The clothesline is a rare sight these days for drying laundry

Energy savings, fresh smells are bringing some homemakers back to outdoor drying

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MOHRSVILLE, Pa. -- Melanie Younker releases a sigh of satisfaction as she finishes hanging her second load of wash on a clothesline near her 100-year-old Centre Township farmhouse.

"It looks beautiful," the 30-year-old mother of four says. "I like hanging out the wash."

In an era when about 80 percent of households use gas or electric dryers, Ms. Younker clings to a tried-and-true method of drying her wash naturally. As did her mother and grandmother, she prefers the freshness infused into her laundry by country air and sunshine.

"I don't think my grandmother, Betty Bicksler, ever owned a dryer," said Ms. Younker, who grew up on a dairy farm.

Lugging a basket of clothes and a bucket of clothespins up a slight incline, she methodically hangs an array of T-shirts and sweatshirts on an 80-foot-long metal clothesline.

Flapping in a gentle breeze, the column of colorful shirts and trousers exudes a sense of wholesomeness.

Like an essential element in a landscape painting, the wash somehow belongs with the whitewashed shed, the Pennsylvania bank barn and husband Steven Younker's tractor plowing a field.

Hanging out the wash is no easy task, she said, but the extra effort makes all the difference in the world.

"When I wash bedsheets, hanging them out makes them smell better," she said. "Nothing can beat fresh air."

Changing times

Once a backyard fixture of virtually every household, clotheslines have all but faded from the American landscape in the past 50 or so years.

The convenience of dryers and changing attitudes toward privacy have dealt the clothesline a fate similar to the typewriter and the public phone booth.

The post-World War II migration to the suburbs sounded the death knell for the clothesline, thought to have been begun by sailors stringing rope on the decks of oceangoing schooners.

Indeed, The New York Times estimates that 60 million people living in private communities are forbidden by deed restrictions and association rules from erecting clotheslines and hanging their laundry outside.

However, activists and others concerned about global warming say there could be significant environmental benefits to hanging out the wash.

Citing U.S. Department of Energy data, Project Laundry List says about 5.8 percent of residential electricity is consumed by clothes dryers. If everyone used clotheslines or drying racks, the online project says, the reduction in electric usage could close several power plants.

Ms. Younker conceded that keeping the electric bill in check has a lot to do with why she prefers a clothesline to a dryer. Doing laundry is a daily chore, second perhaps only to milking and tending the herd, on a working dairy farm with four school-aged kids.

"I wash every day except Sunday," she said. "That's the laundry lady's day off."

Songbirds and slacks

A pair of slacks danced in the wind as Marlene Forry tended lilacs and wisteria in the garden of her Rehrersburg home.

"I've been hanging my wash out ever since I went housekeeping in 1959," said Ms. Forry, 75, a retired deli clerk. "It's kind of one of my priorities."

To conserve well water, she does four or five loads each week at a local laundromat. Rather than use the laundromat dryers, she totes the wash home and hangs it on a clothesline that spans an immaculately kept lawn.

More than saving water or money, Ms. Forry said, the time she spends hanging clothes brings her closer to nature.

Songbirds serenade and hawks majestically soar above the craggy Blue Mountain ridge.

"I call it my visit to nature," Ms. Forry said.

Preserving the past

Bob Lee, an expert on old washing machines, said many people who attend his lectures remember their mothers and grandmothers hanging clothes on wash day, usually Monday.

"All these years later, they still have strong memories," said Mr. Lee, 73, a retired railroad worker who lives in Newmanstown, Lebanon County.

In his extensive collection, Mr. Lee has rare drying racks and indoor clotheslines. In winter, homemakers often dried the wash inside.

"When it was freezing or raining outside," he said, "they'd string an indoor clothesline near their coal stoves."



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