To save money but mostly because we still needed to run a 240v electric circuit or a gas line to our laundry room for a dryer, we line dried our clothes for a while. I was very excited at first to be doing something so green!
We still don't have a dryer, although the 240v circuit is in (along with a vent) and we will be buying later this week. But we haven't line dried our clothes in months for many good reasons which I will lay out in this post. I schlep three large hampers to the laundromat once a week. I don't take issue with those who line dry, but I would take issue with those who make it a cause.
First major problem: the STIFFNESS of the clothes after line drying. Regardless of how much water is spun out of the clothes, water remains in the clothes after washing, and that is why clothes must be dried. This remaining water contains minerals from the water supply, plus any soap that did not rinse out. When clothes are hung out to dry, there is nothing to prevent the minerals and soap residue from drying in place, acting like starch.
We tried to solve the problem by reducing the amount of soap that went into the laundry, to no avail. We have hard water in our area, which only contributed to the problem. Ultimately, the only thing that worked (partially) was using cleaning strength (6%) white vinegar and filling the washer's softener compartment to the max line with it, but the clothes still came out fairly stiff.
Second major problem: the above mentioned stiffness led to an increase in PILLING. Pilling occurs when fabrics experience friction, and over time this friction results in the fabric piling up and creating little balls or tags all over the garment. Line dried clothes cause much more friction because of their stiffness, and this occurs as fabrics rub against each other while being worn, but mostly when you shove all of your stiff clothes back in the washer to be agitated or tumbled together.
I blamed our washer at first. However, the rapid pilling problem persisted even when used the delicate cycle with low spin speed and took care not to over load the washer.
Third major problem: over time, parts of our clothes experienced FADING. The hot California sun was unforgiving even when we limited the amount of time our clothes stayed on the line.
We tried putting a tablecloth or blanket over the clothes to block the sun, but that would often blow off or just cause our clothes to take too long to dry. Indoor line dry was not an option because the increased indoor humidity that would have resulted would have created conditions for mold, which leads to my next major problem.
Fourth major problem: line drying aggravated my wife's sensitive ALLERGIES. All of the allergens in the surrounding air permeated our clothes and were thus brought into our house, which was otherwise kept pretty allergen-free. It was really bad with the sheets and blankets because now she was breathing in these allergens every night, all night.
All four of these problems went away completely when we went back to using dryers. How do tumble dryers solve the stiffness and pilling problems, you may ask? The tumble action combined with the rapidly moving air breaks up and pulls away deposits left behind in the water, along with other debris on the clothes, and deposits it in the lint filter. The result is that there are little to no deposits left on your clothes to act as starch and make them stiff. This lack of stiffness, in turn, reduces the friction that causes pilling. I also theorize that this removal of deposits plus the tossing of the clothes in the dryer gives the fabric a chance to settle into proper lay and shape as it dries, helping to maintain the condition of fabric. Indeed, after a few times of drying the clothes in a dryer, the condition of the fabric was visibly improved.
One problem a regular dryer can cause is static, but we easily solve this with some unscented dryer sheets.
I wanted to write this post because there are tons of websites that will advise you to line dry to save energy and go green without indicating any of the serious downsides to it. Modern technology exists for a good reason.
We still use vinegar as a softener though. It works great, making the clothes just a little bit softer than they would be otherwise, without all of the chemicals.