Another Green Living Option: Hand Wash Your Clothes

… and easily trade cost and environmental impact, for time!
laundry room
“Do laundry”… what does that mean to most of us?  It means carting a large pile of clothes in a bin or basket to one’s home washer and dryer, or if you’re one of the many unfortunate bunch like me, you cart it to a nearby laundromat’s washer and dryer.  I’ve only “done laundry” once since moving into my new apartment, and as I don’t own a car–you guessed it–I packed my clothes into a massive backpack and pedaled it across my neighborhood to the laundromat, swaying all the way.  Obviously not an impossible scenario, but surely an uncomfortable one!

But as with so many other things about living a modern American lifestyle, my conscience shouts louder and louder each time I subscribe to certain activities that I know to be environmentally harmful.  The toxic chemicals in many common soaps aside, purely the use of electricity (when knowingly powered by coal plants, as is true for my region) is a harmful act.  I don’t like living with the idea that I must contribute to environmental devastation each time I want to wear fresh-smelling, tidy clothing!  Not washing clothes at all, ever (as many of my “crust-punk” friends do) is not a reasonable option for most of us.

The clock was ticking. I had only an hour or two to make my decision, before I had to leave for work.

Today was the periodically dreaded day when my laundry bin reached critical mass, and I realized I needed to do laundry.

Do I take it to a laundromat, dump it into appliances, and read a book while my clothes become easy-breezy clean?  The consequences of that are: energy use, travel energy, and cost!  Washing and drying clothes at a laundromat can cost up to $5 a load!

But what if we could re-invent our notion of what “doing laundry” means?  Forget “high-efficiency” washer and dryer appliances that, while an improvement in terms of water and energy use, still perpetuate widespread and probably-ultimately unsustainable practices.  Where can the energy–and water–come from that would be sustainably sourced?

Your hands.  And your sink.  (And for clothes-drying?  The air.)

It’s such a simple solution that I might almost have missed it!

Em-bed-ded journalism

My first attempt at handwashing clothes gave me mixed results.

First and foremost, I felt good about my choice.  (After all, that is the main reason we decide to do anything!)  It felt good to do it myself and learn a new skill meanwhile.  Using my hands to knead and wring the clothes definitely gave me an unexpected work-out!

Summarizing the instructions from this excellent VideoJug clip, I let my clothes soak in a soapy solution for a few minutes (I was sure to use a gentle, biodegradeable detergent that would not harm aquatic life in my region’s waterways).  Then I kneaded them all together, and proceeded to rinse each item one by one under the faucet.

My strategy didn’t work out so well for all items, unfortunately.  It was hard to discern when the item was truly flushed of detergent.  Socks and underwear–these were easy to rinse thoroughly.  My bath towel was another story.

First of all, the towel soaked up all the water in the sink as soon as I put it in!  (This is a seemingly obvious result, but I’m not too bright sometimes!)  The towel then became so heavy as to be almost unmanageable.  I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed it, but because the material was so thick and so absorbent, I wasn’t sure if I had rinsed it clean of all soap.  Upon drying it… I clearly did not.  It was stiff and starchy, smelled like detergent, and was very unpleasant to dry off with.  Boo!

The other point, that must not be over-looked, is time-consumption.  Most of us accustomed to washers and driers expect our clothes to transform from dirty to clean in an hour and a half, at most.  Using the hand washing method, air-drying clothes may take two days before the items are fully dried.  (Yikes!)  Plus, during the time you’re washing your clothes, you can’t go and read a book or do something else, like you can using a washer… you are literally busy washing your clothes!

My advice to the new home washer is: socks, underwear and delicates are great things to wash in your sink.  You’ll enjoy all the environmental benefits of handwashing clothes, plus that extra work-out!  They may even come out better than they would from your washing/drying machines.

Big, heavy fabrics–like jeans and towels–should probably not be washed in just your sink.  You need more space and an adequate agitator to wash these things fully.

We are all part of a learning, green community.  Please share your advice for handwashing clothes–especially with respect to the environment–below!

photo credit: public domain (Wikimedia Commons); Ashley Anne at Life Tonic

Written by carolinesavery

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