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Top tips for drying clothes outside

Updated: May 24

Whether due to the dramatically increasing costs of electricity, or because of environmental concerns, many people who previously only used the tumble dryer for their laundry are now moving over to line drying their clothes.

To those of us who have always used the washing line for their laundry, this is all second nature, but if you have only ever tumble dried your clothes up to now, line drying can seem fiddly, frustrating and unnecessarily time consuming.

Yes, line drying does take a little longer than just tossing a few items in the dryer, but it's really not difficult. So if you are a newbie, here are our top tips for line drying!

Clothes drying on a washing line against a blue sky

Why dry your laundry outside?

First of all, let’s have a quick reminder of the many reasons why we should all aim to dry our laundry outside as much as possible, instead of using the tumble dryer. It’s not just about being kinder to the environment and easier on your pocket.

Drying your washing outside on the line brings you the following benefits:

  • Saves you money: line drying costs nothing

  • Kinder to the environment: zero energy consumption means that your overall carbon footprint is reduced

  • Clothes last longer: repeatedly drying clothes in a tumble dryer damages the fibres in their fabric over time, meaning that they wear out more quickly

  • Reduces ironing: clothes dried in the breeze have most of the creases shaken out!

  • Removes stains: the UV in sunlight is great at removing minor stains and for brightening whites

  • Reduces condensation in your home if you would otherwise be drying your clothes inside on a radiator or an airer

  • Lovely smelling laundry, from drying it outside in the fresh air (does depend on your immediate environment though!)

  • Personal satisfaction: it’s hard to beat the satisfaction of a line of clean washing flapping in the breeze!

Watch the weather

This is the UK. In most parts of the country it is quite damp a lot of the time. But it is still possible to line dry your clothes outside for most months of the year.

It is a good idea to check the weather forecast for the following day when planning your washing – there’s no point in hanging your clothes out in the pouring rain – but you don’t need to restrict your washing to sunny days.

The key points to remember are:

  • It doesn't need to be sunny to dry your clothes! It just needs to be dry. A good rule of thumb is: if the ground is dry, then your clothes should get dry too.

  • If it is breezy then your clothes will get surprisingly dry even on a grey day.

  • On overcast days, hang your clothes out as early as possible so that they get the maximum amount of time on the line.

  • Even if clothes aren't 100% dry when you bring them in, that still means less time finishing them off in the tumble dryer, or (even better) on an airer.

Unfortunately, weather forecasts aren’t always reliable. Dodging the British weather is obviously much easier if you are able to dash out and rescue the washing if there’s an unexpected shower. With more of us working from home, this is more feasible than it used to be. But even if you are out during the day, you may have a helpful teenager at home or a friendly neighbour who could salvage your washing in an emergency.

Another option to extend your drying season is to fix a washing line in a covered outdoor area, such as under a wide porch or veranda or inside an open garage. It won’t get as much sun as an outside line but it should keep off the worst of any rain. If you have an empty greenhouse this is also a good option for drying your clothes in winter, either on a line or on a clothes airer. (Greenhouses that are in active use for growing plants aren't great for drying clothes as they tend to be quite humid inside.)

Even if your washing does get rained on at some point during the day, it will often dry off again if left on the line, especially if there is a bit of wind.

Timings and logistics

Pegging out the washing on the line takes a bit of time (about 5 minutes per load), so how do you fit it in to your busy day? Ideally you need to get your washing out first thing so that it has the maximum amount of drying time, especially in the cooler months.

So our top tips for fitting it into your routine are:

  • The simplest option is to use a timer on your washing machine so that the laundry load is ready to hang out as soon as you get up. You can use a timer plug if your washing machine doesn't have an inbuilt timer function.

  • It’s entirely up to you exactly when you hang the washing out - if you need to leave early in the morning, you can hang it out while it's still dark. Nothing bad will happen!

  • In fact, in the summer you can even hang the washing out before you go to bed so that it's all ready for the sun as soon as it comes up. Then you just bring it in (feeling slightly smug) when you get back from work.

  • You will normally want to bring your washing in before dusk. This is just because the dew usually starts to form as the sun sets and will make your nice dry washing slightly damp. If it’s a particularly hot or breezy day then dew will be less of an issue.

Get some air!

Everyone has their own preferred technique for pegging clothes out, but the basic principle for the most effective drying is to expose as much of the item to the sun and breeze as possible.

So our top tips for pegging out your washing are:

  • Spread the individual laundry items out as much as possible in the space available. Try to avoid overlapping items.

  • Don't leave items like socks bunched up, and unroll any turned up sleeves or trouser legs.

  • Unbutton shirts and unzip hoodies and jackets so that they hang open.

  • Hang sheets and duvet covers by the edges rather than folding them over the line. This allows any breeze to fill them up like sails so they dry more quickly. Make sure you peg them well!

When it goes wrong

Line drying is really simple, but there are a few things that could possibly go wrong:

  • It starts raining: If it's just a light shower and you've only recently hung the washing out (so it's still wet), just leave the washing on the line and view it as an extra rinse.

  • It starts properly raining: If the washing is nearly dry, bring it in and finish it on an airer or in the tumble dryer; if the washing gets absolutely soaked you may want to give it an extra spin in the machine first.

  • You forget to bring the washing in and leave it out overnight: Nothing bad will happen other than it getting a bit damp from any dew.

  • Bird poo: Spot clean the affected area or if it's really bad, chuck it back in the wash.

  • Washing blows off the line: This only happens very rarely even in very windy locations, so long as you use good pegs. Also, once an item is no longer attached to the washing line, it stops acting like a kite and usually just drops to the ground nearby – leaving you with just a grubby sock to deal with, rather than a lost sock.

line-drying accessories

To make your laundry life easier, here are some recommendations for accessories that we’ve found useful:

  • Get some decent pegs! Plastic ones are pretty but wooden or bamboo pegs last longer and are better for the environment. The very best pegs are stainless steel: they don't break and can be recycled - but are more expensive.

  • A multi-peg sock drying rack (we call ours 'the clippy thing') for hanging socks and pants will save you loads of time hanging out and bringing in smalls. Plastic ones tend to break after a year or so, metal ones last much longer.

  • You can get special clips to attach clothes hangers securely onto the washing line. Shirts dried on a hanger need little to no ironing and can be put straight away when dry.

Washing lines

In most parts of the UK we need as much sun and air on our laundry as possible, so clothes will dry more efficiently on a straight washing line than on a rotary washing line - but a straight washing line obviously takes up more space. Retractable washing lines are a good option, allowing you to hide the washing line away when you’ve finished using it. Rotary washing lines are good for fitting a lot of washing into a small space, but individual items might take longer to dry than on a single straight line.


Q: Is it OK to leave clothes out overnight?

A: Yes! Nothing bad will happen to your washing if you leave it out overnight, other than it will get a little damp from any dew. In the height of summer you don't even need to worry about dew. (I sometimes peg my washing out before I go to bed in summer so that it gets a head start for the morning.)

Q: Will my washing blow away?

A: It's unlikely, especially if you use good pegs. And if an item does happen to pop off its peg, it generally just falls to the ground rather than going flying off over the neighbour's fence. (I have never lost an item in 40 years of line drying.)

Q: How long does washing take to dry on the washing line?

A: This depends on:

  • the item (for example, towels will take longer than sheets and sweatshirts will take longer than shirts)

  • what spin speed you used

  • the weather conditions.

Assuming that you use the fastest spin speed, an average load of washing can dry in as little as 4 hours on a hot and breezy day. The same load could take 6 hours on a cooler but breezy day. The worst weather for drying clothes is a cool and still day. As a very rough rule of thumb, if you hang out a load of washing before 10am it should be pretty much dry by the end of the afternoon. Obviously, in the cooler months you want to hang it out as early as possible to give it the longest drying time before sunset.

Q: Can you hang washing outside in winter?

A: Yes! Even in the UK it is still possible to dry your washing outside in winter. You don't need a warm or sunny day to dry your washing (although that does speed up the process) you just need it to be dry. A breezy day is always best, but so long as the ground outside is dry, you should be able to get a load of washing dry. Aim to hang it out as early as possible to give it the maximum amount of time to dry before the sun goes down. Bring it in promptly at the end of the afternoon. If it's not quite dry you can finish it off inside on a clothes airer or even (shhh) give it a short time in the tumble dryer.

Q: Does hanging clothes outside shrink them?

A: No.

More eco-friendly tips

For suggestions on how to be more environmentally friendly in all aspects of your laundry routine, see our blog post: Going green on wash day

For ideas and recipes for homemade eco-friendly cleaning solutions:

For more money saving ideas see:

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