Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hand Wash, Hang Dry

What first began as a "crazy idea" that I found very interesting soon turned out to be the second largest cut to our monthly utility bill we have ever accomplished (first was heating/cooling habits). This method of clothes washing uses minimal electricity, minimal water, and wastes little to no water. We also have no washer or dryer to ever maintain or repair. For the past year, we have been doing the wash by hand, though not exactly the old fashioned washboard way that you might imagine.

This decision was a result of a few things.

We are very into saving money, especially when it means forming more sustainable living habits. According to the Consumer Energy Center, most top-loading washers use about 40 gallons of water per load. Add that to the energy used to run the machine and heat the water, and you can guess that laundry might be an area that could save you some money. Mr. Electricity has a handy Laundry Costs Calculator along with information on electricity usage of average washing machines and tips for how to save money even if you want to use a machine.

Our method of doing the wash uses very little energy (we usually don't even use warm water), and less than half the water per load as compared to typical top-loaders. We also get some exercise in the meantime, and the water that we do use goes to the plants in the garden. Of course, the water used from your machine could be used to water plants as well, it's just a matter of directing that water to your garden.

In addition to saving money and lessening our impact, we get the assurance that our clothing is being treated gently and will last longer. Clothes washed by hand generally outlive their machine-washed counterparts, and it also helps to dry them on a clothesline rather than use a dryer. Dryers are completely unnecessary and lessen the lifespan of your clothing. Also, sunlight is a great natural stain remover! We have never owned or used a dryer since we've been married. If you can't commit to hand washing, at least give hang drying a try.

This was our basic set up to begin with:
We used two 19 gallon tubs, one to wash in, one to rinse in.
We only fill each tub about half full of water.
That blue plunger is the agitator used to "plunge" the clothes.

Clothes are then hung on the line. This is our home made clothesline.

When finished, we would make a gravity syphon to get the water downhill to the garden.
The plunger, by the way, was purchased new and has never been used in the toilet! We drilled some large holes around the rubber part of the plunger so that water could pass through it while agitating the clothes. I've seen some people put a longer handle on the plunger to make it easier to agitate while standing, but we just squat. 

In the winter, we can do the wash the same way but in the tub, so the water, for now, does get dumped down the drain. However, we've found that rinsing is not usually necessary and so are using half the water that we were before. 

You can wash clothing by hand any way it works, but below is the way we've found easiest and most effective. 

1. Shake clothes out before placing in tub, this shakes off excess dirt or lint so your wash water doesn't dirty as quickly. (Tip: wash dirtier clothes separate from clothes that aren't too dirty.)
2. Cover clothing with water. Cold is usually sufficient unless clothes are soiled. 
3. Add detergent. This can be done while filling with water to suds things up.
4. Agitate vigorously for just a couple of minutes, ensuring you get all articles of clothing soaked through.
5. Let the clothes soak for 10-15 minutes, longer if you like. This part does most of the cleaning so you don't have to do as much work.
6. Agitate again for just a couple of minutes, ensuring to agitate all clothing, and pulling clothing from the bottom up to the top if necessary to ensure all gets clean. 
7. Skip rinse.
8. Drain tub of all water possible (we just tip it over). 
9. Wring out each piece as you hang it on the line.
10. Let the sun do the rest.

True, it is more physical work than using a machine. But it takes no more time, perhaps less.

These are our cloth diapers being stripped. You can see the holes in the plunger I mentioned earlier.
Happy washing!


Maryam said...

This is inspiring! Wow, 40 gallons per load is... terrible. Thanks for the great ideas :)

Carole von Aarberg said...

As a podiatrist, I this you have to wash at least socks in HOT water or any foot fungal infections will take hold. Over 65C/150F will kill fungi and yeasts. I am also a great rinser due to the possibility of skin disease. I live in Australia so warm winters and fabulous summers and I have never owned a dryer either.