If the power is out and you aren’t able to use your normal laundry room, hand washing is going to be the only way to keep your clothes clean.  Keeping your clothes clean isn’t just helpful for keeping body odor at bay, but it in itself will reduce exposure to bacteria and allow clothes to last longer, all of which are very important in any disaster.
shtf laundry cleaning clothes

Many prepping websites will point to a bucket with a plunger setup or a laundry ball that you roll around or a counter top spinner.  These are certainly helpful devices, but it highlights a key point we like to make here at The Prepper Experience, you need to actually practice and use your gear to learn it.

What Most People Get Wrong About Washing Clothes

If you’ve actually ever tried one of those setups, you’ll learn pretty quickly that they’re useful, but they don’t really make the job any easier because of one reality.  This reality is only known by those who actually practice their preps and it is…  Drying is the important part.

Washing clothes by hand is actually very easy, the tricky part is often getting them dry.  When the grid is down, your dryer won’t work and many of us take for granted how convenient a dryer really is. You can easily wash your clothes with very little, but it makes take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to dry!

clothes on a line drying

Consider your wardrobe and where possible have clothes that dry more easily and also consider having a set of work clothes and a set of house clothes.  This allows you to keep dirt out of the house after a long days work in the garden or chopping wood.

What will you need for washing your clothes?

  •       Large tub – sized to a load or wash, make sure it won’t rust
  •       Bar of Fels Naptha Soap – around $1 at Walmart, buy a few!
  •       Mini cheese grater – to shave the soap
  •       Washboard – optional
  •       Clean water to fill several times – warm or cold
  •       Clothes line
  •       Lots of clothes pins
  •       Drying rack

How To Wash Your Clothes By Hand

The process to cleaning your clothes by hand in a tub is pretty simple.  First, I take my clothes and put them into the tub and fill with water (If I’m doing hot water I’ll use it here).  I take my Fels Naptha bar and spot treat anything then grate my bar right into the water letting it dissolve.

laundry soap bar

From there I swish and agitate the clothes and water with my hands.  After about a minute or two of agitation I just let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Then I drain my water out (consider how you might best use that water) from the tub and wring out each piece of clothing.   Next, I repeat the process without the soap using just enough water to cover the clothes.  Drain and ring out each piece of clothing.  If the clothes are still soapy or just for good measure, I’ll do another cycle, then wring out and hang to dry.

Washboards are one of those things that I rarely use unless there is something that is particularly dirty.  For every day normal washings, I don’t even bother getting it out as it just gets in the way in your tub.

How To Get Things Dry

You’ll notice that I’ve included a drying rack which is a really great way to dry clothes in inclement or colder weather.  As I mentioned before, washing isn’t the difficult part, it’s the drying of clothes in a grid down scenario.  It’s usually pretty easy on a warm sunny day, but in the cold of winter it might just freeze instead of drying and in the wet or humid parts of the world or time of year, they just never really dry because the moisture in the air lets them only dry so much.

Clothes PinOn Nice days, all you need is a good clothes line and some clothes pins.  It’s best to do your wash very early in the morning so you can take full advantage of the sun all day long.  You want to get your clothes as dry as possible during the day, over night dew can settle on the clothes and set you back.

For the days when it isn’t nice out or it’s raining or winter, you need to take a different approach.  This is why it’s good to have a place indoors to dry your clothes, particularly if you have a heat source like a wood stove. Drying clothes indoors takes up a lot of space, so consider where you might hang your clothes up that is out of the way but also gives enough room for air flow.

Racks can be handy for indoor spaces but I’ve found that when you have to air dry things in the winter, you always are in the process of drying something because it can take so long to dry.  You’ll most likely need a drying rack per person just to keep up with the laundry in winter or wet months.

If you happen to have an extra space, like a shop, garage, or storage building, consider figuring a way to heat it with some wood and setup a drying line in it.  This way it’s out of the elements, it will dry faster with the warm air and it doesn’t get in the way of your living space.

In the end, you’ll figure out what works right for you when the washer and dryer don’t work.  Check out our other sanitation articles to learn more about how to stay clean in a disaster.


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