It’s a daunting thing, I know. Doing your laundry by hand and totally off the grid is not easier, it is not more fun, and it is usually not more appreciated. That’s that. But, your clothes will generally get cleaner, you can have more control over what kind of soaps and conditioners go into your clothes, and you will have a much deeper sense of accomplishment when you bring in a basket of clean, folded laundry. You will use less water, no electricity and have no real need for anything that you can’t produce yourself. That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot to me.
Washing laundry without the help of machines is a hefty task. I know once I started doing all of my laundry by hauling buckets of water out of the cistern, vigorously scrubbing on the washboard, wringing, carrying and dumping tubs of water, I started to get stronger. And it makes sense. This lifestyle just plain makes women stronger. Not just mentally, but physically as well. I’d put an Amish girl up against any non-Amish boys I know. Seriously, shaking hands with those girls is almost a painful experience. I tease them about it a lot.
There is an assortment of neat little contraptions that you can find online or even in antique or junk stores that are designed to make off grid laundry easier, and I cannot possibly have seen them all. We have this one that we just use for socks. We refurbished it after finding it rusted and in need of a few patches. But it works well now and it is handy for soaking and agitation.
When I was talking about OGLaundry on the Christian Farm and Homestead Radio show with Scott Terry, someone mentioned those little plastic numbers that are oval shaped and have a little plastic stand. You can find them in the Lehman’s catalog and some other homestead supply stores. They spin all the way around, and you crank them with a tiny little plastic handle. We bought one of these when we first moved to the land, and they are just … just junk in my humble opinion. They are too light to stay put with a load of water and clothes, so we ended up screwing ours to a board to try to keep it from jumping around. Ours started leaking really quickly. You cannot wash more than a few light things in them, and you can forget about a pair of pants. Mrs. Bowman agreed with me on this assessment (that they are junky), and you should always take her word before you take mine.
I wash my laundry in metal tubs. Two of them – one for washing and one for rinsing. I haul the water out of our cistern – which isn’t too far from where I wash the laundry on the picnic table. I could pump it, but I just don’t have the patience. I don’t usually soak my laundry because I am bad at forward thinking and I don’t have a ton of stains I’m worried about. I recommend soaking your laundry if you have young children or other reasons for set stains that could use some extra time in the water. Soaking socks is a great way to avoid scrubbing them – which can get tedious. In the summer, I suggest soaking your laundry in the sun or in a sunny place to warm the water, because soaking is more effective with warm water. You can add your soap to the water before or after soaking, I don’t think it makes much difference.
The old faithful washboard. I love ours. Ours is really big and it is glass. It’s great because it is double ribbed and it doesn’t rust or get weak like a metal one would. It stays cleaner than a metal one, too. I have seen plastic models, but have never used one. I suppose they would work just as well if you could keep them out of the sun and weather. I have a feeling we might need to replace the frame of our washboard before we have to replace the actual washboard. I highly recommend a glass washboard if you are looking to buy something that will last.
We also have this neat tool – we call it a Rapid Washer, because that is what it was called in the Lehman’s catalog when we bought it. We originally bought a metal Rapid Washer, but it quickly rusted and it really isn’t as effective as the plastic one we have now. I don’t know why, but I just like the plastic one better. It is basically just a glorified plunger, and is used for agitation. It works great, but it’s a workout to use. If you don’t want to buy a Rapid Washer just yet, you could always purchase a new, cheap toilet plunger. It won’t be as effective, but it will be better than nothing.
Just know if you have decided to do your laundry by hand that you will find yourself scrubbing Cinderella-style at a spot at some point. It’s just part of the job. There are a lot of tips and tricks to getting out stains and spots, but nothing really beats a good, rough scrubbing on the washboard. Elbow grease is always my first answer when people ask about how to get dirt, sweat, grease, and most anything out of clothes. Farm life will provide some pretty interesting spots and stains, so be prepared. Of course there are ways to make getting them out easier, but one day I will write all those things into my book.
If you want to make your own soap, you should check out this post. When I haven’t had time to make soap (which happens most of the time) I just use cheap, dollar store detergent in small amounts and vinegar in the rinse water. My mother knows how to make soap. She is the soap maker in the family. Someday I will have her teach me.
Then, just get after it! There are tons of different ways to actually wash your laundry, and no wrong way. As long as they come out clean, you are doing it right. Be sure to get all the soap out of them, and hang them out fast so they don’t wrinkle. Wringing your clothes out by hand will lend them a few more wrinkles than usual, but a really good wringer can be kind of pricey, so stress yourself out about it. We got our wringer as part of a pre-y2K barter deal. It’s a really nice one. I only use our wringer for towels, sheets, men’s pants, and things like sweaters and jackets. The rest I do by hand to save time. It’s up to you what you use your wringer for, just make sure it stays clean and that you aren’t in danger of smashing any buttons or other fastening devices. I’ve broken more buttons and smashed more snaps than I am willing to admit.
If you get your laundry hung out fast and let it snap in the breeze for a few hours, you really should not need to iron any freshly clean clothes, except maybe head coverings (for the creases and folds) and men’s shirts (if they are nice ones). Everything else should be okay. I don’t like ironing so I only do it when I have to. Sunday morning is usually the only time I find the need for an iron, or when I am sewing a new dress or apron.
For years my Mom taught me to hang my laundry inside out to save the outside from fading in the Texas sun, but I got so sick of turning clothes right side out to wash them, inside out to hang them, then right side out to put them away. So now I only hang my Sunday dresses and aprons inside out, and the rest are all right side out so that I can immediately put them on hangers. I’m lazy.
Speaking of me being lazy, I have to stress something. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with this whole laundry thing. Don’t think you have to be doing all of your laundry Laura Ingalls-style overnight or that you have to make the big switch all at once. Start doing your laundry in a bucket. Small things like socks, and underwear. Do your kitchen towels in the sink. This is a process, and don’t feel badly about having to run to the laundromat some weeks. Also – make your children do their own laundry if they are old enough! Once we started moving off-off grid, every one of us children was on our own for laundry, (except my baby sister) because there was no reason for my Mom to be doing six people’s laundry. They can do it, and they don’t have to be perfect, the clothes just have to be wearable. It’s a great task for little hands, and keeping children busy with something productive is a priceless thing on a busy homestead.
I hope I covered everything. Let me know if I missed anything or if there is anything you want me to talk about. I’ve wanted to do this post for a long time, I hope it is all I wanted it to be, and all that you expected. As always, feel free to ask questions, add suggestions, correct me, or share your own OGLaundry experience and advice in the comment section below.