One of our major goals when moving to our homestead was to be as self-sufficient as possible. We want to be able to live comfortably without outside resources or dependence upon anything that cannot be produced locally.
This doesn't mean we shun everything that is "modern," nor do we reject modern technology. We have solar-powered electricity to power our electric refrigerator, computers, television, Blue Ray player, electric lights, fans, grain mill, and dozens of other modern appliances, tools and vehicles. However, we have back-up systems to provide for our every need that have no dependence on any modern power source.
We haul all of our drinking water and utilize captured and stored rain water for the rest of our needs. Therefore, even though we have an automatic washer, we use it only when water is plentiful. Even when recycling the rinse water for the wash cycle, it uses prodigious amounts of water, normally requiring 80 gallons of water for three loads of clothing. Plus it requires electricity to run.
Despite the water waste and convenience, it doesn't get clothes clean unless you also use a dryer. During the spin cycle on an automatic washer, your clothes act as a filter to trap lint and dirt. A dryer will tumble the clothes, shaking off the lint from the wash and trapping it in the dryer filter. If you hang your clothes to dry like we do that lint is dried into the fabric. So even though we have an automatic washer, we use it only occasionally.
We've entertained the idea of purchasing a wringer washer, but new ones are pricey and often cheaply made, and used ones tend to be well-used with a short life expectancy. The other thing is that a wringer washer still needs electricity to operate. So even if we had one we'd still want something else for a self-sufficient back-up.
You can peruse the Lehman's catalog and do some searching on the web, but human-powered versions of wringer washers are spendy and not much better than our method. There are those that operate using small gas engines, but then we're back at square one regarding self-sufficiency.
We tried several different laundry methods including washboards (lots of work and very hard on clothes and hands) and other hand wash methods. We finally settled on our current way as the best combination of efficiency, money and time. The added bonus is that we require only 14 gallons of water to do the laundry.
We use two washtubs mounted on a frame with a hand-cranked wringer between them. It's a decent method, and we kept up with laundry when we had four teens at home and still use this method with just me, my wife and our 3-year-old grandson living under one roof.
The washtubs are easy to find from multiple outlets. Our most recent washtub purchase was at a Wal-Mart store in Nevada. We've also seen them at garage sales and hardware stores. The frame they are sitting on is an old ladder nailed between two trees. In winter, we move them indoors to a wood frame built just for this purpose.
The wringer was purchased at Lehman's. They have different models. The one we purchased is their best model, and we'd recommend it for anyone else as well. You can also find fully functional antique wringers at yard sales or on eBay. Our wringer is getting old and has some issues. Still it functions well. The only thing that would be better is one of the old chamois cloth wringers found at gas stations. If you know where one is available, contact me. I've been wanting one for years!
The Rapid Washer is also a purchase from Lehman's. They may be available elsewhere as well. They do rust out eventually so you might want to get two if you're stocking up for the long term. We've tried toilet plungers, canoe paddles, sticks, and everything else, but in our experience nothing works as well as a Rapid Washer. We've seen a lot of people promote toilet plungers for agitating your clothes, but in our experience these are the worst choice for the job.
A brush is a good addition as well. If you have a particularly soiled item you can brush some detergent into the spot and it will come out squeaky clean.
Large items like blankets, coats, and denim jeans or overalls are difficult to run through the wringer so we often just let them hang a few minutes after removing them from the wash tub. That way most of the water runs off before you put them in the rinse water. Wringers are also hard on zippers (they are often mangled by the pinching force of the wringer).
It doesn't take as long as a person might think. A few minutes of plunging the clothes, running them through the wringer then repeating the process in the rinse water. From there they are hung out to dry.
Obviously doing the laundry like this isn't for everyone. It works for us because our job and our lifestyle are the same. Rather than work a 9 to 5 job, this is our job. It's labor intensive and there are stretches of time when we work non-stop from the time we get up to the time we go to bed, but overall we put in less time providing for our needs than the person working a "real" job.
We have been known to occasionally use a laundromat if we get behind, and when water is plentiful we sometimes use the automatic washer, but if, like us, you're striving to be as self-sufficient and conservation minded as possible, this is just another, grid-free and water conserving option for taking care of an essential task.
For a deeper look into the author's lifestyle visit his blog at: Living Life Off Grid