Handwashing Laundry

Yesterday I received birthday presents from my family, and they were kind enough to get me just what I asked for: new toys for the new RV life.

While my sister makes fun of me for my list of practical items, I was seriously stoked.  These are the tools I’m using to build my new dream-chasing life.  They’re my baby steps to leaving behind bourgeoisie mediocrity.  I nearly jumped for joy as I opened them!

I couldn’t wait to do laundry!  This was the first time, so I don’t know what load size will be optimum, or how long a day’s worth of laundry will take me, but we did the trial run with five flat diapers and about as many cloth wipes, plus one cloth liner.

My parents thoughtfully provided a 5 gallon bucket with the breathing mobile washer, and we put it in the bathtub to contain splashes.    With only a couple gallons of water, nothing splashed out so now I know we don’t need the bathtub precaution, or a lid with a hole in it (which I thought we might want).

Putting the six year old to work.

I used four soap nuts, which is what I use in our washing machine.  I don’t know of anyone who has combined these two uncommon laundry methods–soapnuts and hand washing–but I love my soapnuts and don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work.  In fact, the combo seemed to be a great success.  After a minute or two of plunging, the formerly strongly smelling cloth smelled clean and pure!

I emptied the water from the bucket and filled it with rinse water.  I’m not sure that this will be necessary with soap nuts for detergent.  Soap nuts do not leave any residue in the cloth that needs to be rinsed out, and as I said, the laundry was already smelling like a spring morning.  The water I dumped out was dirty.  After doing a rinse cycle (just another minute of plunging in the fresh water), I emptied the bucket again and this water appeared to be clean.

For those who want a better idea of how this device works, here’s a YouTube video:

Next I searched for a place to use the spin dryer.  I intended to put it in the bathtub, too, but the cord wouldn’t reach an outlet from there.  The spin dryer spits out water, which is why I thought to use it in the tub.  We eventually settled on the kitchen counter as the perfect location, with the empty tube hanging down into the sink.  It was easy enough to transfer the wet diapers to the spinner–I squeezed the water out first, which in retrospect I think was unnecessary because the spinner is equipped to handle water.  Set the timer for two minutes, and the thing turned on, releasing astonishing amounts of water into the sink, and humming a pleasant, quiet hum.

The diapers came out damp and I hung them over the shower curtain to finish drying.  They definitely aren’t dripping–the spinner did a great job and if there was any sun today, I’m sure I could have had them completely dry in 10 or 20 minutes outside.

So, I’m happy with the equipment.  The plunger shaped washer unscrews so that the base and the stick can be stored separately–nice feature for a gal moving into a 22′ home.

The spinner is tiny, but for our new home it’s kind of huge (18 inches tall).  I’m not sure where we’re going to keep it but I’m pretty sure it will be an invaluable part of our routine and worth making room for.  I don’t know of any of our cabinets it will fit in, except maybe the closet, but as the tiny closet is our only clothes storage, it will probably be full of clothes.  The spinner might fit under one of the bench seats at the dinette (each seat opens up like a chest for storage), but with vegetable oil collecting equipment in one seat, and my plans to store baby wrap inventory in the second, I don’t know about that.  It may be that the spinner lives in our shower (which we will not be using so often), and when we need the shower we’ll have to take the spinner out and set it on the floor/bed/table/kitchen counter.

With the spinner taking up so much room, I don’t know that we’ll have space for a five gallon bucket to wash in.  The 5 gallon bucket is about as big as the spinner (and, no, the spinner does not conveniently fit inside).  Maybe a smaller bucket (which might need a lid with a hole to contain splashes) would suffice and could be stored under the bathroom sink.  Or maybe the five gallon bucket could be secured to the outside of the motorhome somehow, being light when empty and durable in that plastic bucket kind of way.  Our shower has a little square bathtub which would work great instead of a bucket, but then there’s no easy way to dispose of the wash water without filling up our gray water tank, and I liked the idea of avoiding that since we’ll be boondocking a lot and not want to have to dump any more often than necessary.  Further brainstorming is required here.

For drying diapers and clothes after washing, I plan to get an outdoor clothesline and an indoor one for when we can’t hang outside.  We may attach a retracting clothesline to the outside of the motorhome that can be pulled out to hook onto a friendly nearby tree.    The indoor clothesline solution might be a simple tension rod in the shower (and the shower rod itself as a second drying rack since the clothes will not be dripping), or something snazzier like this telescoping rack.  So many possibilities.

Now that I’ve used my new laundry supplies, I’m thinking that once we’re on the road, it might work well to do laundry once a day, and that our trips to the laundromat will be infrequent indeed.  Every day may sound like a lot of work, but both the washer and spinner are so quick and effective, that I think even several loads could be accomplished without too great a time outlay, and by keeping up every day, we’ll not have the problem of storing dirty laundry, and we can get away with fewer changes of clothes–both important in our tiny home.

I should also mention that I don’t expect to wash everything we wore each day.  I’m a believer in re-wearing clothes if they don’t look or smell dirty.  Undergarments excepted.  Especially the bulkier items that would fill up a load in my new washing/drying system, can be re-used (thinking jeans here).  So the daily laundry would likely be a few loads of diapers (we’ll have two in diapers but the flats we use are not bulky, the wool covers do not need to be washed daily, and we practice elimination communication with our babies, which reduces the number of diapers we go through), a load of clothes including underwear/socks and some shirts, and maybe another load of rags (we don’t use papertowels or napkins).

I’m pretty happy to find a laundry solution that is:

  • more convenient than a laundromat
  • more sanitary than a laundromat (and free from scents/chemicals)
  • faster than conventional washers/dryers
  • lighter on the planet than conventional laundry methods (much less water, much less energy)
  • cheap and
  • compatible with our low-electric needs since we plan to rely on solar for most of our energy


  1. Molly Cox
    March 28, 2011

    Hey there! I’ve been wanting to leave you a message and this time, with this post I feel I could definitely offer some encouragement! I lived in southern Mexico for a while in a small indigenous rancho where washing your clothes by hand (no plunger-washer avail.) was the only way it was done! Life there was very minimalist and taught me a lot about real needs and wants. Every one had only a hand full of outfits for specific occations each; school uniform, play outfit, party/holiday attire, work wear, etc. Also, daily washing was just the norm. We (as in all the women of the family including all school age boys) would wake up, start a fire to get coffee water boiling, gather yesterday’s clothes (or for school age children their own uniforms) and get to washing! In about an hour everything would be dry and we’d be on to other things like making tortillas or getting my baby to walk to her Tias and primos… Anyway… I wanted to share this with you because I think what you want to do is normal in most places but here- the land of PLENTY! Anyway, I love everything you’re about and am sooo looking forward to following your journey through this blog and wishing I could be travelling with you! God bless… (Oh, and if you didn’t see my other note, thanks again for that beautiful wrap… and sorry this note is so long!)

    1. Free Range Dreams
      March 29, 2011

      Thank you, Molly–I love this note! When someone asks me how my kids will do with so few toys, or how we’ll manage with so little *whatever* I often think that we will still have more possessions in our little RV than many happy people in the world. Thanks for contributing to our adventure blog here, and also for participating in my other passion (Wrap Your Baby)! It’s so good to have you!

  2. aimeeed
    March 28, 2011

    I love it! I just got a Breathing Washer thing this week too. We’ve only tried it on one load (toddler overalls, a onesie, my daughters shirt, my husband’s very dirty work sock, and a stinky kitchen rag). It was an experiment, which is why it was such a mix of stuff. Everything did great, except the kitchen rag was still a bit stinky, but I think would have smelled fine if it had dried in the sun rather than by the fire. But I think the spinner is really neat. Let us know if it continues to serve you well. I’m hoping to avoid the laundrymat too on our extended camping trips. I think I’ll wash diapers in it next. May have to try the soap nuts.

    Happy Birthday and I’m glad to see you closing in on your dreams.

  3. Meredith
    March 29, 2011

    You’re really making things work for your dreams. Now I’ve got two people who are getting ready to live their dreams (a blogging friend is going to be living on a sail boat in the near future, and she’ll be sailing around the Caribbean), which is all the more reason for me to continue dreaming big.

    Happy Birthday!

  4. Free Range Dreams
    March 29, 2011

    Update: today I needed to wash a couple of wool covers (diaper covers) and was ready to do the usual simple handwash routine when I remembered that the breathing mobile washer promotes itself as being useful for delicates. Why not? I gave it a go and it worked great–this time with Sudz n Dudz liquid wool wash instead of soapnuts. And then, I thought, the spinner doesn’t use any heat, I bet it would be safe for my wool–and I gave the covers a spin too. They are going to be dry so much sooner (since they need to air dry) and all thanks to less than a minute of quiet spinning! Love it!

  5. Mariza (MB)
    March 29, 2011

    Hi Diana,

    I’m so happy you liked the manual washer! I love mine, too. It’s amazing how fast the clothes can be washed with that thing.
    I had never heard of the soapnuts! I’m going to try them! Thanks for sharing!
    About washing every day, that’s what I’m planning on doing, too. And what Molly says, that’s so true. I grew up in Mexico and my mom washed clothes every day. She had a washer and a dryer, but she never used the dryer (she used a line to dry the clothes). She did use the washer, but there was a lot of hand washing when I was growing up. My mom never believed in putting the underwear in the washer. She got me used to washing my underwear when I took a shower. To wash it with hand soap so the underwear would be soft and clean. I stopped doing that when I moved to the USA, but I can go back to that!
    I want to know more about the solar shower!!! please try it and share how it is. I remember seeing a shower on Amazon, but it didn’t say it was solar and it came with a cover/tent type of thing? I don’t know. But please try your solar shower and tell me how it is.
    – Mariza


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