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Is it too chilly outside to use the clothesline?

Collected Wisdom's Philip Jackman

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

This week, Collected Wisdom takes a look at the age-old practice of drying your clothes on a clothesline. We're doing this because it's an economical and environmentally responsible procedure. It has absolutely nothing to do with those jerks at the Don't-Dress-Damp Dryer Co. refusing to sponsor the column.

THE QUESTION

Stephen Allaby of Fredericton wants to know the lowest temperature at which clothes will dry outside on a sunny winter's day.

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THE ANSWER

"Although heat plays a large role when drying clothes, humidity also affects the process in a big way," says Erminio Di Domenico of Windsor, Ont.

Water mixes well with air, he says, so the drier the air and the higher the temperature, the faster your clothes will dry. But even if the temperature is below freezing and your clothes get frozen stiff, they will eventually dry. This is because "evaporation will take place anyway, as long as the air around the clothes is drier than the clothes themselves."

CW has discovered that the drier air causes a process called sublimation, in which the water goes from its solid state (ice) to its gas state (vapour) without going through its liquid phase.

Back to Mr. Di Domenico: "To answer your question, it really depends on how much time, temperature and humidity you have. These three factors greatly affect the drying of your clothes."

Meanwhile, Madeline Burghardt of Toronto tells us that while her baseline temperature for drying clothes outside hovers around zero, she takes factors such as heat, humidity and the angle of the sun into consideration. "So, while a balmy day in January might not do the trick, one with the same temperature a few weeks later just might."

THE QUESTION

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How can dogs drink from dirty pools of water and not get sick? asks James R. Macready of Collingwood, Ont.

THE ANSWER

Actually, they can get sick from doing this, writes Laura Wright of Puslinch, Ont. "Probably the most serious illness they can get from standing water is leptospirosis (from the urine of infected wild animals such as raccoons or skunks). But generally, a dog's digestive system is built to handle more 'garbage,' if you will, than a human's because dogs in the wild often have to depend on scavenging to survive."

One example of this, she says, is a dog's excellent ability to regurgitate anything the stomach "decides" is not sitting well.

THE QUESTION

John Owen of Dartmouth says he recently saw a picture of the presidents of France, Germany and Italy having a chat. His question: What language were they probably speaking?

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THE ANSWER

"Most likely English, since that seems to be the common diplomatic language," writes Karen Beckermann of Toronto. Then again, she adds, "given how they rarely they seem to listen to each other, does it really matter?"

HELP WANTED

  • “I just got off the phone with someone who spoke very rapidly,” writes Neil Macdonald of Toronto, “and it made me wonder if people generally speak faster now than they did 50 or 100 years ago.”
  • Karen Griffin of Vancouver has a query of interest to “office drones everywhere equipped with the standard desk phone with cord.” How does that cord get so twisted when you never stand up and twirl around when talking on the phone?
  • Emily Murgatroyd of Vancouver asks: Why do people tremble when they're scared?

Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

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