I thought it might be a good exercise to try doing laundry without using the washing machine and dryer.
Whenever there is a hurricane approaching one of the preparation chores that I do (in addition to making sure there is enough water, food and supplies for several days) is to do the laundry while power is available.
Ideally, you’d already have clean clothes available, but what if there is an extended power outage?
I saved a few pieces of clothing, some socks and a large towel to do the experiment.
I piled the clothes in the bathroom sink. For clothes washing, I tried using a Mobile Washer sample that I received.. It was easy to assemble. The washer looks like a plunger, but without the rubbery plunger smell.
The instructions simply say add soap and 4-6 inches of water and agitate the clothes using up and down motion. I used my homemade laundry detergent added to some water.
The socks were stained but I did not use bleach, as I wanted to keep the experiment as simple as possible.
Although the Mobile Washer instructions say you will feel a pulling action while the clothes are agitating, I did not really feel that the up and down motion was doing anything. Perhaps the clothes had to be level to the ground or bathtub for this to work, as using it on a bathroom sink level felt unwieldy to me. I wish I had a better result to report to you, but I always write the truth in these experiments regardless of expectations.
I contacted Mobile Washer after the experiment about my less than stellar results and got a quick response, which actually addresses what happened:“The best way to get this action on the clothes is to make sure you have enough water so the clothes float freely, have a deep enough container (sink, bucket, tub etc) so that you can get some good plunging action without splashing the water out of the container. When these steps are followed, the washer seems to have great results. I can’t say that you were doing it wrong, maybe it just required a little harder agitation.
This is actually the first negative feedback we have received, so I do appreciate you letting me try to explain how it should work and what results you should be able to expect. Normally the feedback is that the washer has pulled old stains and residual dirt and soap left behind by traditional washing machines. ”
I think the Directions for Use should mention the container should be deep enough for enough water so the clothes can float around. The “4-6 inches of water” was quickly soaked up by the clothes. The next time I wash off-grid, I will use a 5-gallon bucket.
Back to the story…
I resorted to washing the items by hand. My hands did get all wrinkled and “prune-like” so if I do this again I would wear gloves.
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After washing, I let the soapy water drain out. I then rinsed the clothes with plain water in the sink. The interesting part was in trying to wring all the water out. Socks and shirts are easy enough, but the towel was quite heavy. I had to wring it out in sections.
I found some space to hang the clothes using hangers and some of the shelving. Because of the humidity, the socks and shirts took about 12 hours to dry, and the towel took over 24 hours.
T-shirts and blouses dried well enough with minor wrinkles when hung up in clothes hangers.
The clothes and socks smelled fresh and appeared to be clean enough. The socks did not come out as white as when bleached and washed in the washing machine.
However the towel took a very long time to dry, causing even more humidity with a slightly musty smell when it finally dried.
What I Learned
Living in a humid climate, if clothes stay wet long enough, there is a possibility of getting mildew, so you must try to wring out the clothes as well as possible.
If you live in a dry climate, the drying time would be a lot faster.
Having a clothesline outside would be much better than drying indoors as the hot sun would help dry things faster. However because we rent, I doubt apartment management would look too kindly to having clothes flapping in the breeze out in the balcony. So if I had to line dry, I would likely set the line across the bathroom.
Line dried clothes do not come out as soft as they do in the dryer. On the other hand, this saves on wear and tear on the garments.
To minimize wrinkles, you need to “snap”clothes such as t-shirt and shirts before hanging them.
If you had to do laundry off-grid, you’d best have some backup clothes available to allow for longer drying time.
No doubt about it, washing and drying clothes are chores that would be much more challenging without electricity. It is doable, and I am glad I tried this experiment.
Editors Note: I have done plenty of laundry “off grid” at my grandparents home, I have even on occasion used a washboard at my Great Grandmothers home. We are so very spoiled now, even though I have done it… It’s not something I fancy doing all the time.
On an interesting side note, the amount of laundry detergent we use is actually much more than is really needed. I read a story a while back about how you can wash your clothing 2-3 times and the residual soap left over after the rinse cycle is more than enough to clean your unmentionables.
Do you have any tips and tricks for Off Grid Laundry?