Winter Laundry

20131225_133609Many people are surprised to find out that I don’t own a dryer – – by choice.

“How do you get your clothes dry in the wintertime in Maine?” they all want to know.

First, let me qualify this.  Most of the time, it’s just my husband and myself.  Two people do not create a whole lot of laundry.  I usually do only 1 or 2 loads a week.  That gives me several days to dry my clothes and linens if that should be necessary.  Also, I have plenty of things to wear (though we’re talking long johns, denim, fleece, and wool socks, not party dresses) so I never “run out.”

When 11 of my grandchildren came to visit me at the same time in Maine this past summer, the clothesline was ALWAYS occupied every single day that they were here, and I sometimes did 3 loads of laundry per day.  And when they left and I needed to wash 14 sets of linens and towels, I opted for the laundromat, although if I’d had a little patience to wait for sunny summer days (the forecast was for rain) I could have shlepped out this task over a number of days with just my washer and clothesline.

I find it especially relaxing and not at all tedious to hang laundry outdoors  (except at the height of blackfly season in May, when I must wear a bug headnet, have every inch of skin covered, and be doused in DEET insect repellant).  My washing machine is a second hand Miele, manufactured in Germany, but bought on craigslist on the cheap,  and it does a fantastic job of getting clothes clean using a minimum amount of water and energy.  But the really amazing thing is that on the final cycle, my Miele spins the clothes nearly dry at 1200 rpm.  So when the wash is done, the clothes are barely moist and drying takes only about 30 – 45 minutes on a sunny summer day.

Unless I’m desperate, I don’t even bother doing laundry on a cloudy winter day:  the sun is psychologically crucial to success.  But even that is not so bad.  If there’s rain, sleet, snow or clouds, I do my laundry at night, and put it on an indoor drying rack 4′ from the woodstove.  By the time I wake up in the morning the laundry is dry.  That said, I still prefer hanging the clothes outside – – the crisp, fresh mountain air makes the clothes smell so wonderful!  But in winter the timing can get tricky, and the hours of daylight are few.

For one thing, after a snowfall, I have to clear a path to the clothesline and then create a walkway underneath the lines, where I stand to hang the clothes.  Also in winter, it is essential to wear fingerless gloves because otherwise the skin of your fingertips can freeze to the damp clothes as you pin them on the line.  Wearing crampons on your boots is also helpful, lest the path you made through the snow the day before has meanwhile turned icy overnight.

In really cold weather, the wet clothes freeze hard as boards almost immediately, even as you’re putting them on the line.  You also need to work quickly so the damp clothes don’t freeze to one another as they lay in the laundry basket.  If you try to separate the clothes that freeze together you could literally break off a hard, frozen sleeve or pants leg while trying to separate them.

But the trickiest thing is knowing when the clothes are dry, because they are so freezing to the touch one might mistake them for being wet, when really they are just cold.

So here’s the trick:   if they are soft to the touch, even if they are very cold, the clothes are dry.  If they are stiff, they are still frozen, and if they are frozen that means that there is still some dampness and moisture in them.  Dry clothes don’t freeze.  And here is another amazing fact:  you don’t need heat to dry clothes quickly.  Ever hear of “freeze-dried” produce or coffee?  The product is frozen in its “wet” state, and then the air is drawn out in a vacuum. The process of drying laundry on an outdoor clothesline in winter temperatures isn’t much different.  Once the wet clothes freeze on the line, the sunshine and wind and cold air draw out the moisture.  My laundry is dry in as little as one to two hours, even if temperatures are in the single digits!

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Tia McHatten on January 7, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Glad I’m not the only one, I live in Northern Maine and do the same thing, this winter is my first winter drying outside, so far so good!

    Reply

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