The Benefits of Washing Clothes by Hand

breathing hand washerThere was only a half a load of laundry and I decided to wash it by hand rather than use the washer.

The bathtub was my container of choice, and I decided to use a plunger to work the clothes in the hot water. Now, I’ve washed clothes by hand before – quite a few times, as a matter of fact. I used to own a washboard, a tub and a hand wringer, but when I moved to town, modern conveniences and all that mythology was calling me, so I got rid of both the washboard and wringer.

Anyway… the bathtub worked great, except that I have one of those push in plugs and when I caught it with the plunger, it came loose and the water started draining. The plunger worked fine, too, except that if I wasn’t careful it would stick to the bottom of the tub and I’d have to pry or pull it loose with a mighty splash. (Lehmans has a real laundry plunger called a “Breathing Washer,” and it won’t stick to the bathtub!)

I learned a few things that I’d either forgotten or hadn’t taken the time to notice before. One is that if you have a basement laundry and you’re washing clothes upstairs, you really should bring up the laundry soap when you bring up the dirty clothes. And bring up the basket at the same time. And any other laundry aids you might need.

Our Amish-made laundry lug goes from the bedroom or bathroom, to the washing machine, out to the clothesline and back in again. Durable and versatile, it's made just a few miles from our store in Ohio.
Our Amish-made laundry lug goes from the bedroom or bathroom, to the washing machine, out to the clothesline and back in again. Durable and versatile, it’s made just a few miles from our store in Ohio.

I forgot to bring up the basket when I brought up the detergent and I forgot to bring up the fabric softener when I brought up the basket. Washing clothes isn’t the hardest job in the world, but running up and down stairs in the midst of it makes it a little harder.

The benefit of washing clothes by hand

Washing clothes by hand has some definite advantages, nevertheless.

  1. One is that you find minor problems before they become major problems. As I was checking to be sure the socks were clean, I noticed that one of them was wearing thin at the heel. I will put that back when it’s dry and darn it before wearing it again. This is a sock that I knitted from some mystery yarn a couple of years ago, so it will be worth darning although it looks like it won’t wear as well as those made from sock yarn.
  2. Another benefit to washing clothes by hand is that most fabrics won’t pill as they do in washing machines.
  3. And third, while scrubbing dirty socks isn’t my choice of fun exercise, it is exercise. In this day of computers and push-a-button, turn-a-dial work, a little exercise doesn’t hurt.
Find clothesline kits, pulleys, wooden clothes dryers and clothespins at!
Find clothesline kits, pulleys, wooden clothes dryers and clothespins at!

The last point is one that maybe not everyone can appreciate. I had a moment of utter pride in a job well done when I hung the clothes out to dry. Clothes hanging on a clothesline make me smile anyway, and to think that I’d done it from start to finish…

(Editor’s Note: This post first published in 2007.)

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16 years ago

I am inspired that you hand washed a load laundry. I make our own laundry detergent, so I guess that is naturally the next step. We are a family of five, three of which are boys, and my daughter and I are not afraid of getting dirty by any means. I would think that washing clothes by hand would help them last longer too.

16 years ago

I started doing laundry by hand out of necessaity; my washing machine tore up. I have been hanging my clothes out side for a couple of years and really like the benefits of line drying. The last time my machine died on me I used the bathtub but this time I got smart. I got two of my daughter’s rubbermaid containers and use one for washing and the other for rinsing; all this done in the tub for easy draining of the water. The next thing I’d like to try is making my own laundry detergent. Anyone have any success/failure stories they’d like to share on homemade detergent?

16 years ago

Hooray for washing by hand! I live in New York City and started washing by hand because I was tired of commercial washers and dryers beating our clothes up!

We are a family of four and I’ve been washing clothes with the wonderwash hand crank machine for 9 months. I also bought a spin dryer from Laundry alternative and that’s a huge timesaver. I can wash, spin and hang a load of clothes in 15 minutes and they’re usually bone dry in only a few hours. All my city friends think I’m crazy, but our clothes last so much longer now. I’ve also started making my own detergent and fabric softener. Here are the recipes I use:

Powdered Laundry detergent


2/3 bar Fels Naptha Soap (equivalent of 1 cup grated)
½ Cup 20 Mule Team Borax
½ Cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Container large enough to hold 2 cups of laundry detergent

Grate the Fels Naptha soap with a grater or use a food processor. Approximately 2/3 of a bar of soap will make 1 cup of grated soap.
Add the ½ cup of Borax and ½ cup of washing soda to the grated soap.
Shake and/or mix well
One tablespoon of detergent is sufficient per load of wash. If you have a high-efficiency machine, you might want to experiment with using a little less detergent for normal loads. If your clothes come out feeling stiff, lower the amount of detergent. For clothes that are heavily soiled, add a teaspoon more of the detergent..

The recipe yields 2 cups of laundry detergent. If you use 1 tablespoon per load, you will be able to wash 32 loads of clothes.

20 Mule Team Borax: $2.50 for 70 oz. – Cost per batch: .14 (4 oz needed for recipe)
Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda: $2.50 for 55 oz. Cost per batch .18.(4 oz needed for recipe)
Fels Naphtha: $1.24 per bar. Cost per batch: .83 (2/3 bar of soap needed for recipe) *
Total cost to make: $1.15 Yields 2 cups which translates to 3.5 cents per load.

Use 2 bars of soap and triple the recipe


6 cups of water
3 cups of vinegar
2 cups of any hair conditioner

Mix this in a gallon container and stir. Do not shake, this will cause foaming.

Use in the same amount you would commercial fabric softener.

Happy laundering!

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