Lately, I have noticed a lot of interest in how to save money when doing laundry. When I mention washing by hand, the instant reaction is “That’s too much work!” Well, I guess it can be if you are not prepared for it. Here are some of the reasons why I think people are reluctant to give it a try.
First, they only wash laundry when it is piled up. If you wait until you have to scale Mt. Wash-more to do your laundry, it can seem overwhelming. I know this from experience. I let it go for just over a week when I had pneumonia one year and was amazed at how daunting a task it had become.
Second, people are spoiled with their machines. I readily admit that in winter, I wash laundry at a laundromat. It is faster to dry that way. I have handwashed laundry in winter months and found that the clothes didn’t dry enough outside on the line. I had to hang the slightly damp clothing in the house near a wood stove to finish drying. In summer though, the laundry actually gets done faster and easier than hauling it 10 miles from home to the laundromat. Once I have a LP gas dryer though, the laundry can be done at home in winter again.
Third, people don’t prepare for the task ahead of time. There is nothing that causes your back to hurt faster than trying to wash laundry by hand in the bathtub. Again, I speak from experience. When I first began doing laundry by hand 7 years ago, I used the bathtub as my wash basin. It served the purpose, but my back sure felt the strain. My knees felt it also as I knelt by the tub to do all that washing!
So, why do I still do laundry by hand? That is easy. I have found a way to do it that works well and is very convenient. It saves me money each month. It also is fun. Whether or not you aspire to doing your laundry by hand or not, it is a great skill to have. You never know when your laundry machines will stop working. What if you have to replace your washing machine and don’t have the funds to do it? What about power outages? You never know when storms will take out the power lines. It happens often from winter storms, tornadoes, or other natural disasters. What about going camping as a family? You may find a time where you need to wash laundry while camping. Having a clothesline and a bit of soap with you can give you the ability to do it. What about something like a SHTF situation? Whether it be a job loss or other economic issue, there is always a chance that something could happen that forces you to tighten your financial belt up a bit. When those times come about, don’t let yourself be caught unprepared. Have a plan to fall back on. Even something as simple as knowing how to do your family’s laundry without the benefit of laundry machines can be a blessing.
In setting up a laundry, you don’t have to get fancy. Honestly? In a SHTF situation, having a 5 gallon bucket, laundry soap, and a clothesline rope is all that you need. Toss in a package or two of clothespins and you are ahead of the game. You quite easily can wash clothing in a 5 gallon bucket, wring the laundry out, refill the bucket with rinse water, then after rinsing, wring the water out of the clothing, and hang out on the rope clothesline. It literally can be that simple in a pinch. If you are thinking about doing laundry by hand on a more regular basis, such as during summer months, to take advantage of the warmth and sun, here are some tips to get you started.
First, have the right equipment. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It just has to be functional for you. I recommend having 2 wash tubs. I started out with a couple of round metal tubs that I bought at Lowes Home Improvement center in their paint department. These worked for a while, but the solder in the bottom seam fell out over time. They also are very easy to develop rust, if not dried out thoroughly. I next tried the deep plastic tubs with rope handles. These worked great. Only problem was that they were very heavy to empty the water out of. I finally found some smaller wash tubs that are easier to empty. They are the type that you often see used for keeping drinks on ice at a picnic or BBQ. These are smaller and work well for me. You can also find metal wash tubs of various sizes at Tractor Supply, Atwoods, or other farm supply stores. The second item that you need is a clothesline or drying rack to hang the laundry on. For years, I have used the clothesline rope. It works very well, but does need to be replaced every few years due to stretching and it wearing out. Many people like to use the vinyl coated wire, but be aware that after a few years, the sun will dry out the vinyl and it will begin flaking off. You can also use the actual clothesline wire, which is made to not rust. It really depends on what your preferences are. In the beginning, the rope would probably be all you need. Some people have a hand-crank wringer, but it really is not a necessity. I have one that I bought at Lehman’s Non-Electric store 6 years ago. It is now showing rust in some areas. It works, but I have to use steel wool on it as regular maintenance to keep it from rusting. Otherwise I may have to paint it. The wringer helps, but honestly, I can wring things out just as well by hand. It is also faster for me to do by hand than to use the wringer.
The next thing you need to do is have the right soap. That may seem like a no-brainer, but I do need to address this one. Many of your laundry soaps produce a lot of suds. This gives the illusion that your clothes are getting cleaner than a low suds variety. If you decide to use a soap with lots of suds, be prepared to do more rinsing than usual. My favorite soap for hand washing laundry is Fels-Naptha. It comes in a bar. Many women use this soap to make their own laundry soap with. When melted down in water and adding to washing soda and borax, the Fels-Naptha makes a very good quality laundry soap that cleans well without causing excessive amounts of suds. If you don’t want to make your own soap or use the Fels-Naptha, look for a store brand that is low suds. Trust me, you will be happy to not have to do the extra rinsing required from having too many soap bubbles in your laundry. In handwashing laundry, I often hear women mention that their spouse or kids get their clothes really dirty. If that is the case, simply wet the article of clothing, rub some Fels-Naptha soap on the heavily soiled spot and let it soak in a tub or bucket of water overnight. The next day, the clothes will be easier to wash.
On laundry day, I set up my wash tubs on a bench or table outdoors near the clothesline. I add a scoop of the laundry soap to the wash water. In the rinse, I add a homemade fabric softener made with water, white vinegar, and borax. This works great!
Start with your least soiled clothing first. The reason for this is to allow you to not have to change out your wash water so often. I start with things like washcloths, towels, and other lightly soiled items. I gradually work up to the most heavily soiled items as the washing continues, changing the water as necessary to get the laundry clean.
I have a scrub board that I like to use for socks and heavily soiled items especially. This is not essential, but nice to have. You can order them new from places like Ace Hardware’s catalog. Another idea, which I saw in a video by another off-grid homesteader, is to use a rubber bath mat with the suction cups facing upward. Rubbing your clothing across the suction cups provides enough scrubbing power to get the dirt out of the clothing as well. I haven’t used this method yet myself, but the video was very convincing.
When hanging out the laundry on a line, have it in the full sun. This will allow the laundry to dry even faster. One thing you will notice is that the higher the cotton content, the more stiff the clothing may become. There are 2 reasons for this. First, the fabric dries fully. In a dryer, there is humidity that allows for a small amount of moisture to remain in the fabric. This is what helps to make the laundry feel soft. Another reason why the cotton fabric gets stiff is a lack of breeze. Hanging the laundry out on a windy or breezy day causes the fabric to flap in the breeze. This action, just like the tossing of fabric in a dryer, helps to keep the cotton fabric softer. Ideally, I try to do laundry on a day when we have a breeze that is strong enough to move the fabric about as it dries.
I typically will start doing laundry in the mid-morning during summer months. By lunchtime, the laundry is often not only washed, but dry as well. I love that time spent doing the washing. I set up out in the yard, with the kids playing nearby. We all enjoy the sun and fresh air as I do the washing. After I empty the wash tubs, they are dried and set aside until next time. It takes less than a half hour to wash and hang out the laundry. When doing it by hand, I wash 2-3 days worth at a time. This makes the job far less daunting. On the days in between washing clothing, I may do bedding or towels. This is simply a preference of mine. We homeschool year round and I don’t want to have to spend an entire morning washing a week’s worth of laundry and bedding. When the kids were little and slept in a bit longer, I often started laundry shortly after dawn. By the time the kids were waking up, all the laundry was already washed and on the line to dry.
One note on why I do laundry so often when washing by hand. It is not uncommon to have a rain storm in the spring and sometimes during summer. One year, we had rain nearly every day for a solid month! Because of this, I try to have the laundry done often to prevent it from piling up. On average, if done at a laundromat, a week’s worth of laundry costs about $20-$25 to wash and dry. This means I would be spending between $80 and $100 a month to do laundry! I can think of so many other ways to spend that money than to use a laundromat.
The main point though, is to be prepared. Whether you choose to try hand washing the laundry or not, be knowledgeable in how to do it. Don’t let yourself get caught unprepared should an emergency happen. The best time to gain knowledge or a new skill is BEFORE you need it.