freeze-dried laundry

I wrote this to send to a friend yesterday, but then thought, “Heck, why not share?” It’s not exactly my usual fare, but maybe some of you from warmer climes would like to learn more about life in the Frozen North. Yesterday, you found out how winter treats our rural mailboxes, and today, you can discover the joys of freeze-dried laundry.

~ * ~

It has finally arrived.


It’s that time of the year when we are treated to a steady diet of freeze-dried laundry.

It’s -12 C (10 F) out there this morning,
with a 25 kph wind roaring in from the northwest
blowing up snow devils on the field behind the barn.

I just came in from hanging out the laundry.
Before I got to the third t-shirt,
the contents of the laundry basket were getting that crackly feeling
like they were made of plastic and not of cloth.

If you tarry too long in hanging up the clothes,
the contents begin to meld together.

Socks are the worst.
Don’t let yourself be distracted for even a couple of minutes
or those little buggers scrunch together to form a freeze-welded mass.

Almost as bad are cotton shirts…especially the long-sleeved ones.
They freeze almost instantly on contact with frigid air.
You grab one out of the laundry basket and start to pin it to the line
only to find that it’s waving hello to someone or something out in the field.

Hanging up clothes on this kind of day is a painful experience.

The clothes are wet and frosty and make your fingers damp.
Next thing you know, your fingers are getting so cold and stiff
that you can barely manipulate the clothes pins.
That, in turn, slows the whole process down so that it’s taking even longer,….
meaning more time spent standing on the lawn with the north winds
freezing your hands so that your fingers barely function.

Sometimes – get this – your fingers will even begin to freeze together.
And, ugh…. that’s a disgusting feeling…. rather like when you used to get your
tongue frozen to something metal.
I know, you’ve never had that happen to you, right?
Well, trust me on this… if you’re a kid growing up in the Frozen North,
you’ve had your tongue frozen to a piece of metal at least ONCE in your life.
Yes, indeed, you just *had* to give it a try…
usually right before the end of recess.
The bell would ring and there you’d be, with a few of your buddies,
with your tongues stuck to the school flagpole, or maybe to the window sill
outside your classroom.
Did you know that some schools actually had RULES against sticking
your tongue onto metal?
Yes, it’s true.
At one school I went to, you could get a detention if you got caught
with your tongue frozen to a piece of metal in the schoolyard.
I got at least one detention that way.

Okay, back to the laundry.

You finally get done — which is good because, of course,
you didn’t think it would take this long,
so you aren’t even properly dressed.
No, you’re working outside in your shoes and a light jacket,
probably without your hat.

Mittens and gloves are out of the question because
you can’t manage clothes pins while wearing them.
Besides, the wooly mittens seem to like to
STICK to wet laundry and clothes pins.
It works as good as super glue.
Soon you have a couple of damp wooden clothes pins
welded onto the fuzz of your wooly mittens.
Isn’t that grand?

Well, now you return indoors and wait and watch.
You’re not exactly anxious to venture back outdoors
to check the laundry to see if it’s dry.
That’s okay… you can usually tell when the shirts are freeze-dried
as they start to flap around as though they’re transforming
from wood to cloth.
Of course, if it happens that the wind dies down,
they won’t look that way.
They will look (and feel) like they’re made
of quarter inch plywood.

On windless days, bath towels not only dry like sheets of plywood,
but they develop a texture rather akin to that of a cow’s tongue.
Ever been licked by a cow?
I have… many times when I used to stand around talking
to my father-in-law in his dairy barn at chore time.
One pass of the sandpaper tongue will exfoliate even the toughest skin.

Without a doubt, jeans are the worst curse of winter clothes drying.
Yes, indeed.
Their ability to retain water while undergoing the freeze-drying process
is the stuff of which legends are made.
Even after 3 or 4 hours of flapping in a raging gale,
you may find them soggy and coated with rime.

Worse yet, they don’t want to come indoors with the rest of the laundry.
No. They tenaciously wrap their waistbands around the clothesline,
refusing to release the clothes pins that are now denim-welded in place.
When you *do* free them from the line,
they seem to take on a belligerent personality.
They stand up for themselves and become independent.
They won’t tolerate being tossed over a chair back for drying.
They’d rather lean against a table, or stand sulking in a corner.

Socks like to play their own game… especially men’s thick cotton socks.
They want to see you wrestle to pry them loose from the line.
Worse yet, there are usually at least 20 or 30 of them clinging
to the line like shit to a blanket.
(Btw, that’s an old expression. I didn’t make it up.
I believe I learned it from my grandmother.
She was a sweet old soul
who came out with the most interesting sayings).

Uhm.. but back to the socks.
It takes TIME to remove 30 welded socks from a clothesline.
TIME in which you struggle with numbed fingers
while the clothes pins do their worst to delay the process.
They stick to the clothes. They stick to your hands.
On *really* cold days, they come off the line WITH the clothes
and you have to fight to make them let go.
Sometimes, in the throes of battle, the two wooden halves pop apart,
sending the metal spring flying into space.
Worse yet, in *truly* frigid weather, the odd clothes pin will shatter,
leaving a piece of its wooden self frozen to a garment.
Nothing quite like finding clothes pin slivers in your underwear.

You people from the south… you don’t know what you’re missing.
Yes, I know, you probably complain about the sun bleaching your towels,
or the birds roosting up in the trees above the line
while pooping on your sheets.
Well, I’m here to tell you that those joys pale
next to freeze-drying laundry here in the north country.

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24 Responses to “freeze-dried laundry”

  1. Randa Says:

    Bev, I have a feeling that most of your readers will question WHY you would be possessed to hang clothes on the line in winter. I am happy that I am the first to comment on this post, so that I can say that I, too, hang our clothes on the line in winter (and finish them off to dry on our homemade rack suspended from the ceiling beside the woodstove). It is completely worth it to save the exorbitant energy of running a dryer, plus there is not much that beats the smell of laundry dried in the outdoors in the country. Even though it IS brutal on the fingers (and yes, I certainly make that point to the family when I come indoors), it makes me feel tough ;) and glad that I am doing my bit to cut down our power bill.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Randa – Ha, yes, I guess some readers would be wondering why I dry clothes on the line in winter. Yes, it saves on energy as clothes dryers are one of the heaviest power users in a household. True, drying clothes on the line in winter is kind of a PIA, but you’re certainly right about the smell of them. When I bring the shirts in and hang them on the shower curtain bar to finish drying, the fresh air smell from them fills that end of the house for several hours. I find that effect much more noticeable in winter than in summer — and I’d even say the smell is like snow, which has it’s own very unique scent. Kudos to you for freeze-drying your laundry. I think it’s one of the least painful things we can do to help save energy (despite what I wrote about freezing fingers!). (-:

  3. John Says:

    Then I was deep within the woods
    When, suddenly, I spied them.
    I saw a pair of pale green pants
    With nobody inside them!

  4. burning silo Says:

    John – Thanks for posting that link. How appropriate!

  5. Duncan Says:

    Minus 12 with a north-westerly, how about 46.3 with a north-westerly reported from 100 K east of here yesterday Bev, that would have thawed out the washing smartly!

  6. burning silo Says:

    Duncan – Wow, that’s shocking! What’s the situation with the fires as of today? Has there been any improvement, or is it just as bad or worse? Btw, for those of you who aren’t into quick calculations from C to F — Duncan’s 46.3C would be about 115F. You might drop by over at his Ben Cruachan blog to read about the fires that have been raging in his part of Australia.

  7. Ruth Says:

    My family lived in Pembroke for one year and I remember my mother hanging bedsheets out on the line and bringing them in stiff and frozen. And I remember the abrasive towels. Some neighbourhoods in our city have regulations prohibiting clothes lines because they are a visual eyesore. We really need to rethink that one! No fabric softener smells better than laundry dried outdoors. I love the picture.

  8. Leslie Says:

    I freeze-dry my laundry, too! I LOVED your post today. So descriptive and all so true!

    I do wear gloves when I hang my laundry in very cold weather. I have some thinsulate type gloves that, while they don’t keep my hands *warm*, they do buffer the wind and the wet a little bit.

    I’ve not yet had a clothespin shatter. I’m in awe.

    I find that clothes dry faster in the winter than in the summer. Summers here are 95%+ humidity and it’s not unusual for it to take two days for them to dry (you get a little setback from dewfall but you recover from it that second day).

    I think winter laundry smells even better than summer laundry too. It’s kind of freaky when it starts freezing before you can get it on the line, though. And the absolute worst? Long sleeved tee shirts with one sleeve turned wrong side out. GRRR!

  9. Laura Says:

    Sounds like great fun, Bev. Do the towels ever recover a soft texture once they thaw out?

  10. John Says:

    My father grew up in a rather desolate part of north Texas where, on occasion, the winters were brutal. I remember him telling stories about how, when he was a very young boy, his mother would hang their laundry outdoors in the winter and how, when the worst ‘blue norther’ would come through, the temperatures dropped rapidly to the teens or below (F). One of his stories was about some shirts that could stand on their own, thanks to the icy winds that swept through. Your post is not typical fare for your blog, Bev, but it’s a great one.

  11. burning silo Says:

    Ruth – Sheets are hard to dry in winter unless you get a good stiff wind. I pay a lot of attention to weather forecasts and take advantage of any good drying day to do the sheets and comforters. I do think cities may have to reconsider rules about clotheslines. It’s incredible the amount of power that is wasted running clothes dryers when the sun and wind can do the job just as well with just a little bit of effort on our part.

    Leslie – Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. It has to be quite cold for clothes pins to splinter, but I actually had one do that yesterday. Part of it stayed frozen to a garment when I pulled it loose. Laundry usually dries very fast here in summer unless we get a very still, humid day. On a breezy day, if I turn a comforter over as it dries, even a thick one will dry in an hour, which is probably as fast as it would in a clothes dryer. Our winters are (usually!) cold enough that clothes don’t dry quickly unless there’s a good wind and sunny skies. This winter has been kind of maddening as the temperature stays just around freezing, but with high humidity and a lot of cloud cover. I have to bring everything in and arrange it over a rack by the heaters, or hang it in the bathroom. I very much agree that winter laundry smells great!

    Laura – It’s a challenge, but I do actually find it enjoyable to dry the laundry outside even in winter. As you know, I love being outdoors, so it’s as good a reason as any to spend time outside. Regarding the towels, sometimes you can get rid of the roughness by giving them a few good “snaps” after you take them from the line, but they usually stay pretty rough until the next washing. Under the right conditions — a really strong wind that snaps them around as they dry — they’ll be nice and soft. It’s the days when they just hang there and freeze that makes them rough.

    John – I can certainly identify with the shirts your father told you about because that happens here. Thicker cloth like denim or flannel is the worst for turning as stiff as a sheet of cardboard. Sometimes, it’s quite laughable to bring in a bunch of shirts and jeans that froze instead of drying. You can barely get through the door with everything sticking out in all directions. Glad you enjoyed the post — I had originally started this blog to write about things like the laundry, but then it seemed to turn into a nature blog. It would be nice to find something comfortably in between.

  12. Wayne Says:

    Heh – “Six pins, Dolores! You know that’s how I like it!”

    I don’t have those kinds of problems hanging clothes out to dry so I still think of it as sort of therapeutic. It’s actually a task I enjoy, but then again, it’s seldom below freezing during the day!

    I too was wondering how many people didn’t use a dryer. It’s nice to see that there’s more than a few. I quit using mine six years ago when I discovered that it was accounting for a quarter of our power bill. Haven’t used it since.

  13. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – I was sure you must never have to deal with frozen laundry! I think drying clothes on a line is still pretty common out in the country. Several people on our road use clotheslines. However, I don’t see them too much in the city – probably because of the anti-clothesline rules that Ruth mentioned up above. Perhaps clothelines will come back in style if people become more conscious of energy usage.

  14. Wayne Says:

    Bev – I’m glad Glenn hasn’t enforced those anti-clothesline laws in our house. I’m currently looking over my right shoulder at the two lines strung from the loft to the landing on the stairs that are often (as many people know, viewing the internet cam) strewn with hanging clothes.

    I actually do take the lines down now and then but on those lately rare occasions when it’s wet for a few days, the clothes dry quite nicely under the living ceiling fan. And I still get my therapeutic fix :-)

    You must talk Don into letting you dry clothes inside. You don’t want your hands looking like Dolores Claiborn’s!

  15. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – ha! Well, the clothes do start drying outside, and then move indoors after. A few years before my dad died, he made a rather unique quilt rack for me. I use it for finishing the drying of clothes near a baseboard heater in our bedroom – it can hold quite a lot of socks at one time! I also make use of the shower curtain rod in the bathroom for drying anything I can hang up on clothes hangers. When REALLY stuck, I have some big plastic bags that I slide over the dining room chair backs and then hang clothes over them as well. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

  16. Vasha Says:

    You’ve inspired me. We’ve been having some windy weather here in upstate New York, but I hadn’t realized the wind would allow me to dry my clothes outdoors (I do in the summer).

  17. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    My fingers started aching while I was reading your blog. No way could I do that. I used to enjoy skiing at -20 but these days as soon as the temperature approaches freezing my fingers start to pain and stiffen. I will continue to help pay the power bill for the dryer. Our bit for using less power is to have a good spin washer that extracts almost all of the water out of the laundry and then we only use low heat for the dryer. Not the best for power use but much better for brittle, aging fingers.

  18. robin andrea Says:

    Fantastic post, bev! I love those frozen pants. What a sight. I haven’t had freeze-dried laundry in a long, long time. I do remember once taking a thin, frozen dish towel off the line and breaking it in half! We had a clothes line in Santa Cruz, but haven’t put one up here yet. It’s on our to-do list.

  19. Jenn Says:

    We dry a lot (most?) of our clothes indoors on a heavy duty rack we bought for this purpose. Underwear hit the dryer once a week, and sheets and towels are on a two week rotation… We haven’t the best of eco-habits, but we are working on reducing the load.

    We are both cold wimps and hanging stuff in winter sounds like my idea of hell. Truly. Y’all are stalwart that can get out there and do that.

  20. burning silo Says:

    Vasha – Clothes dry quite well if you get a combination of sun and wind, even on a very cold day. Definitely give it a try!

    OW – I can sympathize on the problem with your hands. I have some arthritis in my hands, so it’s not exactly painless. I sometimes take the laundry out in a couple of small batches, retreating indoors to warm up. Still, I can see the appeal of tossing things in the dryer and not having to deal with the frigid air.

    robin – Thanks! I often laugh when I’m bringing in laundry when it’s partly frozen. It almost seems like the clothes have a personality. Amazing how a dish towel would break in half, but the fibers are so changed when soaked and frozen, so it’s really not so suprising. I think that’s why we can often snap off a tree branch like nothing up here in our area when the temperatures dive.

    Jenn – My mother lives in the city and uses a drying rack too. She likes to toss most clothes in the clothes dryer first for a minute or so and then hang things up on the rack after. She finds that tossing the laundry just a little makes it softer when it air dries. She has the drying rack set up in the basement near her furnace and stuff dries pretty quick on it. There seem to be plenty of ways to reduce energy without having to suffer too much! (-:

  21. Cathy Says:

    You’ve gone and done it. I’m sitting here in awe – total awe. So many mixed feelings. First – just the whimsy of that invisible person frozen pants photo. Second – a sinking sense that I’ve missed something. Third – the desire to give it a try. Just string a line in the backyard so that I too, can smell snowy laundry. The secondary gains would be awesome. This would drive my snooty neighbor NUTS!

  22. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – Glad you enjoyed reading about the freeze-dried laundry. And, yes, go string up a clothesline and shock your neighbor! (-:

  23. sarala Says:

    Great story and photo. I’m glad the weather has warmed up. I was looking up the lines to the Suess story about pants with nobody inside them and ran across your story.

  24. JulieLyn Says:

    We purchased 12 acres and are putting up our lines this week. I’m very excited. However, I’m not sure how much drying I will be doing in the winter on the days it gets -40 F, our stays -20 F for a steady three weeks. I am not that tough.

    We have a massive stone masonry wood heater that heats the house from mid-May to mid-September. In the winter it is usually covered with mittens and other clothes that are drying. It helps humidify the house too.