doing laundry by hand : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

We have no running water (we haul from MIL's), and are slowly but surely running out of cash. I'm thinking If I can find an alternative to the $12 a week at the laundromat for the rest of the winter, without buying any new equipment to do the job, I'd like to know how! I have 2 bathtubs with functional drains, a couple of large plastic tote boxes and 3 5-gallon buckets, and the plunger-type hand washer from Lehmans. So, can anyone give me some (DETAILED!) instructions or pointers on doing laundry by hand at home with the eqipment at hand and with 3 small children trying to "help"? Much obliged!

-- Becky Michelsen (, February 08, 2000


Becky, we have been without running water for months. I live in an area that doesn't have a good washateria, and I got tired of paying for half-washed clothes, so I do it myself. I have found that the easiest way to do clothes is in 5 gallon buckets. Fill each of your 3 buckets 2/3 full with water. It is best to have warm water in one if it is feasible. Put about 1/2 the amount of soap you would use in a washing machine in the bucket with warm water. Add 2 pairs of adult jeans or 4 or 5 shirts. Agitate enough to get them wet through. Wait a few minutes, then agitate by hand for a couple of minutes. Pull each piece out and see if it is clean. If not, return the dirty ones to the wash water and agitate or rub some more. Wring out the clean ones and add to the first bucket of cold water. Agitate thoroughly, wring out and put in the second bucket of cold water and agitate again. Wring out and hang to dry. I have found that the rinsing gets out about as much dirt as the original washing does. As soon as you get all the clothes out of the bucket with soap, add some more and let them soak while you are rinsing the others and hanging them. It doesn't take so long that way. I don't wring out the jeans though. It hurts my knuckles too bad. I just have to change the rinse water more often. Since you are having to haul your water, you might try pouring up the rinse water in another large container and see if it will settle enough that you could decant part of the water off the top and re-use it. It might work for wash water the next laundry day. Good luck and hang in there.

-- A.C. Green (, February 08, 2000.

Hi Becky,sorry I dont have any laundry advice but good for you .We lived without running water for about 8 months ,we now have it run into the basement and to a faucet .Its amazing what little things can make you feel great .Were are you from ?I'm amazed at running water this time of year ,most everthing here is in the deep freeze.Good luck on your laundry!

-- Patty Gamble (, February 08, 2000.

I have done this many times in the past although I am fortunate to not have to do it now. I can remember hand washing diapers for two babies while my husband was in school to save money and when we first moved here a few years ago I did it because we did not have the house finished and were living in the unfinished basement with electric from our temporary pole via extension cord! First I would put the water and detergent in the largest container I had. Start with the least soiled and whites, let them soak a while and swish around. Any stubborn stains can usually be scrubbed out by rubbing the garment against itself on the stain. When clean, wring them out and put in the rinse water. Swish around, wring again and hang out to dry. You can then use the water for the next least soiled batch and so on. When finished the water, if it is not too dirty, can be used to mop the floor, water plants or flush the commode. It is hard work, especially the wringing but can certainly save money. I would not use any bleach if you plan to use the water for colored clothes also. Borax and washing soda help if the cost is not too prohibitive for you but they are not necessary. Good luck and God bless. There are many ways we can save money even when we don't have to.

-- barbara (, February 08, 2000.

Becky, I often have to do laundry by hand when I travel through Latin America. If I had time, soaking in soapy water would of course help.

I just wet a single article of clothing, rub it with enough bar soap to get it a little bit sudsy, then squeeze it under water briskly in and out until most the soap is gone. Then repeat in clean water. Repeat as many times as necessary to remove as much soap as you feel comfortable with (you'll never remove ALL the soap, even in the most modern washer). It's not that hard to do, if you do a days worth of clothes every day. Although that's easy for me to say, as my kids did their own.

If you have ever read Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck described how he did his laundry on the road. He was driving a pickup with a camper, if I recall correctly. He suspended a plastic trash can or something from ropes so that it swayed, bounced and jiggled around when he was driving the truck. He says it worked as well as a washing machine, and I don't doubt it. Mabybe you could plan your wash around trips to town, or vice versa.

You could also pick up a scrub board someplace cheap, maybe. They work well.

Also, the women in many parts of Latin America always do their laundry by wetting it, with or without soap, and smacking it down onto the rocks either on the side of the river, or sometimes out on large rocks in the middle rivers and creeks. Smacking the clothes down smartly seems to expell lots of water from the clothes each time; possibly easier on one's hands than my squeezing method.

AC, you've gotta be from Texas, right? I haven't heard the word "washateria" since I left that state 32 years ago!

Everybody: did you know that the laundry soap manufacturers' instructions for the amount of laundry soap to use in your washer is way way more than you need? Experiment around with less. The clothes will likely come out just as clean, and have a lot less soap residue, and pollute the environment less.

You know those "laundry balls" which claim to eliminate the use of soap? Well my wife bought one, and was quite satisfied with it. I scoffed at it.

Finally, I did one load with the laundry ball, without soap. I did another load without the laundry ball, still no soap. I challenged her to figure out which load was which, from smell, feel, appearance, or any other means. She could not tell them apart. Neither could I.

Evidently, the agitation and water does a pretty good job of cleaning without ANY soap. I personally use just a dash, unless it's a pair of pants with lots of mud on them. Then I use more.

-- jumpoff joe (, February 08, 2000.

Hey, you guys are GREAT! Everyone else, keep the tips (and encoragement) coming! I'm feeling much better about trying this! I'll bet I can get my current bottle of detergent to last until summer if I need to. I'm in Northern Michigan, and yes, our water is in 'deep freeze'. We think we blew the well-pump motor (again. We just replaced it in December.). I'm considering trying to find a "Y2K surplus" hand pump and having that installed instead, so I'll only have to haul water a few yards. Say, will all this hand washing be too hard on my husband's work clothes? He owns a retail store in town, so his stuff has to look nice. I suppose I'll be setting myself up for some big-time ironing. YUCK. I think I should have asked for specific diaper pointers, too. I just might start doing that again (I started using disposables when hauling diaper pails, a baby, and a toddler got to be too cumbersome). At $5 a package, I think it's time to break out the cloth diapers again. What do I do about the yucky solid-food poop when I can't flush it down the toilet more than once or twice a day? Any other options?

-- Becky M. (, February 08, 2000.

Becky, do you buy baby wipes? well, most of those can be washed too. Herein lies the answer to your baby on solids poop problem.

If you know roughly what time of the day Junior poops, that will help. You can line the cloth diaper with one of those baby wipes that you rinsed and dried. Then peel most of the poop off with the wipe. Or, just have an empty coffee can in the bathroom and shake the poop off the diapers as you go, and dump it out back somewhere. (do you have an 'out back'? Sounds like it, since you have a well pump) Or flush it all at once.

You could use scraps of fabric, diapers that are over bleached and falling apart, etc. as the liners.

Laundry by hand, well, I have been hanging mine to dry in the basement since my drier died, and I can easily get three loads a day to dry. The moisture is welcome in the house, since it is so dry inside. I have a broken wringer washer to soak in (any tub would sub here) and I often agitate by hand since the stupid "modern" washer doesn't get anything clean. I also use the wash water more than once, going from lightest to darkest clothes.

If you can let them hang longer, then don't wreck your hands wringing much. Have you got a basement to use? Mine is concrete, and I just let the blankets and jeans drip dry.

-- Rachel (, February 08, 2000.

Becky, I would think hand washing would be easier on your clothes than machine washing. Yes, you will have more ironing but except for your husbands clothes, does it really matter if your childrens clothes are a little wrinkled? Shake the clothes out good before you hang them and then stretch them out as much as you can to get the wrinkles out. Fabric softener in the rinse water helps some too. I know disposable diapers are convenient but they are expensive. I bet by doing your laundry by hand and using cloth diapers you could save around $25 a month. That would be over $100 a month and over $1200 a year. Apply that same principle to other ways of saving and you will be amazed. I always tell my grown children, "it is not how much you make, but how you spend it that matters".

-- barbara (, February 08, 2000.

I meant that to be $25 a week saving, $100 a month, $1200 a year.

-- barbara (, February 08, 2000.

... and you don't have to pay tax on that $1,200 (because you already have).

Pre-treat stains: locate them, and keep track of them, because they can become invisible on wet cloth; then wet stained areas, rub with laundry soap, dampen again, and leave to sit for a couple of hours.

Our ancestors (parents in my case) used to wash with "coppers" (big copper tub of boiling water over a fire). If you have plain cotton or linen things (probably not most synthetics, definitely not wool, elastic, or plastic inserts like collar stiffeners, and be careful of buttons) you could do this. Find a BIG boiler (maybe even an old metal five-gallon fuel can made into a bucket), and you could boil sheets and pillow cases, and some clothes; then use the hot water for hand washing others. In particular, if you could get this outdoors, you could boil nappies - total sterilisation. BE CAREFUL: boiling water can kill or scald horribly. The old coppers were set down in a brick surround which was also a fireplace for the fire under them - couldn't spill.

-- Don Armstrong (, February 08, 2000.

Far be it from me to know anything about hauling water! Let alone, doing the family laundry by hand! I've had my hard times, but never that hard. It seems to me though, that if I could afford a computer, and the expense to be online, I'd GLADY trade it all, for running water, or at the least a wringer washer. Now, accept my apology, if you are on a public library system, which is free. Our library system doesn't allow 'postings' or email. Good luck with the laundry!

-- Kathy (, February 08, 2000.

Is your pup inthe well or in the basement ?If in the basement build a box around it and a simple light bulb is all that is needed "in most cases "to keep it from freezing .I know this doesn't help now but maybe it will later.

-- Patty Gamble (, February 08, 2000.

Is your pump in the well or in the basement ?If in the basement build a box around it and a simple light bulb is all that is needed "in most cases "to keep it from freezing .I know this doesn't help now but maybe it will later.

-- Patty Gamble (, February 08, 2000.

This is just a short note to Kathy (catfish).

We are in Becky's situation also. We have no running water either, but we do have a computer, online service and a satellite dish.

We haul water everyday. This is how our day starts...we take the granddaughter to the school bus stop and then drive four miles to the corner store (which is also a restaurant, video store, post office and general "cheers" type atmosphere. We grab a cup of coffee, talk with neighbors and friends for about an hour and then go out and fill up twenty five gallon jugs of water. We have three goats, one cow and fifteen chickens who help us consume all that water! And we really like the socialization before our day starts!

Now, my reason for going on about this is that just because we are not technologically impaired, we are strapped for the LARGE amount of money that it would take to drill a well...last quote was $10,333.00. We can come up with a small monthly amount for our 'puter and the DISH...but wowow...the driller wants ALL his money up front!

So...even though you probably meant it in all good will, don't judge a book by its computer service...

Now...if you want to buy part(8+ acres) of our 20 acres in beautiful, thick wooded north Idaho with deer and moose crossing all the time, just come up with $35k and I'll get that well in!! Idaho Cher

-- Cheryl Rovang (, February 08, 2000.


Well, at least seeing how many of us used to or still do laundry by hand must be some comfort. (Well, ok it doesn't help the chapped hands in the dead of winter hanging clothes, but at least we are not alone.)

I can't think of anything else to add to the excellant advice already given, except this to others. If you are about to embark on you return to simpler(!) times, start considering the clothes you are purchasing now and keep hand washing in mind during selection.

Blue jeans are particularly cumbersome to wash by hand. If your children don't mind, sweat pants for wearing around the house seem much easier to handle. However, my husband must wear his bib overhauls.

Similarly, I do love an extra large fluffy towel, but the thinner ones are much easier to handle and get clean.

Now if I could just get them to choose gray socks over white...

-- cinnamon (, February 09, 2000.

I picked up a paper in K Mart the other day about a free internet service at I have not checked this out myself but is it a possibility? My computer is a cast-off from my husband's place of employment to which he upgraded very inexpensively so don't be too quick to judge people who have computers and internet service but not running water!

-- barbara (, February 09, 2000.

My computer is a hand-me-down from my folks, and the internet service is for our store. We just bought a store and a new (used) trailer to replace our falling-apart one. We simply have no extra cash. $10 a month for business internet is OK - it's for the store. But at home, I'll save whatever I can! I make my own clothes from $1 a yard or hand-me-down fabric, we have no TV, I haven't bought a new book or CD in years - yep, I'm saving in every way I know how! Thanks for the diaper tips, folks. I will probably wash outdoors in the summer, so I'll have to keep an eye out for grandma S.'s old copper boiler - I know I saw it at her house last summer!

-- Becky M. (, February 09, 2000.

Jumpoff Joe, you are right! I am from Texas. I think that it's just old folks that call them washaterias now. We have had such an influx of Northerners that the term has changed to laundromat. Anyway, there are a number of free internet providers. They are supposed to have a habit of dropping down advertising banners in your screen while you are using the internet. Some may block access to certain sites, as America On Line does anyway. If you want to try a free service, go to any search engine and type "free ISP" in the search line, then hit enter. It will come up with several. Becky, you might also try lining the diapers with some of the softer paper towels. The reason we have a computer and no running water is Texas is in the worst drought I have ever seen, and I've lived here almost 50 years. You can't pump water if you ain't got it to pump!! Actually, hauling water for the house isn't so bad. It's all them dang horses that use it up fast!

-- A.C. Green (, February 09, 2000.

I use a free ISP and have for over six months. I will post info about this on the Thrifty homesteaders thread, ok?......

-- Rachel (, February 09, 2000.

How do I pull up the above thread??? Sounds like something I would definitely be interested in! Thanks

-- barbara (, February 09, 2000.

Okay, it's really called, "Creative uses for things that accumulate around the homestead." I had to laugh when I saw how far off I was on the title of that thread!

-- Rachel (, February 09, 2000.

To Becky, Barbara, Cheryl and everyone else that I insulted: my apology! I thought I made it clear in my 'note', that I didn't 'get it'! I'm a 'wanna be'! Obviously, I wouldn't make it! I admire you all, and from now on will phrase my postings as 'questions', when appropriate! Kathy

-- Kathy (, February 09, 2000.

Cheryl (and others?) you really ought to check out a copy of Travel With Charlie (see my post above). If you're driving down to the bus stop, then four miles to town and back, Steinbeck's laundry method (letting the laundry do itself while you are driving) might just work for you. Also, there are small portable washing machines which don't use much water. You might look into something like that. I don't have any brand names, but you might do a web search.

Have you gotten other bids for a well? Your price seems very high to me. Mine cost less than a fifteen hundred bucks. Eighty feet deep. Do you anticipate a really deep hole?

I can tell you that here, in SW Oregon the costs would have ranged from the one I chose to about three times that much. Depending on the particular driller you choose.

I just remembered another time I had to do laundry by hand! When I was in boot camp in New Jersey in 1964, in the Coast Guard. We had to do all our uniforms, and those damned white hats--you know, same as the navy guys wore back then. Made of cotton canvas or something. We were issued a scrub brush, a can of cleanser (like Comet, GI) and COLD COLD water. I'd forgotten the joy of freezing your hands off, scrubbing for what seemed like hours and still not getting them all that white. I think the deck was stacked. I'm pretty sure, looking back, that there was iron in the water. The hats were alway a sickly yellow when I got done.

-- jumpoff joe (, February 09, 2000.

Kathy, As for me, no insult taken. I was just banging at windmills again! It is hard to live without running water...very hard. It's been three years since we had water that ran thru pipes...and boy, I'll tell you, I sure appreciate it now! When we ever do get running water, it will be a big celebration around here! But, I think I'll probably still turn off the faucet now that I know how precious a commodity it is!

And another note...because you think you wouldn't be able to cut it, I know you would! I came from a wealthy background..wanted for nothing...private schools, the works. Life interfered and I chose this lifestyle. I am not sorry. We live on a limited income (SSI) and we make do. It's quite a change and my family is still suffering and won't tell folks about 'those crazies in Idaho'...but what the hay!

If you can, I'd suggest you get a start you off..they are sooo sweet! A pygmy would be perfect..small, lovable and able to be house trained!. Idaho Cher

-- Cheryl Rovang (, February 09, 2000.

Kathy, no offense taken at all.

-- barbara (, February 10, 2000.

I have two in diapers and even though I use cloth diapers, I have splurged and bought diaper liners for the dirty part of changing diapers. I got lucky and found packages on clearance at Wal-Mart for fifty cents a pack. I only throw away the ones that are dirty. If I change a wet diaper, I throw the liner in the pail with the diapers and wash it too. Since I don't use my dryer, they last through several washes. By the time I have my diapers hung up, the liners are usually pretty dry since they are so thin.

-- Kathy (, February 10, 2000.

I know that hot water sets stains in some things, but in fruit or berry stains you can pour boiling water thru the stain, and it helps get it out.

Also if money is tight try using Dawn dish detergent instead of a degreaser. Also Spick and Span for floors will clean a very dirty outfit. Scrape any mud off with a stiff brush before washing as this only adds dirt to the wash.

Did you say that you had some sort of plundger type device for washing. If not a plundger would help a lot.

Also to wring out clothes use an old broom handle that is clean, fold clothes in half around and twist carefully, this is easier than using just your hands. I know what it is like to lose the washing machine, and had to do without one for a year due to sickness in the family and no money.

Do you have a dryer? If so let your clothes dry almost and then put in dryer for just a few minutes to help soften them up, this does not cost so much, and if the clothes are overwet, they could burn out your dryer.

Lots of luck Beth

-- Beth (, February 10, 2000.

... and of course there's no need to do without the laundromat altogether - or maybe mother-in-law's washing machine. If you can hand-wash most things, then you can wash say one load a week of heavy stuff like jeans and overalls in a machine, and dry on the line at home.

I don't know what you call them, but in Australia we have paper-based cleaning cloths called Chux. We used to cut those into nappy liners, because they would last many washes, unlike the throwaway paper ones. You seemed to be able to get the contents off much easier too - the matted surface didn't let things penetrate and cling the way cloth does.

These Chux are also useful as towels - seriously. Dry what you can, squeeze them out, continue. It won't get you (or the kids) altogether dry, but if you get the worst of the water off that way, you can then move on to a towel and it stops the towels from getting sopping wet. Using less towels, or getting them less wet, cuts down on washing too.

We have a Eucalyptus-based "Woolwash" product here, too. It may work for other than wool: the big thing is that it doesn't really require washing - just soak, gentle stir round, repeat, then squeeze or spin dry, then rinse. CAN you still use the spin cycle of a washing machine? If so, things get a LOT easier.

-- Don Armstrong (, February 11, 2000.

Jumpoff Joe: The bid for her well might very well be based on how deep it has to be. Here in eastern Colorado, well permits in our area are now issued only on the stipulation that the well has to be about 1500 feet deep or more, into a certain aquafer. Our well is only about 150' deep, and heaven forbit we have to have it redrilled. I talked to a well driller recently and they were charging $25 per foot, including casing and pump. Multiply that times 1500 feet, and your wallet starts to feel mighty empty! Jan

-- Jan Bullock (, February 11, 2000.


I know I have lead a sheltered life when here someone saying that putting a box around their pump with a light bulb inside it, IN THE BASEMENT will PROBABLY keep the pump from freezing! Is it really so cold that a basement under a heated building (or even an unheated one, for that matter) would get that cold? Help! If so, I'm even more embarassed to whine about the "cold" wet climate here in SW Oregon!

Likewise in regards to Jan's well story from Colorado; one of our well drillers went belly up from trying to drill a well to 1000 feet. He used to guarantee that he'd get you water, or not charge you for the well. Went too deep, AMF. Kaput.

Actually, Jan, I'd say the folks going to 1500 feet are getting a very good deal, as far as the drilling costs go, anyway. Here the cheapest is $11 per foot, plus casing of $7, without the pump. And if they had to go really deep, which no one does, the costs would be a lot higher per foot, I'm sure.

Do you know what kind of drills the drillers use to go so deep there? I know there are a few old "cable tools" still around, which might be able to go that deep, but they are rarely used, except by some brave homeowners, because they typically only dig about 5-10 ft. per day, as opposed to 30-40 ft. per HOUR when using an air rotary.

-- jumpoff joe (, February 11, 2000.

... also watch front loading washing machine

-- Don Armstrong (, February 13, 2000.

Yes it does get that cold in Northern N.Y. state "25 mins from canada"We are not lucky enough to have a furnance yet .We heat with coal with a stove in the living room.We will be putting in a wood and coal furance this spring , we also need to put in a new chimney.There is no heat in the basement and the upstairs stove has to work hard to keep it warm up stairs.If its very cold we put on a kerosine heater on in the basement .It is not un common for the temp to be in the single didgets in the day and 20 below at night .This can go on for a week or more at a time.All it takes is one day to wipe out your pump or pipes.May I suggest heat tape also.

-- Patty Gamble (, February 15, 2000.

Well you all inspired me . I did my first load of laundry by hand ,it was snowing yesterday and I didn't want to go to town "30 mins"The baby was out of clean p.j.s Boy it was harder and more time consuming than I thought.I hope I dont have to do it to often !My hats off to all of you who do it weekly.

-- Patty Gamble (, February 16, 2000.

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