Out here we do laundry by hand, complete with a washboard and a clothesline. It’s peaceful, quiet, energy-efficient, helps our clothes last longer, and provides me greywater for irrigation. But we sure didn’t start out doing laundry the eco-friendly way.
Starting the Transition
So why did we make the switch to washing by hand and how did this happen? Accidentally and slowly. In late 2016 we made an impulse buy of a retractable clothesline while at the hardware store. I grew up using a folding clothes rack to dry clothes and got even more in the habit in college, when the dryers were broken or taken most of the time. We figured adding a $5 line to the folding drying rack we already had would allow us to see how it worked in our life and at the very least allow us to dry outside most of the year.
As soon as I installed it, we quit using the dryer unless it was winter or raining outside. She preferred how soft the sheets came out and that we didn’t have the noise of the dryer rumbling in our ears for an hour each laundry day. I preferred the lower energy use and lack of pollution since we were now using free solar and wind power instead of fossil fuels. Hanging laundry out on the line became so routine we decided to sell the dryer less than 6 months later. At this point in time, we were still regularly using the washing machine.
Post Dryer Changes
It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t happy with how much water was being wasted every time we used the washing machine. The average load in a new, efficient washer uses around 15 gallons, but the older ones can use upwards of 30 gallons per load!
I decided to bring in a clean, uncontaminated 50-gallon barrel to catch the wash water for me to re-use as greywater. Note: Please do NOT store greywater any longer than 24 hours! Bacteria can build up rapidly in this time frame and render the water no longer usable. If you’re interested in learning about and using greywater: http://oasisdesign.net/
Since I was planning on using the greywater to water plants, we needed to use a biocompatible (not just biodegradable) detergent for eco-friendly laundry. After some trials of a few different types, we decided to use soapnuts since they are compostable and a native version of the tree will grow here. Bonus that they are safe for people who have chemical sensitivities (like me!) to most other detergents.
Finding a Complete Eco-Friendly Laundry Solution
Unfortunately, the initial greywater collection project didn’t last long once the hand siphon pump I was using developed an air leak that prevented it from working. We opted for just using the machine as efficiently as possible until we could come up with a better solution. But after an extended stay by a visitor who did not follow that hope, we opted to sell the washer to prevent further issues.
Shortly after that we purged a lot of our synthetic clothes and changed over to an organic wardrobe. By eliminating a large number of extras and hard-to-wash laundry we had made enough of a change that she decided to try out doing it by hand.
But we needed to have a set up for her to do laundry by hand. We wound up purchasing a glass washboard. I put together a table her brother was storing with us and placed a plastic storage container we lost the lid to on it. Since there was still some splashing she added a second, smaller plastic tub inside to contain the splash. That worked with that for a while, until we decided to install a tub.
We never really intended to do laundry by hand and if you had told us a few years ago that we would, we would have laughed at the thought. Now we laugh at ourselves for naively thinking this journey wouldn’t change us as much as we would change the rest of our lifestyle.