It used to be the ubiquitous backyard sight — clothes, sheets and towels flapping in the wind and drying on the family clothes line. Now, outdoor clothes lines are coming back in style, not just because it's a cheaper way to dry your laundry, but also because it fits into the green lifestyle that has gained so much popularity over the last few years.
The primary advantage of using a clothes line is that it can save you money. Electric dryers use up to 10 percent of the average home's residential energy use, making it one of the highest home energy drains. Also, since your clothes line doesn't use electrical energy, it doesn't pollute.
Finally, using a clothes line can also benefit your clothes directly — most fabrics will last longer if they are dried naturally in the sun as opposed to in an electric dryer, and some people say those clothes will also smell better.
There are two main disadvantages to hanging laundry on outside clothes lines: the possibility of fading colors, and wrinkles. Hanging clothes inside-out prevents any fading of the clothing, and the wrinkles can be easily taken care of with an iron. While ironing offsets the energy savings slightly, running an iron requires far less energy than running an electric dryer.
Umbrella clothes lines look like the metal skeleton of an umbrella that's been blown inside-out by the wind. An umbrella clothes line usually comes pre-strung. A steel-based umbrella clothes line is typically stronger than an aluminum-based one, but aluminum is easier to disassemble and transport. So, if you're in a high-wind area, it would be safer to purchase an aluminum umbrella clothes line that you could take down than to rely on the strength of a steel umbrella clothes line to remain standing. An umbrella clothes line should be mounted into the ground and never put into a plastic umbrella stand — it is significantly heavier than a standard umbrella.
A retractable clothes line allows you to dry your clothes outdoors without the clothes line taking over the backyard. With one piece mounted on a wall and the other staked in the ground, the retractable clothes line is only seen when you need it— just pull the string on the wall-mounted unit and attach it to the other side, and you've got an instant clothes line that is just as easy to take down when you're done.
Of course, there's also the standard pulley clothes line. Mounted between two points relatively equal in height (such as the wall of a house and a corner-post of a deck, for example), this consists of a line wrapped around a pulley on each end. Pulling the top line moves the bottom line along so that you can hang all of your clothes out while standing in one place.