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When I’m off the grid I wash clothes by hand. I also recycle water. I really don’t mind doing the clothes by hand unless they pile up. Then it feels oppressive, in which case I’d rather cheat and take them to the Laundromat. You see, I live on the fringes of our crumbling system — not completely out of it.
I enjoy living without pipes and wires when I do things to keep off-grid living from become the drudgery our ancestors were desperate to escape. One tactic is to be diligent about staying on top of/or ahead of chores. Hence, the idea of avoiding a big laundry pile whenever possible.
Here is one method I use to hand wash the laundry. Rather than put dirty clothes in a hamper or laundry bag, they go directly into a four or five gallon bucket that contains soapy water recycled from bathing. There they soak, and when the bucket is full, it’s time to do the wash.
In summer, I can just set the bucket in the sun for the day to warm the water. On colder days, I’ll heat some water on the woodstove or open fire.
In the past I’ve owned a washboard, but I don’t have one now. So, for jeans, gross socks, or other things that need extra scrubbing, I lay the clothes on a peeled log or a board and clean them with a scrub brush.
As clothes are washed, I wring them out and put them in another container. It has a strap on it so I can sling it over my shoulder and carry it to the creek. Then I rinse the clothes in the creek, wring them out, and hang them up.
In winter, I have often melted snow for wash water, and I don’t go to the creek. Instead, I rinse the clothes twice then hang them around the house, near the fire, to dry.
Speaking of fire: it’s not a bad idea to get a 20-gallon pot, if you can score one, for big items like sheets and blankets. If you’ve got a fire going anyway, and your not cooking anything over it at the moment, heat up the big pot of water to boiling and throw your sheets and blankets in to sterilize them.
I feel that washing laundry by hand is empowering because it contributes to self-sufficiency and freedom. It provides freedom from having to work at some soul sucking job on somebody else’s schedule, so I can pay for a washer and dryer, the power and water to run them, and a house to contain everything in. I also like doing laundry by hand because it helps use precious water resources wisely.
As far as soap, I’m a bad environmentalist and use corporate soap from the Dollar Store.
I’ve tried borax, which is natural and gets the clothes clean, but it’s not conducive to watering the garden (which is what I do with end-of-the-line gray water because I don’t have running water). A little bit of borax is good for the garden — very little. I know because I killed some plants with too strong of a gray water borax solution. During all the years I’ve put commercial soapy water on my gardens, I’ve never had a problem. The gardens flourished, in fact, and we ate good. People will disagree with me on this, but to each her own.
I have never experimented with lye solutions and have never made soap, though it’s on the list of things to try. My understanding is the best lye is made from hardwood ashes, and where I live hardwoods are lacking — it’s mostly evergreens.
Some people make Citrus Enzyme Cleaner from lemon or orange peels, which sounds like a good thing to put on the garden at the end — and a smart way to use peels you may have accumulated from a fruit eating binge.
If you want to get some off grid laundry ideas from history, check out this article. Mixing urine with lye for a cleanser was a new one on me!
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