From uncontrolled soap bubbles to water hoses flailing about my Airstream’s bathroom, laundry has been its own adventure. At least once, I washed my colds without detergent (they turned out fine). I’ve had the experience of wearing very stiff socks and t-shirts due to too much detergent. What, you may wonder, makes doing laundry while camping so different from this chore in a house?
First of all, I don’t have a built-in washer/dryer. While some RVs have this amenity, I have a more streamlined assortment of appliances in my Airstream Flying Cloud. I tried hand washing and laundromats before settling on a washer spinner. I even looked into an old fashioned washboard and manual laundry wringer, but most were too heavy and bulky for my kind of traveling life.
I purchased a large bowl that fits in my sink for quick hand wash items. The disadvantage of hand washing is that the items are very wet, even after wringing. By the time I wrap them in a towel to absorb extra moisture, so they won’t drip while drying, I’ve got extra items to dry.
Instead, I purchased a lightweight plastic semi-manual washer spinner. This lightweight plastic device has two tubs: one for washing and one for spinning. It does a small load – for example, one set of top and bottom sheets with pillow cases – in about an hour counting all time involved. Electricity powers the washer tub and spinner tub, which means I have to be careful not to run the air conditioning or microwave at the same time I’m using the washer spinner!
Using the washer spinner is easy, but has a lot of steps. First, you put the water in the machine by hand, already heated to the temperature desired. In theory, you can attach an extension to a hose at your sink faucet. In reality, it is safer to simply fill up bowls of water from the tap and dump them into the washer tub. Add a very small amount of detergent, then set the wash time (up to twenty minutes) and speed (slow or fast). Once washing is finished, place the attached hose in the shower stall, change the cycle control to “drain” and make sure your hose stays in the shower as it drains. I find I have to lift the washer spinner onto a small step stool to let all the water drain out.
Once all the water is out, close the drain switch. Then, doublecheck you closed the drain switch.
Next, place a few items of wet clothing into the spinner side, taking care to evenly distribute them, then turn the spinner timer to the desired time (usually two minutes is plenty). Repeat until the entire load of laundry is spun dry. You’ll know if the spinner load is unbalanced if your washer spinner takes off across the floor or starts making pounding noises like a thousand horses climbing stairs. After all the clothes are spun to remove soapy water, drain the soapy water produced in the spin cycle. Switch the clothes back to the washer tub, refill with fresh water for rinsing, and repeat (without soap). Be sure to close the drain swith before you refill the washer tub…
Lifting bowls of water from sink to machine and lifting the machine to drain water is a nice weight bearing exercise in lieu of lifting weights at a gym — tighten your core before lifting and use your leg muscles to lift, not your back.
After the final rinse and spin, the clothes are clean and damp. They will dry when hung on hangers inside my Airstream (either in the bathroom for items you may not want anyone who enters the trailer to view or hanging from the bottom edge of the upper storage bins for everything else). If I use a dehumidifier or the air conditioning, they dry in a reasonable amount of time (one day). Sometimes, I’ll be at a campsite where I can hang wet clothes outside on a clothesline to dry. Laundry that dries in fresh air always smells wonderful.
The alternative is to do laundry when I visit someone with a washer dryer or use a commercial laundromat. Although I’ve even had strangers offer to let me do laundry at their homes (not creepy people, but kind ladies I’ve met praying the Rosary or at daily Mass in my travels), I don’t like to impose such a time intensive chore on anyone, even when I’m visiting friends or family.
Commercial laundromats vary widely in their cleanliness, clientele, and environment. Almost always they are stifling hot and stuffy inside. The advantage is that I can do two or three loads of laundry that require different temperatures at the same time. Usually all the clothing that requires the dryer will fit in one dryer. Add in the travel time, the fact that I still have wet clothes I need to hang up at home, and the cost ($10-$15 for the amount of laundry I generate in a week), and laundromats rarely come out ahead. I use them when I have no sewer hookup at a campsite to dispose of the copious quantities of grey water generated by using my washer spinner. I also use them if I have a large quantity of bulky towels or a blanket to wash.
With water and sewer hookups, washing clothes in my Airstream is preferable. It costs less and, despite the many steps required, can be combined with other tasks like cleaning or cooking or answering emails while the washer is washing or the spinner spinning. If I use two bowls of water to fill the washer tub, one in the sink filling while I lift and dump the other, and if I remember ALWAYS to close the drain setting when adding water and NEVER to let go of the hose outlet when dumping used water into the shower stall, all is well.
Another helpful tip is you don’t need as much detergent as you think you do. The washer takes about one fourth the normal amount of detergent for a small load. More than that and you’ll be doing extra rinses or wearing stiff clothes thanks to soap residue. Make sure you’ve got a haircatcher in the shower drain and clean off the lint after each load so you don’t clog up your grey tank.
Even using the semi-manual washer spinner — without resorting to a tub, washboard and wringer — will make you realize what an onerous chore laundry used to be before modern conveniences. If I do laundry once a week, it is truly a laundry “day” (meaning a full morning or afternoon to get it all done). And that’s for one person, without a washboard or clothes wringer! At a minimum, doing laundry this way allows for some good contemplative prayer time in the midst of the cleaning steps. For a family, laundry in a travel trailer would provide even more of an opportunity for sanctification by offering up each bit of sorting, washing, spinning, rinsing, draining, and hanging work. Who knew that laundry could be so much more than cleaning?! Perhaps we’ve lost something for the sake of convenience.