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Hanging Clothes on the Line and the Power of the Sun

It's summertime, well, almost. The sun is shinning, the breeze is blowing. And I'm doing housework today. The windows are open wide and the fresh air is streaming through my screens.

And my neighbor just posted on Facebook that she is drying her clothes in the sun because it reminds her of home.

The iconic clothesline is an image most people associate with home, even though my generation is a decidedly electric generation. Everything we do runs on power, of some sort. We pack our days so full that it becomes necessary to search endlessly for faster more efficient ways to do, well, everything.

Drying clothes on a line is probably not fast, but you might be surprised at exactly how efficient it really is.

ABC News did an interview with a couple of professors of microbiology; Charles Gerba, at the University of Arizona and Philip Tierno at the New York University School of Medicine. And in that interview, they discussed some surprising facts about laundry and, you guessed it, germs.

The article was explicit, to say the least. Especially to someone who lives with wipes and liquid sanitizer in every corner. But it is a necessary reminder to those of us charged with the care of others. And while the article was about more than just laundry, it carefully explained why your laundry can actually come out of the washing machine dirtier than it was when it went in.  

You can read the article for the specifics ... I don't even want to think about because I'm off to run a cycle of bleach through my washing machine!

Did you know there will be about 100 million E. coli in your wash water after a load of underwear?

"You may have been relying on your detergent to get rid of all the dirt and germs, but if you're not using bleach or very hot water, you're not killing the bacteria -- they're getting on your hands and staying in the washing machine," said Tierno.

He recommends periodically running a bleach and water cycle through your washing machine to kill existing germs and bacteria.

But back to the clothes line. Our grandmother's knew this. Tierno says, "One of the most effective germ-killers is the sun, so scientists say avoid the dryer altogether and let your clothes dry in the sun. The ultraviolet radiation kills germs," said Tierno. "It's just as effective as bleach," he added.

While some advocate that electric dryers kill as many germs as line-drying, provided your dryer runs on a hot cycle for a long enough period of time, others firmly believe the benefit of line-drying far outweighs that of an electric dryer, including the reduced stress on clothing by the agitation of tumbling.

It's summer, well, almost. The sun is shining for now in the Pacific Northwest, and when I think back to the small towns I frequently visited in my youth, the grandmothers I knew back then, they always line-dried their clothes. Part of the "hominess" of their homes was that iconic clothes line in back.

There is just something about the sound of laundry flapping in the wind, the smell of sunshine deeply embedded in your clothes that is just another reminder of the days now long gone. Perhaps its time to give that a try sometime.

Enjoy your day.

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