by Paul Stevens
It’s taken us many years of moving and installing clothes lines, before we finally figured out the secrets of building and installing substantial clothes line post. We have helped a few friends do theirs as well. Here is what we have discovered along the way.
First check your deed restrictions if you live in a deed restricted community. Clothes lines were not very popular before the Green Movement, and some HOA, still views them as rather trashy.
Second, it takes substantial material, we prefer 4” steel pipe. Used pipe will be cheaper and if you don’t have a welder in the family, you may want to contract a professional welder. The main upright post will have to be notched to fit around the cross T for a solid weld. Once these are in the ground, they won’t be easy to repair if the weld breaks. Wood post just won’t last over time. We have tried a smaller size pipe and actually bent it at the ground level.
We weld a 5’ cross T out of 4” pipe on an 9’- 2” upright. This allows for 3’ in the ground and 6’-2” above the ground. For us, this is a perfect finished height for a comfortable reach and to keep long items off the ground, measure according to your needs. It is easier to drill the holes in the cross T before the welding process. A 3/8” hole spaced no less than 10” will allow for 6 lines. Drill the holes all the way through and be sure to keep them all in line. During this process decide if it is economical to have caps welded on the ends, or to later cut wood plugs to plug the ends of the cross T. You will want to plug these ends or birds will build nest, and then spend time on the clothes line dropping poop on your clean clothes. Paint the post, we like using a good metal primer, and then aluminum color paint as it seems to hold up longer. Any good outside enamel paint will work. If the pipe is used, it may need a power wire brushing.
Second the finished post will have to be set in substantial concrete at a depth of no less than 3’ deep. Just the tightening of the clothes lines themselves takes substantial stress on the post, not to mention a full load of clothes flapping in the wind. The side to side and back side of the hole is not as important as the front side, where the post will be pulled toward. We like to dig a hole at least 2’ wide 3’ deep. On the inside we like to dig a trench footing 2’ deep 12” wide out 3’ from the inside of each post. We drop the post center into the hole and add 6 rebar to both sides of the post out into the footing trench. The footing trench gives another underground leg to keep the post from pulling in towards each other. In setting the post we plumb it side to side but kick the post back about 1/8 bubble out of plumb. Even with all the concrete and footing the post will still pull in. Once it is all complete the post ends up being closer to actual plumb. Don’t skip on the concrete; it is very difficult to straighten up a post after the fact. Expect to pour 8-12 bags of concrete around each post. Keep the concrete about 3” from the surface so soil and grass can be planted to hide the trench. We like spacing the post right at 49’ or less. Most of the wire cable comes in 50’ or 100’ lengths. At 49’ this allows plenty of wire to connect to each post without having to splice. If you have a large family and need to have longer lines, consider placing a third post in the center. Also consider where the post will be placed, as they will be very permanent. It is not a good idea to place them under trees, or where birds will congregate. Think about where the tree branches might be in 15-30 years down the road. Also consider the wind patterns; you will want to be able to hang out pants so the wind blows them out like a wind sock for quick drying, sheets work best looped to two clothes lines.
Let the concrete set for at least 10 days. We like using galvanized stranded wire for the lines. It is available at almost any hardware store, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. Plastic coated lines just don’t hold up to the UV. Clean the lines with some vinegar water on a cloth before each use. We use ¼” eye bolts on each cross T, yes they work better in the 3/8” holes. Forget the turnbuckles; go to a good farm store, that sells electric fencing supplies, such as TSC, and Purchase the ratchet tightener used for electric wire fencing, you will need only one per line. We have found two types of these over the years, one has a nut on the side for a regular wrench, and the other needs a tool to tighten the ratchet. Obviously the tool will be needed for these and is usually sold next to the ratchets. Over time you will tighten these many times, much more than a few turns on a turnbuckle, so you will want to purchase the tool. The eye bolt on the ratchet side will have to be opened. Placing one side in a vise and using a pair of pliers to bend it to one side is sufficient enough to slide the ratchet housing into, and then bend the eye bolt back. On the other end, you can either wrap the wire around the eye bolt, or we prefer to use a cable sleeve and not leave the exposed ends of the stranded wire to be exposed. They tend to puncher hands during cleaning off the lines, these little strands really hurt. Be sure to use safety glasses as the wire can spring back quickly at eye level. Unroll the cable and not allow it to spool off the side of the roll, the cable will be nice and straight, less likely to kink. Fasten the fixed end and pull enough to make two complete rounds on the ratchet. Alternate from inside to out and back as you tighten the lines, if you tighten one side down first you will actually twist the post. The lines should have about a 1/2” pull down in the center once they are tightened to the correct tension. Over the first few weeks, they will need to be tightened further, again alternate the tightening.
We also like our all aluminum laundry basket cart to transport the laundry out to the clothes lines. It fits through a standard door, and is much easier on the back. We do carry these carts on our back-to-basics site, as well portable clothes lines and Amish folding clothes racks.
Good luck going green on this, it is a lot of work, but I can see the savings on the electric bill when we hang things outside.