Drying your washing in the open air is great for both your clothes and the environment. However, are clothes lines illegal in some parts of the USA?
Clothes lines are generally not illegal in the US. However, there may be restrictions on clothes lines based on State regulations and local Homeowners’ Association (HOA) rules. In ‘Right To Dry’ and ‘Solar Access Laws’ States, you are always allowed to hang out your washing on a line.
Let’s dive down into the subject of clothes lines in more detail, and discover where you can and can’t hang out your washing across the USA – and why…
Can We Dry Clothes Outside in The USA?
Yes, broadly speaking you can dry your laundry in your yard if you live in the USA. However, this isn’t the case everywhere in the US, and whether you can or not depends on two things: your State regulations and any local restrictions.
Later on, we’ll take a look at how State lawmakers have become involved with the simple act of drying your laundry. However the main issue is whether your local HOA (homeowners’ association) has a local ban in place. Residents’ associations are generally free to make their own regulations, provided they don’t contravene State laws. Clothes line bans are not uncommon among America’s HOAs.
Why do people want to hang their laundry up outside? There’s a lot to be said for line drying clothes. It saves you money (your dryer can account of up to 6% of your annual energy bill), it’s much better for the environment, and your clothes will last longer thanks to this gentler drying method. Line-dried laundry also has a lovely, fresh fragrance.
You don’t even need a big yard. If you visit a European city for example, you’ll see lines strung up across narrow streets or suspended from balconies. Small, purpose-built clothes dryers hang from open windows. In many countries, solar drying is the norm – so why isn’t it in the US?
A century ago, we’d have all been hanging our washing out to dry. Various forms of dryers had been around since the early 1800, but it wasn’t until the mid-to-late 20th century that they became affordable (and safe) for many homeowners. By 2009, 80% of US households owned a dryer.
So, even if we can dry our clothes outside, we don’t always want to. Dryers are quick and effective, and aren’t dependent on the weather. Pegging out laundry takes time – and then your neighbor lights his grill and you have to bring it all indoors again…
But, say you want to be able to dry your clothes and bedding outdoors. Can you simply rig up a line and hang it out, or is it more complicated than that?
What States Have a Clothes Line Ban?
And here we come to the difference between local regulations and state legislation. States do not have a specific clothes line ban – but, neither do all states have laws that allow people to use clothes lines.
The issue isn’t whether the state as such has a ban: it’s whether the HOA does. Many people in the US live under Homeowners’ Association, HOA, regulations. Now, these can be a force for good in a neighborhood and often help to keep the place looking smart for everyone’s sakes. This can include a ban on clothes lines in some residential areas.
Now, some states have specifically said that residents have the right to dry their laundry outdoors, and any HOA that bans clothes lines is acting unlawfully. States that don’t have that specific legislation are pretty much allowing clothes lines bans by default.
There are now over 20 states that have banned clothes line bans (hope that makes sense!) and we’ll look more into those in a moment. It’s important to know this, as you might actually have the right to hang your clothes outdoors, but hadn’t realised. Your HOA or condo association may have clothes lines restrictions that you’ve been adhering to, when you didn’t actually have to.
This is because if your state has an active clothes line ban, this overrules any regulations set by the HOA – of course it does, it’s state legislation rather than a local rule. Always check your state’s position on clothes lines before putting up (or indeed, being told to take down) an outdoor clothes line.
What Reasons Are Given For Banning Clothes Lines?
Clothes line bans are usually given out by HOAs. They give various reasons for these restrictions; however, the main reason appears to be to preserve the appearance of the area. The governing body wants to keep the residences looking neat and tidy.
This means that clothes lines are sometimes listed among other undesirable outdoor objects, such as old indoor furniture and overflowing trash. If you’re a fan of line-dried linen (or simply want to cut your energy costs), this may seem a little harsh. After all, line-drying laundry is temporary, it’s serving a purpose, and it’s a normal part of life – all very unlike an abandoned old sofa.
However, from the HOA’s point of view, it can be easier to have a complete ban on anything that can comprise the external appearance of the homes on their patch.
The president of a Californian HOA, Richard S Monson, was quoted in the LA Times as saying. “We’re criticized for [banning outdoor drying], but what it’s doing is protecting home values”. He also mentions the importance of homes being “aesthetically attractive”
We’ve heard of places that have softer regulations: you can hang your laundry out to dry in the fresh air, but it must be in your backyard and never visible from the front.
The LA Times article also quotes a local resident, who has gotten round the regulations where he lives by rigging up clothes lines in his garage. With the door open on a sunny day, we imagine that this would work pretty well.
Are there any other reasons for banning clothes lines? The reasons we found were mostly down to preserving the look of the neighborhood. Obscuring neighbors’ views is also given as a reason.
It’s thought that around 60 million US citizens live in HOA areas. HOAs, as well as groups that manage condos and some apartment blocks, are free to set their own regulations, so that’s a lot of folks who could be facing solar drying bans. But – are all these bans actually legal?
What Are The Right To Dry States?
The “Right To Dry” states are a group of states where you can hang your laundry out to your heart’s content. In these states, it’s unlawful for groups such as HOAs or condominium associations to insist that folks take down their clothes lines. This right grew out of an environmental movement that started in 2012.
The six original Right To Dry states were Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland and Vermont. These states declared any clothes lines bans to be null and void. Why did they do this? It’s simple: dryers use a lot of electricity, whereas using the sun and wind’s natural powers doesn’t. This is better for the environment, and it also saves on the energy bills.
There are now many more states with Right To Dry or “Solar Access Laws”. This is legal speak for “using the sun to dry your laundry.” These states are: Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
What’s the difference between Right To Dry and Solar Access? We have to confess that we’re not sure, legally. But practically it means the same thing: no one can tell you to take your clothes line down. So, these laws overrule any local homeowner association contracts that ban clothes lines. Any restrictions are invalid, and you cannot be fined.
Final Disclaimer: We’re Not Lawyers So Check Your Local State Laws
As you can tell, we’re not lawyers (we would know the legal difference between Right To Dry and Solar Access if we were). All we can do is pass on the information that we have learned during our in-depth research into clothes line restrictions.
So, before you hang out that linen, please double-check what the rules are where you live – or you may find the State or your local HOA will hang you out to dry! 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >