So about 2 months ago my family and I moved into a new apartment. This was a really big deal for us since we hadn’t had a home of our own for over a year. We got a great deal on a fairly nice 2 bedroom apartment in a community that was (and still is) being re-built. One of the conveniences that this place seems to lack is Washers and Dryers (Or dumpsters. Or garbage disposal. But those are other complaints for another time. Actually, the disposal thing isn’t a really problem because we compost, so, what ever.) Anyway, this not having a washer/dryer in-house or on site doesn’t really bother me either. I’ll tell you why.
Some might (and do) think that this is crazy, what with all the modern convenience of those “energy-saving ” machines and all, but I think its crazy not to know how to do laundry without the aid of such things. Truth is, and any one who has lived through a natural disaster can tell you, when the power goes out, those magical machines are for naught. We live in Florida. We have hurricanes every single year; If you live in the mid-west, you have tornadoes every single year; If you live in the east, you have blizzards every single year; If you live in the west, you have earthquakes any time the tectonic plates feel like shifting. If you live on Planet Earth, the power grid isn’t something you can always rely on because, lets face it, shit goes wrong. It goes out, but we always expect it to come back. But what if it doesn’t come back for days, weeks, months, years, or ever? Buy new clothes until the end of time? You let me know how that works out for you.
There is the mentality that “well, I s’pose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” and I guess that is OK. Not for me though. Coupled with my insane desire for all things off-grid, I set out with the task to find a hand-washing method that was a step up from wash board and scrub brush. And I found one. And I do it daily. And I like it.
There aren’t really a lot of options on the market for this sort of thing; its like the world wants to discourage any kind of complete self-sufficiency, but if you dig for anything, eventually you will find what you are looking for. The first solution I found was the Laundry Pod.
“The Laundry POD is a portable, environmentally friendly washer designed for washing small loads of laundry using a minimal amount of water and zero electricity. Save money, time and help to lessen the environmental impact. It fits under your sink and into your life indoors and outdoors. Simple place up to 10 garments into the Laundry POD, lock lid and let it soak a few minutes. Then turn the handle slowly for one or two minutes for agitation. Repeat to rinse.
So for just $99 bucks you can own this lovely little contraption that isn’t made in the U.S.A., that has so many weak, plastic components (its been reviewed on Amazon to regularly feature broken handles as a problem), and (a personal gripe about all modern-made things, how many can-openers have you had? Because I have had A LOT.) it seems destined by design to wear out so you will need to buy a new one within a few years or, if the reviews I have read are standard of what to expect from this little gadget, a few months.
There are similar products for less and more money (like the WonderWash at $49, or the Panda at $119, etc.) but the problems are universal. They are constructed in some third world country of cheap, plastic parts that are designed to wear out. That isn’t what I want, so I kept looking.
I came across a photo of an old woman with a large metal tub and what looked like a wooden plunger. Now, this was more like it. Completely hand powered, no moving parts save for me, and constructed entirely of enduring materials. I like this, but I kept searching for more inspiration because, at this point, I know I am going to have to make it myself. I find another photo, presumably more modern, of an old farm house with a long, square concrete “sink” with two sort of plungy-thingies attached to a set of iron bars and a lever. You pump the lever and the plungers move respectively and agitate the water. This was cool too, though more moving parts and thus the eventual need to repair and replace, but hey, nothing lasts forever, and these things were FAR better constructed that the fragile little table top models made in China. No offence, China, but your shit sucks.
So I set out to make a rudimentary bucket/plunger washing system for myself. As I don’t yet possess the skills to manufacture a plunger and tub set made of wood and metal, I settled for a trip to Home Depot. One 5 Gallon bucket, $2.60, the lid, $1.28, and I went for the fancy $9 plunger over the $6 one because I liked the handle more. I know there are plunger products for this exact purpose but I think its a little ridiculous to charge $21.95 (that’s just the plunger part, mind you.) for the same exact thing that I made in its entirety for $12.88. I drilled a few holes in mine so the water could move through it and ba-da-bing. I have a simple washing machine.
No, its not the prettiest thing in the world, but I’m a renter, I don’t need much else right now, and it stows away in the closet nicely out of site.
When I sent my friend, lets call her Heather, a video of what I was doing she said “I have too much laundry to do by hand.” and “I like soft clothes so line drying isn’t my way.” and “I need my laundry to be quick and easy.”. I am sure you are thinking much the same thing. And I agree, this method isn’t for everyone. I am a stay at home mom. I have the ability to do this daily and NOT have it be my entire day. Honestly, It doesn’t feel like I spend any more energy or time on Laundry this way than I did before. I don’t have the estimated $25 a month in extra electricity costs from just the dryer and who knows how much from the washer, so I am saving money (every penny counts in my world). I am getting a little more exercise (you should see my arms) than I would doing laundry in more conventional ways. I am using less water in general, not because this method uses all that much less water necessarily (According to Consumer Report and the California Energy Commission Consumer Energy Center, a load of laundry uses approximately 40-45 gallons which is probably equals 3 of my loads and I use 8-12 gallons total per load, so I use marginally less water) but I re-use the grey water for watering plants and the yard (we are in the process of setting up our rain barrel, so soon I will be using that water to wash instead of city water, furthering my water-savings). Don’t worry, non-toxic, homemade laundry detergent is the order of the day. You can find a million recipes on the internet for them and they are simple and inexpensive to make, so nothing toxic is going into the ground.
As for the “having to much laundry, quick and easy” thing, as long as I do a little every day (like the previous days stuff) it stays caught up. I don’t have an excess unless I let it slide on the weekends (which I am lazy and I totally do let it go on the weekends) and its easy to catch up, just a couple loads extra. It doesn’t take me any longer than it would to sort my loads weekly and lug it all down to the coin laundry and sit there for 2 hours on a Saturday morning then fold it all, lug it back home, and put it all away. To me, this feels like it takes less time. I haven’t had any issues with crispy or un-soft clothing. It smells better to me, which might be a placebo effect of the happy-squishy feeling I get inside from doing things with only the power of my convictions, but maybe the wind and sun play a role.
You have to want to make this sort of thing work to do it. If you care about something, its not a burden and this isn’t a burden for me at all; I actually really enjoy it. I feel accomplished when wring out the clothes that I have just washed by hand. I find a sense of quiet zen while hanging those clothes on the line. I feel good knowing that I am not contributing in any detrimental way to the health of the Earth and that if it all goes to hell I will already have that clothes washing thing on lock-down. And maybe even a slightly smug sense of superiority for going the extra mile toward being so eco-minded, just a wee-it. Even when I go back to work I plan to keep this up. It won’t be easy, but I feel passionately that we rely far to much on modern conveniences. Knowing how to do things a little slower, a little simpler, is never a bad thing.
Now I need to craft a wringer that will be easier that my current method. I’m sure I can come up with something.