Sanitation is an essential aspect of survival, and this topic is poorly covered in most survival books. When it comes to dealing with dirty laundry, many people rely on their washing machines to clean their clothes. They can live without these modern appliances and only a few of them remember how our ancestors cleaned their laundry.
During my travels in India and Mexico, I had the opportunity to see how people live in poor districts. How they washed their clothes with hot water and soap and worked them by hand until they were clean. I’ve seen people wash their clothes in the stream using nothing more than rocks. It was a fascinating experience for me to see how they go by with only the minimum to survive. It also made me wonder how the modern man will deal with this situation if electricity suddenly stops flowing.
Your washing machine is not the most vital item during a survival scenario, but it does make things easier when it comes to doing laundry. Since most survival books are not covering this topic, I taught it would be a good idea to see what options we have for doing laundry when SHTF.
Dealing with Laundry after SHTF:
What type of fabrics are you working with?
This is a question that needs the right answer since it will make your life easier in the long run. Some fabrics clean up better than others, and specific stains are harder to remove than others. When it comes to survival gear, many prefer cotton and wool, as well as other natural materials. They are considered superior to any other fabrics although they are not as durable as polyesters. In poor countries, polyester clothes are quite common because they hold up better to rugged abuse, including being washed by stones.
To avoid dealing with delicate fabrics, read the label before you buy your “survival clothes.” The comfort and breathability of natural fabrics are worth the money, but they will not last as long as synthetics. Avoid buying clothes that should be taken to dry cleaner. I doubt you will find any open when it hits the fan.
Staying clean is harder than it seems
While exploring the great outdoors, your clothes will get dirty in no time, and you won’t always have soap and water with you. During a survival training in Arizona, our trainer showed us how to stay clean. We would remove our clothes, shake them out and let them bask in the sun for a bit. The next step was to turn them inside out and let them lay in the sun for an hour or two. And finally, with a bristle brush, we would dry scrub our bodies to remove dirt and dead skin cells. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but you will get used after a while, and it’s quite refreshing.
After doing all of this, he pulled out a bar of soap from his bag and told us: “a bar of soap is easy to carry and it will save you all of that.” There are endless options when it comes to bar and liquid soaps you could pick for your bug out bag. Make sure you always have some in your bag. The thing to keep in mind here is to bring some that won’t pollute the water and soil. There is no telling how much you would be spending in a specific area, and you don’t want to poison yourself.
Related reading: How to make soap with fat and ashes
Nature provides you with everything you need to stay clean
Not everyone has the time or inspiration to plan ahead, but there is still an option even for them. As I wrote in a previous article, you can find soap in nature, and there are various soap plants spread all across North America. These plants have been used for generation by the Native Americans and the first pioneers. You can do a little research and find out if you have soap plants in your region. The most known soap plants are:
- Mountain Lilac
- Buffalo Gourd
- Bouncing Bet
All across our country, there are quite a few plants that contain saponins (steroids that dissolve in water and create a stable froth). These plants will help you stay clean when exploring the great the outdoors so check with the botany departments from your local college to see what grows in your area.
Related article: How to find and use soap plants
Washing by hand is easy once you get the hang of it
This may seem like an exaggerated statement if you have to do laundry for a family of four. However, if you need to stay clean and there aren’t many clothes you can use the following trick. Instead of taking a shower, take a bath and get your dirty clothes into the bathtub with you. Hand wash each item while you take a bath and save both water and soap. It will require some serious squeezing and twisting, but it’s not a complicated process to get used to.
Another alternative would be to build your own off-grid washing machine or buy one that works. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make an off the grid washing machine and it should cost you around $5 to complete this project. You will need a simple plunger and a five-gallon bucket. Here is an article showing you how to build your own:
Related article: DIY Off the grid Washing Machine
And last but not least, you can get a washboard and keep it at your bug out location. If it helped your grandparents doing laundry efficiently, it should help you as well.
No soap? No problem!
Most often people will ask: What if I have no soap and I can’t find any soap plants? What then? Since this might happen when resources are scarce, you can just wash your laundry with water and scrub them with a rock. You will need to agitate the clothes and squeeze each item until the water gets dirty. If your clothes have stains, you can use small stones to remove those stains. Look for smooth stones with a surface that feels like fine pumice. Once you find the perfect stone, use it to rub out the stains in your clothes gently. You need to pay attention because if you rub too hard, you will ruin the fabric. Although this method works, don’t expect your clothes to be as clean as if they were washed at the local Laundromat.
While the clothes are still wet, find a sunny spot and hand the clothes on a line with the stain exposed to the sun. This should do the trick, and it’s a temporary solution till you get your hand on some soap.
Location, Location, Location.
Finding the right place where to you can do laundry is crucially important when you’re in the backcountry. Never wash your clothes in a stream because you will just poison those who might be drinking from it, further downstream. You could clean your dirty clothes in the stream only if you use local soap plants and only if you used in moderation.
Rather than polluting your water source, get a container (even a bucket works), fill it with water and let it sit in the sun for a bit. This will help warm the water and will make the cleaning process more manageable. You could also heat your water if you have the means to do so. For bathing and other tasks that require hot water, I recommend buying a portable solar shower.
Those living in the coastal areas will often use seawater to wash their clothes. Although this may seem practical, the salt from the water and extreme wind hitting the coastline will wreak havoc on your garments. Try to wash your clothes with fresh water as often as possible to avoid damaging the fabrics.
If you are preparedness minded, you should learn to live better with less. Instead of figuring out how to clean difficult stains from different fibers, buy clothes that are easy to clean. You can opt for wearability and practicality, but you should also keep in mind how difficult would be to wash those clothes by hand. Doing laundry in an austere environment was a very natural thing to do a few decades ago, and some people still do it today. The homeless and low-income people often wash their clothes by hand just to save a buck. Doing laundry may not look like something to worry about, but this practical survival skill is not only for those down on their luck.
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