For the month of July, Seventh Generation is presenting home launderers with a most formidable challenge: for an entire week, participants can pledge to use nontoxic, biodegradable laundry detergent, wash their clothing in cold water, and ditch the dryer for a drying line or rack. It’s called the 7-Day Laundry Challenge and by pledging to participate, you'll be automatically entered to win a slew of weekly giveaways as well as calculate your energy and money savings on the challenge’s official site.
In June, I participated in a special two-week test-run of the 7-Day Laundry Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with my living situation, it provided for a unique set-up. I live in a fourth-floor walk-up rental apartment in Brooklyn; I don’t own a washer and dryer (I haul all my clothes — and all of my quarters — to a laundromat down the street); and I most certainly don’t have a backard or ample outdoor space for line-drying. It also must be pointed out that the energy savings from cold water washing and line-drying don't directly impact me since I frequent a laundromat on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Still, I was game to give it a go for two weeks. 
The first two step, washing with nontoxic detergent in cold water, wasn't exactly a challenge. I do this anyways so no big whoop. I occasionally do wash stained whites in warm water but during the duration of the challenge cold water washing was just fine. The line-drying part: not so easy.
Although I do hang dry select items like jeans inside, I don’t have any sort of deck or balcony for easy outside drying. I could have set up the handy dandy umbrella drying rack provided by Seventh Generation (along with detergent, wooden clothespins, and a hamper) in the middle of my living room but what's the fun with that? So logistically, the only thing I could do was take to my roof.
I love my roof — I've got the best city views in all of Brooklyn as far as I’m concerned — but I’d never considered climbing up a steep ladder with a full bag of wet laundry and a folding umbrella drying rack contraption. But in the two week span of the Laundry Challenge, I did it. Twice.
The hardest part of the process, aside from climbing up and down the ladder while carrying stuff was the weather. My first go-around was ideal: not a cloud in the sky, dry, near-90 degree temperatures, and no wind. After hanging my clothes to dry, I left for just a little over an hour. When I returned, the umbrella rack was still standing and the clothes were pretty much dry. I had saved a couple of bucks in quarters, my clothes were naturally dry and fresh, and it took just slightly longer than it would have to throw them in a machine.
My second go-around wasn't a big fail but wasn't as flawless. While it was scorching hot outside, it was also humid and overcast with a slight wind. So the process took longer and the rack fell over twice ... luckily, my clothes were secured by the clothespins and didn’t go flying. Then it started to rain. By this point, most of my clothes were dry and only a few items had to air-dry inside a bit longer before being put away in my closet. 
The rooftop line-drying process didn’t exactly leave me pining for the $.25-for-7-minutes dryers at my laundromat. But to be honest, it also didn’t leave me thrilled to climb up the roof on my next laundry day. When it boils down to it, I can’t let the weather dictate my laundry habits. When I need to do it, I need to do it. I keep a pretty busy schedule so when I have a couple hours to spare (and no, I won’t do a pick-up service … I’m neurotic about other people handling my clothes and besides, I find the process rather cathartic). So when the weather fully cooperates, I have the time and energy, and when I’m low on quarters, I’m guessing I will find myself on my roof, hanging out my clothes to dry. Otherwise, for now, I won't say no to an available dryer. 
How have your experiences been with line-drying, urban or otherwise? Is it a “special occasion” process or pretty much standard procedure in your home? And while line-drying was the only tricky aspect of the 7-Day Laundry Challenge for me, do you find using only eco-friendly detergents and cold water be challenging as well?

Remember to head on over to the Seventh Generation Laundry Revolution website to learn more and pledge to take the week-long challenge. And while you're at it, look into the Levi’s Care to Air Design Challenge as well. 

I’ll leave you with some eco-stats about cold water washing, laundry detergents, and line-drying provided by Seventh Generation. Happy laundering! 

  • 90% of the energy used when washing clothes is used for heating the water.
  • The average household can save up to $25 per month off electric bill by line drying.
  • Sunlight bleaches and disinfects.
  • Approximately one quarter of Americans use an ENERGY STAR washer. There are no ENERGY STAR dryers on the market.
  • Indoor drying racks can humidify in dry winter weather.
  • Getting out of hot water can save you money—as much as $70/year on your energy bill.
  • Laundry that's cold water washed and line dried lasts longer, helping to protect the environment and your wallet.
  • If Americans air dried their clothing for 10 months out of the year, we could avoid 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
  • If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 100 ox. 2x ultra petroleum-based liquid laundry detergent with our 100 oz. 2x ultra plant derived product, we could save 466,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 26,800 U.S. homes for a year.
  • 60 million Americans live in approximately 300,000 community associations. The majority of these restrict or ban the clothesline.
  • You can reduce the full lifecycle climate change impact of your jeans by up to 50 percent by line drying and washing them in cold water.
  • Conventional detergents contain polluting surfactants like alkylphenol ethoxylates, or APEs. Natural laundry products use safe, biodegradable ingredients such as vegetable oils.

MNN homepage photo: martcatnoc/Flickr  

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Adventures in urban line-drying
To help kick off Seventh Generation's Seven Day Laundry challenge, I give the clothes dryer the boot and take to the roof.