Off-Grid Laundry

In my quest to learn off-grid skills, the most recent experiment has been off-grid laundry.  Like nearly every other skill that sounds fairly simple in theory, there is a lot more to it than I previously thought.  My first few efforts ended up with me chucking less-than fresh laundry into a basket and heading to the laundromat to rewash it.

After a couple of months of attempts, I feel like I finally have a handle on it. This is a step-by-step guide to doing laundry by hand.

First, gather your supplies.

  • Laundry soap of choice (I use a liquid)
  • Borax
  • Baking Soda
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Sturdy scrub brush
  • Small bucket (I use a clean plastic kitty litter bucket)
  • Good quality janitor’s mop bucket with a press wringer
  • Drying rack and clothespins (or method of choice)
1.) Put your laundry in to soak.  I often put laundry in the tub at night to soak for the next 10 hours in a tub of soapy water with Borax. You only need enough water to cover the laundry.
You may be surprised at how dirty the water is when you get up in the morning. I never realized how much dirt got into the fabric of my clothing as I go about my daily chores at the woodpile, feeding pets, walking the dog, cleaning and cooking.  See how murky the water is?

2. )Then, in the morning, I leave  the laundry in the tub when I shower (think of the I Love Lucy scene where they’re stomping grapes!)  This takes the place of the “agitation” cycle in an electric washing machine.  Drain the tub when you’re finished.

3.) Next, I scrub the laundry.  I use a scrub brush and a combination of laundry soap and baking soda.  This is where an old fashioned washboard would come in handy, but for now, I just use the bottom of the bath tub.  Pay special attention to “dirty” areas: around collars, underarms, knees, soiled kitchen linens, socks and undergarments.

I’ve learned that no matter how hard I scrub, nothing short of a tub full of bleach water gets our white socks looking clean, even though in terms of “sanitation” they are very clean.  Thus, I’m investing in black socks for the stockpile should a long-term electrical disaster ever take place.

3.) Some items require a bit more soaking.  This week I had soaked up a coffee spill with a white towel, for example, plus there were a couple of other items with stains.  I use homemade “oxy-clean” in my bucket for this.  1/8 cup each of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and laundry soap and approximately a liter of hot water.

4.) Fill your tub again with hot water. Some people add more laundry soap here but I feel like the soap on the clothing from scrubbing it is sufficient for this time around.  I have a broom handle that I use for stirring the laundry around, but there are items that look similar to a toilet plunger designed specifically for the purpose of agitating laundry.  Then allow it to soak again.  I usually leave it for a couple of hours while I do other things.  After the first hour, dump your items soaking in the bucket into the big tub, along with the liquid in the bucket, and give it another stir.

5.)  Now it’s time to rinse.  Rinse your soaking bucket and drain the tub. Gently squeeze out the clothing items and let that water run down the drain as well. Add clean water to the tub, just enough to cover the laundry again.   Rinse each item by swishing it vigorously through the water, then place it in the bucket that you soaked items in.

6.) Pour a bucket full of rinsed laundry into the wringer section of your mop bucket. The water will go right through. I use a bucket for transferring the laundry because it keeps both me and my floor dry.

7.)  Use the wringer function on your bucket to get as much water out of the clothing as possible.  Adjust the clothing in the wringer and then wring it out again.  I find that after this I can still often wring a little bit of water out by hand.  This, to me, is the most difficult part of off-grid laundry.  It’s physically hard work, the wet clothes can be heavy and it takes a toll on your hands to wring out the laundry as tightly as possible. Invest in the best quality bucket you can afford. I bought a cheap one first and it broke after a half dozen loads of laundry. Consider this a tool that will take a beating. My bucket is an industrial quality janitor’s bucket.

8.)  As each item is wrung out, place it in another container while you finish wringing out the rest of the laundry. I use my bathroom sink for this.

9.)  No matter how well you wring out your laundry, it’s still going to drip for hours.  I learned a little tip from Lizzie Bennett at Medically Speaking:  Place your drying rack in the bathtub for a few hours!  This keeps your floors dry and keeps your home from becoming excessively moist.  In the UK, few people have driers, so most air dry their clothing indoors in the bad weather.

I usually leave the clothing on the rack in the tub overnight and then the next day I move it outside, weather permitting, or indoors  by the woodstove.

I do a load of laundry this way every other day.  It is sweet-smelling and fresh.  It’s a lot of work and I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of my electric washing machine in another week or so.

This is a good skill to learn now, because in a down-grid situation, when water could be limited for a multitude of reasons, you don’t want to waste your supplies and still have laundry that isn’t very clean.

The mental aspect of being able to don fresh clean clothing in the aftermath of a disaster cannot be underestimated.  Clean clothing is a sign of normalcy, and even more importantly, good hygiene will help prevent the spread of disease.

I store my laundry supplies all together in the janitor’s bucket which wheels into my linen closet. In a down grid situation, all of the laundry water could potentially be reused for various purposes: cleaning, flushing, watering plants (only with the rinse water).

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Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at daisy@theorganicprepper.ca

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3 Comments  to  Off-Grid Laundry

  1. dtayls says:

    What a great article! I’m sure I’m not the only one who tends to think in terms of disaster items (bug-out bag, self defense, first aid etc.) This would be a necessity if we have to hole up in our homes for longer than a week…and you “know” the disaster will occur when you need to do the laundry.

  2. Carol Strain says:

    I had to move to this small town 5 years ago. I am renting now and there is no place to hook up a washer. Ugh. I am looking to finally get me moved to a better situation in this regard.

    Mom grew up on a non-electrified farm, so I learned how to do things that needed doing. I remember Mom doing laundry by hand long ago. It was we kids job to hang it outdoors to dry.

    It is a good thing not to be helpless. I grew up in a large city, but I know how to do what is now called survival stuff. I have done my laundry by hand using The Breathing Washer since 2008. It makes it easy to do laundry and things come out super clean.

    The old version of these laundry plungers is still made of tin. They rust and leave stains on clothes. Don’t get those.

    These new ones are a heavy duty plastic. I use super-hot water and they hold up well. I have been using the same laundry plunger since 2008. I have a new one for a spare, still in the box.

    You can buy them from Lehman’s Amish hardware store in Ohio, USA https://www.lehmans.com/ or from the man who makes them http://breathingwasher.com.

    I have bought them from both sources.

    These things are great.

  3. I washed all my clothes by hand when I studied abroad in Spain for 7 weeks. It wasn’t that bad! Every night or so, would wash clothes in sink and then air dry over patio or shower rod. We were advised not to bring jeans or other hard to wash/dry items so most my clothes were just fine (I also only packed a few days worth of clothes but that’s another story).
    I think another good challenge and one I’ve been meaning to try but never managed with my first baby is “The Flats Challenge” for hand washing cloth diapers (using flats b/c they’re cheap and thinner so wash and dry easiest). http://dirtydiaperlaundry.com/take-the-flats-and-handwashing-challenge-may-23-30/

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