Posts Tagged ‘laundry’

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!

In Search of the Perfect Clothesline

(click to enlarge)


Because we are living mostly off-the-grid and are highly dependent on sunny days for our electricity, I needed a washing machine that used very little electricity or water.  Our water comes from a well, but its source is hundreds of feet below the ground.  To get it up to the surface requires a 3/4 horsepower pump – which uses electricity.  So the less water used, the less the pump has to work.

We also want to avoid wasting water, because that flows into our septic system.  A full septic tank is not a pretty smell.  Do you feel frustrated and unfulfilled by your current job?  Realize that there are people who make their living doing nothing but pumping out septic tanks day in and day out, in all kinds of weather.  Makes you start appreciating the persnickety boss and suffocating cubicle at your current place of employment, doesn’t it?

If there is cloudy weather for days and days, and our battery supply is depleted to the point of no electric service, we do have two possiblities:  one is that we simply flick a switch and we are reconnected to the grid via our local power company.  When we’ve had to rely on this, our electric bills have typically been $10 – $25 per month.  The reason they’re so cheap is that we’ve invested a lot of time and thought into how we can cut down on energy expenditure.  Our house is super-insulated which means in summer we don’t need a/c even on the hottest days; in winter it retains heat so well that the woodstove is more than adequate and at times we’ve even had to crack open a window because it gets too hot inside the house!

We’re extremely careful about turning off lights that aren’t in use and using power strips that can be easily turned off to avoid energy vampires.  Most of the lights in the house are LEDs, which use much less electricity than CFL bulbs – – only 10 watts per fixture.  These look like any old recessed lighting fixtures, but they give off wonderful light, are much more pleasing and softer than CFLs, yet more natural looking, brighter and more intense .  I highly recommend them to anyone considering an update to their home’s lighting system:

We put the largest windows on the south and west sides of the house.  On clear winter days the sun’s rays are absorbed by the glass and warm up our rooms nicely.  This is known as “passive solar.”

There are some things in the house that are powered by propane gas: our back-up heating  system, our kitchen range, our hot water, and our generator.  If we have a week of no sunshine and then there is a major storm and the power lines are down (and this happens a lot), the generator is a life-saver.  The downside, besides the noise, is that propane gas is rather expensive.  We have a 1000-gallon propane tank buried underneath the ground, but at $2.30 a gallon, it’s not something you want to drain quickly.  That’s why we don’t have a clothes dryer – – it eats up too much propane gas.  When I cook, it’s usually on top of my stove, because I find that using a pressure cooker cooks food very quickly and uses a whole lot less gas than if I bake something in the oven.

When looking for a washing machine, I first went to This was very useful also when looking for a refrigerator.  You can find out how much energy a particular appliance consumes, and compare different brands.  I found out that a medium-size Miele washing machine was the lowest for both electricity and water use, and it had excellent reliability ratings.  I wasn’t scared off by the smaller capacity, since I’m doing laundry for only 2 people these days.

There is only one problem with a Miele washing machine: the price.  At $2,000 – $3,000 there is no way I was buying one – – new, that is.

Thank you, CraigsList!  A guy in New Hampshire was selling his as-new Miele machine for $1200.  I waited a couple of weeks and then I emailed him.  “I noticed a couple of weeks ago you were selling a Miele washing machine.  There is no way I can pay you $1200, but if you’re willing to take $450 cash, I can be there tomorrow and take it away.”

It even came with an extended, transferable warranty.  I was very excited.  And, I’m happy to report, it does live up to its promise.  Our Miele washer really does get the clothes cleaner, using a bare minimum of detergent, water and electricity!

Hanging the wash is a work in progress, however.

Our laundry smells of fresh mountain air – it’s wonderful.  And we have lots of trees from which to string a clothesline!

A sunny November morning

But the trees have to be at least 20′ apart and here the woods are too thick.  And the line can’t be too far into the woods, because of mud in the spring and snow in the winter.  The clothesline has to be in an area of sunlight, because the cold temperatures and short days in the fall and winter mean the laundry will otherwise not get dry.  Location, location, location!

I do have a single clothesline strung, but am looking into stringing more on the side of the shed.  That’s when I found the Cord-A-Clip.  Even though we did not end up getting a Cord-O-Clip, as I watched the info video on YouTube, I got positively teary-eyed.

It made me think of my mother-in-law, a’h.

My mother-in-law was a TV addict.  She always felt grateful for television.  When she came to this country after the War, she didn’t understand or speak English, and everything and everybody was so different from what she was used to.  She had no money, but she did have a husband and two small children to nurture.  Rent had to be paid and food had to be put on the table.  There was no time to go to night school – – there weren’t enough hours in the day between caring  for the children, and she and her husband working their heads off.

At night when things quieted down, my mother-in-law watched TV.  She learned English from “I Love Lucy” and “Bonanza.”

But as that age of innocence devolved, TV embraced the culture of marketing.  And with it was born “As Seen On TV.”

My mother-in-law was its biggest devotee.

To my mother-in-law, if something was As Seen On TV, it was irresistible.  A product had to be good if it was clever enough and wonderful enough to be As Seen On TV!!!  Soon, the mail carrier  and UPS man were on a first-name basis with my mother-in-law, due to the weekly arrivals of innovative gadgets that were all stamped, “As Seen On TV!”

In her later years, she was thrilled when WalMart and Target created special sections in their stores, whose aisles were limited to items that were As Seen On TV.  It made shopping so much faster – she only had to go to that particular aisle when looking for presents to buy for her family!  Because if it was As Seen On TV, it was surely the most unique, clever and perfect present in the world!

When I saw the Cord-O-Clip, I knew my mother-in-law was smiling down at me from Above.

If my mother-in-law were alive, I imagine this Chanuka we would have gotten presents marked “As Seen On YouTube!” because towards the end of her life, she really loved shopping on the Internet . . .

We miss her!