Line Drying Clothes Outside in Winter

Drying clothes outside in the snow

Line drying gives your clothes that summer fresh smell—in the summer. What about in the winter? Do you brave the cold to hang your clothes in the winter sunshine? You can still dry your clothes outside in the winter if you keep in mind the factors involved in drying.

Line drying clothes saves money because it saves on the expense of energy use. Drying cloth diapers and other stained clothes outside, exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, can reduce or remove stains. In the winter, you can still save energy and reduce stains.

The general opinion, based on answers to my casual questions to frugal and green friends, is that no one dries clothes outside in the winter. Oh, but they do! “They don’t dry,” several people said. Oh, but they do! “There isn’t enough sun,” said a couple. What? Oh, yes, there is! The suns rays don’t hide in the winter. I live where most of the winter we have biting cold, beautifully sunny days—when you can get a sunburn just as easily as you can in the summer. The misconceptions probably come from assumptions about heat, but heat is not the only factor in drying.


Why Do You Dry Clothes Outside?

Do you dry clothes outside to save money and energy, or do you use the sun for its natural bleaching effects? Your best winter options for clothes drying depend on your goals.


Just Dry, Please

If your only intention is to dry the clothes, you just need to create a situation that will evaporate moisture. Whether you can get that outside depends on your weather.

The factors in drying are heat, humidity, and time. With a lot of heat, you don’t need as much time, and humidity is less of an issue. Without heat, you need to increase the other factors. It will certainly take more time, and it helps if the humidity is low. Whichever factors you have in your favor, use them, but the moisture does need somewhere to go.

For soft clothes, you also need to add a fourth factor: agitation. Sheets and towels dried in a summer breeze aren’t just fresh because of the sun. The breeze flexes the fibers and softens them. When you dry clothes without any agitation or breeze, they are more stiff. If you get stiffness even in a breeze, you might have detergent residue in your clothes, in which case you need to rinse warmer, longer, or with more water. If you have no breeze, you can roll your clothes around or toss them in the dryer for a quick tumble to soften them up a bit.

If it’s humid and cold outside, your clothes might dry only very slowly or not at all. That would be an ideal situation to use an indoor drying rack to take advantage of the heat inside your house.

If it’s dry and cold outside, you might get freeze dried clothes. What you think is frozen might actually turn out to be mostly dry. If you get a coating of ice on the side away from the sun, turn the clothes around to encourage the ice to melt and evaporate. If your clothes freeze before they dry completely, you might need to finish the drying inside.

If it’s windy and cold, you might get freeze dried clothes that are frozen into interesting shapes. The wind, though, can help soften your clothes a bit as well as helping with evaporation. A dry breeze on a sunny day, even if it is cold, is idle winter line drying weather.

Keeping in mind heat, humidity, time, and agitation, you can get your clothes dry naturally even through a cold winter.


The Sun As Natural Bleach

If your reason for drying clothes outside is the natural bleaching effects of the sun, you can still dry clothes outside in the winter. Just plan wash day for a clear, sunny day.

The exposure to UV light reduces stains without the need to add extra chemicals. This is particular useful for cloth diapers. Spraying lemon juice on stains can help the sun bleach stains even more, though you will probably want to rewash the diapers to avoid irritating your baby’s skin with lemony diapers.

Obviously, if the sun isn’t shining directly on your clothes line, you won’t get that nice, natural bleaching effect. This goes for summer and winter. If you see the sun, though, you can still bleach your diapers outside in the winter.

If you decide to dry your clothes inside, putting them toward the sun will help if it is warmer (increasing the factor of heat), but keep in mind that many windows have UV filters. You might not get the bleaching effect of the sun even if you dry in indoor sunlight.


Keep in Mind

  • When it’s really cold outside, use gloves to save yourself the pain of frozen fingers.
  • If the temperature is below freezing, your clothes might freeze in the basket as you are putting up the other clothes. Help yourself move quickly by working in batches and putting clothes pins on the wet clothes before you go outside.
  • Extreme cold can damage some materials. If you use reusable PUL cloth diaper covers, do not dry them outside in the winter. Extreme cold can crack PUL and other sensitive materials.
  • If you have trouble with extreme dryness in your house, drying clothes on a line or a rack inside can add welcome humidity.
  • If you decide to dry in a gas or electric dryer, you can still keep in mind the drying factors of heat, humidity, and time. You don’t need heat to dry. Many dryers have a setting for drying without heat; mine is “Air Dry.” Heat means you dry faster, but it isn’t necessary to evaporate moisture.

Don’t be afraid of those frozen jeans and mysteriously shaped, freeze dried sheets. You can still use the wind and the sun to dry your clothes outside in the winter. Good luck.

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