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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: Clotheslines of Nyack

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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by Susan Hellauer

In the Bronx of my youth (which was, admittedly, plenty of years ago), every home had a clothesline, from back porch to garage, from a shed to a tree, from a tenement window to a pole . . . No matter the season, if it wasn’t raining, the wash was out. And when it wasn’t out, it was in, on a few lines strung creatively around the “boiler room.”

The convenience of gas and electric clothes dryers have almost put the old-school “wind-and-solar” clotheslines out of business, but for some of us, the fresh smell and the earth-friendly (and 100% free) energy have kept the clothesline au courant.

So, is a clothesline really better than a gas or electric dryer? Yes, and let us count the ways:

  • Of course, using a clothesline saves money and spares the climate by saving energy.
  • That fresh air smell on your sheets and towels just can’t be replicated by chemical fabric softeners or perfumed detergents.
  • The sun is a natural bleach, and will fade stains on your white and light-colored linens and clothing.
  • Sunlight has natural antibacterial properties, something to feel good about especially if you wash in energy-saving cold water.
  • Your clothes and linens will last longer when they’re not regularly pummeled and roasted in a dryer. (Just check that lint trap!)
  • Not using your home clothes dryer in hot weather helps keep your home cooler, saving on air conditioning expense and energy.
EIA home energy consumption

Clothes dryers account for a significant 5% of total U.S. home electricity consumption, according the the latest available data. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Your “Right to Dry”?

In just about every other place in the world, hanging wash on a line to dry—all year round—is the norm. But here in the U.S., some villages, condominiums, rental properties or Home Owners Associations (HOAs) forbid outdoor drying of clothes as unsightly, and a threat to property values.

Environmental advocates, however, have managed to get 19 states to enact “Right to Dry” legislation, which overrides any local or residential clothesline ban. Alas, New York State is not among the Right to Dry states, yet, so residents need to check with their local government, condo, landlord, or HOA to make sure that they can legally hang wash outside.

But  homeowners in Nyack, South Nyack and Upper Nyack can rejoice. There’s no ordinance against hanging the wash outside to dry. Just don’t hang it in the street, and you’re good.

The Clotheslines of Nyack

Here’s how (and why) some of your neighbors hang out the wash.


Elizabeth Turk’s wash hangs out on a great drying day in Nyack. Photo: Elizabeth Turk

As someone who grew up hanging clothes out on a line, I’m all for it! The practice is still very common in the UK and Europe. Why pay for electricity when you can use the free natural drying power of sunshine and airflow?! — Andrew Goodwillie, Village of South Nyack, Sustainability Coordinator

Laura Pakaln: “I have never owned a dryer. Growing up, my parents didn’t have one, either. Everything dried outside in the sun, dried quickly, and smelled like fresh air. I still do it for the same reasons, plus we save money on electricity. Photo: Laura Pakaln

My clothesline “dryer” serves me year round, almost. Just an hour or two on a nice day is all it takes. Helps conserve energy vis-a-vis environment and cost. And nothing beats the fresh air smell. — Lilo Kassel 


Heidi Broecking: “My line on Monday mornings. There is no better bleach than the sun and no better smell than ‘sun sheets.’ Love!” Photo: Heidi Broecking

Clothesline? Always, and the whites come out so well. Not to mention how great laundry smells when line dried. — Candice Robins

Do it yourself

Want to try clothesline drying where you live? Hardware stores carry clothesline materials, and there are space-saving umbrella-style clothes dryers, as well as portable racks that can be used indoors and out. Check out these clever ideas for all sorts of spaces. And there’s always YouTube University for DIY do-ers.


Joe Monterey, proprietor of Herb Lack Paint and Hardware at 124 Main Street, Nyack, NY, with an array of clothesline supplies. The author restored her clothesline twice in the last 22 years with supplies from Herb Lack. Photo: Susan Hellauer

Learn more:

Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique, and Strawtown Studio. Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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