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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Laundry by Hand

Everyone's done it at one time or another - washed some item of clothing by hand. Maybe it was on vacation when you didn't have enough dirty clothes to warrant a trip to the laundromat. Maybe your delicates always have to be hand-washed. Maybe it was your sister's shirt that you don't want her to know you borrowed and wore to that party last night. Or maybe your washing machine broke down for a few weeks.

Would you be willing, or able, to wash your clothes by hand during a power outage? Or would you simply hope you didn't run out of clean clothes before the power came back on? That might work for a little while, but what about during an extended power outage? Or if you really want to reduce your energy dependence?

Anybody can hand wash clothing for a little while. All you need is a container, water, and cleaning agent. Let the clothes soak for at least half an hour, agitate them, rinse until all the soap is gone, wring the water out, and hang up to dry. The sink works for a few items, buckets or washtubs will handle more, and the bathtub works for a full load. Cold water works fine, especially with longer soaking. How do you agitate clothes in the bathtub? Pretend you are on vacation in France and are stomping on freshly harvested grapes!

Over the summer, I tried this a few times. I used buckets outside during the nice warm weather, just using hose water with a little laundry soap. It worked fine and I was able to dump the used water right on the trees. The buckets were narrow, though, and not particularly practical for doing large loads. When using my front-loading washing machine, I sometimes used the buckets to drain the rinse water and haul it out to the trees. This method was not only labor-intensive, it also chained me to the wash cycle lest I leave the room, forget about the upcoming rinse, and come back to find a flooded floor.

We've thought about the laundry issue in the past, considering ways to save energy and water. Eventually, we hope to convert a used wringer washer to pedal power. We've even looked at plans for a pedal-powered wringer. Before moving, however, we don't want to acquire any additional large appliances. For now, I'd resigned myself, once again, to putting our green plans on hold until we move.

Last month, however, the Princess of Pink blogged about selling her washer and dryer, and doing her laundry manually. I was inspired to get a similar set-up and try my hand at this. I ordered a laundry agitator aka Rapid Washer from Lehman's, along with a glass washboard for stains. The agitator is simply a plunger-type tool to push soapy water through the clothes during the wash and clean water through them during the rinse. (But this plunger's never been used in a dirty toilet.)

There was still the problem of wringing out the water, though. I've got a bum wrist and it simply doesn't tolerate wringing out wet clothes, especially heavy jeans. With the hard water in this area, letting sopping wet clothes drip dry leaves stains and extreme crunchiness. Luckily, she suggested an easy solution: a spin dryer.

For you purists out there, the spin dryer may not seem to make sense since it does draw electricity. That's true, but the electricity used to extract the water from wet laundry is far less than the electricity required to run the washing machine for a complete cycle. The spin dryer is compact, very efficient, and quiet.

How efficient is it? Well, I tested it the first time by putting in clothes that had been washed in the front-loading washing machine. My washer has a "max extract" setting that removes more water from the clothes than most machines. The spin dryer extracted an additional five cups of water from the clothes! Interestingly, too, the line-dried clothes were softer than usual as a result.

But, back to doing the laundry by hand. I needed containers that would take little space when not in use (and when moving) but allow me to do a full load of laundry at a time. The most practical option was 18 gallon plastic totes. I priced metal washtubs and decided the plastic totes were a better deal in the long run. Once we are moved, I want a utility tub/sink set-up. At that time, the totes can be used for storage instead of laundry.

Here is my set-up and process for doing laundry by hand.

Soak clothes with a little laundry soap for at least an hour. I use cold water from the hose.

Cloth wipes and pads are the only items soaked in hot water. They are washed and rinsed separately in buckets recycled from a friend. (I don't have cats.)

Rub out any stains with the washboard. Agitate clothes with the Rapid Washer for about 5 minutes. This is a good workout, although I advise against doing 5 pairs of adult jeans at one time!

Put clothes in basket with holes to drain (see basket in picture above). Rinse in clean water. Drain and rinse again (in a new tote). Spin dry and hang up on the clothesline.

To reduce overall water used for laundry, multiple loads can be soaked and washed in the same water, although clean water will be needed for the final rinse. It works best to do whites first since colors may bleed.

I've been hand washing laundry for a couple of weeks now. This is not a difficult task although a pre-existing issue with my shoulder and neck may preclude me from continuing for a short while. It takes more time than putting clothes in the washing machine and walking away, but almost anything done manually takes longer than its mechanized alternative.

There are some advantages to washing by hand. I can easily wash the cloth wipes anytime now, instead of waiting until I have a full load of darks to run through the machine. I'm using less water and every bit of it is being re-used on our trees. I'm also looking forward to seeing a reduction in our electricity bill. I'm getting a good workout.

Maybe we should reconsider that Amish farm property we saw for sale...


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