The Resurgance of Clotheslines

American Artisans, Home & Family, Living Green, People
on May 10, 2009
COURTESY OF VERMONT CLOTHESLINE CO./GORDON MILLER PHOTOGRAPHY Line-drying saves money and makes laundry smell fresh, says Michelle Baker, who gets a helping hand from daughter Marlena and neighbor Shelby Parette.

Determined to save energy and money, Michelle and Joel Baker of Waterbury, Vt. (pop. 1,706), searched for a clothesline that could withstand New England winters without being an eyesore. When the couple couldn't find one, they developed their own and launched Vermont Clothesline Co.

In its third year, the company has supplied cedar-post clothesline kits to hundreds of frugal, environmentally conscious customers across the nation.

"When we designed our own clothesline and put it in the yard, neighbors began stopping to ask where they could get one," says Michelle, 44. "Line-drying was becoming popular again, but the only products for it seemed like relics of the past."

With Joel's construction skills and Michelle's business background, the couple set out to create a clotheslines that is simple to install and use, durable and attractive, and made with environmentally friendly methods and materials. "Then all we needed to figure out was how to get it into a shipping box," Michelle says.

Each Vermont Clothesline kit comes with posts, clothesline and hardware, and can be hung using a few household tools, including a posthole digger, measuring tape, adjustable wrench, level and cordless drill or screwdriver.

"The test was whether I could put these up myself, which I can do in under half an hour," Michelle says. "The main work is digging the postholes. All of the clothesline's pieces are doweled or notched, complete with eye hooks and lag bolts, ready to fit together."

Rot-resistant cedar for clothesline posts are supplied by the Goodridge Lumber sawmill in nearby Albany, Vt., and cotton rope for the lines is produced in North Carolina.

The Bakers sell three models of clotheslines, which range in price from $95 to $195. The largest model features a 100-foot length of rope that provides nine drying lines between two support posts. A center-post model is good for small yards and poolsides and accommodates an average-size load of laundry. A single-post model with a pulley-style laundry line rounds out the offerings.

Vermont Clothesline is a family affair, with kit production handled mainly by the couple in a workshop near their home. Joel, 49, also operates a construction company and on foul-weather days, his crew helps assemble clothesline kits. The Bakers' daughter, Marlena, 14, and son, Adrian, 12, assist in the shipping department.

A backyard fixture for centuries, clotheslines gradually fell out of favor when clothes dryers became more common and affordable. However, with a growing interest in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, as well as saving money, the humble clothesline is making a comeback.

"There's a big movement to bring back the clothesline and, because we're hearing from lots of people who live in places that ban them, we're developing a model that can be set up on a deck, porch or patio and then folded away in a bag," Michelle says.

According to research, clothes dryers in nearly 90 million American homes are the second-highest energy-consuming appliance. "Estimates are that if you dry even half your laundry outside, you save 720 pounds of carbon-dioxide production per person a year," Michelle says. "And since it costs about 50 cents to do a dryer load, that's a savings that adds up, too."

But beyond cost-saving and environmental stewardship, line drying has other pleasing perks. Sunshine acts as a kind of natural whitener and disinfectant, clothes last longer when line-dried, and it can cut down on ironing if you hang and shake out items properly.

"Hanging clothes also gives you exercise and time outdoors," Michelle says. "Plus there's nothing like pulling on a shirt or climbing into bed made with line-dried laundry with its crisp, fresh smell."

Visit for more information.