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How to hand-wash clothes without a washer

by Julissa Wilmer (2020-05-07)

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Electric clothes washers have been commercially available here in the United States for traditional dresses a little more than a century, since 1907. So, if you're in the US and reading this article, then the odds are good that you have access to a washing machine. But did you know that most people in the world still wash their clothes by hand? 

It's true. In fact, according to global health expert Hans Rosling, nearly 5 billion of the world's population of 7 billion (as of about 10 years ago) still hand-wash their clothes. And maybe that's somewhat reassuring in our age of social distancing, where a trip to the local laundromat might be even more stressful than usual for baby girl dresses folks who don't have a washer of their own. If at least 5 billion people already wash their clothes by hand -- so can you!

Let's start by looking at two different approaches to the task, along with some quick notes on drying.

What will I need?
First things first: You'll need access to water, both cold and warm, and you're going to need soap or detergent. A bar of laundry soap is best, but you can also use liquid detergent. Just be sure to avoid powder detergent if at all possible. The powder requires a higher temperature and more time and agitation to fully dissolve. 

You can certainly go with the Woolite-and-bathroom-sink approach like you might for delicates, north face coat but the method I'm outlining here is more efficient for washing an entire load, especially if that's going to become a new routine. 

If you're really serious about washing clothes by hand, clothes shop you're going to need a washboard. If I were planning to make hand-washed clothes a permanent part of my lifestyle, then I might consider splurging on a fancier washboard from the Ohio-based Columbus Washboard Company, which bills itself as the last American washboard manufacturer. You'll also find a lot of options on Etsy. In the end, I went personalized coffee mugs with company logo a midlevel pick that you can get from Amazon for about $20.

See the Behrens Galvanized Washboard on Amazon

Oh, and you'll obviously need a washtub or two. Two separate tubs is best, but you can make do with a single container if that's all you've got. I had the two tubs pictured (actually planters, which work as long as they're clean) on hand at home already. You can also buy nice galvanized steel tubs for about $20 each, or dungaree - Mikel - a pair of plastic ones for $19. 

If you live in a small apartment or otherwise lack storage space, a small, single tub with a built-in washboard might be the best option. I picked up this one for $11.

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