Thursday, July 11, 2002


From the WSJ:

July 5, 2002


With Their Feel-Good Scents, Clotheslines Make Comeback


With four kids and a pool, Deb Johns used to run her clothes dryer every night. But last month the fashion consultant installed a device that's even hotter -- a clothesline.

After years of disuse and despite conjuring up an image of the nomadic Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath," clotheslines are suddenly popping up in even the most exclusive ZIP Codes. Makers like Butts Manufacturing of California say demand has jumped as much as 40% in the last year, and Stacksandstacks, an Internet retailer, says sales of air-drying devices are soaring 60% to 80% -- a month. Of course, unlike the cheap rope or metal versions of yore, these can get pretty pricey: One sleek chrome rack from Switzerland, designed for mounting on a laundry-room ceiling, goes for $75.

Why would anyone want to make the drudgery of laundry last even longer? Cost, for one thing. Californians started buying clotheslines during last summer's electricity crisis. Then word spread about the scent of air-dried laundry, something most people hadn't smelled in years. "Once you sleep in a bed of outdoor-fresh sheets, you can't imagine linens from the dryer again," says Elena May, a Kentucky garden-center owner.

Besides the feel-good scent, observers say, clotheslines appeal to boomers' nostalgia for the days when their mothers did the laundry. A more self-indulgent reason: These days more people are shelling out for high-priced Italian cotton, silk and linen sheets that they're afraid to put in the dryer. (Indeed, Americans so distrust their dryers that they air-dry more than 30% of their household laundry, according to appliance-maker Whirlpool.) Last year Procter & Gamble even introduced a "wrinkle-reducing" spray designed for line-dried items.

One wrinkle homeowners may not have thought about: Many homes built in the past 20 years are part of homeowners' associations -- and nearly all of them ban permanent clotheslines. (Florida, in contrast, actually has a law protecting them.) That's why the newest models fold up and store away. Butts's best-seller, for instance, works like a deck umbrella, with a base and removable pole. Also available: multiple-line models that hang on a wall and retract when not in use, so people don't think the Joads have moved in next door.

Veronica Jones's neighbors aren't bothered at all. In fact, says the Minnesota homemaker, they ask to borrow the line for their own sheets. Her children are another matter, though. They're so appalled at the idea of their mother doing something as old-fashioned as hanging out the family laundry, they practically hide inside on laundry day. And the next step, they fear? That "I'll move them all to an Amish colony in the middle of the night," she says.

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