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Hand Washing Clothes, Brazilian Style!

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

Hanging laundry

Hanging laundry

Here in the region of Brazil where I live, there are many woman who still wash all their clothes by hand. It is common to see women washing clothes in lakes or on their front porch in a large bowl. It was this skill I needed when I first arrived in our new home.

Shortly after arriving we bought the necessities, a refrigerator, a stove, and a plastic table and chairs. Our furniture was still sailing across the Atlantic on its way to the nearest port in Brazil. Among our belongings was our washing machine. I never felt emotionally attached to an appliance before but I was missing that machine.

Our Lucky Day

To the rear of our house is a double sink with a ridged area for washing clothes. Having only ever washed, a few delicate items before by hand, I was out of my depth when I was faced with double sheets and a whole washing basket full of dirty clothes. I needed to call in extra help.

As luck would have it a small man named José, was doing some building work for us and suggested his wife could help me. He was a friendly man who's slight build was compensated for with a bushy mustache. He wore a straw hat that had been shaped into a cowboy hat by using cable ties.

He said he would send his wife around tomorrow.

The Washerwoman Cometh

It is often said that a married couple look similar after many years of marriage. This was not the case with these two.

This was a formidable woman walking up the driveway. She must have weighed three times what her husband did. Her ample bosom that had fed 5 children (and possibly smothered others) was emphasized by the low cut purple Lycra top that was obviously 3 sizes too small for her. To say she was top heavy isn't correct because she had a counterbalance. Her bottom appeared to be two inflated beach balls which were equally confined in a pair of bright orange skin tight exercise shorts.

Her dark curly hair was pulled into a tight ponytail exposing round chipmunk cheeks. She greeted me with a wide white smile which was tainted by her lack of back teeth.

The Panty Dilemma

Having just arrived in Brazil, I wanted to make a good impression. But wait, what kind of impression do I want that to be?

Having someone do your laundry is the same as having a housekeeper who is privy to all your secrets. This was serious stuff. Do I hold back some clothes I don't want her to see? What clothes should I let her wash? The worst decision was which panties I should have her wash. We are in a little village where gossip spreads faster than a wildfire. I had to get this right.

Thongs: Should a 50 year old (Okay a bit more), be wearing a thong? What about the heat and humidity, that can't be healthy. Maybe I should just throw a few in the laundry basket just to keep them talking at the local shop.

High waisted and durable: If I have a laundry basket full of them what does this say? I am a hard worker, clean, like things that last, German. Okay, maybe not German. For that I would be wearing Birkenstocks and socks.

Cotton bikini style: Cool, comfortable, but the decorations of little hearts, are these suitable for someone my age or for a 5 year old?

Panties with holes: We all have our favourites which we wear until they won't stay up any more even when we use safety pins. If I put these in the laundry basket she may think we are too poor to pay them at the end of the week.

Lace: Does this send out the right signals? I don't think so, I don't want to be known as the foreigner who sits around all day in her lace panties.

Perhaps I will just wash the panties myself. No I can't do that, the gossip at the shop will be that I go commando!

Scroll to Continue

Oh dear, what is a woman to do?

Drying clothes

Drying clothes

Let the Washing Begin

Rosa began by wetting the clothes in the back sink. Rubbing them with the bar of glycerin soap specially made for hand washing tough stains. The next step surprised me. She threw them on the lawn or on a bush. I asked her why she did this.

Because there is no hot water, she uses the sun to bake the soap into them. Scrubbing our clothes to within an inch of their lives with the hands that wouldn't look out of place on a Norwegian fisherman.

I passed her a shirt of my husband's saying that it was delicate because it was silk. She nodded, scrubbed it and threw it on the grass with the others.

After she had washed them, I went down to collect them to hang them on the clothes line. I didn't see them and asked her where they were.She smiled and pointed to the fence. She had hung them on a barbed wire fence that surrounds the property to dry. Panties and all hanging on the barbed wire blowing for all the neighbors to see.

  • Hanging out the laundry
    Do you love the smell of sheets, dried outside? Find out why so many people are rediscovering this traditional way of drying their clothes.

© 2012 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on December 20, 2017:

At the back of my house and at most homes in my area, there is a double sink. On one side it has ridges like a washboard. This sink I use for washing clothes, washing my hair, and also gutting fish.

I have seen people taking their washing down to a nearby lake and washing their clothes in the water while their animals graze nearby. Beating it on rocks I have also seen but not too often.

Synthetic clothing is popular here because cotton gets destroyed by the sun and salt in the air. We have a UV rating in the extreme category and it ruins the fibers.

I am amazed at how clean the clothes can get through hand washing, much cleaner than in a washing machine. It is a skill though, and one I haven't yet mastered.

skyfallingyet on December 19, 2017:

How did she actually wash the clothes? Did she rub them on a stone that looked like a metate, use a washboard? Did the sink have ridges on it to scrub the clothes on?

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 05, 2013:

What wonderful memories for your family. Many don't get the opportunity to see this traditional way of life. I find my clothes were cleaner from being hand washed than they are from a washing machine.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

summerberrie on May 05, 2013:

Nice read~very visual! When I was in Ecuador we would see ladies carrying their laundry down to the stream to wash their clothes. They would hang them on the rocks along the banks to dry. My boys liked to watch them beat the clothes on the rocks.

Richie Mogwai from Vancouver on November 07, 2012:

You're welcome, Blond Logic. I look forward to reading more hubs from you. I still worry about the fact that nobody in this modern age can live without the laundry dryer. Just imagine how many people are doing that at any given time. So I also make sure when I do use the laundromat to put the setting on lowest for the dryer, that way, less electricity is used and it's gentle on the clothes, too.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 07, 2012:

Hello Dr Mark,

No I haven't read it, I will put it on my to-do list though. It is the same for our car, (VW Kombi) the windows haven't been closed for over two years. A problem at times because birds have been known to build nests in the headliner.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 07, 2012:

Hello Rebecca,

The upside of it is, the clothes in the tropics are small. Bikinis and shorts. :)

I am pleased you enjoyed this. The things I have seen in Brazil, astounded me at first, now I just take it as a way of life here. Some people here have so little and yet seem so much happier than more affluent countries. It has definitely been an eye-opener.

Wonderful to hear from you.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 07, 2012:

Hello Richie,

You're right, it is better for the environment. When I wash clothes either by hand or with the washing machine all the water is channeled on to the bananas and passion fruit plants. This is the same for the water leaving the kitchen sink.

With such a big family, that must have taken some time to complete but as you say, a great bonding time. I am sure 'western' countries in their drive to make chores 'time saving' have lost much more.

When my children were at home, our best bonding time was cooking and cleaning up after dinner. It was one on one without the distractions of technology.

I have never thought of hanging them behind the refrigerator. Great idea. In Britain, I used to hang them in the airing cupboard which housed the water heater. It was always toasty warm in there and a wonderful place to dry clothes.

Thank you for your wonderful comment.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 07, 2012:

Hello Teaches12345,

Your professor is correct about the sun's bleaching quality. This I also know this from living in California. I used to leave jeans on the back of a chair to dry. The result, one side was bleached, the other not. A new trend? No perhaps not. My clothes are LESS clean using a washing machine, but it frees me up for hammock time. :)

Richie Mogwai from Vancouver on November 07, 2012:

How nice, your hub! We also washed clothes by hand when I was growing up in the Philippines. Back then in Manila, a laundry machine was unheard of. The weekends meant washing clothes so for a family of nine children, we all get our turn to do the laundy, two at a time.

I have to say doing this is good for the environment. There's no electricity used and laundry soap is used economically. It's also a terrific opportunity to have a chat with a family member while doing the laundry. Sometimes, our backs hurt especially if we have big loads to do, but we just laughed it off.

Mind you, I still wash my clothes by hand from time to time, again to save the environment. The question is, why do the laundry already in the laundromat when there are only a few clothes to wash? To solve this dilemma, I wash clothes that I will need tomorrow in the sink. Then, I hang them near the home heating, and lo and behold, they're dry in the morning. It's also a good idea to hang them behind the refrigerator.

I feel better about the environment, and guess what, my clothes are ready to wear in the morning. Who or what can beat that?

Dianna Mendez on November 06, 2012:

I love your humor in writing this story. I can just see these hanging on the bushes for all to see! I had a professor once share on how he got used to doing this when he lived in Columbia. He said his clothes were never brighter because the natural sun bleached them well.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 06, 2012:

Goodness! I would not want to wash all my duds by hand. My machine was broken for awhile and I had to drag those clothes to the nearest laundromat. I enjoyed this. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your adventures in Brazil. Tell us more!

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 06, 2012:

Have you read "Walden"? When Thoreau used to leave his house he never bothered to lock it because he said he was never worried about being robbed, as he didn´t have any "stuff". You are so right, it is amazing what you can live without!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 06, 2012:

LOL. My sister thought the same and said, "How do you keep people from stealing your stuff".

It is amazing how much, "stuff" you can live without.

Sounds like a good idea for a hub.

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 06, 2012:

When I explained to my stepmother that I did not have any glass in my windows, even in my bathroom, she thought I was living in a shack!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 06, 2012:

Hi Dr.Mark,

Thanks for the vote and sharing. Boy could we use that rain, we are suffering the worst drought since 1974.

Such a different world than the US (I am assuming you're American). We have no air conditioning, no heating, no glass in the windows. And of course, no Lazyboy recliner! :) Just a hammock.

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 06, 2012:

This is so funny, today of all days. It has been raining all day and my laundry is piled up in the kitchen since of course no one owns dryers! I don´t mind not having a washing machine since I only wear shorts and a shirt, but a dryer would sure be nice at times!!! I wonder if your (ex) washerwoman drys on days like today?

Voted up and shared!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 06, 2012:

Hello Debby,

If I couldn't have my washing hanging out, I'd hate it! I would never buy a house in an area which banned it. I don't mind my panties blowing in the wind, just not on the fence. :)

Where we live we have about 300 days of sunshine a year, and more often than not, something is hanging on the washing line. It is as though I am carrying on a tradition and feels me with a sense of homeyness that you just can't buy in a bottle or on a dryer sheet.

Great to hear from you.

Debby Bruck on November 06, 2012:

Dear Blond - A refreshing hub. I love to hang clothing out on the line. However, in some communities it is against their "regulations." You can hang panties over the bathtub or shower if you set up an indoor line. I now have a drying rack, which also works well. Keeping your privates private seems the modest thing to do.

Nothing beats a spring day with the breeze in your face out in the yard hanging up the laundry. Blessings, Debby

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 06, 2012:

Hello Scarytaff,

When I was reading your comment, I had to laugh. I thought you were going to say, "When I was in the BATH". LOL

I honestly didn't realize they made you wash your own clothes in the Navy.

I think hand washing, although time consuming produces better results. That said, I don't think many households will give up their washing machine and grab a washboard!

Wonderful to hear from you.

Derek James from South Wales on November 06, 2012:

The bearings on our washing machine are making nasty grinding noises so I'll get my wife to read your hub. ( Joking) But I used to wash all my own clothes from oily boiler suits to underwear by hand., when I was in the navy. They were always spotless. Voted up and useful.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:

Hi Flashmakeit,

You are right about that! The funny thing is, almost all my neighbors don't have a washing machine and yet their clothes appear cleaner than mine. That is food for thought!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:

Hello WND,

When you think about it, a washer often sits there and does nothing except soak the clothes. It is down to the enzymes in the soap powder to do the work.

My neighbor was in her mid 40's before getting her first washing machine. She was so excited. It is amazing the things we take for granted.

Glad you enjoyed the hub.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:

Hello Stove and Home,

Thanks for your comment. What I didn't mention was that when my washer arrived, it didn't work. I don't know if it was reduced water pressure or what. In the end I bought a Brazilian one which doesn't heat the water. I don't care how many people tell me, I need warm water to wash clothes.

I still wash some things by hand such as rugs and such. I can't see the sense using all that electricity for a few rugs. Now I know the method, soap the items, throw them on the grass and scrub the daylights out of them. LOL

You are right about towels being so heavy when wet. My wrists ache after I have been wringing them out.

Have a great day and thanks again.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:

Hi Bill,

I am pleased you enjoyed it. This is common practice here, you can drive and see fences covered in the day's washing. Some women will use local lakes to wash their clothes and their horses in.

Always a pleasure to hear from you.

flashmakeit from usa on November 04, 2012:

That a lot of work washing your clothes by hand.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on November 04, 2012:

Fun hub of the good old days gone by. Thanks for the great laugh and glad you got your washer eventually.

Stove And Home on November 04, 2012:

Blond, it was refreshing to see this hub. I actually had been hand washing my husband's and my clothes (I'm a housewife) for about a year before we saved up for our washer and dryer -- yes, in the States.

I washed them in the bathtub and hung them in the backyard. Sunny days were the best -- the stuff would dry in less than four hours.

The wringing out was really the only hard part. Tedious and could make the palm side of your hands raw if I wasn't careful.

We would wash our towels and bedding too by hand. My husband did the wringing out for the towels because it was tough. It's crazy that towels are about ten pounds heavy when they are soaked.

I am glad you now have modern conveniences. You just got rid of 95% of the difficulty!

I love your description of the washerwoman. Very vivid and entertaining!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 04, 2012:

LOL....great fun! Wonderful sense of humor my friend. How many holes did you have in your clothes from the barbed wire fence?

I actually remember my grandmother doing clothes by hand with an old washer board.

Great hub; loved every word.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 04, 2012:

Hi NotPC,

Luckily, now I do. Thankfully mine arrived and I sent chipmunk cheeks on her way.

Great to hear from you.

NotPC on November 04, 2012:

Neat hub. It sure makes me glad that I own a washing machine!

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