So I got up this morning full of energy and ready to face the day, looked around for something to wear and found that, surprise, surprise I didn't have any clean clothes after what seems like an entire winter of not washing any. So I thought to myself, I'm going to be a responsible adult and wash my clothing today, for once in my life. I got everything together and I get down to the laundry room and I find a little bitty sticky note on the door saying "Do not use. Broken". Darn.
Still determined to get this done and over with, I decided to do it by hand, old school, off-grid style.
You will need:
- a large washtub (or a bathtub)
- either hot water from the tap or a way to heat water
- an agitator (or strong arms)
- soap, preferably biodegradable
- and of course, dirty laundry
- a wash board
The first step is to heat some water! If you don't have hot running water, or running water at all, you will need to heat some water just to take the edge off if you have ice cold water like I do and to help get the grime out of your clothing. You can make the water as hot or as warm as you like but it takes a long time to heat a lot of water. A couple of teapots full for a large washtub should be enough.
Meanwhile, fill your wash basin about half full with water, soap, and laundry. I find that you can really only manage to wash half a basket of laundry at a time with a tub this size. I do mine in two batches. You'll want to use biodegradable soap if you are going to be dumping your laundry water outside. I used some homemade soap this time but I usually use my all time favorite scent of Dr. Bronners: Peppermint! The peppermint is antibacterial and mice hate the smell of it, so it is really useful to have around, especially if you live in an older house or one with a lot of cracks for our rodent friends to squeeze through.
Pour your hot water over it all to help dissolve some of the soap.
Next, you will need to agitate your clothing to get all of the dirt out. You can use one of these handy dandy agitators or you can just use your hands, agitating the laundry vigorously for 5-10 minutes depending on how dirty your clothes are. I know this just looks like a metal plunger, but it's not. It's specially designed to move the water and laundry around.
Mine's a little rusty because I use it a lot, but it doesn't really matter. They're not really necessary but very helpful, especially if you have a whole family's worth of clothing to wash. Doing this step by hand can be very tiring. Can't find one in your local stores? You can purchase one here:
The next step is to work on difficult stains. This is where a washboard would come in handy, but again it is not totally necessary. I actually find that it works better just to do this step by hand. Its really just a personal preference and I usually just do laundry for myself, not a whole family so I don't need to be as efficient.
Put extra soap on any stains you might have and grab the piece of clothing on either side of the stain. Rub the stained cloth against itself, using your knuckles if you like to really scrub it out. This may take awhile depending on how bad the stain is. This is one of the perks of doing your wash by hand, though, because you get to work on each stain individually and actually get them out instead of just baking them in like washing machines sometimes tend to do.
Once you've gotten your stains out you will have to dump your wash water and refill the tub to rinse out all of the soap. Once you have done so you have to get all of the water out of your clothing. If you have a lot of laundry to do you might want to invest in a wringer:
If not you can just wring it out by hand. I do highly recommend having a patio or a clean floor with a drain or a shower to get all of the water out of thick items like blue jeans or sweaters. I sometimes use an outdoor shower, but anything where the water can drain away works great.
This is where things really get physical. You will need to throw your article of clothing down and press down on it with all of you weight, squeezing as much water out as you can. I like to use both hands to knead it like bread dough, turning and folding it as I go.
And then you are at the final step!
Hang it out to dry. If you don't have a clothesline or the weather is nasty out you can get one of those indoor folding drying racks. Those work excellently, especially for apartments or dorm rooms.
Update: I had a great question in the comments from Just Plain Marie. She asked: What do you do in the winter? The simple answer is, I don't, or at least not as much. I wear a lot of wool clothing, which does not absorb smell as readily, and simply wash my undergarments and t-shirts more often. Those items are much smaller and easier to wash than say, blue jeans, which I don't wear in the winter. To do this you can use a bathtub or simply bring your washtub inside. It is nice if you have a heated space that has a drain in the floor such as a garage or a vegetable wash house or even a sauna to do it in, but if not you can just dump the wash water in the shower or outside. This is when it is nice to have two wash tubs so that you can put your wet clothes in one while you are dumping and refilling the other and later when you need one for dryer clothing that you have already rung out and is waiting to go on the line. As far as drying, those collapsible drying racks are really nice to put next to a wood stove but clothes will dry just fine being in a normally heated room as well. I might consider getting a wringer to get every last drop of extra moisture out, though, as you don't want wet laundry dripping all over the floor. I have found that it is difficult to take a rack or line up and down every week so it is best to keep a spot designated for it.
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