Hand Washing Clothes
How I Started Hand Washing Clothes for My Family
I never thought I would be hand washing my family's laundry, but once I started I loved it so much I never stopped. Now I wash our clothes each day in my kitchen sink and dry them on a rack under the ceiling fan.
I started hand washing clothes for my family last summer. In my work as a door-to-door census enumerator, I noticed every morning some freshly laundered shirts and pants would be hanging on the porch rail outside one particular apartment. I realized that each morning, the lady living there was hand washing the clothes that her family had worn the day before.
As I thought about it, I realized this was a very efficient way of managing laundry. First of all, no mountain of dirty clothes ever piles up. The family takes off the clothes at bedtime and they are washed the next morning after breakfast. Hanging on the porch rail, they would dry in an hour or two on most days. Rainy days would take somewhat longer. No folding was needed, since she could just bring the clothes inside on their hangers and put them away.
When laundry is handled in this way, the family needs a lot fewer individual pieces of clothing. Every afternoon all items are clean and put away, so each family member really only needs two outfits: one to wear and one to wash.
Finally, money is saved on electricity, by not operating the washer and dryer. For those without machines, they save the time and effort of going to the laundromat as well as the costs of using the coin-operated machines.
I decided to try hand washing clothes myself. It took a few days of working out some kinks, but I was quickly hooked. I found it not only efficient, but strangely fun and satisfying.
The Top 10 Reasons I Love Hand Washing Clothes
10. I feel a connection to women and girls all over the world who hand wash clothes. Most people in the world do not have access to machines to do this job.
9. I use laundry detergent that I enjoy and it makes my kitchen smell fresh and clean.
8. My arms and hands are getting strong from wringing water out of clothes. I save money by not belonging to a gym!
7. It is a fun excuse to play in the water. I can even take the job outside on a nice day and do it on the patio with water from the hose.
6. I love seeing the dirt come out of the clothes right before my eyes during the agitation process. I feel like I am accomplishing something.
5. I save money on laundry detergent, because I use less.
4. It uses fewer resources. My electric and water bills are reduced.
3. I save money on clothes since we don't need as many outfits. When using machines you need a lot of clothes so you don't run out of clean outfits before laundry day.
2. I save money on clothes since they last longer. The washer and dryer are hard on clothes. Where do you think all that lint comes from? It is tiny pieces of your clothes that have come off in the machines.
And, the top reason I love hand washing our clothes: The clothes get cleaner. Stains are not left in clothing, since I can see them and easily take care of them with a little extra scrubbing. Since I started hand washing clothes I have learned that the washing machine does not thoroughly rinse all the soap out of the clothes. By hand washing I can control this also.
How Much Could You Save by Hand Washing Your Clothes?
I ran my numbers through this handy calculator and found out it costs me $1.00 in detergent, electricity and water to run a load through my washing machine. It costs about $1.26 to dry a load of laundry in my dryer.
Find out how much you could save by hand washing your laundry by clicking the link. You will need a copy of your utility bills to plug your numbers into the energy usage calculator.
- How Much Does It Cost to Run a Washing Machine?
Laundry is one of the easiest areas to reduce energy costs in. Here's where the waste is.... (click to read more) Find out how much you are spending on laundry and steps you can take to cut your costs.
Hand Washing Clothes is a Stress Reliever
After I started hand washing our clothes I discovered a benefit I was not expecting. Here are my Facebook status updates a few days after I started hand washing my family's clothes.
My status update on 8/26/2010 said, "Third day of slow (by hand) laundry. Unanticipated consequence...stress reduction! The fresh smell of soap. Playing in water. Washing away dirt. Peace and quiet. Wringing out heavy, wet clothes. A feeling of accomplishment as the rack is filled. Folding & putting away the clean laundry takes only minutes."
The next day I wrote, "Remembering 5 weeks in Ayacucho (Peru), where we washed our clothes by hand in the floor of the shower, then hung them on the roof of the hotel to dry. Someone once took a pair of my socks, but left me a pair of theirs in their place. Had not thought about it in years, but recalled last night that during that very stressful time, washing clothes by hand was therapeutic as well. Our brains need physical labor."
Detergent for Hand Washing Clothes
You don't need to buy any special detergent for hand washing clothes. This is the one I use. I can usually find it on sale at the local drug store or grocery. There might be something else you like better, but this is one that I especially like.
This is one of the detergents I use for hand washing clothes. I like the fragrance and it is gentle on my skin. It also rinses out easily.
Hand Washing Clothes Poll
Where do you stand on hand washing clothes? Vote and then leave a comment about your feelings on hand washing clothes.
Do you hand wash clothes?
My Method for Hand Washing Clothes
I hand wash clothes in my kitchen sink after I wash the dishes (also by hand). I use straight cold water most of the year. In the winter I use some warm water, but just enough to take the edge off and avoid discomfort.
I put the stopper in and fill the sink about half-full of cool water. While the water is running I add about two tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent. It is possible to use a powdered detergent; I have done it before. It takes a little longer to dissolve, but it is not a huge problem.
I add the dirty clothes to the soapy water. The amount that I fit into the sink varies, but I do not overstuff it. I have found it is easier to agitate the clothes if they have room to swish. Usually I do two sink-loads per day and this fills the drying rack I keep in my kitchen.
I usually agitate the clothes a minute or so with my hands, making sure the fabric is thoroughly soaked and the water is swishing through everything. You can begin to see some of the dirt coming out into the soapy water at this point, which is gratifying. After this gentle agitation, I let the clothes soak in the soapy water for 10 or 15 minutes. If they are very dirty, I might let them soak longer, up to about half an hour.
After soaking, I come back and agitate the clothes in earnest. There are various ways to accomplish this. I usually just use my hands. I don't try to duplicate the action of a washing machine, because when you think about it, the washer is trying to duplicate the action of human hands.
The method I use for agitating is to swish and squeeze the soapy water through the fabric. I don't stir as much as knead the clothing under my palms, similar to kneading bread dough. I am sure people have different methods of agitating, but this one works well for me.
I have a washboard that I sometimes use, but it is not completely necessary. You can get your clothes clean without it.
After I have finished agitating, I drain the soapy water from the sink. I like to squeeze out as much of the soapy water as I can, then I use the spray hose to rinse the visible soap bubbles out of the sink. Then stop the drain again and run the rinse water.
While the water is running and filling the sink, I rinse smaller items like underwear and socks in the running water, turning it off between items. I usually rinse an item, squeeze as much water out as I can, then immediately hang it on the drying rack.
Hand Washing Clothes in Paraguay
Here is a lady demonstrating a similar method for hand washing clothes. She lives in Paraguay and has a special laundry sink with a built-in washboard on her porch.
Using a Washboard to Hand Wash Clothes - Works Better Than Chemicals for Getting Rid of Stains
I received my washboard as a wedding gift many years ago. I am sure the person who gave it to me had in mind that it would be a decoration and never dreamed I would actually use it for its original purpose! I am sure I never thought I would either! But I remembered it after I started hand washing clothes and a few months ago I found it stashed away in a box in the basement. I brought it upstairs and discovered it is wonderful at removing stains.
I just use the soapy wash water and rub the stains on the washboard. The first day I used it I was astonished and thrilled to scrub out a stain that had been on one of my favorite white tops for almost two years. This shirt had been treated with stain fighters and put through the washer numerous times and I thought the stains were permanent. My nice top had been an undershirt for two years. The washboard got those stains right out. I was sold!
Then I tried a pair of white socks my daughter had gotten stained walking around the house in her stocking feet. This is the kind of ground-in dirt that never seems to come out in the washer. A few scrubs and my socks were sparkling white again!
Even if you are committed to your washing machine, you might want to have a washboard on hand for stain removal. Works better than any chemical stain remover!
This washboard is one of Amazon's most popular items. I guess hand washing clothes is catching on!
This washboard has terrific reviews. It seems to be well made. One thing I appreciate about it is that it is made in the USA. I am all in favor of that!
The top of the washboard is designed to hold a bar of laundry soap like this. I do not use it this way, but you may want to give it a try. If you do, please come back and let me know how it works!
Buy a Washtub
This washtub would be great for taking outside on the patio to wash the laundry using rainwater or the garden hose. Use a biodegradable laundry soap and empty the water onto your flower beds.
This is similar to galvanized tubs we used growing up.
Rinsing Your Hand Washed Clothes
Getting the Soap Out
Several readers have asked about getting all the soap out when hand washing clothes. This seems to be a common challenge for people, so I thought I would say a few words about it.
First of all, your washing machine was not getting all the soap out either! If you don't believe me, put a load of laundry in your washer, don't put any soap in, just fill it up with water and let it agitate. Watch the soap come out of your clean clothes! Quite shocking, huh?!
By hand washing you can control this better than with your machine. There are a few things you can do to get the soap out.
One, use less soap. Use only the amount of soap needed to get your clothes clean. You do not need bubbles. You have your hands in the water and can see the dirt coming out of your clothes. If you need more soap, add it, but do not put in too much. You only need a tablespoon or two depending on how hard your water is. You certainly do not need an entire capful of liquid laundry detergent. The less soap you use, the less you have to rinse out.
Two, you will need more than one rinse. Some items will be harder to rinse than others. I rinse underwear and socks under the running water as I am filling the sink, leaving the heavier items to soak. When the sink is full of water, I agitate the remaining items. The water gets soapy and I drain it. If you have another container for rinsing, you can save this soapy water for washing another load. Continue rinsing in fresh water as needed. You may need up to 5 rinse cycles to get all the soap out of heavier items.
A little vinegar in the rinse water helps remove remaining soap and acts as a fabric softener. Detergent left in clothes makes them stiff after line drying.
Wringing Out the Clothes
How do I get all that water out?
After handwashing your clothes, you will probably want to wring your wet items in some way. There are various methods for accomplishing this. Some require only your bare hands, while others will make use of additional equipment. There is no right or wrong way to get the job done. It is a matter of personal preference and resources.
When I first started hand washing my clothes last year, I did not wring them out very well. I believed if I were to wring out the fabric vigorously, that I would damage my clothes. I thought they would tear or stretch out of shape. So I would gently squeeze out as much water as I could. I always ended up with a lot of wet, dripping clothes and would have to put pans and towels under the drying rack to catch all the water. It was a mess!
I do not do that anymore. Now I wring every garment out with vigor. I fold the item into a manageable length and then twist one end in one direction and the other in the opposite direction, then using my fists I squeeze and twist and milk all the liquid out until I cannot force out another drop. Sometimes this requires refolding to get a different angle. Sometimes certain areas, such as elastic waistbands, require additional attention.
After I get all the water out that I can, I straighten and shape the garment back to its original proportions before hanging to dry. Using this method I no longer get drips on the floor, but my clothes do come off the line more wrinkled. I find most of the wrinkles fall out during wear, but I do end up ironing some things. I don't think I am doing more ironing than I did when using the dryer. If you hang things with care, I find they usually come out nicer than they did after sitting in the dryer. I never was very good at rushing to the dryer to hang things up as soon as the bell rang.
Another option is to purchase a wringer. This device consists of two rollers that press the water out of the clothes, either by hand-cranking the clothing through or with the push of a button if you buy an electric wringer. This looks similar to the wringer on a mop bucket, but there is quite a bit of difference between the wringer on mop bucket and a laundry wringer. You are never going to get enough pressure on a thin piece of fabric from the mop wringer, because it is just not made for that. There will be too much space between the rollers. So, do not waste your money on that. Go ahead, if you are going to go this route, and invest in the tool that will get the job done. Get the tool that was made to do the job.
Someone asked if she could use the spin cycle on her washing machine to remove the water from her handwashed clothes. Of course you can do that! Just set the machine to spin and turn it on. It should work fine.
You can also purchase a machine that does nothing except spin the water out of wet clothes. This machine, called a centrifuge, is actually also handy if you machine wash clothes, because it will get out additional water that your washer spin cycle left in. This will save work for your dryer, if you use one, or allow your clothing to dry faster if you hang to air dry.
Finally, you can take your wet items out to the yard and beat them against a large rock, your patio or the brick wall of your house. In my opinion, this is probably hard on your fabric, but it would be great for getting out your aggressions! Be sure to watch the video of the lady in India beating the water out of her clothes in this manner.
Hand Washing Clothes in India
Here is a lady in India demonstrating another method of hand washing clothes. I find it interesting and informative to see how women wash clothes by hand in other parts of the world where they have never had washing machines.
This lady soaks the clothes in soapy water, then scrubs each one on a large flat stone with a small scrub brush. She beats the soapy water out and then quickly rinses in clear water.
Additional laundry items
A genuine wringer like Grandma had! This will squeeze the water out of your clothes and save you from having to wring them all out by hand.
An electric centrifuge you can put on your counter. Just put your wet clothes in, turn it on and it will pull the water out with centrifugal force. Helpful even if you use your washer as it is more effective than your washing machine's spin cycle.
More About Hand Washing Clothes
For more information about hand washing clothes, check the links below.
- My Story: Doing Laundry the Old Fashioned Way
I live in an apartment building and don't have a washer or dryer. And my apartment is a fifth-floor walkup. The fact of the matter is that I haven't spent a dime on laundry in months. Washing clothes the old fashioned way is actually not only cheaper
- I Have a Degree in This!: How to Hand Wash Clothes
Basic guide to cleaning "hand wash only" clothing items. With pictures!
If Hand Washing Clothes Is Too Much - Try the Wonder Wash
If you are not ready to make the leap to hand washing clothes, you might like to try this little gadget. Set the Wonder Wash on the countertop next to your sink. Fill it with water and add about two tablespoons of laundry detergent. Put your clothes in. It will take about 5 lbs. of clothes at a time.
Agitate by turning a crank for a few minutes. Drain the soapy water and fill with rinse water. Crank a few more minutes to rinse.
The Wonder Wash does not have a spin cycle, so you will still need to wring your clothes out, or use some kind of spinner to remove excess water before hanging to dry. I believe if you hang them outside or in the bathtub, you can just let them drip. Items that have been hung up wetter often come off the clothesline with fewer wrinkles.
This little machine is a great alternative to going to the laundromat.
Please leave a comment with your thoughts and your experiences with hand washing clothes.