Laundry Without ElectricityBrian Neville
Oh how we take for granted the magically clean clothes, sheets and towels that come out of advanced machines that do everything but fold and put things away. Today’s appliances virtually think for themselves – which has left most of us pretty clueless on how to get things clean without them.
Whether you find yourself in a short-term outage from a storm or a long-term outage, doing laundry by hand is something you’ll have to face. It’s not quite as simple as dunking things in the river and drying them on the bushes – but fortunately, you’ve got some options. But first, you may want to make a note of the recipe for homemade laundry soap:
- 1 bar grated castile soap, or own homemade laundry bar soap
- 1 1/2 cup baking soda
- 1 cup super washing soda
- 1 cup borax
On medium-high heat, in a large pot, simmer 1 quart of pure water along with the grated castile soap, stirring continuously, until melted. Do not allow to boil. Remove pot from heat and add remaining ingredients stirring vigorously until completely dissolved. Pour contents of pot into a 5 gallon bucket and begin to slowly add 2 gallons of pure water while continuing to stir. Let laundry soap sit for 24 hours prior to use (this allows it to thicken). (Thanks to the Frugally Sustainable blogger for the recipe!)
Your first and most basic option is using a tub, sink or 5-gallon bucket. Many people love the Hand Operated Washing Machine, ($14.99) which looks sort of like a plunger but has vents. The point of using a (clean!) plunger or the Hand Operated Washing Machine is to push and pull soapy water through the fabric without wearing out your clothes. Use 2 gallons of warm water, 1 tablespoon of homemade laundry detergent or commercial detergent and ½ cup of white vinegar (to brighten whites, cut oils and preserve colors). Plunge for 2 minutes, rinse, wring and hang to dry.
For laundry, you can use clean water from a rain barrel, snow melt, lake or stream (but not saltwater). This water doesn’t have to be so clean that it’s potable but it should be clean enough that it won’t leave your clothes dirtier or smellier than before the washing.
Now, just in case you don’t have your grandma’s old wringer washer sitting around and you want to get fancier than a 5-gallon bucket, there are alternatives. For example, MIT has developed the GiraDora, a pedal-powered washing machine that looks much like a beverage dispenser cooler. The Up-Stream has the ability to “spin” clothes and the Wonder Wash is a commercially available option already being used in dorms and small urban apartments all over the U.S.
Don’t wait until the lights go out to figure out a plan for clean clothes, sheets and blankets. Basic hygiene is right at the top of the list for long-term survival – and short-term comfort.