Prepare, Sustain, Thrive and Survive Simply

Love that Dirty Water

Somebody on a prepper site asked what to do with used wash water. I lifted this section from my book so I could share my own radical ways of surviving.

The kitchen sinks in our unhooked homes didn’t generally drain out through pipes. Most of us caught used water in a five-gallon bucket placed under the drain in the cabinet below. This was convenient as long as one didn’t forget to empty their bucket before it overflowed. The water was pretty funky, or rich in nutrients, depending on the individual’s perspective, by the time it hit the bucket.

Washing with a wringer waser

Washing with the wringer washer

I poured this well-used water onto the garden, which produced plenty of healthy vegetables and berries throughout the growing season, despite the assertion that soapy water is bad for plants. The soap added phosphorous to my soil. Adding ashes from the woodstove and nitrogen from goat manure, seemed to maintain a healthy balance. I didn’t worry about the chemicals in the dish soap, although I probably should have been more diligent about making my own cleaning products. Things like alkyl phenoxy ethanol, dichloromethane, diethanolamine, dioxane, and sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, don’t sound good for you. Probably better to pour them onto dirt, though, and let them filter slowly through the soil, rather than dump them into municipal water treatment systems.

Laundry Day

Most modern American women adore their electric washers and driers and recoil at the thought of doing without them. The driers are an energy-sucking luxury that can be completely done away with. Every home should have a clothesline or drying rack. Anybody that is serious about saving money or the planet can easily take a few minutes to hang clothes up to dry. This is a very small commitment to ask of people who are worried about global warming. You can even freeze-dry your stuff by hanging it outside during winter and finishing it up inside.

Any homeowner association that prohibits clotheslines needs to repeal that stupid rule immediately. People who whine around about seeing other people’s underwear flapping in the breeze need to grow up. Upon visiting my family in Germany, I was surprised to discover that my father’s modern apartment complex included an expansive, well-ventilated room down in the laundry area for tenants to hang dry all their clothing. I have never seen anything like that in the States.

Where electricity is available, wringer washers can get laundry done with a dose of personal participation. Back in the day, wringer washers had motors that ran on gas. Slaving over the laundry while breathing in fumes and listening to a noisy motor was not an option I entertained. In my cabin with electricity but no running water, I used an electric powered model accompanied by a set of freestanding double sinks on wheels. It took fifty gallons of water hauled to the house in a barrel in the back of the pickup truck to get the laundry done.

On cool evenings, which occurred about eight months out of the year, the water was heated overnight in a 20-gallon pot on the woodstove. In the morning, I poured hot water into the washing machine and added soap and cold water. After the clothes agitated for awhile, I’d feed them through the wringer, taking great care not to run my fingers through with them, as I’d heard horror stories of people’s arms getting sucked in up to the elbows. Those with long hair should consider tying it back before using a wringer washer.

After the first wringing, the clothes went into the first rinse sink, got wrung out again, and were placed into the second sink for a final rinse and wringing. When the soapy wash water got dirty, I drained it into the ever-present five-gallon buckets, and used it to wash the floor or water plants growing around the house. Then I’d transfer the water from the first rinse sink into the wringer’s washtub. The water from the second sink was drained out and moved to the first sink, and the second sink was filled with clean hot water for the final rinse. This is how the weekly ritual proceeded until the laundry was done or the water ran out.

There was an order for clothes washing, just as there was for dishes. Baby clothes and undergarments came first to avoid potential irritation from soap residue that would be nearest the most sensitive skin. The dirtiest and outermost clothing was saved for last.

Granted, my clothes washing system was labor intensive with a lot of lifting and moving of heavy water, but I was glad to be able to do laundry at home without plumbing. The nearest Laundromat was thirty miles away including two miles of rutty dirt road. Negotiating the puddles, potholes, muddy ruts, and snowdrifts along that road was excitement I didn’t mind doing without…

Washtub Bathing

Bathing in a washtub is as old as the hills. You’ve probably seen it done in old Westerns and French paintings of bathing beauties. I took a lot of washtub baths, and when rain or snow delivered the bathwater I felt particularly blessed. I loved relaxing in the hot and silky soft water, sipping wine by the firelight glowing from my woodstove.

I heated bathwater on the woodstove and poured it into a galvanized tub placed on the floor in front of the stove. Small kids could fit into the tub, but big people had to sit in it with their feet on the floor. You can probably get a basin large enough to fit your whole self in, but then there is more water to haul in and out. The most inconvenient part of bathing in a tub without a drain is getting rid of the used bath water. Those westerns with a cowboy luxuriating in an oversized tub never show that part. In my case, it entailed dragging the washtub across the living room floor, which caused a bit of wear and tear on the finish; then pulling it out the front door and emptying it off the porch. During the growing season, I poured the used water into my trusty five-gallon buckets, which I lugged to the garden. Some people hooked their tubs up to drainpipes that emptied directly into their gardens.

Plants thrive on used water containing small bits of organic matter, but you should assume that watering anything with it—known as grey water surface irrigation—is against the law. (Grey water is untreated wastewater drained from baths, showers, washing machines, and sinks). State university extension offices are a good place to start researching rules about grey water in your area. Expect these rules to echo the common government position that grey water contains bacteria and possibly other pathogens, therefore its use needs to be viewed as a public health threat rather than a water conservation strategy. This despite admission that very little research has been conducted on the public health hazards of grey water use. The assertion that grey water needs to be monitored for possible fecal coliform contamination stems from old time practices like washing cloth diapers at home and dumping the water recklessly. In other words, be smart enough not to water your lettuce with diaper water or dump it in the creek.

The Grey Water Policy Center’s is an excellent online resource for grey water research. They advocate for responsible grey water system design, of which my approach was not an example. But there is an extremely relevant observation on the website when it comes to arbitrary rules that take away freedom: “There has not been one documented case of greywater transmitted illness in the US.” The Center provides examples of grey water policies from a number of states, and model ordinances for those who want to take up the worthy cause of grey water regulatory reform.

Some states provide for installation of costly grey water filtering systems and testing, but such strategies are not within the financial reach of most families, let alone those pursuing radical simplicity. Doing your best to conserve and reuse on a budget, just like your ancestors did for many generations, will turn you into a guilt ridden criminal if you decide to fly under the radar on this one. There is more information about grey water later on, in the section on gardening.

Where do jurisdictions come up with these draconian regulations that hamper your freedom to survive simply on the land? One popular source is the International Code Council, an organization comprised of career bureaucrats and big business representatives who like to spend their time creating “New Codes for a Changing World.” Their Strategic Plan discusses concerns about protecting their turf. Why should I be forced to worry about some bureaucrat’s turf? I just want to get cleaned up in my washtub like the cowboys did.

You can get more details in my ebook: The Truth About Simple Unhooked Living.


4 comments on “Love that Dirty Water

  1. Jullie B.
    April 3, 2013

    Did you jams and untangling clothes or ruined a couple of shirts?

    Does anyone have video of this machine in action? I would love see the clothes go into the rollers

    • simpleunhookedliving
      April 8, 2013

      No worse than “regular” washers as far as tangling goes…No video.

  2. Jullie B.
    April 3, 2013

    I do remember how wringer washer! Was renting a flat up in Darwin way back when I was in my early to mid twenties. They had one of these and I just HATED it as everytime I tried to wind my sheets through they would start winding around the top part and hitting the lever to stop it wouldn’t work so by the time I did get it to stop I had one big mess and would take me ages to unwind it as it was wound around so tight.
    and put rubber diapers through that wringer diapers and explodes and I ruined a couple of shirts
    And you had the clothes you déjas caught in the wringer? or ruined a couple of shirts?

    • simpleunhookedliving
      April 8, 2013

      Ha ha. You underscore my assertion that simple living is a disciplined art to be mastered in order to have quality of life.

Comments are closed.

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