DIY: Guide for Perfect Hand-Washed Clothes

Save money and electricity by going back to the hand-washed basics.
Hand-washed clothes
Save money and clean your clothes by hand following this guide.|Photo by Thomas Kirchen

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy washing clothes the old-fashioned way from time to time, connecting with a simpler pleasure in life and becoming more independent. I’ve also perfected my technique and found the right tools for the job. Here’s what works for me.

DIY TOOL KIT: In the beginning, I started with a big bathtub and my hands. It wasn’t the best setup, but it did get the job done for most items I washed. Over time, I’ve become quite attached to a few tools that make the job easier and get clothes cleaner.

LAUNDRY WRINGER: Hands down, this is the most important item that I have in my hand-washing tool kit. It not only helps to get the excess water out of the clothes (more of a problem than one might think), but it also eliminates fabric stretching from wringing the clothes by hand. And believe it or not, it even helps me to get my clothes cleaner. I do this by running the clothes through the wringer twice; once after washing to get as much of the dirty, soapy water out of the clothes as possible, and again after the rinse. Laundry wringers can seem a little spendy but they are definitely worth the splurge.

WASHBOARD: I lived without a wash-board for a number of years. Let me tell you, I had no idea what I was missing. This simple, primitive tool does so much to get your laundry clean. There are several on the market to choose from these days, but I’ve found that nothing works quite as well as a good, old-fashioned washboard like grandma would have used. I found one for about $10 at a local antique shop. If you keep your eyes open, you can find them for next to nothing at thrift stores, garage sales or auctions.

SCRUB BRUSH: While the washboard is a great tool for scrubbing stains, sometimes it isn’t the right tool to get the soap to really penetrate soiled fabric. I’ve found that a scrub brush is the perfect solution. I dip the top of the brush into a bit of liquid laundry soap and water, and then I scrub away. This works great for things that have really had a chance to set into the individual fabric thread, and it’s also a great way to pretreat stains when you can’t get to washing right away.

MUCK BUCKET: We went out to a farm and feed store where I spotted a muck bucket on sale for just a few bucks. Since we had room to shove it in the car, I bought it and turned it into my new “laundry machine.” It’s more convenient to have a large bucket for washing laundry than it is to use a tub or sink. Clothes can get pretty dirty, and it gets to be a real pain to scrub the tub or unclog the drain regularly from lint, hair or heavy dirt. And it’s mobile, too, so in pleasant weather I can enjoy the fresh air, and it’s nice to keep the splishing and splashing out of my house! It can be handy to have an extra one to set up two stations, one for washing and one for rinsing.

PLUNGER: This is a tool that I don’t always use but it can come in handy. You can go online and purchase a plunger sold specifically for laundry washing, but it’s not really necessary. Save money by purchasing a standard, but new, toilet plunger and drill holes into it yourself. The holes will allow water to pass through while the plunger is used to agitate the laundry. It will also save you from bending over or using your hands to move clothes around in the water.

TRACTOR: I’m halfway kidding about the tractor, but I won’t say that it hasn’t come in handy when doing laundry. I love using our tractor bucket to get my wringer to the perfect height!

Do I wash every load of laundry by hand? Nope. Sometimes I hit up my local laundromat and I can even be spotted using a beat up washing machine on the farm. But when it comes down to it, I’m glad I’ve perfected my hand-washing skills.

This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

From Our Partners