activism climate change lifestyle

Hanging your washing as a revolutionary act

The most insignificant of behaviours can be political in the right context, even hanging your washing.

drying for freedomI’m sitting in the garden today, and behind me I can hear the snap of towels drying in the wind. I’ve always hung my washing out and have never thought much about it, but as a cultural studies student I should know better. The most insignificant of behaviours can be political in the right context, as Rosa Parks famously demonstrated. There’s no statement behind my laundry habits, but for much of the US, hanging your washing outside would be a pretty bold thing to do.

This weekend I learned that 60 million Americans live in areas where local laws forbid them to dry clothes on a line. The Land of the Free is pretty selective about which freedoms it values. Is wanting to hang your washing out a bigger ask than wanting to own a machine gun?

For the sake of a idealised community aesthetic, a low-carbon, money-saving and time honoured domestic habit has been outlawed. That’s rather perverse in an age of climate change and expensive energy, and it invites a movement of positive civil disobedience as people put up washing lines. That’s what the folks at Laundry List advocate, with their Right to Dry campaign and the annual National Hanging Out Day. It also inspired the film Drying for Freedom.

I’m not sure if I’ve got time to watch a whole movie about washing lines, but then hanging your washing out is normal in Britain, whereas only 4% of American households do it. If you live in an area where air-drying is forbidden, check it out. And buy some pegs.


  1. Sadly, these rules are not unknown in Britain — on the SW London council estate where my wife and I live, about half the flats with gardens are forbidden to hang washing outside (thanks to unfair and inconsistent lease terms), as we discovered at community meetings where our clothesline was accused of “bringing down the tone” of the estate and “making it feel like a Chinese laundry.”

    1. Yes, it was the removal of washing lines on a London estate that prompted the radio story that I heard. I can see why it’s harder with flats or communal gardens, but it’s a strange objection in my opinion.

    2. “Bringing down the tone”? That’s ridiculous. I honestly thought some people just used tumble driers because they couldn’t be bothered to hang their washing, I had no idea it was banned in places. I’m sure with a concerted effort stupid rules like that could be changed?

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