Wash Day


Laundry View
Wash day starts early. The sooner I get the laundry up on the lines, the more likely it will be dry by the end of my day. My days are not measured by daylight because that would give me a never-ending day in the summer and only an hour or so in the winter. However, that’s another story in itself.

Rainwater bucket
Water Barrel
Wash day actually starts with the rain. Our rain collection system provides clearer water than we can get from the river, so it’s much better for laundry. However, in the winter, melting fresh snow does the trick. The water catchment system drains into a 5-gallon bucket under the cabin. Every time a bucket is full, we dump it into a large 35-gallon trash barrel. We try to be extremely vigilant about this when it rains. To have a bucket run over means wasted water, so we catch every drop we can.

Using an old, plastic, Folgers’ can (the 3 lb size is most useful), I dip out the water and pour it through a strainer, to catch any pine needles that may have floated down with the water off of the roof, into a large, steel, cooking pot. I carry that into the cabin and heat it up on the propane cook stove. I’ve actually gotten pretty good at knowing when it’s the right temperature without even touching it. The secret is that as soon as all of the cold moisture droplets on the pot have evaporated, it’s the perfect temperature to wash clothes. I don’t want it to boil, but I want the water to be hot enough to completely dissolve my homemade washing powder and clean the clothes well.
My proud propane stove moment, short-lived!
One particularly hot day, I decided to heat the water on our portable camp stove outside. My thought was that it would not only keep the cabin from heating up, but also prevent so many trips in and out of the house, every one of which lets in more flies and mosquitoes. We had just enough propane left in the canister for me to finish my four loads of laundry for the day. Being extremely proud of my enterprising effort, I anxiously told Gregg about it over dinner. He laughed and said that those little, green, propane canisters cost 20 bucks a piece at the AC Store in town. I swallowed hard and decided to always use the kitchen stove from now on.

Heating up water on the kitchen stove
While the water heats up, I get my laundry tub ready, fill it with clothes (it has a 5 lb capacity), pour in the detergent, and bring a chair from the front porch down to the wash area. The area where I wash laundry is five steps down from the cabin, on the deck that leads to the Lodge Walking Trail. It is a 12 ft square platform on which the generator and rainwater barrel sit and is the perfect place to let wash water drain off the edge and down the hill.

When the water is warm, I carry it out of the cabin with potholders and gently pour it into the washtub which I straddle with my legs to keep it from turning over while I fill it. It is a sealed round barrel that builds pressure from the hot water being sealed inside as I turn it over and over. I fill it with two-thirds of my heated water, saving the rest for the rinse cycle.

Washin' Clothes - 5lbs at a time.
Now the real work begins as I sit in the chair and roll the tub back and forth, round and round for five long minutes. Who needs a gym with resistance training classes when you’ve got a laundry barrel like this?! On a pretty morning, while turning that barrel, I look out at the dogs splashing at the edge of the river, and I am thankful. It’s one more mindful experience. When one has to really wash their clothes, not throw them in a machine, push a button, and walk away, clothes don’t look nearly as dirty at the end of every day. I have a set of “work” clothes and a set of  “clean clothes” that I wear again and again for several days.

After the five-minute wash cycle, it’s time to wring and rinse. Again, this is not a button on a machine. After inserting the drainpipe and opening the lid of the wash tub, I remove each item, one by one, and hand-wring it before placing it in a clean, empty pot like the one in which I heat the water. When everything has been rung out, I snap each item back into shape and put it back into the washtub with the rest of the now-luke-warm water, and give it a quick spin or two. At that point, it’s time to let the clothes sit for a minute while I refill the pot with water from the 35-gallon barrel and put it back on the kitchen stove to warm up for the next load. Five pounds of laundry is not very much – three shirts, two pairs of pants, and a pair of shorts fills it up, so I usually do three to four loads of laundry at a time.

While the next load of water is heating, I head back out to roll the tub back and forth, round and round for another five minutes. Whew! It’s time for the final wring dry. It’s a wet job and my hands get more of a workout than they did when I owned the bakery and shaped 40 loaves of bread at a time. But, it’s good, honest, hard work and I enjoy it, take pride in it, even revel in my good fortune to be this close to nature while doing laundry.

Wash Day!
After every piece is wrung out and snapped and put in the clean pot, I fill the tub with the next load and washing powder. Then, I’m off to hang the first batch on the clothesline, which is actually a combination of several lines hung around the porch and side of the house. Heavy items go on the porch where they’ll get the most sun and wind. Smaller items, like socks and underwear, can go around the side where the line is closer to the hillside.

The first load is done and I head back inside to get the water, which is probably just about the right temp! This process is repeated until the laundry is done, which takes about half an hour per load.

Clean fingernails have to be the best side benefit of doing laundry by hand. The major downers are the super-dry hands. Thankfully, I keep plenty of lotion around!


Heavy items like jeans and Carhartt work pants can take up to two days to dry, and that’s with 24-hours of daylight! Alas, it is finished! Time to go work in the garden.

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