It may or may not be a coincidence that my manual washer came the same week my washing machine stopped working properly. Either way, it was just the push I needed to give hand washing clothes a try.
Today, I pulled out my wash tubs and new plunger washer, and set to work getting our laundry done. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. Perfect for the task.
Why You Should Hand Wash Your Clothes
There are all sorts of reasons why you should consider hand-washing your clothes. Not only can this help preserve the longevity of your textiles, but it can also keep details intact and keep delicate items, like wool, safe from washing machine damage.
These unique fabrics will retain their shape and color best when they are washed by hand.
Handwashing is also a great way to stop stains from setting in. If you happen to spill red wine on a white blouse or you dabbed marina sauce on your favorite pair of jeans, handwashing can help get the stain out fast, before it has the chance to embed itself into the fibers.
Handwashing tends to be gentler on fabrics and since there is no agitator, you don’t have to worry about your clothes getting caught and snagged during a spin cycle.
Handwashing is better for the planet, too, as it uses significantly less water than a washing machine. You’ll save money, too – after all, washing and drying clothes at a laundromat can cost upwards of five dollars per load.
Tips for Hand Washing Clothes
Honestly, even if you aren’t ready to fully make the change to handwashing all of your clothes, you’ve got to consider handwashing at least a few of your garments.
I recommend handwashing all delicates, including underwear, bathing suits, and bras. You should also handwash delicate fabrics like silk, lace, wool, and embellished clothing, too.
Something that caught me off guard the first time I handwashed my own clothes was that the water in my bin became colored after a few rinses! This isn’t anything to panic over (although I, of course, did!). sometimes, the fabric dye releases color. This happens. You shouldn’t notice any loss after completing the washing process.
To help reduce the likelihood of dyes bleeding into each other, though, only wash like items together, ideally those of the same color and fabric type.
Always read the label on the clothes, too, to make sure you aren’t handwashing something that’s really meant to be dry-cleaned. Otherwise, any kind of clothing can be handwashed- even clothing that you wouldn’t normally put in a washing machine.
The one exception is silk fabrics. These should not be handwashed if they are patterned, bright-colored, or darkly-colored, as the dyes can bleed.
When it comes to choosing the right water, use cool to lukewarm water to wash your clothes (unless the label specifies otherwise).
Use a teaspoon or so of soap or detergent, and always use gentle movements instead of scrubbing or twisting actions.
You can also purchase handwashing tools that will help you save time if you are regularly handwashing your clothes.
Do not let your clothes sit in the water (especially soapy water) any longer than necessary. Use a mild detergent or consider a no-rinse detergent, which will eliminate the need to rinse multiple times.
A tip for drying? To dry clothes as quickly as possible, lay the item on top of a towel. Make sure it’s laying flat and in its original shape, then roll it like a sleeping bag in the towel to wring out excess water. You can do this several times and use a second or third towel, too, to help get out moisture.
Where to Hand Wash Clothes
You have a few options when it comes to where you choose to hand wash your clothes.
The classic choice is to handwash in a sink or bathtub – but if you’re doing lots of laundry, this can get crowded, cumbersome, and annoying pretty quickly. That’s especially true if you only have one bathroom!
You can also purchase or repurpose a dedicated wash tub (which is what I did).
If you hand wash your clothes in a sink, make sure it is clean and not filled with any kind of contaminant. Don’t make the mistake of using a sink that was recently cleaned with bleach, either – that is, unless you want your whites really white!
My Experience With Hand Washing Clothes
One of our 55 gallon rain barrels was overflowing from a recent downpour, so I used the collected rain water for all of today’s washing.
I made a note to myself that we need to get a hose to connect to the tap, so I can run the water directly into the wash tubs instead of hauling it one bucketful at a time.
For detergent I used Soap Nuts and a sprinkling of Borax. I wasn’t too impressed with the results. I’m going to have to experiment with other natural laundry detergents to find which works best with cold water.
Of course once I started washing all of the kids were fascinated with my new gadget, and wanted to give it a try. Little Elias was so funny.
It was all I could do to get my laundry done without his little hands grabbing a hold of the handle and trying to “help”. And then he wanted to throw muddy sticks into the water. Which was lovely.
Speaking of mud… see how much water was all over the ground around the tub? It took me a few minutes before I realized the cause:
Water was trickling out of a seam in the side of my wash tub. A LEAK! In my brand new, never used tubs. Bummer.
I realize these galvanized tubs probably weren’t the best idea after all. I’m going to get two of those big plastic toy storage tubs (the round ones with rope handles) to use instead. They seem heavy duty enough that they wouldn’t break easily, or spring a leak.
I was also thinking I’d like to have my husband install a faucet/spigot at the bottom of each tub so that I could drain the water easily when I’m finished with it (like what you see on the rain barrel above).
Today, when the water got too dirty to use, I had to scoop it out with a bucket and haul it into the woods to empty. The wash tubs were much too heavy to lift and carry to a good place to be dumped out.
That scooping and hauling took a lot of time and energy. If I can drain the tubs through a faucet, and maybe attach a hose to direct the flow to a good runoff spot, that would make things easier.
Another thing that would have made laundry easier is having the tubs raised a foot or so off the ground.
I ended up having to bend over most of the time I was doing the plunging. I’d love for Jerry to build a wash tub stand for me to put my tubs on. That would also make draining them with a faucet easier.
I could tell the manual washer was working because the water got really dirty.
When it comes time to wash my jeans (especially my work jeans as I’m so fashionably sporting above), I’ll break out my washboard and scrub brush and see how much of that dirt I can get out with a little elbow grease.
I wasn’t really sure how long I should continue plunging, so I just counted to 100 with each load.
A wringer would have been nice. I twisted each garment the best I could before hanging it on the line to dry. Maybe one day I’ll luck up on a wringer for a good deal.
It took a while to get everything washed, mainly because of the time spent hauling water. The leak didn’t make things any better in that regard.
I think laundry day will go much more quickly once I put the changes I’ve mentioned here in place.
Since the clothes were still pretty wet when they were hung, I’ll have to leave them on the line overnight to finish drying tomorrow.
I noted that I used 3/4 of the water from the barrel. That’s quite a lot. Again, I attribute that to the leak.
I was pretty conservative, and used the rinse water as the wash water when the wash water got too dirty to use anymore, and just kept swapping them out like that.
I also followed the rule of washing the cleanest items first, and dirtiest last. I’m confident that next time around I won’t use nearly as much water.
My hands feel dryer than usual now. Maybe it was the Borax. I’m thinking I’ll probably have to make a nice herbal hand salve to restore the moisture to my hands after a day of doing laundry.
Those are pretty much all of my observations during my first attempt at hand washing the laundry. It really wasn’t bad at all! I’m excited to get a proper washing station in order so that I can really knock it out quickly.
Any tips from those of you who have been hand washing for years? What’s your favorite natural detergent to wash with?
updated by Rebekah White on 03/25/2020
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.