Washboard Laundry Day

Well, y’all knew I’d have to eventually google washboards right? I just saw this cute little video where 10-year old or so Alicia demonstrates washing a shirt or something on a washboard and it reminded me that we’ll need a little bit more than a washboard to keep our clothes clean out in camp or at home if we don’t have electricity. Have a look: http://www.pioneerliving.net/washboard.htm

In addition to the washboard, which I have yet to find…gonna try Canadian tire or a second-hand store or, of course, I could buy it online…we have to have other tools:

The soap to wash with! An article I read says to rub bar soap on the washboard and then onto an article of clothing placed onto the washboard, and then scrub. Repeat with each piece of clothing. I would get several bars of Linda laundry bar soap, but have no idea how many because I don’t know how long a bar would last in those conditions. I would get Linda simply because it’s available at Food Basics, which in turn means it’s probably the cheapest I would be able to find. In this video, though, that’s not stated and sudsy wash water was prepared beforehand. I would simply add the homemade laundry soap I wrote about last week and agitate that until it’s all dissolved before dumping in the first load of laundry. Perhaps even dissolve it in boiling water and then mix it into the wash water. I’m guessing I would need less than the 1 tablespoon scoop I currently use for my automatic washing machine, so I’ll probably say 1 teaspoon? That brings me to…

Long gloves to wear while scrubbing.  Since my homemade laundry soap is made with superwashing soda and borax as well as Linda bar soap I’m thinking I’ll need to protect my hands and sleeves! Don’t want to damage my fingernails any more than necessary and certainly don’t want kids laughing at grandma skin (aka wrinkles) on my fingers!

It would be wise to have hand lotion on hand to help my hands and face recover from the constant work, sun and wind!

An apron with pockets to protect my clothes from splashes and to hold my clothes pins. I mean, one’s mouth can only hold so many pins… There are many different kinds of aprons, ranging from the simple panel that covers your front from waist to knees to those that give full coverage like a dress. I would opt for the one-size-fits-all BBQ style that covers your sides and front from neck to knees, and I would refrain from making it cute so that the men won’t be afraid to use it. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest each campsite should have at least two–one heavy-duty apron (in denim or oilcloth) for protecting clothing while chopping/carrying wood, etc. and one lighter easy-to-wash apron for protection around the camp stove and laundry tub. Come to think of it, an oilcloth one would be perfect for laundry day!

A clothesline! I understand there are many, many uses for paracord and this is one of them. I would say you should have a dedicated length of paracord that is used only for laundry. Once you’ve done all the hard work of scrubbing your clothes, you don’t want to be placing them onto a line that’s dirty from holding down all the stuff on your bug out trailer or dragging dead carcasses out of the forest. And when you are measuring out your laundry paracord, don’t forget to allow a few feet for tying it to trees!

But, I have digressed again. I have a habit of doing that….

Before you can get around to hanging up your laundry, you need to get your dirty clothes clean! You need more than one tub/bucket/tote and at least one of them needs to be big enough to accommodate your washboard. That means you need to acquire your washboard before you go shopping for laundry tubs/buckets/totes. In this video, you’ll see they’ve used a galvanized tub to wash the clothes in. That’s because that tub can be placed over a fire to get the water hot. If you want to boil your water in pots you already have instead (you’d better have big ones and get started early) you can get away without the galvanized tub. However, galvanized tubs are great for bathing in (oh, now I’m feeling old).

That leads me to another digression: if you are going to do laundry in the same tub you bathe in, you’ll need to have a good way of scrubbing soap scum off it between uses. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wash my clothes in water contaminated from someone’s last bath. I don’t even want to bathe in a tub contaminated from my own last bath! (Ditto for a basin used for washing your hair and your dishes.) Also you’ll want your tubs/buckets/totes to do double duty as storage containers for when you are moving between camps. You get the picture. So make sure you have enough rags and cleanser for scrubbing your containers!

Note: We’ve been told that our containers should have locking lids, especially for when we’re moving about, to help keep everything dry and in place. My friend suggests Rubbermaid containers as they are the only ones that can stand up to drilling holes in them for securing lids to the container with quick ties, or whatever they’re called. He recommends drilling holes in one lid and container first and then using the lid as a template for the rest of the lids and containers. That way, all of the lids are interchangeable!

Okay, back to the laundry. Didn’t know this would be such a complex issue did you?

You’ll need tubs/buckets/totes also for a first rinse and a second rinse. Those can be plastic and they can be smaller. The second rinse is in cold water, used particularly for cooling boiled clothes so you can handle them. I’ll explain what that’s about in a minute, but first I want to suggest that if you’d rather have dedicated laundry tubs/buckets/totes you should find three that fit inside of each other perfectly (with or without lids, but lids make them more multi-purpose) and then use the innermost one to store your other laundry supplies. When acquiring your three tubs/buckets/totes you might want to start with whatever container(s) holds your 3.5 year supply of laundry soap to make sure it will fit inside, then allow room for the gloves, clothesline, clothespins, long wooden spoon and/or tongs, etc. Maybe even your washboard.

In the article we were told to boil the clothes for an hour before washing them (makes it easier, apparently, but ewwww) and in this video we were told to boil the washed clothes for about 5 minutes to sterilize them, and cooking pots were used for that. Of course, they could be the pots you boiled water in previously for your wash tub. And naturally, that means you’ll have to have a fire going beforehand with enough wood nearby to keep you going through the whole process. If I have to do all this, I don’t think I’ll be doing laundry any more often than necessary! (Or maybe doing smaller loads more frequently would make it easier…) Anyhow, I understand that the sun does an excellent job of bleaching and sterilizing clothes, so I’d try to wait for sunny days before doing laundry. But there will be those days when we cannot do all/any of this outside…think the middle of a Canadian winter…when you’ll have to boil water on your camp stove and hang the laundry inside your tent so the heat from the stove can dry them out. (Amusing story alert: When I was a kid we hung clothes outside even in winter and at least once I snapped legs off frozen pants! I’ve been wanting to try that again so if you’re in my camp and have a pair of pants you want to turn into shorts, please let me have a crack at it!) Anyway, you might be concerned about perfectly clean and pretty clothes when you start out, but I’m sure that will be the least of your worries toward the end! I guess boiling clothes would be a great idea, though, if we stumble into areas where we are contaminated by egg-laying-bugs…

The girl in the video used tongs to remove clothes from the boiling pot. I think a long wooden spoon would serve as well. If you use a wooden spoon you’ll probably want that dedicated, too, so you are not serving up laundry detergent-flavoured deer stew at the end of a long day! Tongs are great for dealing with pasta and are easier to get perfectly clean, but if your family suffers from ick-that’s-gross syndrome you might want dedicated tongs, also.

In an article but not the video the point was made to start with the cleanest laundry first (obviously so you don’t have to get new water for each load). For me that means wash the tea towels first and underwear and pads last. Or maybe the jeans… Your decision.

Got a backache just imagining doing all this? That’s nothing compared to what will happen if you don’t set up your laundry site properly. You need to get your laundry tubs/buckets/totes set up at a level that’s comfortable so you don’t have to bend over any further than necessary. I don’t know about you, but I can’t visualize myself either kneeling on or bending down to the ground to deal with laundry! I get a backache just standing at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables! So utilize blocks, logs, rocks or whatever is at hand to raise your tubs/buckets/totes off the ground. If necessary, you could overturn a couple of your other storage containers to serve as temporary worktables. I would set everything up before I got started, beginning with the fire so water can be heating up while you work, after deciding where the clothesline will be.

Speaking of which, the article suggests having a laundry basket. If you work close by your clothesline it shouldn’t be a huge issue if you don’t have one when hanging up wet clothes one by one as they come out of the rinse water. But it is really nice to have one when removing dry clothes from the line. Of course, you can always use one of your scrubbed out laundry tubs/buckets/totes–assuming that all of your clothes have already been washed and hung up and they’re no longer needed for that purpose.  So don’t take your much-needed rest after laundering your clothes until you’ve also scrubbed out your containers! Procrastination has a way of coming back to bite you, like when it starts to rain while you are resting with a cup of tea and you have no choice but to grab clothes off the line and drop them into a dirty tub!

Well, I’ve written enough to make you decide to hire a camp laundry maid so I’ll sign off for now. I’d be interested to hear how you have decided to manage your laundry.

Connie, laundry maid-to-be

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