When Your Last Shirt Fails the Sniff Test.....

When people dream of sailing a boat to exotic places, they usually don't include the inevitable smelly pile of dirty, salty laundry in the picture.  The farther away from the rat race you get, the more hands-on you've got to get when you need clean socks.  

What to do when you're weeks away from the nearest washing machine, and you can't go another day without clean sheets?   Or maybe you're within a couple of miles of a laundromat, but the idea of lugging a huge load of dirty clothes into the dinghy, hauling it ashore and schlepping it way across town is just too much.  Perhaps conditions for shore laundry are perfect, but the prices are prohibitively expensive.  The boat's beginning to smell like your seventh grade gym locker.  
It's time to take matters into your own hands and wash things the way your great-grandmother probably did.  She wasn't known for having filthy clothes, was she?

The laundromat in Marsh Harbour, Abaco.  
Notice the index card above the dryer - it would've cost us over $70 to do our laundry here!

Doing laundry in buckets can be a satisfying exercise in water recycling that will nonetheless leave your clothes clean and fresh-smelling.  
With the proper music and frame of mind, it can almost be pleasant.  After all, what's worse?  Fighting the crowds for dryer space in a sweltering laundromat or sitting in your own cockpit with a book and some Steely Dan, leisurely swishing your clothes clean?  Here's how we do it on SARABANDE:

What You'll Need:

- 2 big plastic buckets (we use 5 gallon ones) or similarly sized plastic containers for holding water
- one toilet plunger, reserved exclusively for laundry and serving no other purpose having anything to do with the toilet
- your favorite biodegradable, phosphate-free laundry detergent
- clothespins, the more the better
- 5-8 gallons of fresh water per "load"

Get To It:

First, fill up two 5 gallon buckets about halfway with fresh water.  Many old salty sailors will tell you that you can wash clothes in salt water, or wash in salt water and rinse with fresh, but we found laundry involving any saltwater to be unacceptable.  The clothes never really dry, don't smell clean, and feel irritating to the skin.  If your freshwater supply can spare it, use only fresh water for washing and rinsing and you'll be happier!

Add about 1/3 the detergent you'd normally use in a machine to one bucket.  Whatever brand you use, please make sure it's free of phosphates, which are especially poisonous to aquatic life.  Using bleach is a no-no for the same reason.  For extra help with clothes that are especially raunchy, we keep a mixture of equal parts borax and washing powder and add about 1/4 cup to the wash water.  This is a less toxic way to get rid of stains and hard-core stink.

Add a few of your least-dirty items to the soapy water, leaving enough room in the bucket for them to swish around freely.   Don't overcrowd or your clothes won't get clean!   Agitate them vigorously with the toilet plunger for a while (we aim for 200 strokes per bucket), then let it all soak for another 10 minutes or so.  As an alternative, you can put a lid on the bucket and go on a rowdy sail, letting the motion of the boat supply all the swishing for you.  It works!

Now for rinsing.  Grab each article of sudsy laundry and wring it thoroughly over the wash bucket so that all the water drips back in.  Plop it into the bucket of clean water.  Repeat with all the sudsy clothes, and then agitate the rinse bucket with the plunger for a couple of minutes.  

Wring out all the rinsed clothes over the bucket and hang them up on the lifelines to dry, clothespinning them within an inch of their lives if it's really breezy.  If it's a bright, sunny day, they'll probably be dry in a few hours.  Sunshine is said to have a germicidal effect on clothes, and flapping in the clean, warm air all day makes them really nice and fresh.  

Repeat until the pile has been defeated.  

This dryer is free-99.


- start with your "cleanest" dirties and wash progressively dirtier stuff.  

- If you do your laundry in the morning, heavier stuff like jeans and bath towels will have all day in the sun, increasing their odds for getting thoroughly dry.

- Put anything you don't want to fade in a shady spot to dry.  It won't dry as fast as in the sun, but the color will last longer.
- When the rinse bucket becomes too sudsy, start using it as your wash bucket.  But before you dump out your original wash bucket water, ask yourself if there’s anything really dirty on board that you can use it for.  We usually use ours to scrub the floor of the cockpit at least.  

- When you're done washing clothes and left with a bucket of clean, somewhat soapy rinse water, ask yourself again what else can be done with it.  We use that last bit of water for anything from mopping the floor of the cabin, washing the portlights, washing the decks or soaking salty lines.

- Sailboats can tie their jib sheets to the shrouds to create extra clothesline space.

- Wear rubber dishwashing gloves when wringing out wet clothes, or else you'll develop painful, ugly blisters on your hands.

- If the town laudromat is too expensive, but you simply cannot bear to do your clothes by hand, wash your laundry in a machine, carry the clothes back to the boat and hang them up to dry.   This can cut costs significantly.

- Take in the laundry before the dew falls in the evening, or they'll be damp all over again!