Hand-Wash Only: A Failure in Urban Domesticity

I have a confession to make. I’ve lived outside my parents home for a decade this month, and I have yet to obey a single “hand wash only in cold water” garment instruction. This avoidance isn’t based in fear. It is pure, unadulterated urban inconvenience.

Now before you go wondering how I’ve made it this far in my adult life, let me make a few excuses clarifications. My hand-wash only garments have been washed. They just haven’t been washed by HAND. Typically, the clothes needing to be dry-cleaned or hand-washed get tossed into a basket or otherwise set aside for months on end, until one day I say “I’m ready!” and off to the dry cleaners they go, together as family. Oh, “dry cleaning isn’t the same thing as hand-washing” whaaaaaat?! Yeah, I know. I know it’s not and I am probably inviting the formation of some sort of cloth-laundering chemical mutant by allowing hand-wash only fabrics to come into contact with that powdery crap or whatever it is that dry cleans clothes (scratching with your fingernails? That usually works okay, too).

Let me also clarify that I pretty much know how to wash something by hand IF I have the right set-up, which is pretty simple:

Requirements for successful hand-washing of garments:

  1. Giant basin for washing, set at not-back-breaking height.
  2. Giant basin for rinsing, set at not-back-breaking height.
  3. Washboard.
  4. The giantest basin to hold the other two giant basins and catch any splash due to overly zestful washboarding and/or rinse-sloshing. Set at not-back-breaking height.
  5. Retractable outdoor clothesline.
  6. Sunshine, mid-80s, low humidity, and a light breeze scented with the fragrance of nearby lilacs.

See? I know what I’m doing here. Allow me to further clarify that I have washed many a garment by hand. My parents essentially have the above set-up, so it was never a big deal at their house. I also hand-washed some in India, where it was not uncommon for a flock of young men to stand idly by your machine and watch everything going in or coming out of it. If you leave to go do something and happen to come back two minutes after your dryer times out? Forget about it, your clothes have just been hauled out, dry or not, by somebody else. Sometimes that would happen while the dryer was still running if you weren’t nearby watching it like a hawk. Sometimes a pair of underwear would go missing. Fun times. So, when I didn’t want to deal with that, I washed certain articles of clothing by hand in my room. Hated it.

I’ve also hand-washed out of necessity while traveling. I even found a BAR of laundry detergent at a 7-11 in Shanghai that was molded with a washboard-shape BUILT IN. Now that was a little gem I should have held onto.

But when it comes to my own city, my own apartment, I just can’t ever get up the energy for a good ‘ol scrub-a-dub of delicates. Until the other night, that is, when I finally gave it a go. My set-up was decidedly make-shift:

Requirements for unsuccessful hand-washing of garments in small city apartment:

  1. Five-gallon pail for washing, preferably in the form of an old shitsand cat litter container. Set on floor of bathtub so it’s impossibly awkward to reach into.
  2. Five-gallon pail for rinsing, also a repurposed shitsand container. Also set on floor of bathtub so it’s impossibly awkward to reach into.
  3. No washboard. Use gloved hand to swish unemphatically.
  4. Shower rod for hanging “rinsed” clothes, ideally placed slightly outside the tub area so all drips fall directly onto the bathroom floor.
  5. Cram yourself into tub with washing and rinsing pails. Dim lighting is ideal to appropriately match the angry, foul energy you are emitting.

I got through two dresses, and after the second one dyed the wash water purple, I called it quits. URBAN DOMESTICITY FAIL.

Just earlier in the day, I had picked up an antique glass washboard at a garage sale, observing how wonderful it is to not have need for such tennis elbow-inducing items anymore. We have Wii for that now. And tennis, for weirdos. Next time I’m out garage-saleing I am picking up every antique gadget I find. Surely if I don’t it will come back to bite me in the ass as it did this time. If it turns out we have NO use for an 18th century lead-lined produce pickler, not to worry! I will hang it on the wall and call it “country cute,” and whimsically ironic hipsters and middle-aged women will swell with competitive angst and hope (respectively).

Join me next time when I take on cleaning second story windows FROM THE OUTSIDE!

3 thoughts on “Hand-Wash Only: A Failure in Urban Domesticity

  1. Like you, I do NOT hand wash anything. I put it all in the washing machine on “delicate.” If it survives, wonderful. If not… well, it just wasn’t meant to be. <— I keep this in mind while shopping and try not to buy anything that won't survive.

  2. I have the second setup you describe – except only one bucket that I have to dump and refill to rinse, and it’s a house (albeit a small one) not an apartment. Handwashing doesn’t bother me but, like Gretchen, I keep garment care instructions in mind while shopping. My laundry dirty secret: I sometimes hang a few things that say “reshape and lay flat to dry” if they’re light enough. :-O

  3. I totally hang up “lay flat to dry” clothes as well. Most of the clothes I buy don’t require anything special, but sometimes, you just have to go for the silk dress, you know?

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