Skip to main content

Old Time Techniques for Hand Washing Clothes

Scrubbing board.

Scrubbing board.

Hand washing laundry with a scrub board and wash tub.

Hand washing laundry with a scrub board and wash tub.

Hand washing clothes is as old as human beings have been wearing garments.  It is varied throughout regions and communities. Primitive methods include beating the clothes against rocks in rivers or where there is flowing water.

Most of us hate or complain about doing the laundry but the truth about it is that hand washing your clothing items are better for the environment, your sensitive skin, your budget and your clothes.

We usually employ these techniques as young mothers, because we are concerned with the sensitivity of our newborn's skin. Then we change our methods as they grow thinking that like us their skin is heartier and more able to withstand any type of detergent that is produced on the market.

More often than not that is true but if you have a child with allergies or sensitive skin, we have to reevaluate how we need to take care of their health. But the truth is that we should always take advantage of this way of doing laundry because of all of the benefits.

Hand washing fabrics allow them to last a good deal longer and maintain their color even longer, if they are well taken care of, but you should never forget that any harsh detergent should never be used. Truth is we can get away with using less detergent than even the manufacturers suggest.

Especially, if you use other things to boost it's cleaning strength. Things like salt, baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon are perfect complements to the cheapest of laundry powder that you can purchase.

The greatest technique of doing laundry is actually agitation, not necessarily washing detergent as we have been lead to believe. Agitation is not difficult. All that is needed is the rubbing , kneading and wringing of the garment that is being cleaned to make this possible. The action of agitation is to simply break down any stains, dirt or grime and oils in the garment.

It is these that need to be neutralized so that fabrics become clean and fresh. The methods of agitation vary but regardless of how it is accomplished it must be done, so that clothing are cleansed.

The second largest thing that is needed is water. There is a debate on whether or not ,we should soften the water or make sure that it has less pollutants, so that it cleans clothing better, but the truth is as long as it is water, that is all you need to be concerned with in getting fabric clean and fresh.

The other idea out there is of how often a whole garment needs to be washed. That is really up to the person who is wearing the garment, and if it has a spill or stain that requires the whole garment to be cleaned.

More often than not it is not necessary to wash a whole garment after being worn once. You should always examine it before deciding. Ways that you can tell if a garment needs cleaning is through, looking for stains, sniffing it for any offensive odor and the number of times it has already been worn.

Of course when it comes to children's clothing it is always a good idea to make sure that they have clothing that is considered "play" clothes. These are separate items into which a child changes and wears when going outside or you feel they will need to get "dirty" in. These make any parents life easier.

This differentiation also helps a child as well as a caregiver because then you know what needs to go to the laundry basket and what can be hung up or worn again.

Sorting is great, it is an organizational tool that makes any labor a lot less strenuous. It also gives you an idea of what needs to be done first when it comes to laundry. For instance separating your whites, delicates and colors cuts down on the time it takes to complete the task of doing the washing.

It also helps with knowing what cleaners are necessary for what load, so that you can get the best use of your time, energy and laundry tasks. So, go ahead invest in a few laundry baskets about medium size that fit comfortably in the bottom of your closet and take half the work out of doing the laundry before you even get to that day.

Now, I am a great believer in taking the work and stress out of chores. The easier i can make the ordeal the better, so i always suggest with starting small. Most everything in life can be handle in small chunks, that even applies to doing the laundry. Especially if you are going to be doing it by hand.

If you can always have a small basket of your most necessary clothes items, that need to be washed accessible this gets the work started. The other thing is to choose varying sizes, lengths and weights, this just makes it a little more manageable. Pick a day when you can do the wash or feel like doing it and go ahead and run water into the tub.

I suggest that you run enough warm water to cover the largest piece to be washed and start by adding the detergent then agitating the water, so that the powder or liquid is dissolved.

Scroll to Continue

I also like to keep a separate bucket of cold water with a cup of white vinegar for a last rinse. This is so that any soap that may have been left in the garment is finally released and it even helps with cutting oils which gives the fabric a cleaner smell.

Also if you are hand washing shirts that will need to be ironed, try this trick rinse them in about a gallon of water with a cup of dissolved cornstarch, then dry.

Methods to hand washing

There is nothing hard about washing by hand but it can be a little labor intensive, but there are lots of ways to get some of the stress out of doing the chore. One way is to look at it as a form of therapy.

You get to punch, wring, squeeze and even beat up something all in the name of getting it clean and helping the environment. Another is that the money you save is money you have earned and you can do something else with that hard earned money. Because when you are finished you will be tired if not exhausted.

You can also look at it as a form of exercise. Anytime i wash clothes by hand i sweat so i always think of it as exercise and a healthy thing for me to do. You also control the amount of water to be used, the temperature of the water and therefore end up saving yourself cash.

If you wanted to you could go even further and take a shower while washing your items, all you have to do is stomp on the garments as you clean yourself. Stomping is the necessary agitation, which powers the washing of clothes.

Okay, so there is water and detergent in the tub, the next thing is you, you will need to agitate the fabric, work on any stains and soiled areas. Most soiled areas are where the person has been sweating, armpits especially because of the deodorant residue.

Cuffs and collars are always trickier because they normally have accumulated the most grime or dirt, these areas should be soaked and scrubbed. The best thing to do is squirt a mixture of vinegar, dish washing liquid and water, all in equal parts, then rub hard.

Rubbing equals agitation. It is hard to explain the technique i use, but you want to take the fabric in two hands and rub it back and forth like you were grating cheese. The back and forth motion of the fabric breaks down dirt, oil and grime, so that is comes out of the fibers easily.

When you first start this process, i suggest that you use less than the recommended amount of laundry detergent. I have also found that using a liquid detergent is more manageable, especially if you need a little more in an area that needs it.

Depending on the garment and the condition of it, agitation doesn't need to be more than a few minutes, and if it does, just set it aside so that it soaks.

After you have agitated, punched, squeezed and wrung, rinse with clean warm to cold water until you have rinse out all of the soap from the fibers. You can also use a little white vinegar in your rinse water to guarantee that all the soap is rinsed out of the fabric.


You have sorted laundry

Varying sizes of no more than ten to fourteen pieces

Liquid detergent

Bathtub, bucket or sink

And of course YOU!

It is you that makes the agitation that is necessary for clean garments when washing clothes. Remember it is agitation that powers clean!


Athlyn Green from West Kootenays on September 21, 2016:

I bet one could use a plunger to agitate.

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on January 04, 2016:

Why are there a bunch of crossed out words in this article?

Celiegirl (author) on August 31, 2012:

Hi baygirl33 Thank you! I researched different sites on the internet, some are better than others.

victoria from Hamilton On. on August 29, 2012:


Very informative hub! Thank you!

I wondered how you obtained your images ,as I would like to investigate an idea on Hubpages and would like to use them or some like them, if possible.

Related Articles