By Hand: Trials and Travails in Dishes and Laundry

There are things you expect living alone. Talking to the cat, for instance. Cooking smaller meals. Determining things like bedtime and temperature on your own (which is nice, really).  Then there is the business of chores. There’s no one to wheedle into taking out the trash or doing the dishes. Unless you count wheedling myself? I tried wheedling the cat but she just stared at me and went back to sleep. She also doesn’t have opposable thumbs.

I don’t mind cleaning much, especially because I now get to decide when and how things get done. Like many studio apartments, mine does not have a dishwasher or a washer/dryer. There is a coin-op washer/dryer in the basement, but honestly it creeps me out. The basement of my office building in DC gave me the same vibe. Like it has FUTURE CRIME SCENE scrawled on the walls. I.e., these places are the reason basements have a bad rep.

Then again, I am experimenting with lifestyle here, so the lack of appliances isn’t such a bad thing. Air-drying your dishes and clothes is  obviously more energy efficient — and better for your clothes. Washing by hand is another matter. I think it mostly depends on method. And what appliances you have available. (See this article for comparisons.) You could certainly waste as much water washing by hand. But if you’re mindful, there is an opportunity to reduce energy/water use.

(For me, it also cheaper. The landlord pays for water so washing laundry by hand is essentially free, minus the cost of cleaning products.)

My approach to dishes is this: I wash once a day, usually in the morning. I wash all of the dishes from the day before. I rinse briefly after use. If something needs to be soaked (rarely), I soak it overnight.  I soap everything first and then I rinse — mostly to avoid leaving the water running needlessly.  I use a dish tub in the sink, which holds about 3 gallons of water. The internet tells me* that the average dishwasher uses 15 gallons of water per load (some newer models, less).  If I use 4-6 gallons per wash, then that’s pretty good, no?

Of course, hand-washing dishes is not an ordeal. Most people hand-wash some dishes.

Laundry, on the other hand, has been a bit more challenging. I have a lot of hand-wash only clothing, so I knew I would be doing some laundry in the sink. After having a look at the coin-op appliances, though, I think I’m going to endeavor to all of my laundry by hand. This means: small loads, progressively through the week. My first adventure in doing laundry by hand was Monday night. I did a load of whites in the bathroom sink. It took a minute for the water to heat up so that was water wasted. It occurred to me later to heat some water first in the electric kettle and then pour it into the sink. More energy use, yes, but less water. That’s often a trade-off in my experience.

Washing your clothes isn’t terribly labor-intensive but it is work. The best method I found was that you should work the soap into your clothes the same way you knead bread. Note: For this reason, don’t overfill the sink. I learned this the hard way. Then rinse until the water runs clean. And squish the clean water out of the clothes. For particularly damp or heavy clothing, roll the article in a towel and then step on it (that was fun).  I did 3 sink-fulls of laundry, which took about 45 minutes. Then I set up my drying rack (something like this, inherited from my mother, who has better sense than to hand-wash clothing) in the bathtub and hung the damp clothes in front of the fan.

My bathroom sink holds about 2 gallons of water. For a small load, that’s 4 gallons total. I’d say 4 loads of hand-washed clothing would amount to one regular load. 16 gallons. The internet tells me* your average washing machine uses 43 gallons of water (new models, less).

A little while later, I had a panic attack, thinking that some little dark spots were mold (it turns out they were lint). I hung the offending pieces of clothing directly over my fans and the air conditioner (set to fan on high). If you need to speed dry things, especially in a humid environment, I recommend this method. It took about 30 minutes.

(I called my mother about the mold. This is why we have mothers. Or nongendered nurturers. Whatever you like.)

Funny thing: the texture of the air-dried clothes reminds me of studying abroad in Italy. Most European households have washers but not dryers and they line-dry their clothes. I would be happy to employ this method — I recommend it if it’s an option for you — but the terms of my lease prohibit me from hanging clothes outside.

Talk to me in a year and I might have other ideas about this but I’d say if you can’t afford a newer, more environmentally friendly brand of appliance or you want to reduce your water use, hand-washing is a viable option. The trade, of course, is time and energy. And the more clothes you have to wash, the more time and energy you have to invest. Also, with air-drying, the clothes aren’t immediately available to wear, so prior planning is important.

*A note about numbers: I’m not an environmental scientist. For the water numbers, I used the Tampa, FL Water Use Calculator. It’s kind of a neat tool…


4 thoughts on “By Hand: Trials and Travails in Dishes and Laundry

  1. Leaving wet clothes over vents works best in winter when the air is dry and the heaters are on – maybe even better than actual dryers.

    Also good to note: you can re-wear clothes many times, especially if you’re nice to them and hang them up after wearing them. This cuts down on washing larger items like jeans.

    • Both good points! The fan mode on the AC worked pretty well and the fans were fantastic.

      And yes, re-wearing clothes, especially when they haven’t gotten dirty, is pretty key.

  2. Air drying your clothes in your appt. will also lead to humidity increases which can either help to cool or heat your appt. 🙂

    As an really (traditionally Cheryl) nerdy aside… the new Sims 3 game includes laundry as a task. They also added the new “eco-friendly” trait and lines to dry your clothes on (in addition to recycling bins).

  3. Pingback: Continued Adventures in Laundry « She who sleeps does not change the world

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