How to Hand Wash Laundry

When the Washing Machine Breaks Down

No-one hand washes laundry any more do they? I am talking about all the laundry for the household, not just the odd delicate garment. What? Hand wash clothes? Wash sheets, duvet covers and towels by hand? Surely not hand wash jeans? Yep. Wash everything. With your hands..

It happened to me earlier in the year. Our washing machine died after a power surge. It was only four years old and the repair would cost almost what we paid for the machine in the first place. Our budget was pretty stretched already as we were soon to go on vacation. I decided I would have to just get stuck in and wash everything by hand until we received an expected refund from our power supplier (ironic, hey?). That was three months away. How was I going to cope?

Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. It was summertime, which made things a lot easier. Here’s how I did it.

Doing Laundry by Hand

First of all, dismiss all ideas of washing laundry in the bath. It’s not worth it. It might seem like a good idea but really, it isn’t. You need to be standing up at a sink, not bent over a bath – even if your kids like the thought of stomping all over the washing. Everything that needs to be washed can be done so at the kitchen or utility sink.

Get yourself a supply of rubber latex gloves. Not the very thin kind, but good thick ones. You can’t hand wash laundry without them as your hands have to withstand being immersed in very hot water.

You can use your usual detergent and softener (if you really need to use softener – I don’t).

You will also need a large stainless steel pan (I used my large pasta pot), a stovetop, a kettle and an outside drying space.

Sort Laundry

Select 10 items to wash. Stick to similar things like tops and T-shirts. You can do the jeans tomorrow! Run hot water into your sink – it should be no hotter than the labels state. To be honest, I always wash in the hottest water my hands can withstand inside my rubber gloves. Add a small amount of detergent. I can’t tell you exactly how much but use the smallest amount that works. You want some bubbles but not too much. You get a feel for it after a while. I use concentrated wash tablets and found that less than a quarter tablet was enough for one sink full of water.

Check the items for stains – you may have to deal with these first as you would normally. For example, soak blood and grass stains in cold water prior to washing or the stain will set fast in hot water.

Immerse no more than two or three items at one time. Squish and knead them in the water for a few minutes. Squeeze gently and place on the drainer. Add the next batch. Squish and knead as before. When they are on the drainer wash the last batch. Let the grubby, scummy water out.

Fill the sink with clean, hot water. Rinse the items in turn, squeezing and placing on the drainer. When they are all done, repeat once more. Most clothes will be fully rinsed by now but occasionally, you might have to rinse a third time.

Wringing the Washing

Now you get to tighten those upper arm muscles and strengthen your wrists. Grab hold of a T-shirt and begin to twist it until the excess water has been wrung out. Place it in a laundry basket. I began to use a plastic toy storage box to keep drips off the floor. You can’t get all the water out and as the basket fills with laundry, puddles will happen.

At this point you realize why I told you not to tackle more than 10 items at a time!

Washing Jeans by Hand

You can wash jeans in exactly the same way as above. If they are very dirty, immerse them in hot water and pour over a kettle full of boiling water. Be careful while doing this, keep small children well away. Let the jeans soak for a few minutes. Go and have a coffee.

Don’t be too perfectionist about this – you can’t afford to worry about every little mark. They are only jeans.

Add some cold water to reduce the temperature enough that your hands can stand to be immersed. Wash and rinse as usual. Take them outside to wring. If you have a kid around, they love to help with this part! Hang on washing line to dry.

Towels, Sheets and Dishcloths

I used to wash one large towel or two smaller ones per day. I could get a bath sheet into my stainless steel pot. This is the best method I found: Place a small amount of detergent into the pan, add a little hot water to dissolve the detergent. Place the towel or sheet into the pan and carefully pour over boiling water. Squish the item into the pot so that the detergent can get into all of the fabric. Cover and simmer on the stovetop for 10-15 minutes.

Using caution, tip the ‘cooked’ towel into the sink and add enough cold water to bring the temperature down enough for you to wash the item as usual. Watch out for little pockets of hot water.

Hand Washing Laundry – Tips & Suggestions

* Get into a routine of washing every morning. A few items per day will keep the laundry pile from growing out of control. I used to spend no longer than 30-40 minutes on the laundry.

* Encourage your family to wear clothes more than once.

* Do large items at the weekend when your partner/spouse can help with the wringing – save your wrists!

* If the weather isn’t so good, invest in a clothes airer and hang stuff over the bath or in the shower until it has gone from soaking to merely damp, then you can put it in the dryer.

* If possible, create a covered outside area for drying in inclement weather.

* As you wash, picture your grandmother doing the laundry. Mine used to run a Bed & Breakfast and did all her washing with a sink, boiler and mangle (wringer). I really felt quite good washing the laundry by hand, it was as though I had got back to basics.

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How to Hand Wash Laundry