What I Learnt Hand Washing For 6 Weeks

Leave it to my washing machine to have a breakdown in a lockdown. For various reasons I didn’t via the landlord get a new machine until a few weeks ago, making in about 6-7 weeks of hand washing. With my 6-7 weeks experience of hand washing I’m sharing what I learnt manually washing clothes, towels and linen. Exciting huh?!

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Washing machines revolutionised the world. They free up time. They do the dirty hard work. All you have to do is pop the load in the machine, press a few buttons, leave it to do it’s thing, you go do other stuff until it bleeps all done, either air dry every thing or tumble dry. Done. I line dry which requires:

Timing. I couldn’t wring all the water out. It’s physically impossible. Not even a washing machine can unless it tumble dries too. I had to check the weather a few days ahead to plan laundry days for drying on the balcony. Thankfully I have a bath and the washing rack fitted in the bath to catch the run off. However leaving like that overnight nothing dried. I could have put a towel underneath the rack and let it air dry in the living room, but that would result in parquet water damage. Thankfully there were only a couple of stormy days and I wasn’t wearing much. Clothes were on repeat in lockdown and it was mostly lounge clothes. No pretty outfits. 

I already hand wash my bras so I thought I had how to hand wash down. Nope. You need buckets. A few buckets. I already had a bucket and salad spinner for help drying my bras (trust me. It’s a game changer!) but soon realised I need another. Thankfully my local big supermarket, the cleaning bucket isle wasn’t tapped off out of bounds. With 3 buckets, bowls I learnt:

You have to run an little bath with liquid (preferably environmentally friendly laundry detergent. I use magnesium balls (I use another brand) learning buying the gentlest for sensitive skin liquid detergent again is expensive) then add the clothes. Rather than dump them all in, each individual item you swish around a little, rub fabric together to start to lift dirt, repeat a few times like how a machine does. When all the items are in, swish them around some more. I found with towels I had, dump the water and start again with the detergent. One ‘wash’ wasn’t enough. I then left them overnight for the detergent to I dunno, lift anything else with enzymes. That was the easy part.

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Rinsing is the harder part. I’m dreading the next water bill. Although it’ll be interesting to see if hand washing vs washing machine uses more water. To ensure all the detergent is removed you have to rinse, rinse, rinse baby. I found the easiest way again was individually as each item and type of fabric holds the detergent at different rates. Cotton takes forever to rinse out, synthetics are easier to rinse. Basically in the bowl run water while swishing, swirling, cursing, massaging, kneading out detergent until the water in the bowl is clear. I often stopped the water, did some kneading, tip that water out and start again until again the water is clear. Bath towels, 4 hand towels, a few tea towels took about 30 minutes all up to rinse out. This may sound mad, but if I could have I would have whirled the clothes overhead like a lasso to wring out the water. Something, probably the only thing I remember from primary school or high school that was real world useful. It would have stretched them though. A random thing to remember. One of my teachers just telling a story I think related to how water stays in a bucket if you spin it in circles over head. 

My hands suffered. March and beginning of April was chilly. My hands get chapped in the winter regardless of how much creams and lotions I use (even dusting with a wet cloth does it). The hot water depending on how cold my hands were stung, my hands got red red. Luke warm water wasn’t always enough for the initial wash. I used cold to luke water rinsing which did its own damage. Along with wringing out all the water my hands got chapped due to just the air temp. I even got friction burns between my thumb and forefinger wringing out towels (little violin). I’m sure if it was the warmer months the machine broke down, my hands would be looking a few years younger. No amount of hydrations lotions and creams helped. I ended up applying a balm and using cotton gloves overnight to nurse them back. 

How much dye is in clothes even after you’ve washed them numerous times before. Biggest culprits, sportswear or synthetic fabrics. My black Fabletics leggings turned the water black every time. I have noticed bras are the same and wash lighter bras separate. As I was mostly in lounge wear there wasn’t much separating clothes before washing so nothing really got dulled black or grey. Socks and knickers I washed separate to each other and everything else. This I noticed when I started machine washing again. I know why now not to put black leggings in with lighter coloured items. Nat, that’s standard 101 washing no no. Take example the pink sports bra in the photo below. It dyed the water hot pink, yet the dye didn’t transfer to any other fabric in the bowl. Not even cotton. The bra retained its colour:

Salad spinner bowl acting as washing bowl

Hand washing retains colour. I’ve noticed with a few brightly colours sports bras they faded in the wash usually after the first wash. The pink sports bra, while it leaked dye, it kept its colour. This was new purchase during lockdown and I was surprised there was no colour fade. Only when I machine washed it, I noticed it faded. The new machine however has colour programmes so that will be interesting to see how that works. But I don’t always have enough light coloured clothes for one load so it all goes in one wash. Cotton knickers for some reason always seem to retain colour when cotton t shirts you have to be careful with. 

You don’t see the run off dye machine washing so it was an eye opener just how much dye is polluting the water. Not just from me washing clothes, in the production too. How strong and toxic are those dyes, they’re still rinsing out long after the garment’s made?

I could hand wash everything apart from duvet covers and sheets. No launderettes were open. I could have ran up and down them in bath washing and rinsing like grapes but I drew the line. I also had no where to dry dry the duvet cover as no way could I have wrung all the water out. Even on the drying rack on the balcony would have taken days to dry and I had knickers to wash. I ended up alternating sleeping under the duvet and on top of the duvet each night. I used up however the other duvet covers and sheets pretty quick so had to urgh, go a few weeks not changing the sheets. Trust me when the machine arrived all linen got a hot wash I only usually do for towels. The mattress got sprinkled with bicarb soda to soak urgh stuff up, left for an hour before I vacuumed it up. TMI? Just prepping ya if your machine breaks down in a lockdown. 

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It’s clearer to see how much detergent you use depends on how soft the clothes will be. But for sure back to machine washing with magnesium pellets (post to come!) clothes feel cleaner. 

Sport socks if you leave them to soak too long start to smell weird. Occasionally sportswear had the same smell. Not the wet dogs smell if you leave washing in the machine too long before emptying. I was too lazy to rewash soak them as also I was running out of socks so I just air dried them in the sun and the smell went. They were like sportswear the easiest to rinse out. Cotton even a t-shirt you’re there for a little longer.

Hand washing over a bath is backbreaking if you do it everyday for hours or more. That’s what our great great grandmas (I’m sure back then few Grandad’s helped) and ancestors did to have clean clothes. Bending over a bath (our ancestors a stream, river, well, laundry met up place), even crouching down to rinse, my back wasn’t happy when I got up. I got bored too and it was just my washing. Imagine a whole family’s laundry to hand wash. Shudder. That’s why washing machines revolutionised the world. They freed up time, energy and backs. However I survived. If the situation ever arises again I’ll be fine. It’s an inconvenience for sure but you gotta do what you gotta do. 

You still end up with odd socks. 

Are you a machine washer or hand washer? I machine wash everything apart from bras and delicate tops. Swimwear I hand wash until it needs a good clean.

Me the day I did my first clothes load after the new washing machine came. I was smiling tossing my knickers in the machine!

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  1. says:

    Oh my. When I started reading I was thinking, “Even bath towels and linen??”. I would have used all my linen and then reused them a bit more if the washing machine was still not available. Totally not judging you for not changing. For bath towels, I would have probably gone the Chinese/Japanese way: use a small size towel!

    Glad you are back to modern times now!!! BTW I don’t think people had so many clothes before washing machine times, and also they probably wore the same outfit for days and it was ok. We are in an age of overcleanliness now 😛

    1. says:

      It was too cold for a tiny towel! All my hand towels (I rotate 4 each week) were either in use for other uses or in the wash! It was easier just to wash them. I did use the linen more. I have 2 sets so used the 1st as long as I could until I couldn’t bear it anymore! TMI!!!

      I think you’re right about old times. I couldn’t do that. The way the clothes start to itch if you don’t wash them often, smell, shudder!

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