LAUNDRY . . . that never-ending chore. Some of us have trouble keeping up with it in the States, in spite of our convenient washing machines, dryers, and excellent stain-removers. Move overseas, where you may not have machines or a handy "stain stick" to help with the process, and it can be a huge chore!

I've assembled a few of my own tips for doing laundry, both with a washing machine and without. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but maybe it can be a discussion-starter!

General Tips:

**If you're having trouble with rashes or odors, soak bras & underwear overnight in a disinfectant solution before washing. Be sure to rinse well.

**Use vinegar in your rinse to keep towels smelling fresh, and as a natural fabric softener.

**Soak baby messes and vomit & diarrhea messes in a disinfectant solution immediately, for at least a couple hours up to a whole day. Then rub soap directly into the stain before washing.

**Whenever possible, treat & soak stains while they're fresh, then wash within 24 hours. Stains allowed to dry and set for several days will be much harder to remove. When I have a bad stain, I wet the garment, rub soap into the stain, and then put it into a bucket of water to soak until I can wash it. Just be sure to wash within 24 hours or your water (and garment!) will start getting smelly.

**Ask around and find out what is used locally for bad stains or for whitening clothes. You probably won't have access to the brands that you are used to, and the soaps that are available will probably be simple bar soaps. However, it is amazing how well some of them work!


**With unreliable power and no laundromats when traveling, you will probably have to wash some clothes by hand at some point, even if you have a washing maching at home. I highly reccomend hiring a local woman to do your laundry if you have to wash by hand on a regular basis. If you do this, be sure to find out cultural norms for washing undergarments, as in some places it is very offensive to let another person wash your underwear.

**For normal, lightly soiled clothes, have two tubs - wash and rinse. For dirty clothes, do a pre-wash, then wash and rinse. For baby clothes, cloth diapers, or sensitive skin, you will probably need to do a second rinse. I've had as many as four tubs of water set up while I'm doing laundry!! But if you only have ONE tub or bucket, you can still just do one "cycle" at a time, piling your clothes on a clean surface and dumping the water in your bucket in between washes/rinses.

**To remove dirt and grime from jeans, jackets, or other extra-dirty (but also sturdy) clothes, wet the clothing and then use a scrub brush to scrub in the soap and scrub out the dirt.

**Soak extra-dirty clothes overnight to soften the grime before washing.

**When possible, get someone to help you wring out jeans, towels, and sheets - the better they are wrung out, the faster they will dry. Jeans take long enough to dry in a humid climate as it is!


**This is kind of a no-brainer, but try to get your laundry done as early in the day as possible to allow maximum time for drying.

**In very humid climates, hang clothes so that they are not touching eachother and are spread out on the line as much as possible. The more airflow around them, the faster they will dry.

**Have a clothesline set up inside if possible, to bring clothes in when it starts raining, or to hang clothes up overnight. Ideally, have a stand fan that you can set up to blow on the clothes in an emergency.

**Some regions have insects that lay their eggs in drying clothes, and when you're wearing the clothes, the eggs hatch and the worms burrow into your skin. YUCK!! If these nasty creatures live in your area, hanging your clothes in the sun and not leaving them on the line overnight will prevent this problem.

Now it's your turn. What laundry tips can you share with us? Any tricks for stain removal, or for washing by hand?

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  • A couple more ideas...

    * I agree, don't hesitate to try the soaps that are available where you are. Some of the really cheap bar soaps I've used in Africa do a better job than the fancy stain removers that are available in the States.

    * Giving each piece of laundry a few hard shakes before you pin it on the line reduces wrinkling--which is especially helpful if you don't have an iron. :) A lot of people do this anyway, but when you wash laundry by hand it has the added benefit of removing some extra water for faster drying.

    * If you wring out your laundry by hand, take care of soft items like underwear, onesies, and other baby clothes. Wringing them tightly will cause them to stretch and wear out faster. I usually squeeze those items between my hands, or against the side of my basin, rather than wringing them out.

    * Turning clothes inside out before hanging them on the line is another way to increase their longevity, especially in areas of intense sun.

    * If you need to conserve water, it works great to dump your wash water when it gets too dirty, use the rinse water for your new wash water, and get fresh water for rinsing. Better yet, before you dump it, use the dirty wash water for jobs like washing sandals or cleaning your compound floor.

    * If you're just embarking on the delights of washing clothes by hand, don't be discouraged by your sore fingers. :) This too shall pass. The first time I ever washed clothes by hand, I started right in doing all the laundry for a household of five. After the first time or two my knuckles were raw and bleeding, and the scrubbing became very painful. That kept up for a few weeks, but my fingers gradually toughened and it became a truly enjoyable experience. To this day I really like scrubbing laundry by hand--even piles and piles of it.

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  • A couple more tips I thought about....

    * If you are having trouble with infected boils, it really helps to soak your washcloths in boiling water for a few minutes. Boiling also helps keep whites white!

    *The sunshine does an amazing job of whitening up cloth diapers.

    *I really liked doing laundry every day as part of my morning routine. That way, it didn't heap up and become a discouraging chore. ;) Little kids love to help wash ;)

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