I know you didn’t think anyone washed clothes by hand anymore (at least not in a 1st world country). Well, you would be wrong. There are thousands of people that wash their clothes by hand every day, every other day, or once a week. I’ve read about individuals to families of nine washing clothes by hand. This can be due to finances, religion, environmental awareness, or a love of self-reliance. For me, it is a mixture of reasons – a love of saving money, knowing I’m not using electricity, and knowing washing clothes by hand is gentler on fabrics, yet cleans them better than traditional washing machines.
How I got started washing clothes by hand:
When my husband and I lived in an apartment in 2011 (located within walking distance of my graduate school) there were a few months that I didn’t have a washer and dryer. I wasn’t comfortable driving around the town I had just moved to, yet the laundromat on site was too expensive to use, and too awkwardly designed to stay there the hours it took my laundry to finish. The solution was to wash my clothes in the tub. This was before I had done any research and was using regular store bought detergent. I would wash with only my hands and the faucet, and then I would hang the clothes on an extra shower curtain rod I placed in the middle of the tub. My clothes came out clean, but very stiff (to the point I would have to rewet the towels to bend them). At the beginning of 2012, I moved into the RV with my husband (rather than staying back home while he was on the road), where we don’t have washer and dryer hookups. We started staying at RV parks that have laundromats on site that were free or about $2 per load. I would wash laundry then hang clothes out to dry, to save money. This was when I was beginning to switch from store bought detergent to homemade detergent and noticed clothing was stiffer using store bought detergent. Toward the end of 2012 we were at an RV park that offered free laundry, but the four hours it took to wash two loads of clothes left me feeling sick (due to lint, dust, and dry air). I decided to stop putting my health at risk in dirty and stuffy laundry facilities and to stop paying for use of a washing machine when I could be self-reliant. I also liked the idea of saving water, so I decided to start washing clothes by hand. I did my research and decided the tub wasn’t my favorite choice for everyday washing, due to cleaning it and carrying wet clothes through our home. Instead, I purchased two five-gallon buckets with lids and two Rapid Washer agitators for my everyday washing. Over time I have improved my washing, rinsing, and drying methods, discovered that unless you have two people washing at the same time you only need one agitator, and it probably would have helped to have three buckets, instead of two.
What I typically wash – Daily: 1-2 bath towels, one washcloth, my husband’s work jeans, my husband’s work shirt, my husband’s t-shirt, my husband’s tank top, my husband’s 2 pairs of knee high socks, my husband’s boxer briefs, my t-shirt, my jeans, my ankle socks, and my bra and panties; Twice a Week: 20 cloth baby wipes, 5 cloth paper towels, and 5 cleaning rags; Once a Week: queen sheet set (fitted, top, and pillow cases) and 2 large blankets.
Benefits of Washing Clothes by Hand and Line-Drying:
- It saves you money on electricity/gas since you only use your own kinetic energy (muscles) and the power of the sun and wind.
- It is gentler on your clothing. Where do you think lint comes from? Lint is clothing fibers that have come off from a combination of heat and friction.
- The clothes come out cleaner. I know you probably won’t believe me until you try it yourself; but my whites are whiter, and stains are less noticeable (probably a mixture of the sun and being able to see which clothes need a little extra attention).
- You don’t need as much laundry detergent or water.
- Laundry detergent is more effectively rinsed out – I use to line dry after using the washing machine, with the same homemade powdered laundry detergent, and they dried harder than when hand washing, due to soap residue. With washing clothes by hand I can tell when the rinse water is running clear, making sure the majority of detergent has been removed.
- No need for ironing!!! Since line drying I haven’t had a problem with wrinkles, and washing clothes by hand allows me to make sure clothes are hung to dry as soon as they are clean.
- You don’t need to buy as many clothes; you only need 3 pairs if you wash every other day. I know, you are shocked a woman is saying this, but trust me, I love to shop just as much as the next person, but I love spending my money on higher priorities like paying bills, eating at a gourmet restaurant, buying organic food, and taking a vacation. Try satisfying your shopping addiction with window shopping (don’t bring the cards, cash, or checkbook), filling your clothing board on pinterest, or creating new outfits out of the clothes you already own.
- You get a quick arm workout.
- The sun’s solar rays a natural sanitizer.
What you will need:
- Rubber gloves – this will protect your hands from detergent and blisters.
- Three 5 gallon buckets, a tub, or sink.
- An agitator; you can use a new plunger with holes cut out, but for a long term solution buy a Rapid Washer – it moves clothes around and helps suction water through clothing (Tip: buy a long screw on pole from Home Depot or Lowes and use gorilla glue or other adhesive to secure it – the pole it comes with is too short (I’m 4 ft. 10 in. and it is too short for me) and without gluing it will continue to twist off as you use it).
- Eco-Friendly, Homemade powdered laundry detergent, Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, or other low suds and eco-friendly detergent (it needs to be eco-friendly and biodegradable when being poured outside).
- Distilled white vinegar – this is used during the rinse as a natural fabric softener.
- A water source.
- A clothes line (I prefer a portable one so I can hang clothes inside during bad weather).
- Clothes pins.
- Wringer (optional) – I use just my hands to wring out water by twisting and squeezing clothing, but the wringer can squeeze out more water and makes it easier on tired hands.
- Washboard (optional) – I found a small washboard being used for decoration at a flea market, after removing the paint I occasionally use it on stubborn stains.
- A foot stool (optional) – I sit on my foot stool when wringing out clothes, to avoid bending over or getting on my knees.
There are three different places you can wash clothes by hand: a sink (mine is too small and I do larger loads, and I don’t like the idea of using the same spot I wash dishes to wash my dirty clothing), in a bathtub, and in a five-gallon bucket. I use the bathtub for about 3 or 4 days’ worth of clothing, or for big items like sheets and comforters (about 2 large laundry baskets worth). I use the five-gallon bucket every day or every other day, outside (it can be used inside, but place it in your tub or in another area you don’t mind getting wet).
In a Bathtub:
In a clean bathtub, with the stopper in, add 4 Tbsp. Eco-friendly, all natural, homemade powdered laundry detergent or ½ cup Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. Add clothes to tub (lay them flat, unfold socks, and spread them out evenly) and fill with water (make sure you have enough water for the clothes to move around during agitation, about ½ – 1 inch over the level of clothes). – I recommend using cold water for everything, except cloth diapers and wipes, which need to be washed separately from the rest of the laundry.
Pre-soak clothes for 20 minutes to 1 hr. depending on how dirty and how many you place in the tub. I soak in the tub according to how many clothes are being washed at one time.
Agitate about 2 minutes (100 strokes).
Empty tub, wring clothes, fill with clean cold water (rinse clothes under faucet as filling), soak about 5 minutes, and agitate about 2 minutes (100 strokes).
Empty tub, wring clothes, fill with clean cold water (rinse clothes under faucet as filling), add 4 cups white distilled vinegar to tub, agitate about 2 minutes (100 strokes). If water looks clean and has no bubbles, then wring and hang to dry, if not repeat rinsing.
In a 5 Gallon Bucket:
Fill all buckets half full of water (one is for washing, the others are for rinsing).
In one bucket (your wash bucket) add 1/2 Tbs. homemade powdered laundry detergent or 2 Tbsp. Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. Agitate for 100 strokes (about 2 min.). Wring clothing out, and place in the first rinse bucket.
Let soak in first rinse bucket for about 2 minutes, then agitate about 1 minute (50 strokes) in rinse water, and wring clothes out.
Place clothes in second rinse bucket, with water and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar, agitate about 1 minute (50 strokes), then wring and hang clothes to dry (if water looks clean and has no bubbles, if not, repeat rinsing). Note: I don’t have a third five-gallon bucket yet, so after wringing them out after the first rinse, I lay them in a clothes basket until I am finished washing all the clothes, then I do my final rinse cycle).
(With one bucket I wash 1 pair of men’s medium jeans – mainly because they are covered in oil and grease; 2 large towels; 2 large hoodies; 2 size 0 women’s jeans; about 30 large wash cloths; or about 3 t-shirts and 4 undergarment sets. I typically change the water out after 2 or 3 loads, depending on how dirty it looks.)
- To keep clothes soft (specifically towels and jeans) make sure you rinse all the soap out.
- Washing machines don’t rinse all the soap out, causing them to dry hard on the line, and to deteriorate the fabric quicker. By washing by hand I can visually see if they need additional rinsing.
- Make sure you wring as much of the soapy water out of jeans and towels as possible, reducing their stiffness.
- Reopen and shake clothing after wringing them out to aid in rinsing and help prevent wrinkles.
- If you use the homemade powdered laundry detergent, you can pour the dirty water over ant beds to help get rid of them. Borax is used in most bug sprays, but is safe on plants.
- Shake clothes out before hanging, and make sure to hang them in their proper form, not bunched up.
- Make as few layers as possible (preferably 1 or two) so the wind can easily blow through the clothing, speeding up dry time.
- Hang jeans, dress shirts, and socks by the bottom hem – allowing a quicker dry time by them not being folded over the line, avoiding marks from the clothes pin, and leaving a softer fabric due to more air flow.
- Leave space between clothing for air flow.
- If you live in a climate where dew accumulates, you need to bring clothes inside before night fall (also, it helps keep the bugs away).
- Don’t have your line set up under a tree (birds can cause rewashing to be required).
- After all clothes are hung do a last wringing of the bottom of jeans and towels to help get rid of the extra water.
- Hang diapers, socks, and cloth wipes in a prominent spot for the sun to remove stains and kill germs.