Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Eye Opener, Laundry The Hard Way

I am fresh off of an experiment with doing laundry, HALF off the grid.
I live in a fifth wheel, I have a washer and dryer recently given to me from a friend who found them on Craigslist, but do not have them hooked up yet.
I thought it might be instructive to do a small bit of laundry the hard way.

I have a propane stove and a medium sized ceramic covered water bath canner so I thought to myself, lets try this the old fashioned way by boiling some clothes and hand wringing them to hang dry.

What an eye opening experience.

I have renewed respect for those that came before me.
Remember, this is cheating.
I had a propane stove, lights and running water.

I first filled the big pot with hot water in the shower, then I put it on the stove and lit two burners.
I walked away and let it get hot enough that I could not stick my hand in the water.
I put in some dish washing soap because of the superior grease cutting abilities, I am not concerned with soft and fluffy, and then tossed in five pairs of cheap cotton socks and one heavily soiled thermal underwear top.
Remember, I am a single guy and a mechanic.
I deal with diesel fuel, gasoline, 90 weight gear oils and heavy duty grease.
Nasty things like brake dust, some of the nastiest things you want to talk about when it comes to getting dirt out of your clothes.

I threw the socks and one top into the pot and started stirring them with a wooden spoon.
I walked away to let them soak, the whole time two burners are going full blast.

One of the first things that struck me was how much heat was involved with this relatively small load of laundry.
It takes a lot of BTU's to heat that much water, even using propane.

Then I went back and started agitating this little bit of clothing by hand with the wooden spoon. Shortly another revelation came to me, this is hard work.
It is mid October and starting to get chilly here in the Pacific North West so the heat was actually welcome.Imagine doing this when it is a Hundred degrees outside.

I stirred and stirred and stirred, trying to get the nasty stuff out of my clothes.
After a half an hour, I figured that was as clean as they were going to get and turned the burners off and went and sat down for a minute.
Then it dawned on me that I had to pick up that big pot of boiling water and dump it out.
I found some pot holders and grunted real good picking that thing up while taking it to the sink to dump it out.

Back to the shower to rinse, several times.

Now it is time to wring the water out, by hand.

Let me tell you, being a mechanic, I have a fairly good grip.
I wrung on those socks until I thought my hands were going to fall off and they were still soaking wet, ditto for the thermal top.

I hung them over the shower rod and looked at the time.

Not being the dullest knife in the drawer, I grabbed a laundry bag and loaded them up, jumped in the truck and raced to the nearest laundromat and tossed them in the dryer before they closed.

Several lessons were learned here.
One, it takes a huge amount of water and heat to do even a small amount of laundry.

Two, five pairs of socks?!

Three, it is very labor intensive.

Four, it can be very dangerous wrestling a very large pot of near boiling water full of wet and heavy clothing.

Five, if I had to do coveralls or jeans or sweat shirts, I would be there all week and I am just one guy.
I could not imagine what it would take to keep up with a family of four and all the laundry that goes along with that equation.

Towels, bedding, kitchen laundry, heavy coats, etc.

This was one VERY eye opening experiment and I am glad I did it but if the power goes out for any length of time, there are going to be a LOT of smelly people out there.

I called my Father and he told me of my Grandmothers travails with laundry back in the late 1930's in Nebraska.
No electricity and no running water, she had a Maytag washer with a gasoline powered washer motor. Semi reliable I hear.
I actually remember seeing a few of these things when I was younger, I have no idea if anyone still makes such a thing.

I just wanted to give ones mans experience into the unkown, please tell me if you have a better plan.


  1. From what my dad told me the Maytag washer changed woman's lives dramatically but they still had to wring them out.

    You didn't say how clean they got.

  2. Ya should have saved the water for soup! Hell it was already hot!

  3. Anonymous9:46 AM

    Go to Home Depot or Lowes and buy a commercial mop bucket with the mop wringer attachment.

    You will also have to go to and get a clothes plunger (looks like a toilet plunger only its metal).

    You can wash the clothes in the mop bucket, but it will only hold small loads. Add soap and water, plunge with plunger, then rinse.

    Squeeze clothes through the wringer, then hang to dry.

    It might be necessary to repeat, heat more water, etc.

    Old times, they had large cast iron tubs over a fire outside, so they'd not have to empty it immediately.

    You CAN wash in cold water, but its not as good for degreasing, even with modern detergents.

    My mom has an antique metal two-square-sinks thing on legs and a metal plunger.

    I am planning a similar get-up, with the mop bucket wringer.

    Lehman's also has an electric wringer washer. Look under laundry.

    Also - lye soap cleans stains pretty good, and you can use it in the shower, too. Makes my hair soft and shiny, no need for fancy conditioners.

  4. Anonymous10:23 AM

    I don't know how they did it either. I remember my maternal Grandmother had a galvanized wash tub, a scrubbing corrigated wash board and a couple of cakes of Don Maximo soap, that was lye based - man, that stuff was gritty as all get out, you would likely scrub off meat chunks if you bathed regularly with that stuff.

    Much later, during the 50s, she got an electric agitator open topped machine with wringer on top (think it was for a wedding anniversary too - my Grandpa had a sense of humor!) and it saved quite a bit of her day. Mom was one of 12 children, and white was the uniform of the day. She was born of pretty humble means, my Grandpa / Grandma being farm field pickers, migrating North and South, following the crops. But every kid was combed and whites so bright, they hurt the eye. Grandma said every family was pretty much the same thing - no one knew they were poor.

  5. Time and the sun are what you need. Grandma would fill up a tub with water, soap and dirty clothes in the early morning, and let it sit in the sun until after lunch. Then she'd work the load with a scrub board, and dump the soapy water into the kitchen garden. Fill with rinse water, swish the clothes around, do something else for an hour, then come back and dump the rinse water, repeat. She didn't wring the clothes out much, just hung them up on the clothesline. Took them down after supper.
    Clothes that have been hung off a line are stiff like you starched them, but they last a lot longer than if you used a dryer. Dryers are hard on clothes.

  6. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Put some dirty clothes in a 5-gallon pail. Put i water and soap. Snap on the lid. Tie it in the back of your truck before you go to work in the AM, let it jounce around back there all day.
    Then dump the soapy water out. Rinse and squeeze several times. Hang up to dry.
    Works for me.

  7. Anonymous12:52 PM

    If you are still ill, go to the hospital now for antibiotics. You do have pneumonia and you are now a sitting duck for H1N1. Better still, go to a private physician. Better class of sick people.

    Another way to wash a few clothes. Take dirty clothes into the shower with you. Tromp on them as you bathe. Rinse them out while in shower. Hang on shower bar. Works great for things not greasy dirty.

  8. My old aunt in Germany had a washboard and a wringer when I was a little kid. She managed to get 3 meals a day on the table for a family of 6 (7 when I was there in the summer) and do all the other household chores while the men were out at work, plus watch after 3 miserable little kids (me and my 2 cousins), and do the laundry.

    I couldn't do it. god bless her she's still alive and kicking. Another old artillery horse like all the women in my family.

  9. You know, Busted,one of my Deep Dark Secrets is that I have an unfinished novel. It's not political, it's the kind of novel women read on the beach. No, not a fuck 'n' shop novel or "chick lit" -- it's one of these sweeping family stories that spans many decades. I haven't worked on it in over 2 years, but I did a ton of research about farm life in the 19-teens and I was gobsmacked at the amount of work that was involved in doing ANYTHING -- laundry, washing dishes, even taking a bath involved hauling in water from a well pump and heating it on the stove. Banking the stove with wood or coal in the morning just to make those big farm breakfasts. Canning. Curing meat. Doing laundry with a washboard.

    And no indoor plumbing, either.


    You wonder how anyone had any energy to have children.

  10. I don't know what happened to my reply,
    Finish The Novel. I am serious, the last two generations have no fucking clue.

    Babies were made in the cold months because there was no central heating with a fan. Snuggling under the quilts shortly led to procreation.

    Then again, babies were made when it was hot and muggy too, I kinda like this sweaty sex thing,"Hold still baby".

    I see a pattern here.

    Smooches to ya, you are so damn good to me.

  11. Reminds me of a guy called Seldom Seen Slim. Also called "Often Smelled Slim", because he dealt with the whole question of baths and washing clothes just by not doing it. Story told to me by an old desert hand is that when Seldom Seen went to the nearest town (the small town of Trona, which he considered the big city because he mostly spent his time alone in the desert), he'd go into the grocery store to get his groceries and the side of the store he was on would slowly empty out as people escaped to the other side of the store or outside to get away from the horrific smell. And as he made his way to the other side of the store filling up his cart, the migration would go the other way.

    Our modern emphasis on cleanliness and regular bathing is new, and only dates back to the late 1800's. Before then, well... perfume. That's all I'm sayin'.

    - Badtux the Clean Penguin

  12. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Pouring all that hot water down the drain aint so good either.... the PVC pipes you have are probly a bit looser now , I've had mine slip the compression fittings off just from pouring out the hot water from spaghetti noodles. Keep the cold tap running to temper it while you pour it out slowly.... Keep the fire alive!

  13. Grandma used a large copper kettle big enough to take a bath in with hot water from the wood stove. Talk about labor intensive I'm sure it would take all day and then some to do laundry. I still have the iron she used. I use it as a door stop, solid cast iron.

    Anon ever think about using some PVC pipe glue on those fittings?

    Try some Shout or Spray and wash on the grease before washing.

  14. bill bush2:47 PM

    Busted, you have my true sympathy.

    In the late 1950's, Grandma Toye Mae would put a cast iron pot over a wood fire in the back yard, hand me a boat paddle, and we would do laundry. It was a smoky, hot, unpleasant job. When I was old enough to drive, we shifted to the laundromat, a real upgrade! In those days and that place, we could start laundry, then do grocery shopping across the road while the clothes finished in the dryers. The clothes were still in the dryers when we got back for them, too. There are some things that are true progress.

    Does it seem to you that by about 1960 we had most of what we need? Much of what has come since is nice but not necessary. I really think many of the people who say we "need" another Depression have no idea of the implications of their expressions. I had Depression parents, and I don't think most people today appreciate exactly what it would be like to lack for electricity, running water or landlines, much less tv/dvd/internet/satellite/etc.

    My Mom and her sisters took turns picking out the flour sacks Grandpa bought, because their next dresses would come from the cloth flour sacks. They learned to make patterns from newspaper and how to size up the patterns. They said Sunday was rough when they had new flour sacks, because no sewing or other "work" was allowed.

    Glad you had the experience, and hope it doesn't become a regular one!

  15. i'm late to pick up my son so i don't know if anyone said this way or not. for the first two years of his life we had no car or washer or dryer. i would fill the tub up with hot water and laundry soap. put the whites in there and get on my knees and agitate them by hand, several times then i would let them soak over night. the next morning i would drain out all the water and get in there with my bare feet and step on them until i had all the soapy water out as much as i could. then i would commence to filling the tub up with cold water, agitating them, and draining them. i learned the hard way not to use to much laundry soap. then once that was finished i would commence to wringing them out. if you twist as you wring it gets way more water out. once i had wrung them out the best i could i would lug them out to the line (luckily i had one already strung up right outside the back door)and hang them up to dry which normally took at least 24 hours unless it was summer in hot lanta then it would take about 12. the winters were the hardest on my hands. i thought i would never get the blisters on my hands healed. it was an eye opening experience and to this day i am so protective of my washer and dryer i think everything else could go but them :) i did give thanks that mine were the only jeans that had to be washed and that the boy was still in baby clothes and for disposable diapers!

  16. One lesson I've learned that applies to many things - if you don't know how to do something, doing it is often much harder. The first anonymous seems to have the right idea. Even then, it will be a lot of work.

    Thanks for sharing this, Busted. It's been an eye-opener.

    Jill - take Busted's advice and finish the novel, please.

  17. shinerbock4:59 AM

    Here's what I use out here at my place when I'm not too lazy, it works pretty good and only takes a couple minutes. My only bitch is that it doesn't fit that much stuff at one time.

  18. Anonymous5:40 AM

    Good grief.

    BadTux, you must be from my neck of the woods. I've not heard ANYONE refer to Seldom Seen Slim or Trona in YEARS. I grew up in Ridgecrest...he occasionally came there, too.

  19. Anonymous5:47 AM

    Anon 11:52 - my Dad washes his dirty work clothes the same way. He takes a 5 gallon bucket out on the tractor and lets it agitate his really dirty clothes all day. Then he lets the water drain off and then Mom washes them conventionally.

  20. Anonymous1:17 PM

    now you understand why personal hygiene could be so lacking back when.