Preparedness Skill: Washing Laundry Without Electricity
I’m researching the skills I need to learn to wash my laundry without electricity. I have a hard time imagining that I will ever be without power for an extended period of time – so long that I go through all my clean clothes and I have a lot of clothes. How hard can washing your laundry without electricity be, don’t you just scrub them in the sink and hang them to dry?
The modern, high tech washing machine not only saves us time, but it saves us water. We put the clothes in, press start and don’t give it another thought until the buzzer goes off. It seems that washing clothes by hand is fast becoming a lost art. A skill we think we will never have to master in our time. Even if you never try washing your clothes by hand, if you are in a no power situation, this is a skill you need to understand.
I’ve been thinking about this post for weeks, pondering, and it just won’t go away. I guess I must need this knowledge in my “skills library” so here’s what I found.
Your grandmother did not have the laundry luxuries we have today. Laundry day was an all day, backbreaking adventure up until about 70 years ago.
Back in the old days, before all our modern detergents and soaps and powders, when it was common to make your own laundry soap, housewives and their children battled the wash with two things. Soda crystals and bluing.
Soda crystals, or washing soda, are white sodium carbonate crystals used as a washing detergent on clothes. We still use them today as an ingredient in DIY Laundry Soap. It is effective on stains, grease and oil, but can be rough on your clothes. To say nothing of being hard on the skin of your hands, and in those days, washing was a very hands-on process.
Bluing was another product used in washing clothes back in the old days. I actually have a jar of Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing in my laundry room, but I’ve never taken the time to learn to use it. Bluing is used to wash linen such as napkins, towels and bed sheets. It is a dye that is added to the wash-water. It tints the whites a very light blue to counteract any graying that appears in bed sheets, white shirts and linen, cleaning them and returning them to their original bright, white condition. There are many uses for Mrs. Stewart’s, including making a magic salt crystal garden, whitening hair, and detecting plumbing leaks (just to name a few!) Check out her stain removal guide if you really want to get into laundry mode.
The back-in-the-day process: Heat your wash water, fill your washtub, add the washing soda crystals and agitate using a dollystick. Maybe you would rub the clothes together, maybe you would use your washboard for heavy stains on work clothes. Use bluing when needed. Wring as much water out as you can – by hand – or put them through a wringer. Phew!
“You didn’t have to watch your diet then — you exercised over the washboard and you kept a good figure.” Emma B., 78, Scott County
Washing and Sanitizing Your Laundry Without Electricity
We all want to stop the spread of disease in our family. Washing and sanitizing our laundry properly while hand washing will help do this. Our underclothes, diapers, dishcloths and dish towels contain the most germs. Plus, any towels, washcloths and bedding used by a person who is sick must also be sanitized.
Wash in soap and water, then sanitize. Sanitizing requires an additional step of hot water and a your chosen form of sanitizer. This is most often bleach used at the rate of 1.5 teaspoons to 1 gallon, but you can also use essential oils with anti-bacterial properties. Consider tea tree, eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon and peppermint. If you don’t have access to bleach or essential oils, dry the clothes in bright sunlight.
Consider a rinse of inexpensive white distilled vinegar, which can be used to whiten, brighten, reduce odor and remove mildew.
You might want to set up a cool outdoor laundry station, like these ladies and really master the skill.
Make Your Own Hand-Powered Washing Machine
You can make a washing machine from a rubber toilet plunger (new please! and set aside for that purpose) and a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Any bucket will work though, it just needs to be about twice as big around as the cup on the plunger to aid suction. Make a hole in the bucket lid big enough to put the handle of the plunger through.
- –Fill the bucket 1/2 full with warm water and add your laundry soap.
- –Stir or agitate with the plunger until the soap is dissolved.
- –Add the clothes items, don’t overfill.
- –Insert the plunger into the lid and secure it on the bucket.
- –Raise the plunger above the water line in the pail and lower it with quick up-an-down strokes
- –The plunger should come above the level of the water on the upward stroke but should not hit the bottom of the pail.
- –Wait a few seconds between strokes. I found it helpful to put the bucket between my feet to steady it.
- –Continue agitating your load until the clothes are clean, the number of strokes you need will depend on how many articles you have in the bucket and how dirty the clothes are.
- –Rinse your items in clean water in a separate bucket. Add sanitizer at this stage.
Resources for Laundry Without Electricity
Laundry.About.com 1800’s laundry with other links to current laundry ideas
Have you ever tried washing your laundry without electricity? Tell us all about it in the comments below.