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retractable clothes line for outside?

 
r ranson
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In the summer, I do my laundry in the garden so I can use the greywater to water the plants (we have a long summer drought).



The limiting factor for doing laundry is the stand I use to hang the clothes.  I can only fit so many clothes on it and I don't think the airflow is all that good compared to a regular washing line.

I can set up posts to hang the line from, but it would be in the way for regular work in the garden.  What I need is a retractable line.

I had a quick look on amazon and they seem to be... how to put it... made of plastic.  The screws that come with them are so small, I can't imagine it holding up much in the way of wet cloth (or yarn).  The plastic brackets look like they will break down in one season of sunshine.  But maybe I'm wrong?

How do I know which retractable laundry line is worth getting and will last for years and years of use?  Anyone got any experience with this?
 
Carla Burke
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Is there a reason for specifically the retractable type? I've used quite a few different types, and with the exception of the wildly expensive, wall-mounted wooden ones, they tend to hold very little, in weight, size, or quantity. For example, sheets are too big, a couple pair of jeans or a load of towels become too heavy, and full loads of anything often have to be dried in shifts, risking mildew, in the summer.

If there's space, no HOA restrictions, etc, an umbrella style one is great for all the above, plus most can still be collapsed, when not in use. Those, or stretching line between trees are my favorite ways to hang laundry. I've always wanted to try a longer one, with a pulley system, but they've never been practical, for my places/spaces.
 
r ranson
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I don't have anywhere high enough for a non retractable line.  It would be at neck height and cross the path, so I don't want it there unless there is laundry hanging.  

I like the idea of it retracting so I don't have to find somewhere out of the elements to store the line when not in use.  
 
Jay Angler
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When we were growing up, we had 3 posts behind the house. We had a fabric bag for holding clothes pins with a clothes-hanger sort of hook on it. When we wanted to hang laundry, we took the rope out of the clothes pin bag. It was tied to size with clips on each end and we just clipped it up to the posts and proceeded to hang the laundry. As part of taking down the laundry, we simply rolled up the rope and dropped it on top of the clothes pins and hooked up the bag in the nearest closet indoors.

Currently, I have no outdoor place that gets enough sun and yet is convenient to any place I'd want to carry laundry to - it's a Zone 2 task! We have two racks which we place outside, and I always try to hang the clothes over two bars, rather than just one, as that gives more air circulation. However, that now means storing and carrying two racks instead of one! Life is all about compromise.

Most of the retractable racks I've met are pretty chintzy. Have you seen pictures of the Japanes-style system? It uses long polls held on a rack. If the ends of the rack were on opposite sides of your walkway, you would install the poles only when they were needed and lean them against some convenient wall when not needed.

I suspect there are ways you could make  a system like this, but no idea what the cross poles would cost. As you can see in the picture, they often use a rack with clips for things that won't easily stay on the poles. Again, it would be possible to make such a thing out of a combo of metal and wood. The plastic ones deteriorate in the sun.

Personally, I wouldn't under-engineer whatever you decide to build, and most of the ones I've seen commercially are big bucks for the area they give you and still don't look that strong, so building may be your better bet.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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This one claims to be all metal. The line is only 9.2 feet though. webpage

Maybe a rain roof could be fashioned out of.... a repurposed plastic bottle  to protect it.
 
Vera Stewart
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I have a plastic retractable one. You've probably seen the exact kind I have, because it comes from a large chain department store that starts with "Canadian" ;)

Yes, they break. This is the second one I've used, and I bought it knowing it would be partially broken shortly after installation, because I also know that I can "fix" it - what breaks for me is the little plastic toggle that theoretically holds the line in place on one end. What I do is install a hook on both posts that are the ends for the line when it's in place and tie a loop in the line to hook over the hook. Over time as the line stretches out I can move the loop. I've had the current line installed for six+ years now and it's still functional.

However, I don't use my clothes lines for anything more robust than the occasional blanket, I don't know if it would stand up to the weight of all your projects! Also, when it's retracted, it sits underneath a roof which probably provides some protection from the sun.
 
elisa rathje
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our clothesline isn’t retractable but it is on an ‘elevator’— so once i hang the laundry out, i pull that bit up so it raises it 3 feet up. it keeps it all out of the foot path below. i failed to notice the fir branches above it on the other side and our first winter, the firs grew so heavy with snow they snapped the thing half off the house! not a sound one wants to wake to at 3 am. i pruned.

you might like our rainy day alternative (seems like every day this spring— not complaining!) which also uses a pulley: i made a film about it.



 
Barry Troxell
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I have used a retractable dog leash. Works great because it is designed to hold a lot of weight and it has a latch on the end.
 
Geneva Upchurch
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I second the Japanese style clothesline. They are traditionally made from bamboo poles which I think look lovely, plus they are quite strong and very sustainable, if you have bamboo available in your area.

 
Eleanor Froelich
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We have four posts, well spaced, behind our house. They have high quality stainless steel eye hooks mounted. (Lots of salt in the air here.) Our laundry lines are actually lines for sailboats, which do not stretch or sag. One end of each line has a stainless hook tied on, which slips through an eye hook. The other end is run through an eye hook and tied. You need to tie a knot for tightening lines, this is easy to learn. If you put hooks on both ends, it will not be as taut as when you tie it properly.
Lines are put up when we have laundry to dry and taken down when we take the laundry in.  
 
Tereza Okava
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I have a pulley system, but I also put up extra lines when I need to, like Eleanor. I take the line down when I'm done and store it elsewhere, the sun is too strong here to leave lines up (one pulley system here is under a roof, another is plastic-coated steel wire, but still needs to be replaced every two years).
 
Terry Austin
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In the past ive used the fences around my garden and porch deck as well as a 50' length of old repelling rope wth a carabener attached to a 4x4 used for a been pole withe a galvanised eye hook.
I like to make things serve multiple purposes.
God Bless
 
Johanna Sol
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We use an 8-foot stepladder and patio wrought iron railing. Shirts on hangers are hung from the stepladder supports. Pillowcases, being quick drying, can be draped over jeans or towels. Underwear goes on lower rungs or else indoors on the shower curtain rod. Sheets can be quadrupled and will still dry faster than jeans or towels. No overhead stretching or pegging needed.
 
Terry Byrne
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Jay Angler wrote:

Most of the retractable racks I've met are pretty chintzy. Have you seen pictures of the Japanese-style system? It uses long polls held on a rack. If the ends of the rack were on opposite sides of your walkway, you would install the poles only when they were needed and lean them against some convenient wall when not needed.



I used this system when I lived in Japan. Like many things Japanese, FANTASTIC! The poles stayed permanently outside on a rack that was attached to the house/apato [apartment] so you opened the patio door and there were the poles to hang laundry on.

I have been looking for the plastic hanging things, blue thing on the left side of Jay's pic, since I moved back. Has anyone got one? Does anyone know where to buy such an thing?




 
Terry Byrne
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r ranson wrote:In the summer, I do my laundry in the garden so I can use the greywater to water the plants (we have a long summer drought).



==============

EDIT: There are plastic ones and also stainless steel ones for around the same price in the $15 range.

Found the about 24" x 16" Japanese socks/small items racks, links for Amazon for the canucks like R Ranson and for US permies. These things are fabulous, collapsible, UV does get them over time but mostly just the weaker parts which are the NB parts, the clothespins. So putting the out of UV rays gives more life.

https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Japanese+laundry+rack+foldable&crid=2W29QQ0DTKET7&sprefix=japanese+laundry+rack+foldable%2Caps%2C458&ref=nb_sb_noss

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Japanese+laundry+rack+foldable&crid=3T1R0LOO4KRYK&sprefix=japanese+laundry+rack+foldable%2Caps%2C1239&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

 
r ranson
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The big part of this for me is the human factor.  If we have a post or string - and someone needs that post or string, it doesn't matter what that primary purpose is, it now belongs to the new project.  It is a source of much conflict.

When we had the pully system, the only places high enough were dangerous for people to hang the clothes.  We had to reach out over the railing and hope the railing can hold our weight (we found out later that no, it doesn't) and took down that clothe line.  The line was far away from where we do laundry and involved carrying heavy baskets upstairs and stuff, and the electric dryer is right next to the washer.
Also neighbours and drama.

It's much easier for me to change the design of the system than to change the behaviour of the people (I include myself in that lump of people who have trouble changing behaviour).  The garden is more private.  It is where we do the summer laundry.  I have a place under the eves of the potting shed I can install something.  

I figured a retractable clothesline would be fantastic... except all the ones I see for sale look like they will break with one or two uses.  
 
Alina Green
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Terry Byrne wrote:

I have been looking for the plastic hanging things, blue thing on the left side of Jay's pic, since I moved back. Has anyone got one? Does anyone know where to buy such an thing?



They are often sold at Asian stores, such as Marukai.  Maybe at HMart (Korean store)?
The clips tend to break after a while, so I often wire or tie on new ones, either from an old device that has mostly crapped out, or wooden clothespins.

Recently I found a package of two at the thrift store and bought those.  :)
 
Alina Green
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Jay Angler wrote:When we were growing up, we had 3 posts behind the house. We had a fabric bag for holding clothes pins with a clothes-hanger sort of hook on it. When we wanted to hang laundry, we took the rope out of the clothes pin bag. It was tied to size with clips on each end and we just clipped it up to the posts and proceeded to hang the laundry. As part of taking down the laundry, we simply rolled up the rope and dropped it on top of the clothes pins and hooked up the bag in the nearest closet indoors.


I suspect there are ways you could make  a system like this, but no idea what the cross poles would cost. As you can see in the picture, they often use a rack with clips for things that won't easily stay on the poles. Again, it would be possible to make such a thing out of a combo of metal and wood.
... most of the ones I've seen commercially are big bucks for the area they give you and still don't look that strong, so building may be your better bet.



I have an old metal umbrella-style rack, which has been broken multiple times, so it's repaired with scrap metal splints and tied to a nearby bush, for strength.  It's permanently open.

I also have an old homemade line made from galvanized 2" metal pipe (one vertical, screwed to a T coupling, with short pieces screwed into either end, with holes drilled into those, to accommodate lines).  So the whole thing is a T, sunk into the ground (in cement...although deep enough, that wouldn't matter, would it?)

You might combine that idea with removable lines and clips, as suggested.

It's lasted at least 50 years so far, if not more.  I did have to change out the lines (now using vinyl, and they do tend to sag in the middle. )  I also grow shorter crops below it, and I need to trim the asparagus when it gets so tall that it interferes with hanging things like towels or sheets.

So if you plant below, allow some of the lines enough room for the long stuff (towels, sheets, long pants, long-sleeved shirt).  The other lines can have taller plants growing below them, and I hang shorter items on those lines (socks, underwear, toilet cloths, t-shirts, etc).
 
John Wolfram
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A few times a year Mendards (like Home Depot or Lowes for those of you not in the Midwest) has these boat cleats for sale free-after-rebate. They make excellent connection points for clotheslines that can easily be taken down and stored at one end. As an added benefit, when people visit they usually wonder about the crazy flooding we must get if there are boat cleats on the deck.
20220426_135237.jpg
Boat cleats ready for clothes lines
Boat cleats ready for clothes lines
20220426_135223.jpg
Clothes Lines stored on boat cleats
Clothes Lines stored on boat cleats
 
Carla Burke
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That one with the poles would only work for me, if I leave the poles in place, and put my clothes on hangers, then the hangers on the poles. I would not have the patience - and often not the coordination and strength to fight to get the poles through my clothes, then back out, again.
 
Tereza Okava
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Alina Green wrote:
The clips tend to break after a while, so I often wire or tie on new ones, either from an old device that has mostly crapped out, or wooden clothespins.


That is exactly what I do. but recently I've found them made of wire, no plastic, and they're great. (I'm still using an old plastic one that I repaired, it's starting to look like Abraham Lincoln's axe but it works).

R Ranson, I have a temporary camping clothesline (like the one here, https://www.amazon.com/Caudblor-Clothesline-Adjustable-Windproof-Clothespins/dp/B085XRZ6ND ) that is, admittedly, shoddy, but it gives me an idea for what you could do. It looks like a yo-yo: the string comes out of a hole, and you crank it to go back in the yo-yo shaped plastic housing.
I could totally see you scaling this up and using a real clothesline, with a loop on the end, that you can extend out to a post with a big cup hook on it (or a hook to hold a bike, or a hammock, or similar). The other end could be around something with a handle that you turn-- an old paint roller that you monkey with to make it stick? Some sort of crank? Heck, a pole with a piece of wood hammered crosswide over the top. when you're done, you pull the rope back in by turning the thing, and store it there, maybe with some sort of homemade cover or even a bucket or something turned upside down over it to protect it from the elements.
Like mentioned before, you need to get it relatively taut, but you could do that by tying it fast. Something I learned here, where people often use wire instead of clotheslines, is you don't have to get the line taut-- cut a notch in a tall stick, a broom handle, or a piece of bamboo and use that to prop the line up off the ground, even if it droops a bit.
 
Jeanne Wallace
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The nice thing about a retractable line is that it is out of the way when not in use. But...does it truly have to be retractable? or purchased? Can it be created using items you already have on-hand?

What about making a low-tech DIY one? Take the length of clotheline or paracord that fits between your origin and endpoint (for us, 2 posts on the covered deck). Now fashion a place to manually wind up the length of cord to keep it neat and out of the way when not in use. Perhaps two pieces of driftwood, towel hooks, or dowels installed vertically about 2-ft apart from eachother. On the far side, create a tie-off: a simple eye-hook and carabiner, for example, to secure your line when you are using it.

Now to DIY a place to store clothespins... ;)
Screen-Shot-2022-04-26-at-1.38.04-PM.png
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r ranson
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I know from previous drama, if any string is left visible and next to the string that has a sign on it "please use this string instead" - the string that has a very specific purpose will be used to "temporarily" fix something "for a few days" and will "for sure" be back and able to be used by the end of the week and I'll never see it again.  Or it will be returned and cut into 18 parts.  

I like the idea of making some sort of box for it to retract onto.  

Wondering if the ratchet off an old loom would do the trick.  
 
Terry Byrne
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r ranson wrote:In the summer, I do my laundry in the garden so I can use the greywater to water the plants



Does your greywater get any filtration done to it before it waters the plants? Does your laundry use electricity? Do you just run an extension cord? Is the machine covered for whatever rainfall you do get?
 
Jay Angler
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r ranson wrote:

I like the idea of making some sort of box for it to retract onto.

And it sounds like the rope has to be firmly attached inside that box, and the box firmly attached to a permanent structure to keep it safe from being "repurposed" (next I'll be picturing your chickens perching on it!)

And wrote:

Wondering if the ratchet off an old loom would do the trick.

If the rope is the correct length and the attachment point solid, it isn't so much the  "ratchet" as the crank that would be useful. I wonder if a bobbin winder could be adapted? (I'm thinking the old cast-iron large ones like the one I got used 35 years ago.)
 
r ranson
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Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:In the summer, I do my laundry in the garden so I can use the greywater to water the plants



Does your greywater get any filtration done to it before it waters the plants? Does your laundry use electricity? Do you just run an extension cord? Is the machine covered for whatever rainfall you do get?



No filtration.  Since the dirt primarily comes from the farm and I'm wearing natural fibres that decompose (minimal chance of microplastics) I don't feel there's any need to filter the water.  The soap is biodegradable (I tested quite a few before finding one that made the plants happy) and helps reduce bugs and the dirt helps the plants grow.  Although, if I'm not doing it on video, I am more careful to water the soil rather than the plants.

I do run an extension cord with a power bar breaker thingy on the user end (to turn it on/off) and a breaker bar on the house end so it triggers if there's a short rather than blowing a fuse.  I'm very careful when electricity gets near water.    The cord gets put away at the end of the session.  

It's highly unlikely to get rain here between May 1st and Oct 13th, I just bring the washing machine out in the middle of May and home again when things start to cool off in Sep.  I usually have a shade tent over it which reduces the dew that can get on the machine.
 
r ranson
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Jay Angler wrote:r ranson wrote:

I like the idea of making some sort of box for it to retract onto.

And it sounds like the rope has to be firmly attached inside that box, and the box firmly attached to a permanent structure to keep it safe from being "repurposed" (next I'll be picturing your chickens perching on it!)



I'm thinking of something with a metal core.  Something that will damage a knife if someone decides to use just a small bit to fix this thing and no one will notice.  I suspect that will be expensive.  
 
Roger Burns
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For my hop trellis, I use a marine winch and mounted it between poles (with pulleys).  It uses braided metal cable to raise and lower my hop trellis 17-18' in the air.  I can imagine a marine winch with light rope/cord would be perfect to extend, then retract your cord.  Mine is built out of steel and rated for over 1000 pounds, which would be overkill for your laundry, but smaller versions might exist.  Harbor Freight has one for $29: https://www.harborfreight.com/automotive/winches/12-ton-capacity-hand-winch-62592.html
 
Al Marlin
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you might like our rainy day alternative (seems like every day this spring— not complaining!) which also uses a pulley: i made a film about it.



Elisa,
What a lovely video! It sure changed my plan for today - - - because I then binged your other 13! My question is where did you get the white metal ends into which you inserted the wooden rails? The ends are both lovely and practical. My partner said "I could make the whole rack out of cherry". But after seeing your system, I'm coveting your ends.

Your drying system would be a fabulous way for us to stack functions. We're planning to build a (hempcrete) addition to house our new wood cookstove. Since we use the wood heat to also dry our laundry, we have been pondering our options for an indoor retractable clothesline. But because this addition will also serve as the main entrance to our cabin, having laundry strung out at walking height would be undesirable. A rack like yours, pulled up to the full height of the (planned) cathedral ceiling, would allow for free movement, great drying and a natural way to humidify our (very dry) winter air. Thank you, thank you for your timely post.

N.B. Since installing our wood cookstove (see post in "good-bye microwave" thread), we've averaged 17% decrease in our electricity consumption (zero use of the electric stove, oven, kettle, toaster oven or Instant pot) and a 35% decrease in wood consumption as "Milly" is 89.1% efficient.
 
elisa rathje
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so glad to hear! are you in the states? i’m in canada but brought the ‘pulley maid’ ends back from england. however, someone on my patreon found them on etsy and she is in the us. have a look for pulley maid cast iron and see what you find. they are not necessary but i admit i adore them. you’ll also need a cleat, a double and a single pulley…we got those from one company in a kit and just added the wood. our energy use dropped massively with our efficient stove and laundry like this too! thanks for your kind words al!
 
Annie Collins
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elisa rathje wrote:our clothesline isn’t retractable but it is on an ‘elevator’— so once i hang the laundry out, i pull that bit up so it raises it 3 feet up. it keeps it all out of the foot path below. i failed to notice the fir branches above it on the other side and our first winter, the firs grew so heavy with snow they snapped the thing half off the house! not a sound one wants to wake to at 3 am. i pruned.

you might like our rainy day alternative (seems like every day this spring— not complaining!) which also uses a pulley: i made a film about it.






I really enjoyed your video, watched another from your channel, and am looking forward to watching the rest! Love the outside scenes with the chickens, goats, and ducks all frolicking together on your beautiful land! Informative videos, but also peaceful and soothing to watch. Thank you!
 
elisa rathje
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Annie Collins wrote:

I really enjoyed your video, watched another from your channel, and am looking forward to watching the rest! Love the outside scenes with the chickens, goats, and ducks all frolicking together on your beautiful land! Informative videos, but also peaceful and soothing to watch. Thank you!



i’m so glad, anne! i’m filming the next piece in this series and i’ve started an audio companion project alongside it…until i can sort out podcast code it’s primarily at patreon.com/appleturnover. i write a lot about laundry, somehow, and the radio pieces are company for when you’re doing your laundry etc.  and about the frolicking animals (frolicking and eloping, apparently, if you’re a duck with spring fever. but that’s another film!)
 
Al Marlin
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are you in the states? i’m in canada but brought the ‘pulley maid’ ends back from england. however, someone on my patreon found them on etsy and she is in the us. have a look for pulley maid cast iron and see what you find. they are not necessary but i admit i adore them. you’ll also need a cleat, a double and a single pulley


Your generous info provided us with a multitude of leads we can pursue to customize the rack to maximally suit our needs. Thank you, thank you once again.

FYI We live in Group of Seven/Tom Thomson country bordering the Algonquin Park. The beauty, climate and land here are quite different from yours on Salt Spring (which I knew well as a child in the 60's).
 
Jo Cummins
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My washing line also passes low across a path, I use a clothesline prop made from a hazel branch with a folk at the top where the branch splits into two. This lifts the washing out of the way and into the air where it dries faster. I'm sure other tall strong sticks will do the job just as well.
 
Christo Markham
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