on the heater in that room.

    We are a young couple without much experience in such domestic matters so would really apprecaite some input.


    • Dana

      The trick of line drying in winter is to wash smaller loads of clothes and not to hang up too much at a time. I live in Amsterdam, which like London is quite damp in winter, I don’t open windows unless it is a dry sunny day, that keeps the musty smell out. I also space my clothes well on the drying rack and hang shirts on hangers over the shower rod to space things out. I never line dry towels, rugs or blue jeans in winter either, they take too long to dry and also smell musty so I use the dryer. I just let them pile up a few weeks at a time. Sometimes I also take clothes from the line and put them in the dryer for 15 minutes at the end, this takes the wrinkles out and makes the clothes a bit softer.

  12. Suzy

    I am having a lot of trouble during winter! We live in a old house with wall paper, when I hang the washing up the wall paper gets mouldy. Now that the temp is in the minus’s (celsius) I want to keep the windows closed to make sure it is hot enough to actually dry the clothes. Please if anyone can give me any advice. I am sick of that musty damp smell.
    I would really appreciate any help!
    Thanks x

    • louisa

      I haven’t tried it myself but I have seen people using bowls of (clean) cat litter or bicarb of soda to absorb excess moisture in the air while drying clothes indoors.

  13. Mark Atwood

    Here’s a genius idea – a rotary clothes line cover. It fits over a rotary washing line so you can dry clothes outside even when it’s raining. IT REALLY WORKS!!! It’s called the Rotaire Dryline – you can order it online. Costs about £50 but when you pay 50p per load in a tumble dryer it soon pays for itself.See http://www.rotaire.com

  14. Bev

    I covert the pully type airer/dryer but dont have the room, so have invested in a couple of cheep, pressure fit shower curtain poles instead. The ploes are fitted a couple of cm below the celing, so I need to stand on a stool to hang clothes etc. I drape larger items such as sheets over or hang clothes on them with coat hangers or the peg thingy. We have a utility cubby not room which is really warm as the boiler is there; this system dries a lot of clothes pretty quickly (and wet coats from rain or snow!).

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