Midnight Pub

Doin' Laundry


Our washing machine broke several months ago. I tore it apart to check some of the most common mechanical issues the model had, but I suspect it's some sensor or other electronic component. It's twelve years old, sadly about as long as one could ask a modern appliance to last, so I don't think it's worth spending the roughly $500 USD it would cost to repair.

I went to a few local appliance stores to see what they had, and the answer was nothing. I was told, upfront, that eighty percent of what was shown on the floor was simply unavailable due to supply chain issues. Very low end and very high end machines were available in small quantities.

This is the point at which I had to think about to what degree I wanted to embody my dislike of complex machines in my own life. This took the form of summoning the courage to ask my wife if she was comfortable with me hand-washing our laundry for a while. She was leery, but agreed to give it a try.

Two cheap laundry sinks, a 'rapid washer' (plunger looking thing that draws water through the clothes), one wringer, and a whole lot of almost-certainly-not-to-code plumbing later, I had a hand-washing machine.

Things I have learned:

DO NOT USE TOO MUCH SOAP, especially if you are using up your leftover high efficiency washing machine soap. You will regret this with every fiber of your being after your fourth or fifth rinse to try and get all of the soap residue out. I start with a tablespoon per load, roughly.

Don't let the laundry pile up. Smaller loads are much easier to clean by hand. There's a kind of optimal clothes/water ratio that allows for good agitation. The larger a load you want to do, the bigger a sink or tub you’re going to need.

Hand washing with the right equipment takes about the same amount of time and water as machine washing, but you're providing all the power. It's low-intensity labor, but after 3-4 loads, I’m tired! Really dirty loads are allowed to soak overnight before washing.

Singing when washing is a great way to pass the time. Work songs, simple spirituals, anything that lends itself to the rhythm of pushing the agitator. Verbose songs do not work so well—Sondheim, though I love him dearly, is not laundry-appropriate. Sea shanties are better.

I use a wringer due to arthritis in my thumbs, but you can hand-wring most things. Smalls and base layers are easy to wring, heavy cottons are hard. I can get my jeans and my wife’s heavy hoodies through the wringer, but carefully—roller tension needs constant adjustment when feeding heavy things with big lumpy seams. Wet flannel sheets are horrors beyond the ken of humanity, so those will go to the laundromat in the future.

You will want a second rinse, as first rinse water is often pretty mungy. You should wring between wash and first rinse, but it’s not usually necessary between first rinse and second. If you are using a two-sink setup, re-use your second rinse water as wash water for the next load! I was draining and refilling the sink until my wife pointed out that this was silly and wasteful.

We still have a clothes drier. It comes in handy in winter when there is not enough warm daylight to dry the clothes on the clothsline completely. Hopefully in the summer I shouldn’t need it except to fluff towels. I don't mind the scratchiness of line-dried cotton towels, wife very much does.


Only a few people have found out I do this, and the reactions span from “yeah that sounds like something you’d do” to absolute and uncomprehending horror.

I perceive the situation this way: I can work a full-time 'real job' to earn enough money to buy a series of complicated machines that will perform this necessary task, or I can largely skip the 'job' step and just do the work myself with simple tools. It's more physical labor, but what is this flesh for?

Now here's where I need to say I recognize that it is a privilege to have the space, time, and physical health to do the aforementioned. I am deeply grateful for that. Also, while this is absolutely manageable for two people, if I had a family of 4 or more to wash clothes for, you're goddamned right I would scrape together the money for a washing machine :)

Whooo, that was more talking than I expected to do. Bartender, I think...just ice tea this time. No sugar, please.


What a fascinating experiment/experience! I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing it.



What a wonderful story and tutorial, thanks for sharing!