When we first moved to the holler, here its pronounced holler not hollow, and decided to move toward being off the grid we had to reinvent our energy consumption habits. Lowering your energy usage does not mean you have to be uncomfortable. There is no one good way to go about getting off the grid. Most people go about it in stages. For us, being little in pocketbook, we have pursued creative ways to reduce our energy while spending little. Washing machines and especially dryers are a huge energy and water cost. Even the energy and water efficient machines use a considerable about of water and electricity. With five children and dirty farm clothes in spades I started to pursue an alternate way to wash our clothes. I got to wondering if older ways of doing laundry would be effective for our lifestyle. We are home a lot in the summer; but, the school year is filed to the brim with my work as a teacher, the kids school, and after school activities. Sourcing the internet for ideas got me started; but, raw experience and failure were needed to produce clean laundry. I have been doing machine-less laundry for two summers now and have gotten fairly fast. It takes me roughly 30 minutes to set up, heat water, wash, rinse, and hang two to three loads of laundry. During the school year I use the washing machine and hang the clothes out to dry as the weather permits. I would love to be 100% pure green; but, also have to be practical and do what is within my means. Here is how I do my laundry the green way. Hopefully you can use this and improve on it.
The Set Up
When I first started looking into doing hand laundry I found a website that recommended one wash tub and two rinse tubs. I have found that one wash tub and one rinse tub are sufficient. Depending on how dirty the laundry is I will use the same water to do two to three loads before it requires changing. I use galvanized tubs; you can get them at any farm store. They are durable and don’t rust as long as you let them dry out after use. For the wringer I was very fortunate and was gifted one that my father in law had stored in the barn; it is a 1900-1910 model from the Anchor company. My husband oiled the roller and replaced some pieces of the frame; but, other than that I have just used it as is. The Lehman’s company is a great source for hand laundry supplies. I purchased my washboard and breather, a plunging tool to agitate your laundry, from them. Lehman’s also has a wringer; but, I cannot say how well it works because I haven’t used it. It took me some time to figure out how to properly use the old fashioned wringer that I have. It was just pure luck that I was showing a documentary about Henry Ford in my classroom and there was a clip of a woman in the film from the early 1900’s using a wringer similar to mine. That very old film clip was just enough to get me in a direction.
When I set up I place the two tubs on the wringer and fill them with water packed from my spring. I rinse with cold to save energy. If you have time you can use a black bucket filled with your water and let it heat in the sun; or if it is hot enough the sun will heat the water in your tub if left to warm. Depending on what all I have going on I sometimes heat the water with propane; not totally green but sometimes more practical. Farms are like a triage operation; sometimes we must prioritize. After you have added your water, soap, and fabric softener; you can add your dirty laundry. It is extremely important to use all natural soaps and fabric softener because you will be dumping the used water on the ground and you don’t want to damage any bees or butterflies not to mention your ground water. As a general rule I do not use bleach at all; it is a known cancer causing agent, among various other very harmful effects. Your skin is a porous barrier; I try not to put anything on it that I would not drink. Vinegar is a very effective bleach replacement. To whiten clothes I use bluing; its the stuff in your grandmother’s laundry room that she would not let you play with because it stains everything blue if its not handled properly. Mrs. Stewart’s bluing is bio friendly. You can make your own laundry soap; but, be careful what you are making it with. Not all soap bars are good for the environment. I usually use Seventh Generation laundry soap and fabric softener when I run out of homemade soap scraps to make laundry soap out of. If you make your own natural soap or know someone who does, those scraps from cutting are great to mix with washing soda and borax to make a homemade laundry soap that is safe to dump out. Be sure not to over load the tub so you have enough water to agitate the clothes. Here is a video clip of the washing so you can visualize it.
For mild to moderately dirty clothes using the breather to agitate your clothes will be similar to the motion your washing machine makes. I usually agitate for three or four minutes; its really great stress relief. For the items that need more attention use a washboard. The washboard that I use was purchased from Lehman’s; it has a bronze surface to prevent rust. As with the tubs, be sure to allow your washboard to dry so it will not rust or warp. Do not be disillusioned by television stars using washboards. I cannot stress enough to use an open hand to rub clothes on the washboard; do not use a closed fist. If you rake your knuckles on the washboard they will blister and bloody making you look like a boxer and simultaneously feel like a crying baby.
When you have the clothes in the wash tub as clean as you want them; run them through the wringer and into the rinse tub. It is helpful to fold the clothes somewhat evenly so they go through the wringer evenly; more water will get expelled this way. You need to fold buttons on the inside of your clothing so they have some padding as they go through the wringer otherwise they will break. I do not recommend running zippers through the wringer and snaps are also questionable. With pants I usually run the legs through and stop at the zipper, then hand squeezing the top part of the pants. I also hand squeeze shirts with an excessive amount of snaps. A wringer will not get the water expelled from your clothes as well as an electric washing machine; but, they will dry on the line none the less.
Once the clothes are in the rinse tub you can use your hands or the breather to agitate the soap out of them for a couple of minutes. When they are rinsed run the clothes through the wringer again and into your basket to hang.
You can use all sorts of things to hang laundry. I have found that plastic coated dog leads work well and dog chains work fantastic for things you dry on hangers. I prefer to use the wooden clothes pins because they grip better and last longer. And frankly the less plastic we use as a society the better off we will all be. I have seen an endless amount of ways that people dry their clothes from traditional clothes lines, to fold out ones, to racks inside on a pulley system, to lines strung between porch beams. On a dry sunny day it can take only a couple of hours for your clothes to dry. Humidity and wind are a huge factor in the length of dry time. If I get to my laundry late I sometimes leave it out over night and get it the next day.
As with anything you must find ways that work for you. I still find little tricks and different ways to do my laundry more efficiently. The next step for us is an effective solar heater for our water so I can get off the propane pacifier.