When you think of hand washing clothes, you probably have in mind the image of a person in a calico dress scrubbing furiously on a washboard in hot, soapy water up to their elbows.
But no, it’s not that bad.
Getting clothes clean without a washing machine isn’t hard.
It doesn’t even take much time. It just takes a little know-how and planning. You may be surprised to find that your clothes are cleaner when they are washed by hand.
When I first started hand washing my clothes, I was shocked at how much soap was left in my old washing machine.
The first few times I did laundry, I didn’t even have to add soap because there was still so much residual detergent on my clothes. Yuck!
One thing I’ve learned in my self-sufficiency adventures is that modern life has given us convenience at the expense of quality. Nothing beats the soft, creamy bubbles of a bar of homemade castile soap. Freshly made yogurt is far better than anything you can buy at the local supermarket. And hand-washed clothes are really clean instead of spinning in the laundry for an hour.
But Tracey, it’s so much easier to throw my clothes in the washing machine, why would I want to wash them by hand?
There are many reasons to wash your clothes by hand.
Maybe your washing machine is broken and the repairman can’t come right away.
Maybe you moved into an apartment that doesn’t have a washer and dryer and you don’t feel like going to the laundromat (because, let’s face it, laundromat machines are disgusting).
Maybe the power is out.
Maybe you’re looking to simplify your life or save water.
Either way, knowing how to wash your clothes by hand is a great skill to have.
Before you get started, here are some tips
Washing your clothes by hand is kind of like baking cookies: it takes a little time and preparation to get started, but most of the time you don’t bother. I try to wash my clothes when I’m busy with other household chores or when I’m back for the evening, so I can do something else while my clothes soak or drip.
By doing your laundry this way, you can’t let it build up for two weeks and then catch up. You’ll be washing much smaller loads, so try to wash one load a day or pick one day a week and make it laundry day.
If you are messy like me, fix drips and stains on your clothes as soon as they happen. This will reduce the likelihood of them getting stained.
When you first switch to hand washing your clothes, don’t add detergent. You may be surprised (and a little scared) to find that there is still a lot of detergent left in your clothes. Once you start agitating the clothes, if the water is still clear enough, go ahead and add soap. Again, this only applies when you switch from the washing machine to hand washing.
I find it more comfortable to set up and wash clothes directly in my tub. That way, if I spill water from my bucket, it’s no big deal. And filling and rinsing is so much easier.
Okay let’s get the laundry done.
First of all, you need a new washing machine. And you can replace the old one for only $12 and a trip to the hardware store.
Yes, it’s true, a 5-gallon bucket and a plunger are all you need to do your laundry.
Use a clean bucket and suction cup. I highly recommend buying a new suction cup that you will only use for laundry, for obvious reasons. You need a good old rubber suction cup that screws onto the wooden handle. This will be your agitator.
Before you start, check for stains on clothes that need a little more attention.
I use several products to treat stains on clothes, depending on what I spilled on them.
A mixture of peroxide and dish soap (in a 2:1 ratio) is a great all-purpose laundry stain remover. And I’ve yet to find a stain that Fels Naptha can’t remove. I’ll even use a bar of regular castile soap if that’s what I have on hand.
Wet the stain with warm water, then scrub it with whatever product you use. I’ll use an old toothbrush for tougher items like denim, but for most clothing, a toothbrush is too abrasive. To scrub stains out of clothes, I use these little silicone brushes with spikes.
They are gentle on even my most delicate fabrics but do a great job of working the soap into the fabric. (These silicone scrubbers are also great for washing fruit and veggies.)
Once you have dealt with any spots, you can load up your bucket.
I usually place the plunger first and load the clothes around it.
I try to keep the level of the clothes at about ½ to 2/3 of the bucket, without packing them down. You want to leave room for the clothes to spread out.
Add your detergent or soap.
Do NOT use a lot of detergent. For a typical bucket load, I only add two to three teaspoons of detergent. Yes, that’s it.
We have a habit of using way too much detergent because we associate foaming with cleaning. If you see a lot of suds when you do your laundry, you are using too much detergent.
Did you know that most commercial detergents do not naturally produce suds? Many of them contain additives that make them foam, because we’ve gotten it into our heads that foam = cleanliness.
If you want to avoid harsh chemical detergents, try soap nuts. It’s a great natural alternative.
Now fill your bucket with water at the appropriate temperature for the clothes you are washing.
ou want the clothes to be covered by about an inch or two of water. You should be able to slosh the clothes around easily, but you don’t want to fill the bucket completely.
You’ll be surprised to find that the plunger will create suction on the clothes – this is good! You’re drawing the water and soap through the fabric.
I try to keep a good steady pace moving the plunger up and down, while gently stirring the clothes a bit. I’ll also pull the plunger up out of the water to shift the load of clothes around.
Do this for about five minutes.
You don’t need to go crazy and sweat while doing this. Just keep a good steady motion that effectively agitates the clothes. You don’t need to get water all over the place.
After agitating the clothes for five minutes, let them soak for fifteen to twenty minutes while you do something else. I usually set a timer because I get distracted.
If there are stains, that’s when I check them and scrub a little more if necessary.
Once the fifteen minutes are up, come back and give the clothes another quick stir, then tip the bucket into the tub to drain. Leave the bucket of clothes on its side for another fifteen minutes of draining.
Now we’re going to rinse.
Mostly, it’s the same as washing only we won’t be adding detergent, and we’re going to add cold water this time. You don’t have to agitate the clothes with the plunger as long, a couple of minutes should suffice. Tip your bucket out to drain when you’re done; you don’t need to let it soak.
Depending on how dirty the clothes were, you may wish to rinse them one more time.
When you’ve finished rinsing, let the clothes sit in the tipped over bucket and drain for about fifteen minutes.
Squeeze the water out from each item of clothing individually.
You never want to ring or twist your clothing as you can stretch out the fabric. Just ball it up in your hand and give it a good squeeze.
For items that tend to hold more water, such as sweaters and jeans, squeeze as much water out as you can by hand. Then sandwich them between two towels, roll the towels up and press firmly. This will help get out excess water.
Hang your clothes to dry.
Once you have finished extracting as much water from your clothes as you can shake them out gently and hang them to dry, my personal choice is hanging clothes outside on the line, but that’s not always an option.
I also bought a Laundry POD.
To be honest, I don’t think it’s great per se for washing clothes. The spinning motion of the clothes in a circle drives the water outward, like a centrifuge, and not into the clothes.
That being said, I would still recommend it if you plan on washing your clothes by hand exclusively; here’s why.
The Laundry POD does a pretty good job for delicate items like sweaters and bras, etc. I’m a knitter, and l have a ton of knitwear. The Laundry POD handles these delicate items beautifully.
I also think it’s worth the purchase price if you only use it to spin your clothes. It’s basically a giant salad spinner. (And I suppose you could use it for that too!)
I set mine up in the tub and use it to spin out water from my clothes, which means they dry faster.
The Laundry POD has some less than stellar reviews online, but overall I think it’s very practical.
Take a look at it and see if it’s right for you here.
So, here goes.
See? Washing your clothes by hand is pretty simple.
When I had to give up the convenience of my washer and dryer, I worried about how much work it would be.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy. And as an added benefit, my clothes look and feel better since I started washing them by hand – another argument for being more self-sufficient.