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Oh, yeah, just in case you wondered…

I do our laundry in two big galvanized tubs. This is my fourth set, I think. The sheep beat one set to death when I used them over the winter as feeding troughs, and the other antique set gave out at the seams, and the third set got left in New Brunswick because we were moving to the city. Stupid me. I hate washers and dryers, I hate laundromats, I hate scented laundry detergents. So I persuaded my husband to get a new pair, really new, and they were $30 each. I offered to trade down to big plastic yardwork tubs, at half the price, but he gave me that withering look and said, “You”ll go through those in a few weeks,” and bought the good ones. I was honestly thrilled! New washtubs! Oh, my feminist sisters and friends are just about now dying of mortification or rolling on the floor in helpless laughter. Yes, I acted like Steve Martin in “The Jerk,” running around shouting “The new washtubs are here!”

So this is what you do. Put the washtubs on a stand that gets them about 18 inches off the floor, or your back will suffer. We use two old wooden chairs with the seats removed and the legs leveled. My former stand was made out of a futon frame, and was so sturdy you could have parked a truck on it. Nicholas (also called Dave), my husband, knows how to build to last. The good thing about the old chairs is that they have backs on them, just uprights with a crosspiece, and I can wring heavy things on them, like jeans and towels. I don’t have a wringer. Nicholas helps me with sheets, although this is a wee bit hazardous, because he wrings fast and hard on his end and sometimes I expect to just spin around with the wet fabric.

Fill the tubs with hot water, or cool water for dark fabrics, put in the clothes, and soak them for a while, a few minutes to overnight. Then get out a bar of yellow laundry soap (Fels-Naptha, Sunlight, Linda, whatever is in the store) and rub it into the stains and the dirty parts – collars, hems, under the arms, down the front of aprons. Scrub the soiled part against the side of the tub, a washboard, or the fabric. Swish around a bit to remove the extra soap, and drop into the second tub for a rinse. I usually wash a few things, swish them together in the rinse, wring, and then hang them up.

You will not believe how clean the clothes get. Detergents leave residues, and after you have washed clothes a few times with real soap by hand, dull things look amazingly brighter. Blue jeans will be blue again, whites will look white and not gray. You can use chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide, but I don’t. And even though we live in an apartment, we are on the ground floor, so I wash out on the patio and hang the clothes on a temporary clothesline in the yard. No one has complained so far. I use a folding drying rack for small things, or to dry things indoors.

It takes time to wash this way, but no more than driving to the laundromat and staying through the final cycle. It is very cheap, too, just the initial cost of the tubs, some soap, and the clothesline. The equipment has already paid for itself in saved laundromat costs.

We use a lot less water, electricity and detergent this way. Ecological savings are high, too.

If this seems hopelessly retro, well, give it a try some day. You can use five-gallon buckets instead, or haul the clothes down to a good clean creek and scrub them on the rocks. This is really more pleasant than it sounds if it is a warm summer day.

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