Setting Up a Clothesline

A clothesline in an urban backyard with clothes hanging to dry.
  • 2 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50
What You'll Need
Shovel or post hole digger
Poles (wood or metal) or umbrella clothesline
Metal Bracket

With spring upon us, you may have considered a revamp of your cleaning process at home. We all need to have clean clothes and there's no doubt that modern washing machines and clothes dryers are a convenient way to have them, but at what cost? Now, no one wants to go back to boiling clothes in a cauldron or beating them on rocks down by the river, but the idea of an old-fashioned clothesline is well worth considering. A clothesline will save you money, is kind to the environment, and as an added bonus, will actually make your dry clothes smell as fresh as the outdoors.

Installing a clothesline isn’t difficult; in fact, it's a good weekend project. Follow these steps to get clothes smelling like fresh spring air—the natural way.

Step 1 - Determine What Kind of Clothesline You Want

Your choice of clothesline will probably depend on how much space you have in your yard, as well as your opinion of the "beauty" of a clothesline. The old cross bar "T shape" made of metal or wood has been a standard for years, mainly because it works well. You might also want to consider installing an umbrella clothesline that folds up when it's not in use. A major benefit of an umbrella clothesline is you can remove it from your yard whenever, so you don’t have to look at it every day.

Step 2 - Decide Where to Put It

A tree with a leafy canopy

It's best to place your clothesline away from trees and overhanging wires if possible. Also try to keep it away from walking or gardening areas and where kids or pets run around so clothes will not be knocked off the clothesline and into the dirt.

Step 3 - Dig a Hole (or Two)

No matter what type of clothesline you install, you're going to have to dig a hole. But before you pick up your shovel, have your local utilities (phone, cable, power, water, and gas company) come out and mark the location of their facilities for safety reasons.

A “T post" clothesline generally requires two holes (unless you’re going to attach one end to the house or a tree) while an umbrella design only needs one. If you live in an area where the ground freezes in winter, dig down below the frost line—three feet should be enough even in the coldest climates. It’s also a good idea to try to make the bottom of the hole slightly wider than the top. This helps to prevent any movement of the base when frost leaves the ground.

Step 4 - Prep the Holes

Mixing cement

Since clotheslines need to support a lot of weight, you’ll need to set your posts in cement. The easiest way is to use fence post cement that you just pour into the hole with water. Note that if your soil is dry it will literally suck water out of the concrete, so spray the hole with water before putting in any concrete. Fill the hole about a third of the way with cement and add water.

Step 5 - Set the Posts

Stand your post in the center of the hole and then fill the rest of the hole with cement. While it's best to use pressure treated wood for the poles and cross pieces, cedar or redwood also resist the elements and give a more natural appearance. Use a level to ensure your post is straight before you stake it in place and let the cement dry for a day.

Note: If you want your umbrella dryer to be removable, you will need a piece of plastic pipe slightly wider than the base pole. Cover one end of the tube and then stand it in the cement-filled hole, making sure the plastic tube sticks well up out of the ground so you can straighten it. Once the cement has set up, you can cut the tube off at ground level.

Step 6 - Install the Line

A clothesline with clothespins

The next day after the cement has set, install your clothesline pulleys and the line itself. Try to position the lines so they’re no more than two or three inches above the head of the person who will use it most. At that height, they won't have to continually stretch above their head to place and retrieve clothes. After running your lines, don't forget to install a tightener (a metal bracket that fits between the lines and keeps them taut) so clothes won't drag on the ground.