Friday, July 19, 2013

The Countdown: 10 Things You Need to Know How to Do Before You Lose Electricity!

#8: Wash Clothes

Since we are about to hit the active period during our hurricane season here in the US, I thought it would be beneficial to create a 'Top 10 List' of things you should know how to do without electricity. Most of these things will be extremely important if you had to go without electricity for a few weeks (or longer). However, many of them also apply to power outages of just a few days. So, every Friday, until we countdown to #1, I will highlight a necessary skill to keep your house running as 'normal' as possible. Once you learn about these 10 things, you should be able to keep your house running normally during any power outage from a few days to a few months or longer, if that becomes necessary.

I do want to mention, none of these things will include the use of a generator. While generators do work short term, IMHO, there is no way you can store enough gasoline to keep the generator running for a long term outage. My strategy is to use 18th and 19th century skills to keep my house running. I don't even own a generator. 

I created this 'Top 10 List' and the subject matter and countdown order are mine alone. You may not agree with my list. That is no problem! You are welcome to share your ideas in the comments section. We all learn when differing viewpoints are shared respectfully!


Now, I don't recommend that the first thing you do after you lose electricity is wash clothes. In fact, I would recommend only washing clothes by hand if you absolutely have to! It is very hard work! Finding a Laundromat (reasonably close to your house) that has electricity is preferable to washing by hand. However, this post is about when you are out of clean clothes, the authorities are telling you the power may not be back on for weeks, and you have no choice but to wash by hand.

One option that is available, (if you only have a few items to wash) is to put them in the sink with a little soap and swish them around a bit. It doesn't take much water and it doesn't take much soap. It works well if you don't need anything washed but a few undergarments. If you have a house full of people, that won't be the case. When the time comes to wash a few loads of clothes, I have some suggestions on how to make the process a bit easier.

Let's start with the water. If you have running water, this isn't going to be a problem. If you don't have running water, you are going to have to get the water from somewhere. The good news is wash water does not have to be potable. A stream, pond, pool or hot tub can all be good sources of water to wash clothes. (I would recommend that you only use clear water, not anything muddy or cloudy.) In this post, I am going to wash with rain water.

Next, sort the clothes. First sort is to determine what must be washed and what can wait until the electricity is back on. Then take all the clothes that must be washed and sort by categories. I sort mine by:
  • Light colored; lightly soiled
  • Light colored; heavy soiled
  • Dark colored; lightly soiled
  • Dark colored; heavy soiled
  • Whites
I have washed clothes by hand quite a bit and this is the best sort I have found when you need to save water. (Of course if you have access to lots of water, sort them anyway you like!) The idea being, you can wash the lightly soiled clothes first, then (using the same wash water) wash the heavy soiled clothes. If you don't have that many clothes, put the lights and darks together and use cool water. For me, I usually change the wash water for the whites. I like to wash whites in hot water. I usually wash the colored clothes in warm or cool water. No need to heat the water in the summer, let the sun do it for you.

How much water do you use? Not a lot. The size of the tub will help determine how much water you use. Also, if you need to carry the water from someplace else, you will use quite a bit less! (Ask me how I know that!) Here is a picture of my setup for washing clothes.

Let me describe what is in this picture:
  • A wash tub. This tub holds 40 gallons of water. I have slightly over 10 gallons of water in it. I got the tub at the Tractor Supply Store. You can see it here. I got the water from my rainwater collection barrels.
  • A Mobile Washer. This is a plunger type washer but better than a plunger. As you use it, it creates a vacuum to pull the water through the clothes. Much, much better than your average toilet plunger. I highly recommend that you get one of these! Boy, if you ever had to wash clothes by hand, you won't consider this a luxury purchase!  Besides, it isn't expensive. You can see the one I bought here.
  • Laundry soap products. Although I have a bottle of Extra brand laundry soap in the picture, it isn't filled with commercial laundry soap. That bottle is at least five years old. I refill it with my homemade laundry soap. Also in this picture are Washing Soda, Borax and lemon juice.
  • The dirty clothes you want to wash. I didn't have a lot of dirty clothes so I washed lightly soiled lights and darks together. When washing by hand, keep the load small. It is easier to manage if you break up large loads into two or three smaller ones. For me, one load is about half as much as I would normally add to the washing machine.
Once I filled the tub with water, I let it sit in the sun to warm up. I didn't take the temperature of the water so I can't say how warm it was. It was slightly cool to the touch. I added:
  • 1 tablespoon of homemade laundry soap
  • 1 tablespoon of washing soda
  • 2 tablespoons of borax
  • Lemon juice as needed for a pre-treat directly on the clothes.
The washing soda didn't dissolve right away so I had to stir it a bit. That is why the water looks so 'soapy' in the picture. Put the clothes in and agitated with the plunger.

I don't want to agitate for 10 minutes like my washing machine does. Too much work! So, the key to clean clothes is to agitate for a few minutes and then let them soak. Come back in a few minutes and agitate some more. That is exactly what your great-grandmother did in her day. As an alternative, you can let the younger members of the household agitate for you. It really is as simple as up and down. It is amazing how that plunger moves the clothes, just like your washing machine does! Rub any spots or stains together by hand to help dislodge them. You can also use a washboard to do the same thing.

When they are done, it is time to remove them from the wash water. Since we will be reusing this wash water for the next load, you don't want to spill or waste any of it. Take each piece out one at a time and wring it out by hand. This is easy to do in the summer. However, when it is 45 degrees outside and the wind is blowing, it isn't so easy. Gloves help, but in the cold weather, you want to be quick about it. Use this instead.

How I would love to have a clothes wringer like they used in the 19th century! You can see one here. Boy, they are expensive!  My option is much cheaper. I got this at the home improvement store. Mine is made of plastic. They also have ones that are metal (the metal ones are a bit more expensive). While it isn't as effective as hand wringing, it does the job. 

Tee shirts and other small items fit well, jeans don't. If you are trying to wring out a large item, do it in sections. Save the water and pour it back into the wash tub before you start the next load. I washed a total of two lightly soiled loads. My water wasn't that dirty, so if I had another load of really dirty clothes, I would have wash them next with the same water. Here is a picture of the completed wash. Now it's time to rinse them.

Save the wash water! I put mine into five gallon buckets. You can use it as grey water for flushing toilets, watering landscape plants or pouring it on the compost pile. Of course, only use the grey water if it is legal to do so where you live.

Once I had ten gallons of water in the tub for rinsing, I repeated the process. In this picture I am rinsing the second load.

It goes without saying, this whole process would be easier if I had two tubs. I could put the clothes from the wash directly into the rinse water after wringing them out. However, two tubs cost twice as much money. To me, it isn't worth it for an occasional use. (I do use my tub for other things as well, so it really isn't sitting around doing nothing.) If I really need two tubs, I can take this inside and use the bathtub as a second tub. (Not a bad idea if you are without power because of an ice storm!)

When done, hang to dry!

Not counting the wait time to let the clothes soak, it took me about two hours to wash two loads. Most of that time was spent hauling the water to the tub. If you have access to tap water, that time will be significantly reduced. Still, with the soaking, it can take all day to wash three or four loads. My guess is all women from the 19th century thought the washing machine was a miracle when it was invented!

If you decide to purchase any of the items I mention in this post, I kindly ask that you use my links to do so. It won't cost you anything extra to use them and I will get a few pennies to help support the blog.

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