Anyone who has had their electricity go out or moved into a place without a washing machine knows just how fast dirty clothes pile up! So, do you know how to wash your clothes by hand?
There are two main methods of washing your clothes, agitation and scrubbing. You’ll find it much easier with with the right tools, but even if you don’t have anything special on hand, you can make do with ordinary household items in most cases.
The Agitation Method of Washing Clothes
Agitating clothes in water is essentially what your washing machine does. It is a lot more energy intensive when you do it by hand, but it can certainly be done. This is also the method you’d use for delicate clothing that you can’t put into the washing machine.
You will need a paddle of some sort and a large basin to hold water. You could use your bathtub, a baby bath, a five gallon bucket, or anything else that seems suitable. It’s best to have deeper sides so you don’t splash too much.
Add your clothing to the container and then add water to cover by about three or four inches. Add in your soap and use your paddle (this could be a piece of 2×4 wood, or a large wooden spatula, etc.) to stir the clothing. Stir in one direction, then reverse it to create a better agitation.
Alternatively, you can reach in with your hands and swish the clothes rapidly back and forth. You may also press them to the bottom of the container. Even better, use your feet, like this Vietnamese mother does!
Drain the water and wring out the clothes. Then fill the container with cool water and swish or stir the clothing again until the soap has been rinsed out. You may need to do this twice to remove all soap traces. You can now wring the fabric out again and hang the clothes to dry.
While this should remove all bad smells and main dirt from clothing, some stains may need to be scrubbed.
The Scrubbing Method of Washing Clothes
You’ve probably scrubbed your clothing before once or twice, when you had a difficult stain. This involves rubbing the fibers against something to create friction and remove the dirt. A washboard is an excellent tool for this, but anything with some texture can work.
Keep in mind that scrubbing clothes can be tough on the fabric and you may find that the color fades faster or that more delicate fabrics become worn faster.
You’ll need something rough to scrub against. A washboard is useful, usually made from metal, but sometimes from wood or plastic. If you don’t have one in your home, then you can make one by using a dremel tool to carve out horizontal grooves in a piece of wood.
You’ll also need a container to put the clothing and water in, the same as above. This time, instead of stirring or swishing the clothing, you’ll place the lower end of the washboard in the water and then rub the clothing up and down on the board, adjusting it to ensure you scrub the entire thing. Repeat with each piece of clothing, then rinse and hang to dry.
If you have nothing that will work as a scrub board, you can use a large, flattish stone. Many women in developing countries still use this method when washing in rivers or lakes. They dip the garment into the water and then lift it to scrub against the stone. If you choose this method and do it in a body of water, be careful to use biodegradable soap that will not harm the water or the creatures living in it.
Here’s a video of how women scrub clothing in the river near my home.
Otherwise, you can use a stone in your yard. Wet it, then place a basin at the bottom of it in front and scrub as you would in a river.
Wringing Out the Water
In between soaping and rinsing and hanging out to dry, you really want to get out as much water as possible from the fabric. You simply grab two ends of the clothing and twist in oppposite directions. Do this as hard as you can, then twist both ends in the opposite direction to really get the water out.
It’s actually much simpler to do this with someone else helping. You hold one end of the clothing and the other person twists from their end. And, if you want to get clothes even drier so they’ll air dry faster, spread the clothing item on a towel, then twist from either end. The towel ends up absorbing more water and makes the piece of clothing much drier.
If you just don’t have the space for a protable washing machine, then a washing wand can be useful for washing in a bucket. As you can see, there are lenty of alternatives to the usual methods of washing clothes.
For generations, people have been making do with what they have on hand. You can do it too if you need to. However, it’s always best to prepare for the unexpected ad have what you need around. You won’t regret it when the time comes to wash your clothes by hand.
Have you had to wash your clothes by hand before?