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Living Green Before Living Green Was Cool: Laundry

Updated on March 5, 2011

Solar Dryer

Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.

A clothes dryer was unheard of in our home until the late sixties and even then it was only used when the solar dryer was out of service. The solar dryer, better known as a clothes line, was just behind the house. Hanging out clothes was an art. The experienced homemaker knew that certain types of clothes hung in the right way would require less ironing and this was very important in the days before permanent press fabrics. Hanging clothes out to dry was and is very green.

Pants Stretchers

My Dad’s work pants were especially prone to wrinkles, but there were these ingenious pants stretchers that were inserted into each leg while the garments were still wet. The stretchers were adjustable so they could be placed inside the pants and then, once in place, they could be stretched out to cause the fabric to become taut therefore preventing wrinkles as the fabric dried and shrank slightly. A slight touch up with the iron was all that was needed to keep my Dad’s work wear looking neat. The pants stretchers lasted for years. I don’t know that they ever wore out but rather became obsolete as fabrics became more sophisticated and clothes dryers proliferated. Pants stretchers saved hours of ironing and therefore lots of energy, both electrical and human. Homemakers really appreciated this kind of green.

The Sprinkler

Ironing, though, could not be totally avoided and this task had its own afternoon of each week to be accomplished. Sometimes the appointed hours were interrupted or just weren’t sufficient for the volume of the week and then there was the problem of how to keep the unironed items from having their wrinkles become even more entrenched. The solution for this dilemma was an empty Coke bottle with a metal sprinkler head stuck in the top by its cork encased bottom. The adapted sprinkler was filled with tap water and was used before steam irons to sprinkle water on the clothes so that steam was created and stubborn wrinkles were vanquished. Then those clothes left over from the day’s ironing session were sprinkled thoroughly, rolled up and placed in a large plastic bag or two. To keep the dampened laundry from mildewing, the bags were situated in the bottom of the refrigerator for ironing in the next couple of days. Ironing may not seem to be very green as it does require electricity, but it was done pretty much all in one session therefore not requiring the initial warming up period over and over as happens in many households today when items are ironed only as they are needed. Also, the fabrics made of sustainable, biodegradable materials and the lack of chemical treatments for wrinkle resistance, must surely have been a greener alternative than all of our present day synthetic and treated fibers.

Make It Do

Clothing and linens were not so disposable as today. There was much time spent darning socks, sewing on buttons, letting out hems, patching and repairing to keep dresses, pants, shirts, blouses, skirts, sheets, curtains and even bath linens in service. These measures were green not only in the recycling sense but also in the financial sense by saving money.

Sacrifice and Reward

Living greener in the fabric and laundry departments would probably be a major challenge in most households today. Many homes do not have the option of hanging clothes outside due to their urban location or homeowner association rules. Allergens and air pollution might be a deterrent for some. Pinning laundry to the line in the bitter cold is misery and fabrics dried outside may not be as soft or unwrinkled as those tumble dried. But, if you have ever experienced the fresh smell that comes from soft breezes and the natural bleaching and disinfecting qualities of sunshine in your linens and clothing, you know that they just cannot be duplicated by even the best dryer softener sheet. Those who do embark on a little backwards journey in the laundry department will find a reward that only Mother Nature can give and approve.

Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.


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    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

      You're right, it is a "mindless yet centering task" and I miss being able to slow down long enough to do it. Thanks for reading!

    • dearabbysmom profile image

      dearabbysmom 7 years ago from Indiana

      My dryer broke last year in the spring and I didn't replace it till it started snowing this winter. Years ago I used to hang out the wash and had forgotten how almost relaxing that of those mindless yet centering tasks!

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Hmmm, nice idea, Gus, but I don't see that happening with my crew. Maybe we should all just become nudists, except, of course, when we have company over or go out! ;D

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Hi U Neek - Fun hub to read. Caused me to remember stuff from long ago. Here's a thought for you as to greening up the laundry deal - Have everyone in the family sit very still, in one place, spill nothing, no sweating, no nothing in fact... ipso facto... clean clothes for weeks and weeks on end with no work to keep them that way. Sure would save on the water bill, too.

      Gus :-)))

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

      I must admit, Pamela, I am not energetic enough to do the green thing by line drying. That electric dryer is just too convenient and fibromyalgia, arthritis and a full schedule just don't lend themselves to hauling heavy baskets of laundry or the other inconveniences of solar drying. And I hate the stiffness of jeans and towels. I'm so spoiled!

      Thanks for reading. :)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I remember all of those things and we got the energy efficient washer and dryer last year which is simple to use and I love it. It uses less soap, water and energy. I did hang clothes out to dry years ago and always liked the fresh smell of the sheets, but the towels weren't soft.

      Good hub!