Living Frugally: Return of the Clothesline

According to the Consumer Energy Center, clothes dryers can be one of the most expensive home appliances to operate, using approximately 6% of a home’s total electricity usage. That likely doesn’t come as a surprise to many readers. Dryers are definitely energy hogs! If you happen to be looking for a new dryer, or any new appliance really, keep an eye out for the EnergyGuide label; the yellow tag you’ll find attached to most appliances.

The Energy Guide Label

The label notes how much energy an appliance uses and makes it easier to compare the energy use of similar models. The more energy-efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to run, and the lower your utility bills might be. Using less energy is good for the environment, too; it can reduce air pollution and help conserve natural resources. Nothing wrong with doing your small part to aid the environment!

Unfortunately, unlike many other appliances, clothes dryers don’t vary much from brand to brand and model to model in the amount of energy used. Appropriately enough, the Federal Trade Commission does not require clothes dryers to have a yellow EnergyGuide label. I checked my relatively new dryer, and sure enough, no label.

Washer and Dryer

All clothes dryers being sold today operate in the same manner, they use electricity to turn a drum that tumbles clothes through heated air to remove moisture. However, operating costs vary depending if that air is heated by electricity or natural gas.

Electric dryers use heating coils, while gas dryers use a gas burner to produce heat. Gas dryers cost approximately $50 more to purchase initially, but since natural gas is usually less costly than electricity, gas dryers cost less to operate. Depending on your use, drying a load of laundry can cost between 32 to 41 cents in an electric dryer, or 15 to 33 cents in a gas dryer.

Gas dryers tend to operate at a hotter temperature than electric ones, so clothes can tumble in the dryer for shorter periods, sparing the material and reducing energy costs. Thus a gas dryer can save you up to 50% in energy costs.

Less of the New and More of the Old

ClotheslineWhen we decided to buy a new washer and dryer pair last year, a gas dryer was not an option for us, and since all electric dryers basically use the same amount of energy, a ‘better’ dryer was  not an option if we wanted to reduce some of our utilities costs. While we had been talking about going old school and using a clothesline for a while, as a means to save a few bucks, it was only recently that we finally pulled the trigger.

So off to The Home Depot the wife went a couple weeks ago and returned with a retractable clothesline that can be easily mounted – it only took us about five minutes – on a wood surface; the eave hanging over our backyard patio worked out perfectly.


We now use the clothesline about 75% of the time. While we haven’t had the clothesline long enough to confirm the savings, the projected savings are pretty straight forward. Over the last six months, our electricity bill has averaged $135. If the dryer is 6% of that cost, we’re looking at $8.10 per month. Reduce that $8.10 by 75% and we’re left with $2.02 … a savings of $6.08 each month, or just shy of $73 each year. Not a game changer, but nothing to sneeze at either.

The Cherry on Top

The best part about drying our clothes naturally? That fresh scent – particularly with linens – that even the best dryer sheet can’t come close to replicating. Nothing like laying your head down on a freshly washed and dried pillow – after a long day – and reveling in that fresh scent. Nice!

An Update: I have had a chance to analyze my electric utility bill for the last year, comparing the average payments for the last six months to the previous six months. The average bills pre- and post-clothesline? $151.07 and $135.24. While the $15.83 may not be entirely attributable to the clothesline, I have to believe it is the primary factor driving down our electricity bill as we have made a conscious effort to use the dryer less and there really aren’t any other actions we have taken to reduce the use of electricity.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. I agree, clothes lines are particularly awesome! As a full-of-dangerous-spiders country, we don’t really use our outside clothes line, as that would be a great place for them to hide and make a home. We do have a ‘clothes horse’ which we hang to dry our clothes. Dries by themselves in summer, and we put it near our gas heater in winter (adding no extra charge to our bill).


    • Yep, we’re loving the experience. Nothing but positive results so far.

    • Can I just add, DDU, to your comment about drying clothes indoors in front of a heater. As one who has had to do this throughout most of his life, I thoroughly recommend running a dehumidifyer at the same time to absorb the extra moisture given off by the washing.

      They don’t cost much to run but the benefits are huge. Firstly, it makes your home warmer as the heat isn’t being wasted on heating the moist air, it’s much healthier for you, and it helps prevent wet windows and mould from all that extra moisture in the atmosphere.

      When I was running one, it would remove up to 2 litres of water a day in a 3-bedroom house. That’s a lot of water to be floating around in your house.

  2. Hi James. Thankfully, I now live in a place that has warm sunny days and low humidity nearly all winter (Brisbane) so clothes drying is not an issue. But previous to living here, I lived in Auckland which is perpetually wet and cold throughout winter (which is one of the reasons I moved here).

    In Auckland the clothes dryer becomes your new best, albeit, expensive best friend during winter unless you have a warm garage or similar to hang clothes. Washing does contribute hugely to the power bill during winter over there.

    I don’t understand why people choose to use dryers as the norm though. Not only are they expensive to run but drying in the sun is proven to kill any bacteria left on items after the wash. Sun drying is definitely better in nearly every way.

    • ” … drying in the sun is proven to kill any bacteria left on items after the wash.” That was a benefit I hadn’t even considered. One of the many great things about living here in Arizona is the high heat, low humidity. We should be able to dry clothes on the line most of the year.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend and sharing your thoughts and a little enlightenment.

  3. Great point James! Many people wouldn’t go to that much work for $75. We hang a lot of our clothes but we can’t during certain times because of the pollen! We all have some allergies and our clothes actually would come in with yellow all over them! So we have to use our indoor lines in our laundry area during that time! Totally agree about using dri-fit and it coming out almost dry!

    • The wife and I are both thrilled with the ease of use and savings provided by the new approach!

  4. I think this is a real cultural difference between the US and the UK. Of course dryers exist over here but not everyone has one and here it’s considered completely normal to put stuff on the line to dry.

    • Indeed. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in other parts of Europe, particularly Germany over the years and it is a lot more common to see clothes on a line on that side of the Atlantic.

      Thanks for stopping by, Ellie and sharing your thoughts.

  5. I don’t have a clothes line, but one reason I like my polyester golf shirts and anything polyester is I don’t have to throw them in the dryer. They come out dryer than cotton anyway and then I just space them in my closet to hang dry for a couple hours. same with some thin polyester throw blankets. I just got a bunch of new work shirts yesterday, but I was instantly saddened that they’re all cotton this time.

    • I know exactly what you mean about the polyester. A lot of my shirts are the lightweight dri-fit as are most of the workout attire for both me and the wife. The dri-fit stuff is nearly dry out of the washer and only takes a little time to dry on the line. Even heavier items like jeans and towels don’t take long … especially under the blaze of the Arizona sun.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *