How to do your laundry in the bathtub.

Motivated more by penury than environmentalism, I recently decided to start washing all my clothes by hand. Towels, sheets, and blankets still go to the laundromat, since they’re too unwieldy to rinse and dry in the confined space of my little NYC apartment. Otherwise, I’ve kicked the washer and dryer habit, which is good, since both machines eat electricity like candy.

Feel like giving handwashing a try?

You will need:

  • a large plastic or — better yet — metal bucket
  • a bathtub
  • laundry detergent (I like Seventh Generation)
  • a laundry line, either in the bathtub itself, or anywhere else that’s convenient for you

1) Fill the bucket about halfway with your dirty clothes, packed loosely. Dump in the appropriate amount of detergent, fill the bucket with warm water. Allow the clothes to soak for at least ten minutes.

2) Take a shower. Wash, scrub, exfoliate, condition — do whatever you normally do in the shower. While you’re doing all this, stomp on your laundry to agitate it and force the soap through the fabric. You can also use a washboard during this stage, though I don’t think it’s really necessary.

3) When you’ve finished your shower, empty the laundry bucket and wring out the clothes. Fill the bucket about halfway with cold water, and then pound the hell out your clothes so as to remove as much soap as possible. Rinse, refill, repeat. Unless you’ve used way too much detergent, the rinsing process shouldn’t take more than a bucket or two of cold water.

4) Wring out your laundry, hang it up to dry. My laundry line suction-cups itself to the tiles of my bathroom wall, so that I can let my clothes drip-dry right over the tub.

Addendum: To shrink denim back to its proper size, soak it for five to ten minutes in very hot water. No tumble-drying necessary!

by laurawolfram

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50 responses to “How to do your laundry in the bathtub.

  1. I really like the idea of stamping on the clothes to clean them! It sounds much more efficient and effective than using your hands/arms.

  2. It’s also much more fun.

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  5. ingenious!
    I too, am half past broke this time of the month, and can’t wait to have clean clothes again…patchouli only goes so far :-P

  6. I started this with blouses I wear to work, similar to above with variations. Live in a small city apt and dread the laundromat. benefits: soak longer in shower. I clean my shirts until the hot water runs out. scrub parts of the shirts: collars, cuffs under arms with a small plastic laundry brush. Let drip dry. iron press later. I don’t have to drive to the laundromat. Save $ on overpriced coin operated machines. save energy. Back/ shoulders/ hands/ wrists get a workout. Control how your stuff is cleaned. clothes aren’t get ruined: bleached or baked in public machines. I don’t need an electrical humidifier. drip drying humidifies the apartment air. good for my plants and my breathing in the winter.

  7. I didn’t know how dirty clothes got until I began washing them in the bathtub. Even after one day’s wear, the color of the bathwater is gross, and the sediment left behind surprising, considering that I am a student and dont do much other than study and go to class.

    As for drying methods, I have purchased a $20 clothes rack from Target, which is placed in the tub. Be sure to drape each clothes over more than one rung of the rack, otherwise the rack-even the better-constructed ones-will come apart. I have found it essential to have a fan aimed at the rack in order for the clothes to dry without mildrewing, which dry in about 6-8 hours.

    I do this because I was paying $30 in order to wash my clothes at the laundrymat, plus $10 for a taxi, which was just frustrating, and expensive.

  8. The only downside to this is that when socks dry their texture is unpleasant. Also, be sure to wash thoroughly otherwise you are essentially only perfuming your clothes with detergent, and not washing them!

  9. Also, if you have a clothesrack placed in the tub, you should make sure that the rack is standing perpendicular with respect to the floor (that is, place something underneath the legs of the rack) since most bathtubs are slanted downward, otherwise your rack will lean slightly, and with all the weight on it, it will eventually become deformed

  10. As a last word, I have found that washing clothes this way is a viable alternative to the laundry mat for a student, and if you don’t have a car it’s clearly better than the laundry mat. I wonder how many people do this in the united states/europe?

  11. Started doing this in the ’80s, also for economic reasons, and it really saves a bundle. I even bought an album of Italian grape stomping songs at one point, just to add to the festive feel of it. We are brainwashed to think we need machines to do these things and we really don’t. Showering during the whole thing increases the efficiency of the operation. I like the collapsible stand-up drying racks that you can store under or beside a piece of furniture when not in use; I have two large racks next to a chair in my living room. I lived in Europe for years and although they do use washing machines (usually more efficient than ours) they tend to eschew the dryers and go for drying racks. One kind I really want to buy and install in the near future is the Leifheit over-the-shower model that you can lower to hang the clothes on and then raise up to let them dry. It’d be great for sheets, which I currently drape on two hangers and rearrange frequently to get them to dry. Glad to know others are doing it. My brother thinks I’m crazy!

  12. Question about drying: how long does it take to dry with a shower rack? Is a fan used?

    passt schon oder? :p http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya1Ev1g9hKo very fitting!

  13. LOVE this method. My 6 year old now loves “helping” with the laundry. We also use the grape stomping method in the tub though didnt think of putting it to music. I believe we will do this in the future. It started also when I didnt have enough change for the laundromat but now it’s just easier. I dont have to worry about my delicates getting burned if I’m not paying attention. I’ll have to try the in-the-shower method as well, as right now I’m not sure our “rinse” cycle is as effective as it could be. But hey, somewhat clean is better than ewwwwwwww…what’s that smell any day!! I’ve also traveled around Europe – mostly the former Soviet block and I’ve not once seen a dryer…washers yes but no dryers. I think partly it has to do with not having a way to ventilate out of those Soviet constructed buildings, partly for money reasons, but mostly because they’re just not as lazy as us machine dependent people…LOL nor do they have nearly as much laundry. Their wardrobe is drastically less bulky than ours. Everything generally goes with everything (even if it doesnt really go together) and it gets worn more than once before getting washed.

  14. The defiinitely beats the laundry mat. I usually pay at least 30$ each time I go.

    TIP: I wash usually most things in the tub and hang to dry. Usually my shirts and jeans are a little stiff – I go to the laundry mat and just do a quick tumble in the dryer to make my clothes soft. It’s an extra $1.00 if you prefer snuggle soft clothes!!

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  19. i have never even thought of the grape stomping method! I’m moving to a space with a backyard (but no washer) finally so I am definitely going to try this out!

  20. Ummm, is it just me or doesn’t anybody rinse the clothes and then give than a few minutes in water with some fabric softner so they aren’t all crunchy when they dry???

  21. I just moved out on my own and currently only make money from selling partygalz products(if anyone interested contactme) and I dont have enough money to buy a big apt so my house has no way to hook up a w/d thats when I started doing this I do exactly what you said in the article except when the clothes are wet I spray a little febreeze on them to make them smell extra fresh and also so they dont smell like the outdoors. Thank you for posting such an amazing article you litteraly save me hundreds…lol

  22. my mom used to do this with all our “nicer” clothes so they won’t stretch out in the washing machine (since we’ve always had the standard top loading kind and they just twist everything around). Now that I’ve moved out and am lacking money. I am giving this a go again. Laundromats are way to expensive. The only reason I would go is to use their dryer for towels so they’re fluffy :D

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  24. Thank you so much for your pointers. I’ve been trying to do it in my nyc apartment as well! And couldn’t figure out how to shrink my pants back.

  25. Our washer has failed us and I did not want to spend the day at the laundromat. So I actually looked up washing clothes in the bathtub and I had no idea that it is actually done all the time. My two girls 9 and 11 had a blast. We loved it and they have been asking if we can do more clothes.

  26. Wow! This brings back memories for me. As a child, I grew up in a poor family and we had to wash our clothes in the bathtub like this. Only we didn’t use a bucket, we just filled the basin/tub with scolding, boiling water from the fireplace or gas stove and mix the lye detergent with some Borax. Then you put the laundry in, take a stick and agitate it. Leave them soaking for an hour then empty the tub/basin and pour cold water to rinse while stomping on the clothes. Our feet and toes were so wrinkled! Lol and Mamaw was able to give us a bath while washing clothes. Now that’s a woman! Haha

  27. Senior w/ arthritis and cracked ribs so can’t get downstairs to use the building’s terrible and terribly expensive washer and dryer. Have to be careful of balance so won’t try the nice-sounding grape-stomping method mentioned to agitate clothes. Alternate agitator: our dollar store sells sponge mops for one dollar so I tried one as an agitator. Sponge part fell off immediately, so I duct-taped the metal squeezer part back against the handle and that left a perfect lightweight agitator with no sponge on it, which is working very well for bucket-loads of wash in the tub, and you can store the new “mop” behind the bathroom door, takes up no room. My problem is how to get the water out of the clothes well enough not to steam up my little apartment now in winter in Minnesota, when I have arthritic wrists? Was looking online for an oldfashioned hand wringer but don’t see any. The British centrigul spinners are too small and way too expensive. I intend to spend no more than ten dollars for a solution! Any ideas? I have some plastic milk crates I currently use to drip dry the worst of it, one upside down then one on top I just empty the bucket of clothes into, and wait. Will next try using a smaller milk crate inside the normal-sized one and pressing down, but again, the cracked ribs don’t allow much pushing. Silly problem, but I like clean clothes.

    Many years ago in my 20s when we lived in communal house the guys swore that the key to washing clothes in a bucket in the tub was soaking. No agitating. They just soaked their dirty clothes at least overnight and did nothing else before rinsing. Didn’t wring out anything either–they just ran the heavy wrinkled stuff outside and pegged it on a line. But here it is twenty below zero this morning and no line anyway. I certainly am more careful not to spill food on my shirts so I can wear them longer each week! Handwashing makes you a neater person!

  28. I have always used those bamboo garden poles set over the shower curtain pole and back into the corners of the shower unit in a V shape to drip-dry anything on. Very strong, very light, fairly pretty, and you can set them behind the bathroom door with the “mop” agitator (see my other msg just now) when not in use. They are just the right length to set diagonally.

  29. This sounds like a great idea! I’m a student at a college where you have to pay to use the laundry machines, so this could be a huge money-saver.

  30. Campus Student

    Someone needs to invent a collapsible 2-roll- hand cranked ‘wringer’ (like what were on the top of washing machines in the 1940s) for apartment dwellers. It would be welcomed by many !

  31. ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^

    Patient Pending, All rights reserved, Registered TM@ I own I.) So without all the paperwork I will share it with those that have an imagination . . . .outside of the Box !
    Here is a more efficient and less time consuming way to do your laundry in the bathtub!
    I use an old style bath tub massage relaxation bubbler and it does all the work for me, I don’t have to stomp on the clothes, or risk slipping and cracking my skull, thus killing myself, by accidental drowning.
    (My boyfriend says “Listen to ~Tool~ Learn to swim in the undertow! LOLH )
    1: Place the bubbler pad in the tub, turn on the water to desired temperature covering the pad before turning on Bubbler machine to high
    2; Caution add “ ONLY ” a ” 1/4 ” of the recommended amount of laundry soap ! Otherwise Mr. Bubble will visit you & your neighbors )
    3; place laundry in tub making sure that they are free flowing about in the tub
    4: Keep bubbler in operation for 20 Mins, drain, rinse with the shower head or tub spout.
    5: To accelerate the water removal reach in under the clothes pulling the bubbler pad out & place on top of the laundry and climb into the tub having a seat on the bubbler pad squeezing most but not all of the water from your clothes,
    You know the rest so get out of the tub and finish your laundry.
    ( Patient Pending, All rights reserved registered TM@ I own it. )

    ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^ ^ . . ^

  32. you know, they actually make portable washer and dryers that are relatively inexpensive!

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  34. Love this page!! Our property management just raised our laundry machine rates .50/wash and $1/30m of drying instead of .75/36m. So I’m printing web location & instructions to tell everyone we have an option! Hot water is included in our rent so we can wash for the cost of the soap! This will save my family about $30/month!

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  38. Great comments and good job everyone for beating the system.
    I just bought a blue rapid washer from Amazon and it has paid for itself in 3 weeks. The Laundromat no longer gets my quarters and I bought a dryer rack that is light enough to move around the apt so I can use it in the tub, or near the windows.
    I am saving $20> a month now and will wash my clothes in the sink as long as I can…..30 years plus I hope.
    Its just so easy and quick and cost 5 cents or less for soap and softener.
    If you don’t do this already, start it will save you bunches of money over time.

  39. to the person above who exclaimed that we’ve been brainwashed in regards to the power of our own innovation – mad props. it’s very true. however, that’s where the nature of my own question comes in. i don’t know anything about laundry detergent – i always assumed that it was “for machine use only” and that it might be destructive (chemically) to human skin. no one else has asked about this or said anything about it – so i’m wondering if anyone knows the answer. a lot of detergents contain bleach and other chemicals that don’t seem so useful on the body. also, standing on clothes inside a bucket might make us tall women a little too tall for our showers. explain that!

  40. I have been using my liquid commercial detergent because that’s what I have and can afford right now. I have VERY bad allergies to artificial fragrance and there’s only one brand I can use in the machine or in the bathtub. I let the clothes soak in clean cold water for awhile and then rinse them again before wringing them out. So I understand the concern about laundry detergents and I’m going to research some better alternatives. I like the natural stuff, 7th generation, etc because at least I can pronounce most of the ingredients, but they are expensive.
    Someone asked about wringing out the clothes….I use bath towels to wring more water out. Fold the laundry coming out of the rinse vertically and wring out as much as possible, then lay the article of clothing on a bath towel and roll it up horizontally. Twist the towel (or for days that my carpal tunnel is acting up) walk across the towel to wring out more water. I found that the vertical/horizontal method helps keep out bad wrinkles in most shirts. If your clothes are getting too stiff while they are drying, shake them out or fluff them around a few times while they are drying.
    I also have alot of space in one closet so I turn my jeans inside out, fasten the button and hang them on a hanger from the belt loops. Then leave the closet door open and toss a towel on the floor to collect drips.

  41. Okay. I just did this for the first time and I gotta say…it was exhausting! I had a large amount of laundry and since my brakes are getting fixed, I thought I’d try at home. Here are my tips:
    1 – Big amount? Just clean your tub and do it in there. Don’t clean with products that will stain your clothes, though.
    2 – The wringing out is the hardest part, at least I think. It took the most time. I did each piece of clothing by hand instead of stamping/pounding/refilling over and over, though, so maybe that’s why. I just wanted to be extra-sure that the soap came out.
    3 – Prepare for how you’re going to dry beforehand. If you’re like me and you were really pooped, then the thought of getting your drying rack prepped and your hangers all ready is like “oh damn, whyyyy?!”

    But, my house smells delish and I’m not mad about it. If I do this, I’m going to do it like, every two days. I feel like it’d be easier to do and less time consuming (for my large load, from start to finish, it took two hours) if I do it with less.

    Thanks for all of this!

  42. I hang large items like sheets over open doors to dry. I also air out duvets like this.

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  44. I wash everything in the bathtub agitating by hand, rinse the excess detergent, refill the tub just enough to cover the clothes add some vinegar and let it soak a while, then do one final rinse and wring by hand. I place a plastic sheet on top of my bed and wring again with towels then place on drying racks around my apartment and turn on the ceiling fan. To make the rinsing a bit easier I hook my shower head to the bar on my built in soap holder with wire. I keep rolled up foil in between the bar and shower head so the water runs into the tub not onto the wall. So much easier!

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  46. As my 20 year old washing machine finally broke down just as I was about to possibly lose my job (this was about a year ago) I decided to try hand washing. I did invest in an electric spin “dryer” centrifuge to get the majority of the water out of my clothes after hand washing. WOW! Did I notice a wonderful difference in my clothes!

    First, I half fill my bathtub with quite warm water and put everything but white/light colored clothes in for an overnight soak (no soap). Next morning, I agitate the clothes/towels by stomping them with my feet (clean feet) for about 10 minutes) after adding a very small amount of fabric softener and then drain the water.

    While I am putting the first “load” into multiple batches through the spin “dryer”, I then half fill my tub with hot water and added the rest of my clothes. After hanging up the majority of the first batch of washing (the spin “dryer” makes almost everything dry enough just to hang up except towels and jeans) I then again just agitate the second load in the tub, again with a small amount of fabric softener and proceeded to spin “dry.” and hang the rest of my laundry. I do use bamboo sheets on my bed, they almost dry completely in the spin “dryer” and need to be hung up to dry.

    If anyone out there is a fan of the British comedy “Are You Being Served Again” I got the idea of stomping with my feet from the episode where they “teasel the dirt” out of some bed sheets . . .

    My clothes are clean and fresh, and the only thing I have to dry in the dryer are the towels and jeans – and only for 15-30 minutes.

    Is it easy? No, but I have a good workout stomping the clothes. But, even though I am not out of a job, I continue to do my laundry this way, as it seem it is easier on my clothes, and much easier on my budget!

  47. Impressive ideas and thanks a lot for sharing with us,, i hope it cleans dirty clothes very well.

  48. Very nice interesting idea you shared with us that how to do laundry in the bathtub.

  49. Easiest way to clean the dirty laudry with less afforts by the use of bathtub.

  50. There is a very easiest way to the clean clothes in laundry.

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