More on Laundry

After you’ve done something for a while, you forget all the little shortcuts and nuances because you just do them. So here’s a little upgrade on laundry.

Wringers are expensive, but very useful if you are not a strong person or if you’ve had wrist and hand injuries. Used ones are often all dried out and the rollers hard to replace. New ones are available at some general stores, like Lehman’s. They are between $140 and $190 US, and attach to the washtub. A complete hand washer is about $600, which seems to be out of range for many of us, but if a couple of families bought it together, it would be worth it.

Lehman’s, which supplies a lot of Old Order families, also has scrub boards at a good price. They don’t pay me to say this, but I’ve had good experiences with Lehman’s. They have an online catalog.

I forgot to tell you that some white vinegar in the rinse tub (about 1/2 cup or so) will cut the soap scum so that it doesn’t settle back on the clothes if the water gets saturated. The vinegar smell dissipates in drying. For the delicate things, add some essential oil (lavender is nice), just a few drops in a small tub for the rinse. Your lingerie drawer will smell great.

Drying racks can get quite pricey. They should be made of very smooth hardwood dowels or plastic coated metal. Cheap ones don’t last long, and either splinter or bend if they are wire. But it might be all you can find. See if a craftsman will make a good one for you if you have to do a lot of indoor drying. Put the rack a few feet from the wood stove or in a sunny window in the winter, and the clothes will dry quickly while humidifying the house.

I am looking for an old-fashioned sad iron (metal bases with detachable handle) that doesn’t cost too much. Antique ones are available, usually without the handle, and they are often rusted. The metal bases heat on the stove. You clamp on the handle, iron away, and switch to another hot base when the one you are using cools. There are propane-fired irons, but these are a bit scary and really don’t solve the fuel problem.  Steam is generated for the sad iron by sprinkling the clothes or ironing them while still damp from the wash. I remember the older women sprinkling the clothes with a little cap that fit over a glass bottle, then folding them, wrapping them in a towel, and refrigerating before ironing. The little sprinkling caps are still sold by general stores.

This makes wash day sound like a huge chore, but it is really one of the breaks in routine that can be fun. I like the pace of handwashing and ironing, and it is the day you can say, “Sorry, I’m really busy,” and have some time for your own thoughts while your hands work. It is just instant gratification to rub out the stains in dirty clothes and make them look new again. In families with many helping hands, it used to be a time to talk and chat and tell stories.

We need more of that.


Hand wash only

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.