Washing Clothes by Hand and Tips for Line Drying

by Krista Davis on May 30, 2013

Washing Clothes by Hand (In a Bucket or Tub) and Drying Clothes on a LineI 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:

  1. It saves you money on electricity/gas since you only use your own kinetic energy (muscles) and the power of the sun and wind.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. You don’t need as much laundry detergent or water.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. You get a quick arm workout.
  9. 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.
  • Rapid WasherAn 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.
  • 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:

If inside, cut a 1” hole in the center of the bucket lid to place the agitator handle through, keeping water from splashing everywhere, Long Pole Attached to Rapid Washer in a 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.)

Tip:

  • 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.

Hanging Clothes On a Line: Hanging Clothes on a Clothes Line

  • 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.

Next Cleaning/ Organizing Tip: Eco-Friendly, All Natural, Homemade Laundry Detergent

Next Step for Green Living: Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent

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Written by Krista Davis

Krista Davis

Krista is a self-proclaimed “health nut” and eco-friendly enthusiast.

Author’s Website

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma Neslon November 2, 2013 at 3:26 PM

As my 20 year old washing machine finally broke down just as I was about to possibly lose my job (this was about a year ago) I decided to try hand washing. I did invest in an electric spin “dryer” centrifuge to get the majority of the water out of my clothes after hand washing. WOW! Did I notice a wonderful difference in my clothes!

First, I half fill my bathtub with quite warm water and put everything but white/light colored clothes in for an overnight soak (no soap). Next morning, I agitate the clothes/towels by stomping them with my feet (clean feet) for about 10 minutes) after adding a very small amount of fabric softener and then drain the water.

While I am putting the first “load” into multiple batches through the spin “dryer”, I then half fill my tub with hot water and added the rest of my clothes. After hanging up the majority of the first batch of washing (the spin “dryer” makes almost everything dry enough just to hang up except towels and jeans) I then again just agitate the second load in the tub, again with a small amount of fabric softener and proceeded to spin “dry.” and hang the rest of my laundry. I do use bamboo sheets on my bed, they almost dry completely in the spin “dryer” and need to be hung up to dry.

If anyone out there is a fan of the British comedy “Are You Being Served Again” I got the idea of stomping with my feet from the episode where they “teasel the dirt” out of some bed sheets . . .

My clothes are clean and fresh, and the only thing I have to dry in the dryer are the towels and jeans – and only for 15-30 minutes.

Is it easy? No, but I have a good workout stomping the clothes. But, even though I am not out of a job, I continue to do my laundry this way, as it seem it is easier on my clothes, and much easier on my budget!

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Krista Davis November 2, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Emma,
I’m glad to hear of another person with a love for hand washing. Knowing how clumsy I am, I doubt using my feet would work for me. :)
I have looked into the spin dryers but haven’t found anything available that I like, since we don’t have much room in our RV. What kind did you get?

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Ladean Ross November 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM

I am SO glad I found this! A tree had broken our sewer pipe which in turn destroyed our washer an dryer. I am a fire house wife, stay at home mom of 3 and caregiver to both of my husbands parents. Laundry for 7 people at the laundromat each week where the average loads costs $3-4.50/load is not an option financially. (Although, I will admit that my husbands clothes after a fire or EMS call DO go since they are filled with smoke, soot, grease, grime and whatever else someone may have gotten on him that day.) Thank you ladies so much for the tips! Until now I’ve been doing “batches” in the kitchen sink and not having much luck as far as them being stuff and hard to rinse! You have saved my hands and sanity! Happy Washing! :)

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Krista Davis November 11, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Ladean,
I’m so happy to hear we could help. The cost of using a laundromat is outrageous. If other family is able to help take turns with loads. I’ve seen videos of 3 year olds using the method rapid washer.
Happy Washing to you too!
Krista

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Visitor December 1, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Thanks for the tips. I’ve been researching this because I wash a lot of clothes by hand but they’ve been piling up because my sink is small I dread it. Even worse, there’s word that the already extremely inconvenient laundry room that I used for less delicate clothes is going to be turned into a gym.

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Krista Davis December 2, 2013 at 8:42 AM

You are welcome! I hope the tips can help you with your wash routine. I completely understand clothes piling up because of your sink. The last few places we have moved to won’t allow us to hang our clothes up outside (we stay in RV parks) and I have resulted to hanging them in my kitchen with a small fan underneath; this results in a 12- 24 hour drying time due to humidity, causing a pile up in my wash cycle.

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Caitlin December 11, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Hi, thanks for sharing. My laundry sink freezes up sporadically during the winter. We have tried many things but it still randomly doesn’t drain. So since my washer drains into it, I’m unable to use the washer without it overflowing. After a week of it not draining I finally decided to do it by hand today. I actually didn’t mind it and I am even considering trying an experiment for January, to try hand washing for the whole month and see if it saves money, if it is better for the clothes, basically to find out all the benefits and compare. Basically the only benefit to washing in a machine is it’s easier and faster, but I think if I work at it for a month then I will be able to work out how to do it faster and easier. I am planning to wash the previous day’s clothes daily and use the washer spin cycle and the dryer, I used it today and the clothes were nearly dry after the spin and drying was less than half the time. So it saves on the drying run time as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Lisz May 31, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Thanks for the tips, especially the laundry soap! I don’t wash my clothes by hand but use one of the small portable washers designed for camping and a spinner for drying. (I have the Nina soft dry which is about the size of a diaper genie) I was amazed at the amount of soap was still coming out of my clothes when I was using less than a tablespoon of soap per load. I decided to see how much soap would still be coming out if I didn’t add any soap because it had been left behind by the washing machine. I think my first load had to be rinsed out 6 times! What a waste of soap, time and water. I will never go back to using a giant washer again.

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Tricia June 28, 2014 at 10:29 PM

I came across your review for the rapid washer on amazon and followed your link here.. I LOVE your website! I am a single mom of two and I enjoy handwashing our clothes. I lived in India for 3 years (my oldest was born there) and we had a “semi automatic” washer, you had to manually fill the washer, manually drain it and then transfer the clothes to the spinning section to spin the water out. I found it much easier to wash by hand, even cloth diapers. I love my mini-wash board and rapid washer. I recently moved to a townhouse where I am able to hang dry my clothes outside (as opposed to in the bathtub and on the doorways on hangers and it’s so nice!
One of my relatives thinks I’m absolutely bonkers and has mentioned that she will be upgrading her washer/dryer soon and donating the old washer to me (no dryer hookups in my home) while I will welcome it for big comforters, I honestly don’t see letting my laundry build up until I have enough to fill a washer- I wash clothes every night before bed.

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Krista Davis June 29, 2014 at 9:42 PM

Tricia,
I’m so glad to hear of a fellow hand washer. Thanks for following the Amazon review here and for your kind words.

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Lindsay November 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Hello there. I am a new mother and have become very aware of the harshness of chemicals in baby products as a result. My husband and I lived a vegan lifestyle for a bit and during that time I made our own dish detergent and laundry detergent. When our daughter was born, I started to use commercial, all natural laundry products for her laundry. I use cloth diapers and wipes and just use the same detergent for them as her clothes. However, it is quite expensive. I have learned the bleaching power of the sun from doing her diaper laundry and have now decided to attempt hand washing. I do have some questions I hope you can help me with. Is your homemade detergent safe for sensitive skin? My daughter previously broke out when I changed her fabric softener. Also, regarding the drying of clothes. I live in Ohio and we have pretty harsh winters here. Line drying outside will not be an option. And there will be plenty of days where there will be no sun rays. How would I go about line drying indoors? And do you know if the sun still bleaches if it’s overcast? I do realize this post is older, but this is something I really want to do but I needed to know some more. Thank you. Oh, one more thing. When you are speaking of agitating your clothes you refer to it in terms of strokes. What does that mean exactly? Thank you for your time.

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Lisz November 3, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Lindsay,
I have extremely sensitive skin, the kind where I can only use a handful of products and they all have to be dye free, paraben free, fragrance free, etc. (basically free of everything). I have never had any problems with her detergent recipe and I’ve used it exclusively for several months now.

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Krista Davis November 5, 2014 at 6:53 AM

Lindsay,
In regard to using the eco-friendly, all natural, homemade, powdered laundry detergent,it hasn’t caused me or any of my sensitive skinned family members issues. It is the only one my grandmother can use. I actually created it by reviewing multiple cloth diaper detergents and researching and combining the safest ingredients.
Since we travel for a living, I have had the line drying problem countless times. During those situations I have my portable clothes rack inside, on hard floors. I place a towel on the floor to catch drips, then I place my laundry baskets on top of them to catch even more water if I haven’t had time to thoroughly wring my clothes out or I am drying hard to wring items, such as jeans and towels. I place a small fan on the floor to circulate air under all of the clothing and at times turn our ceiling fan on. The air circulation is what is really important. Also, make sure you have rinsed the clothes very well, otherwise they will dry stiffer inside.
With sun bleaching, any sunlight will help. If it is far too cold outside, place them in window that is in direct view of the sun.
As far as strokes, the up and down motion of the rapid washer equals one stroke.
I hope this answers all of your questions.

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