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Ancient wind/solar clothes dryer that still works

Why is it that movie producers who devote much time to every tiny detail, makeup and costumes, fail to get it right when showing a routine task such as washing clothes by hand?

In a recent popular thriller, two women first scrubbed a mass of clothes in a small lake, and then toted the wet articles in a pail to a clothesline. One woman grabbed three sopping-wet pair of jeans and slung them over her shoulder to walk down the line to hang them. Of course she also stood there and chatted a while with the supposedly wet jeans on her shoulder.

Anyone who has ever washed clothes by hand knows how difficult it is to wring out all (or even most of) the water by hand, especially from heavy articles such as jeans, blankets or rugs. Why would anyone drape wet jeans on themselves? I couldn’t figure out why those Hollywood producers who spent millions on their realistic sets didn’t take the time to accurately portray this simple domestic scene.

Then it hit me.

It’s because they didn’t know.

When I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, every home had a clothesline. Even if there was an electric or gas dryer inside, an outside line was used for sheets, blankets, delicate items and really heavy clothes. Not only was it more economical, the clothes felt and smelled so much nicer than if they’d come out of a static-producing machine. I guess that’s why inventors quickly came up with a host of artificial outdoorsy scents to add to the rinse or drying cycles.

It’s rare to see clotheslines now, even in the country. So, it is no wonder Hollywood couldn’t get it right. When clotheslines are depicted in movies, they are meant to indicate poverty.

I came across a well-written blog the other day by a woman who admitted learning to dry clothes outdoors after her electric dryer broke and she couldn’t afford the repair bill. She wasn’t sure how and where to begin hanging clothes outside, so she draped some over the grape trellis to see what would happen. The writer was amazed at how quickly and efficiently the clothes dried. She eventually put up a real clothesline and now claims double-digit savings on her electric bill.

I guess I take it for granted that everyone already knows how to hang clothes on a line. But then I looked through my 1909 Household Discoveries book and found an entire chapter devoted to laundry skills. Some of the tips no longer apply, such as the need to take down the line after use (we can just buy new lines every year or two) or to boil and harden the clothespins.

Many people have mentioned to me how difficult it must have been to live before electricity and modern conveniences. I disagree, even after reading in the 1909 book this suggestion for housewives:

Plan for Wash Day – Get up at daylight and get the washing out of the way as early as possible. It is surprising how much can be accomplished early in the morning before the regular routine of the day begins.”

If that sounds like a chore, consider many American household routines: Get up before daylight, shower, put on expensive, uncomfortable clothing and drive 45 minutes to an indoor, computer job. Nine hours later, drive home completely drained of energy. Toss the clothes in the washer and dryer, and be sure to take them out before bedtime so they will be ready for work the next day.

No thank you.

Oh, the book also recommends buying a good washing machine:

“Like the sewing machine, this instrument has a very important bearing upon the welfare of the family by lessening the physical labor devolving upon the wife and mother, and thus saving much of her energy for the higher and more elevated duties of the household.”

Here are more clothes-drying tips to lessen your physical labor:

  • Do not let clothes freeze as it damages the fibers and fades colors.
  • Add salt to rinse water to help keep clothes from freezing.
  • Hang whites in the sun and colored articles in the shade.
  • Make an apron with a large, baglike pocket to hold clothespins for convenience while working.
  • To keep hands warm in freezing weather, boil the clothespin bag and dry the pins by the fire before heading outdoors.
  • Every few weeks, immerse the clothespin bag in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Spread out the pins to dry quickly by the fire or in the sun. This keeps them from becoming brittle and cracking.
  • Dip the heads of part of the clothespins in dark paint, some in light paint and leave the rest unpainted. Use the dark ones for colored clothes, the white for miscellaneous towels and the unpainted for sheer whites.
  • Hang tablecloths, sheets and blankets by the corners, not draped from the middle, to keep them from being damaged in the wind.
  • When taking down clothes, put the clothes basket in a wagon to move along with you. Shake the wrinkles from each article, fold and lay them orderly in the basket rather than a disorderly mess.

If you have questions, please contact me at Our goal at Well WaterBoy Products is to help people live more self-sufficiently without relying on electricity. We are working steadily toward living off-grid and incorporating human-powered machines wherever possible. Visit us at

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Mrs. WaterBoy


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