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)
- 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)
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.
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).