DIY - Hand Washing of Laundry
Self Reliance for Expats and Travelers
The advent of the industrial age isn't in the grand scheme of things all that far back in our history as humanity. Frankly, there's large portions of the world that still haven't adopted the industrial age changes to how we manage first world challenges and tasks. When shrinking down to fit into an expat or traveler lifestyle, there's a great deal of amenity and luxury that we simply must sacrifice, but the needs those fulfill still exist. Let's just assume we don't have electricity, or even a great deal of fresh water to work with, regardless of what task we're trying to accomplish, though for the scope of this article, it's about getting your clothes cleaned.
The equipment we're familiar with for this is most likely a washer and a dryer. We need to understand both to get to where we can go without either. Some folks out there are already getting mostly there by skipping the dryer and going from laundry to the clothes line to air dry. Not running a dryer can save you a great deal of electricity or gas cost on your utility bill. The dryer really only performs two notable tasks: tumble and heat. Granted, there are dryers out there that do a lot of awesome extra tasks like steam and hypoallergenic functions, but that is way outside the scope of this DIY.
The washing machine, however, has a lot going on for it. It presoaks the clothes, introduces the detergents, agitates, rinses, re-rinses, and spin drys the clothes. If you have a really fancy washing machine, it'll even load balance for you. Our goal here is to replace all of that with human power.
Historically the agitator is a washboard, usually familiar to most as a tin metal sheet with baffles bent into its surface on a wooden frame. Soak the clothes in the tub under it, pull a piece out, run some soap over it, scrub on the baffles, flip, scrub again, set aside. Repeat. Pretty simple process that frankly works just fine. Washboards take up little space, and tubs are usually easy to find along the way. Washing machines accomplish the same thing with the spindle in the middle of the tub that spins one way or the next, under power, so the entire batch of clothes is agitated at the same time. The process I enjoy is a hybrid of the two. I use a plunger that has agitation built into the way it moves the water around in a bucket with a lid (it likes to splash everywhere), and get a fantastic upper body workout for my trouble. These agitators are readily accessible online for about 20 USD, break down small enough to fit in the bucket you use with them and in my experience, function fantastically.
The next step in the process is rinsing. In my particular approach, I replace the wash water with fresh water and re-agitate the clothes again to work the soap out. If you used a lot of soap, or if the clothes were particularly dirty, you may need to repeat this step. In a time before mine a rinse tub would have been used. After running the clothes over the washboard, they'd be placed in that rinse bucket. From there, I worked with the fists to agitate and run water through the fabric until properly rinsed.
From rinsing we get to drying. Before we get to the clothesline, we should remove some of the water at least. Back in the long ago yesterday, clothes would be wrung by hand and later placed between two rollers that were slightly malleable and rolled through a rolling wringer. Each side would be a bucket to either capture the water or the now mostly dry article. Water, of course, was reused as much as possible through the process. In the process I am using, I opted for a gear-driven spin dry. Centrifugal force would drive the water out of the fabric being spun until very dry. Your modern washing machine also uses this method.
From here, the clothing is placed on a line, allowed to dry in the sun and breeze, hopefully collected before any rain, and if you're diligent about such things, folded and put away :)
To recap the method:
- Final Rinse
- Spin Dry
I've been washing my clothes using this method now for awhile after being disappointed in the laundromat's ability to get them clean or dry or both. I've been very happy with the results; the fabric is soft, smells great, and I got a great deal of confidence and pride in the notion that what I'm wearing is due to my own efforts.