One part of life which I used to take for granted was the ability to do laundry whenever I wanted. No clean clothes? No problem! Whether it was midnight, a rainy day in summer or a freezing one in winter, the laundry would get done as long as there was electricity and water.
It took living abroad in a developing country to see just how much of a luxury even a cold-water-only washing machine really is! I had to learn to plan ahead: if I wanted to wash my jeans in winter, I had to allow two to three days for drying too account for the variable amount of sunshine that we’d receive.
And washing my sweaty, stinky workout socks? I had to boil water for the socks to soak in; wait until the temperature was low enough to not scorch my hands and then break out my scrub brush to thoroughly clean them.
Setting Up A Hand Washing Laundry System
You don’t need much to set up your manual laundry system, and the investment is minimal and mostly a one-time expense. Here are the things you’ll need:
- Wash Basin – There are many types of basins on the market that are devoted to hand washing clothes. You’ll want to get one that has a drain at the bottom so that you can easily drain the water, rather than having to attempt to tip over a full basin. If you’re not ready for something so large, consider large plastic storage tubs or 5-gallon buckets.
- The process will be easier if you have more buckets and can just move clothes from one to the next. When I was hand washing on a regular basis, I had three large bowls: once for soaking, one for the first rinse and another for a second rinse. Then I’d dump out the first two buckets (you can recycle this water if you use biodegradable soap) and rinse two more times with fresh water.
- Laundry Soap – Liquid soaps work best for manual washing and you might have to experiment to see which works best, depending on the hardness of your water. Start with what you have on hand. and if that doesn’t work, switch to another soap. Since this water can be recycled, I think it’s worth using an environmentally soap so that the water be reused on the lawn or in the garden.
- Hand Washing Machine – This is what you use to agitate the laundry to remove the dirt. They’re quite inexpensive don’t take up much space.
- Wash Board – Yes, the kind that your great-grandma used back in the day. Maybe there’s still one in the family that you can get a hold of and give new life to. These aren’t necessary, but do help with cleaning very soiled or stained items like jeans and socks.
- Scrub Brush – Use this with or without the wash board to scrub out excess dirt or stains.
- Hand Wringer – Not absolutely necessary, but a hard-core hand washer will find it useful for getting the most water out of the clothes and reduce drying time.
- Water – Fresh water is the best for washing clothes, so having access to a well via a manual pump, or getting it from a lake or river is the best option. You can also use buckets of rain water, but you’ll want to clean off any residue that’s built up by straining it.
How to Wash Clothes by Hand
- Soak the clothes in soapy water. This can be done overnight, but agitate them a bit and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.
- Use the hand washing machine to vigorously agitate the clothes. This can be done for as long as you feel necessary, but do it for two minutes to start with.
- Wring out the clothes as best you can and move to a bucket of clean water. Agitate some more to remove soap and dirt.
- Wring out again and move to the third bucket to rinse. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the water remains clean.
- Wring out the clothes and hang them up to dry.
Tips for Hand Washing Clothing
- Don’t let the task overwhelm you. Committing to doing a load everyday, as part of your normal routine, is manageable and doesn’t take long once you get the hang of it.
- Doing this task outside is best, because you don’t have to worry about splashing water everywhere. For the times when you have to wash indoors, the bathroom is an ideal place as you can use the tub, or put your wash basins in there.
- Wringing the clothes out by hand will remove most–but not all–of the water, so make sure you’re hanging them up over a place that can hold up to some dripping water. You could also place a few towels or a bed sheet (which you reserve for this purpose; when the laundry is dry, hand the sheet up to dry and put away until the next laundry day).
- If your moving towards an off-grid lifestyle, then you’ll want to consider a hand wringer. It will save you time in getting the water out of the clothes and in how much time they take to dry.
I realize that most of us have the choice to do laundry in this way and there’s nothing wrong with having and using modern electronics to help with household tasks. However, as preppers, we need to be ready should the power go out for long periods of time.
If we’re off-grid for more than a few days, chances are we’ll need at least some clothes washed. This will also come in handy when your washing machine quits working and there’s no time, or money in the budget, for a replacement quite yet.
And hand washing greatly extends the life of your clothes; since I started hand washing my jeans and undergarments (not together, of course) I’ve only replaced them because I wanted to, not because I had to due to the vigorous agitation and heat from the washer and dryer!
So even if you’re not eager to dip your toes–or hands–into the water and hand wash all the time, get the supplies and try it a time or two so you’ve got a feeling for how it works, how long it takes and what to expect.
Scrub a dub dub
So, what are you waiting for? Order yourself a hand washing machine and scrub brush so you can add another important prepper skill to your repertoire!
The editor of Ethical Living, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.