Just over a month ago, we began washing our clothes in the bathtub. What, you may ask, was the catalyst for this change in routine? Although I'd love to point to a loftier reason, the fact is that our washing machine was acting the temperamental brat and I was unwilling to pay hard earned money to fix it. I began researching my options. On average, washing machines use 25-40 gallons of water each load. Add to that the 37 gallons of water a day per toilet (we have two) and the 50-70 gallons of water each day for a shower, times 5 (as there are 5 of us) and we're regular water wasters around here. I began to think that we could cut down on those numbers if we were to multi-task a little better. Years ago an excellent friend of mine used the shower to wash her clothes and herself at the same time. This not only earned her years of bragging rights, but left a lasting impression on me; I was filled with images of self-sufficiency and eco-empowerment. So, could I do this with a family of 5? How could it work and would we be overcome with dirty laundry? Destined to drown in muddy pants and soggy shirts?
The answer was easy enough to decode. We began with a schedule. I realize I'm at risk of ridicule with this coming admission, but damn the torpedoes! I scheduled our schedules. Every 4 days each person would take a shower and wash their own clothes. Nik was excluded because he showers at his work. The kids became responsible for washing their own clothes and I was responsible for washing the household laundry as well as Nik's and my own. At first the thought was overwhelmingly time consuming but the resulting figures are much less then originally planned. The kids enjoy the responsibility and the level of fun that comes with washing your own gear.
For curious minds, I'd like to explain the process. Start with the clothes themselves. We discovered early on that despite progress in the world of laundry, it really does matter what types of material and what colors you put together. Luckily, the kid's clothes are all similar in material and hardiness. Build your pile and start the bath water; close the drain immediately to catch any and all water. Let the bath water fill for a moment or two and add your soap. Because your skin will be immersed in the laundry soap, it's best to use a enviormentally safe and skin tolerant soap. We've found two that I like. Biokleen and Kookaburra. I use each one for different types of clothes. I use the Biokleen for jeans and tougher material and I prefer the Kookaburra for the pleasant scent and how well it cleans more delicate clothing. Pour your soap in as the water is just starting, so that the pressure of the water can agitate the soap and thereby produce more cleansing bubbles. Turn on your shower and throw in your clothes.
Hop on in and start stomping. Stomping on the clothes help the soapy water really get to the dirty areas. Soap up, wash, shampoo... all the while you're stomping on your clothes. I like to keep two rocks in the shower for those super dirty pant cuffs. I originally looked for a washboard and had the darndest time finding one, when a wonderfully snoopy lady at Mirador suggested I use rocks. And they work famously! After agitating and scrubbing and stomping, open the drain and begin to empty the water. At this point I'm usually rinsing my soapy pits. Once the tub is loosing water, pick up each article of clothing and hold it under the spray of the shower in order to rinse it off. This part has been the hardest part of all for me to figure out because I feel like it takes a lot of water to rinse off each piece of clothing. I have put a bucket in the shower a few times, on the floor - under the spray, sitting in the soapy water but higher then the suds. The bucket catches any extra water sprayed. Then I'd use the water in the bucket to rinse the soap out of each piece of clothing. This method works well if you're washing t-shirts, socks and underwear. It doesn't work so well with pants or towels as they're too big and heavy. Anyhow, once the clothes are rinsed, wring them out (I've already built some pretty rockin' biceps from this activity) and hang them up to dry. I recently installed a drying rack above the shower to hang wrung out but still wet clothes. Once I get out of the shower and get dressed, I take the wrung clothing into the kitchen and hang them on one of three drying racks. In the summer I hang them outside. Air is free; why not take advantage? The length of drying time depends on the thickness of the material. Jeans take a day or two and t-shirts have taken as short as a few hours if I've been cooking all day and the kitchen is extra warm. I love this method of cleaning our clothes because we're using very little energy, conserving water and believe it or not, I've come to respect our clothing so much more. Each sock, shirt or pair of pants was made by someone, somewhere. Most likely in a country very different then my own, under very different circumstances. I feel that fact deserves respect. Making clothing is a difficult task; I know as I've dabbled at my home sewing machine. Although I'd like to think that these folks get paid decent wages, have sick time and only work 8 hour days, I cannot be that naive. Their sacrifice is so often overlooked and under respected within our society. Washing my own clothes in this manner reminds me that although I may have paid money for this sweatshirt or that towel, I haven't yet paid it's true cost. The act of spending time with my laundry has afforded me a little time to reflect and find some peace, washing away the dirt.