| The rest of my clothes are still wet!|
I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don't have any clean laundry, because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life?
- Wisdom from the Web
Way Off-Grid Laundry
Doing laundry is a challenge for those of us living far from the Grid.
For offshore sailors fresh water is precious, so efficiency is paramount. And getting it dry - is no small feat in the maritime reaches of a boreal rainforest!
For years, we've been picking away at the problem of laundry at large. Here's what we've found (or hope to find) for those times when the sink just isn't enough...
First we need a decent anchorage.
Laundry can take a day or two, all told, so we need to be confident we won't get blown away in the night. We might have to wait in a good location for laundry weather, which could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Next, we need a freshwater non-salmon stream with good flow and accessible banks. Fortunately, these abound. If we happen to be near a sea-level hotspring, its run-off simplifies the whole operation.
An adjacent, south-facing beach for drying is a big plus. We'll likely heat water for washing, too, so need some drift- or standing deadwood close at hand.
A big, smooth rock or clean driftwood log is a plus for sorting and folding.
Most of our stuff is wool or synthetic, and colorfast. A few cottons take their chances. No whites (it's been said we favor "moth colors"!) or delicates. No sorting; everything gets thrown into one wash. Hot wash (mostly), cold rinse. Regular cycle (we do our worst, in other words).
Wool does shrink, a bit, and can be a little tight the first day worn. Most trousers end up 'let out' at the cuffs. After that, it seems to find its way back. If not (rare), it goes to rags.
We don't have anything that requires a special coating, or I should say, that coating doesn't last. Anything 'breathable' becomes an ordinary garment in fairly short order. And good riddance. Even new, they just tempt us into the rain where we get soaked.
From Tiny House Listings
The video (above) presents a brilliant, DIY washing machine; inexpensive, compact, economical and... well... just freaking BRILLIANT! Just heard of it and can't wait to try it out!
It's made from two, stackable plastic buckets with plumber's helper agitator (one bucket, lid and agitator modified), rinse, press and spin cycles! Just add water, laundry and muscle. If you can't load the vid, there's a verbal description following this post.
We're hoping that the the perforated bucket will streamline our present (one bucket) practice, and encourage the heavy agitation and thorough rinsing that seem the key to clean loads. More efficiency here may further our quest to reduce or eliminate soap (see below).
Aside from their obvious advantages, both buckets can do double duty for other jobs around the boat. The perforated bucket can be a laundry hamper, colander, sieve, clam basket, line bucket, etc..
NOTE: The 'spin cycle' may not be a big improvement over mere gravity drip? But then, all it has to do is overcome surface tension (which holds water in a sponge in spite of gravity), and spinning may help transport what does drip. Either way, it's just too cool a step to skip! 8)
We currently use a Lehman's 'good' hand wringer (their 'best' wringer is bigger, costlier and harder to clean.. didn't work any better that we could see). But it's amazing the amount of water clinging to fabric! We often have to send it through three to six times. Getting water out is one key to quick drying.
A Press/Spin Cycle prior to wringing may get it down to a single pass. Or none!
Laundry produces a lot of grey water (used, often soapy water), which is difficult to dispose of in a conscientious manner, in town or out. In wilderness settings, its impact can be acute.
We aim to use soaps sparingly or not at all, and to follow (ever evolving) guidelines for disposal.
When in a situation where limited soap seems tolerable, Doc Bronner's is our one-soap-fits-all choice.
First off, the label is a hoot! It's biodegradable, pure castille soap (no animal fats) in concentrated liquid form (Dilute! Dilute! Dilute!) with a range of pleasant scents and righteous credentials. It doesn't foam up, much, which I read as an environmentally good sign, yet cleans well.
Castille soaps can be combined with baking soda and/or vinegar to handle just about any freehold cleaning job. The label even has directions to use it as toothpaste and contraceptive!
If we can get our hands on it, a bar of bile aka gall soap, or, alternatively, naptha soap, can be used topically for oil or grease stains. Both cut right through, and, at least on an engine free sailboat, last a long time.
On the counter-soap side, we've had good luck with some re-usable 'laundry balls' that came our way, for everyday laundry.
These are a collection of ju-ju rich, ceramic pellets in a water permeable container. They claim they reduce or eliminate the need for laundry soap. The science behind them is... ah... dubious. But there's plenty of anecdotal satisfaction (including our own), especially regarding odor neutralization.
Many types are available, and apparently not all created equal. Also, different users get different results, even within the same brand. Caveat emptor!
A similar, and maybe less controversial (?) possibility is stainless steel bars of 'soap', which purport to remove odors. Again, lots of anecdotal success (from professional chefs, among others), and the science is more credible. They're spendy, but generally well made and last forever. They're marketed for hand-washing, not laundry, but what the hey? Eventually, we'll try one and get back to you. Same cautions.
Drying is most places a simple matter of line drying. Not so simple in our rainy climate.
We look for a sunny day (ha!) and a breezy spot. As with firewood gathering, we scope the undergrowth for relatively dry, open woods. If it looks like the Black Lagoon, it probably is... even in dry weather, humidity stays high in such spots. And, of course, it has to be close to a freshwater stream.
Direct sun is a big plus, as UV rays help reduce any remaining biologics (cooties) in the laundry, and radiant heat helps dry the clothes. If we ever get it together, I've been thinking of a low level, solar concentrator, cobbled up from reflective space blankets.
Might exceed our productivity threshold, though. Mere laundry is daunting enough!
Summary of Methods
These approaches, in this order (descending) strike me as most effective:
- Dirt is removed by mechanical agitation in hot water.
- Grease/oil is removed by solvents (i.e., soap).
- Odors are neutralized by ionic (?), UV and/or chemical action (e.g., baking soda).
- Multiple rinses (especially with hot water) remove or dilute all of the above.
- Mechanical extraction of water between rinses multiplies benefits.
None of this is exactly news. It does remind us to lean on the agitator and go light on the soap. Odors tend to evaporate with their medium (grease and dirt), but it never hurts to hedge our bets.
So... whoops... gotta go!
SYNOPSIS of DIY Washing Machine:
Build: Two equal sized, plastic buckets, stackable. Inner bucket and plumber's helper perforated with small holes (not so many as to weaken). Smooth inner hole edges. Hole lid at center to accept helper handle.
Wash Cycle: Load laundry + water + cleaning agents into inner bucket (stacked in outer). Attach lid over helper and plunge (~5 to 10 minutes).
Rinse Cycle: Empty liquids and repeat as necessary, minus cleaning agents.
Press Cycle: Insert intact bucket into perforated one (may raise on two sticks) and sit on it.
Spin Cycle: Hang inner bucket from line. Twist by manually spinning, then stand back and let gravity do the work. Repeat as necessary.