Some days feel like crisis laundry management even without a big emergency. Every time our family experiences the flu or returns from a camping trip, our appreciation for a working washing machine is renewed. What would you do if you did not have enough water to use your washing machine? What if water was available, but no electricity?
Our children would not mind wearing the same clothes 24/7 and we could probably make it through a short-term crisis without worrying about laundry. But what if the crisis outlasts our clean wardrobe? How do we clean bedding? We would all smell horrible before too long.
The important consideration in a crisis is removing body fluids, sweat, odors and dirt, not stains. As with any preparedness options, there are inexpensive and expensive options. Explore your options and select the one that works best for you.
Old-Fashioned Tub Method
Grandma’s method has been used successfully for hundreds of years. It is an old fashioned concept that still works. Use whatever containers are available and adapt her method to your circumstances.
• Sort clothes into lights and darks, similar fabrics, special handling, and level of dirt.
• Start with the dirtiest clothes first, add one cup of bicarbonate of soda, or laundry ammonia. The water should feel slippery when you rub your fingers together.
• Use three large tubs. One for washing and two for rinsing. Place the tubs on a bench to save your back. This can be done with only one tub. Wash each load one by one, set them aside, then get fresh water and rinse each load one by one, then get more fresh water to rinse each load again. Three tubs is nicer because a wringer can be placed in between them.
• Initial wash is accomplished by pouring three buckets of warm water into the first tub containing the washboard, Stand behind the board, lean over, and rub with an “up and down” motion working the dirtiest areas.
• Place the white clothes in a kettle of clean water for boiling. Pour soap over the clothes and fill with enough clean water to cover everything. Boil for 10-15 minutes, poking the clothes down in the soapy water from time to time. Fish out the clothes with a stick and put them into the first rinse water tub, then transfer into the second rinse tub and wring.
• Scrub colored clothes in the wash water heated by the soapy white load. Do not boil colored clothes as it will damage them.
• Hang clothes on the line to dry. Sun and wind may damage fabric. Remove clothes as soon as they are dry.
The Wonder Washer is a type of pressure washer. It is about the size of a 20 pound propane tank. Maximum capacity is a little less than five pounds of laundry. You add three quarts of water, two tablespoons of soap, and add laundry. The tank is turned manually by a handle. There is a drain at the bottom. The process is repeated until the clothes are rinsed and ready to dry.
The bucket and plunger method is a pretty effective way for doing laundry short term. Dirty clothes, water and detergent are placed in a bucket with a hole cut in the lid to accommodate a plunger. The plunger is used to agitate the clothes. A quality standard plunger with a few holes drilled in the top will work, but a Rapid Washer works better. It has internal baffles that sends water through the close to flush out dirt.
The Laundry POD is a non-electric washing machine that resembles a salad spinner. The washer sells for a little less than one hundred dollars. It washes small loads and takes one gallon of water to wash a load. The water is drained out the bottom and clean water is added through the top to rinse.
The Sailor’s Method uses a black garbage bag to wash the clothes. Apparently sailors would fill a black garbage bag with dirty clothes, water, and soap. The black bag took advantage of the sun to heat the water and the ship’s movement agitated the wash. We could see adapting this a little by gently pressing on the bag to agitate the clothes. This might be a practical method for washing large items such as comforters, blankets or sleeping bags which will not fit in five gallon buckets to be washed.
An old fashioned clothes line is an effective way to dry laundry. We call it our “solar clothes dryer” to make it sound a little more exciting. Exposing the clothes to the UV rays of the sun may fade fabric, but it will also help disinfect the laundry. If you are using diapers, reusable toilet paper, or anything which may have retained germs, leave it out a little longer to help disinfect the fabric.
Laundry can also be dried indoors. Increase ventilation to promote drying and prevent moisture from building up. Indoor drying racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They make drying more convenient and take up little space. Clothes can be dried by hanging over chairs or doorways if needed.
Take a moment to consider how you would clean your laundry with limited water or without power. A few simple tools tucked away now can simplify the process later and make it much more pleasant to be around each other.