Typical clothespins rust, break, pop off and stain your laundry. Four alternatives that do better.


The lowly clothespin has a few problems when you take it on a boat.

Typical clothespins rust, break, pop off and stain your laundry. Four alternatives that do better.Number one, the little spring in it is steel which quickly rusts in salt air. And that creates two problems — rust stains on clothing and clothespins that break.

Number two, most don’t grip the clothing particularly tightly and can pop off. At the best, clothing falls on deck and has to be rehung; worse is falling into salt water and needing to be re-washed (using more precious water); and worst is going overboard, sinking and not being found.

On a sailboat, the lifelines are the first place that clothes get hung and the jib sheets are typically second. But jib sheets are larger than normal clothesline, and most pins don’t hold at all well.

And number three, the wood gets dirty over time and also stains your nice clean items.


None of the following solutions is perfect, I’ll admit. The first one eliminates most of the problems, but isn’t cheap; the others each still have some problems.

Typical clothespins rust, break, pop off and stain your laundry. Four alternatives that do better.Stainless clothespins. These 100% stainless clothespins won’t rust or stain clothes, and they can be washed easily to get the dirt off them. They also grip much more tightly than the “normal” clothespin. The drawback is that they cost about $1 per clothespin . . . but that’s less than the cost of losing a good piece of clothing or towel overboard. Available in sets of 20 from:

  • Amazon — a better deal if you have Amazon Prime (click to get a free 30-day trial) or are buying something else to qualify for free shipping
  • Lee Valley Tools — lower unit price but high shipping

Typical clothespins rust, break, pop off and stain your laundry. Four alternatives that do better.Plastic clothespin with galvanized spring. These aren’t 100% rust-proof, but do rust a lot less than the wooden ones with the regular spring. They also have more grip and with the larger hole size, do well on jib sheets. Finally, dirt can be easily washed off.

While I lust for the stainless clothespins, these are what I use due to the fact that I get three times as many for about the same price. You can also get plastic clothespins that look very similar to the wooden ones, but they don’t have the rust-resistant galvanized springs and are just as prone to popping off due to their design as the wooden ones. The style shown here do cost a bit more but are much better. I bought mine at Amazon.

Typical clothespins rust, break, pop off and stain your laundry. Four alternatives that do better.All-wood clothespins. While these avoid the rust-staining problem, they tend to pull at clothing (especially t-shirts and other knit items) in funny ways. They also get dirty and it’s next to impossible to really get them clean. I’ve also had lots of problems with them popping off and they don’t fit well on anything thick.

That said, they are inexpensive and several readers have written to recommend them.

Low tech and limited. A very low tech solution is to pass whatever line you’re using through a sleeve, leg, or belt loop of your “good” clothing and then securely tie off both ends. This works well, but you can’t use the lifelines or jib sheets this way (or at least it’s not easy to) and what do you do with rags, towels, sheets and other flat items? You still need some clothespins that work for them.

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  • Chris&Janet
    Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

    We have found that PVC-Coated 2″ Steel Wire Clips such as those offered by Amazon work fine, and corrosion can be eliminated. Just put a dab of liquid rope whipping on the open tips of the plastic sleeving. We have clips that are over nine years old that still do the job sans rust.

    Set of PVC Coated Clips

    On really windy days we pull out our plastic carpentry clamps and use those.

    Like these: 4 inch Micro Spring Clamps

    • Sarah Silverstein
      Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

      I also have found the PVC-coated steel wire clips from Amazon to be the sturdiest hold and longest lasting of anything else I’ve tried. These clips have become a valued necessity on board. When visitors are coming, these are the first things to be ordered and put in the Amazon.com cart!!

      SV Field Trip

  • Bruce
    Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

    Here in the Philippines we use a plastic clothespin (doesn’t rust) which uses a steel spring (which will rust but not that much) shaped like a ‘C’. It has a large ‘c’ in each side which perfectly fits over handrails and similar large diameter supports. For smaller line, the ends clamp shut fairly tightly onto the clothes. We use them a lot – a favorite place to hang stuff is on the targa supports which are prime places to bump one’s head. The hanging clothes reminds everyone to duck.

  • Felecia Masoudi
    Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

    We use Mainstays 12-pack Hanger Clips, White. They work and there is no metal at all in them. Added bonus they are super cheap.


  • Sarah Walker
    Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

    Eco force are brilliant. Hurricane force supposedly.

  • Carolyn Weckesser
    Posted at 25 June 2014 Reply

    We use inexpensive plastic clothes pins that have no metal parts. But what makes the difference is where we put the pins – we do not pin to the lines, but fold the clothes/towels over the lines and pin them on the sides, parallel to the line. This creates a “tube” and any significant wind just makes the clothes “spin dry”. There is little to no pressure on the pins, you can use any size line! And best of all, using this technique we have never lost an item of clothes or a pin overboard.

  • matt
    Posted at 26 June 2014 Reply

    we ‘recycled’ the black spring clamps from the big box hardware store as monster clothespins. We clip our towels right to the stern rail, no problem 🙂

    • David Johnson
      Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

      Another vote for small 1″ plastic-body spring clamps. These will hold towels in a stiff breeze. We have tried everything under the sun and only spring clamps really work well. The only problem is that the spring will rust, but the design of the clamp usually keeps the rust away from the clothes. You can find these at most hardware stores, or you can buy bags of these from Amazon. There are also thousands of other uses for these and the larger sizes of spring clamp.

  • Verena
    Posted at 26 June 2014 Reply

    You have to try these: Hanger Grip Clips from Amazon. One can hold up a wet towel in a blow! They don’t rust and after two years on our rail are still holding up well!

  • paula smith
    Posted at 26 June 2014 Reply

    we use coleman plastic covered camping clothespins and they are very strong, never rust or lose grip. have had same ones for years. available in any camping dept at discount stores (got ours at target) and i’m sure amazon has although haven’t checked.

  • Jackie
    Posted at 26 June 2014 Reply

    What I’ve noticed that many of the locals use here in Guatemala is a twisted clothes line. It’s 2 lines twisted together and they just open a spot where they twist and put a “corner” or other bit of fabric into the twist. It’s not ideal because you end up with a wrinkled spot where it’s been put “into” the line, but there’s absolutely nothing to rust and it seems it would hold securely. I don’t know where you can buy them, but they must be available…and a DYI option would be to make one yourself. Maybe even use bungy cords.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 27 June 2014 Reply

      I’ve used ones like this that are available as “travel” clothes lines. In addition to the wrinkled corners, my problem was that unless you had the line VERY tight (and that makes it hard to tuck bits of fabric in the twists), things fell off if the wind gusted, particularly heavier items.

      You can buy them on Amazon: Rick Steves Travel Clothesline

  • Simonne
    Posted at 30 June 2014 Reply

    I sometimes use a very, very oldfashioned way to hang the laundry, without using any pins.
    Ik wish I could explain this in English, but I wouldn’t know how to…
    I give you this URL, and you can see for yourselves how (in the 1900s) the laundry was hung.
    The laundry is perfectly safe in all winds under 12 Beaufort!
    Have fun looking at this very old Dutch way of hanging the laundry.
    And no, women in the Netherlands are not all wearing those clothes, only in a couple of very old villages, by the older women. :-))
    Sorry, it is in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea.
    And: it really works! Try it out!


  • D Johnson
    Posted at 28 June 2016 Reply

    We use spring clamps available from most hardware stores. I find uses for multiple sizes around the boat, but the smallest sizes work well for boat laundry. Short of a storm, clothes will not blow away. Home Depot sells bags of assorted sizes of plastic spring clamps.

  • Lamarr Harding
    Posted at 14 July 2016 Reply

    I hang my button shirts on plastic hangers. My pants through belt loops with snap hooks (such as you would use on a dog leash). My towels on the towel hooks where they usually hang. Sox and undies inside over hanging hand hold rods. (I’m old have 1/2 inch grab bars to ballance myself)

  • Ted Reshetiloff
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    Claudia check out the stainless ones. We’ve found the plastic ones with springs don’t hold up to the UV in the Caribbean. Curious about the ss option tho thanks!

  • Kristy Dunning
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    I love those stainless clips. They are wonderful – really work!

  • Annika Elias
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    Also check out FixClip. You can use them on both lifelines and larger pulpit tubes. http://Www.fixclip.se

  • Hans Zephyr
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    Whatever you buy, NOT plastic. Somehow it will end in the ocean. Use stainless or wood

  • Tod Mills
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    Has anyone tried cutting short lengths of PVC pipe, then cutting through one wall lengthwise to form a C whose ends touch? I use those for clamps often, but never tried them as a clothespin. Pipe diameter to suit (you need to be able to get fingers in to spread it open).

  • Joni Goodman
    Posted at 29 September 2017 Reply

    These are my favorites: Household Essentials 12 Count Soft-Touch Plastic Clothespins http://amzn.to/2BR9qFH

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