Q. Dear Umbra,

I live in a restored historic apartment building with no washer or dryer. I hate driving to the Laundromat. Is there a simple, affordable, non-electric, eco method of washing/drying inside my apartment? I was looking at the pedal-powered GiraDora thingy, but don’t know if there are other, better options? Please advise!

Tom O.
Kingston, N.Y.

A. Dearest Tom,

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I’ve lived in a few historic apartment buildings in my day. And while I have fond memories of their charming crown moldings and handsome wood floors, I also recall their drawbacks — drafty windows, warped doors, and rickety or, as in your case, just plain missing appliances. Say what you will about more modern buildings, on-site washers and dryers certainly make laundry an easier chore.

But there are some surprising benefits to making do without such machines, Tom. It takes extra time, money, and gas to lug your hamper back and forth once a week (or more). And cleaning your clothes by hand at home saves energy, as the power to scrub out your undies comes from your lunch, not an electric plant. You might save water, too, depending on what kind of washing machines your Laundromat has.

Doing laundry by hand at home is work, but if you’re up for the challenge, there are a few alternatives out there that could work for you (disclaimer: I haven’t tested these gadgets myself, so consider my recommendations a starting point for your own research). Let’s get sorting, shall we?

The GiraDora contraption you mentioned, which looks a bit like a beer keg with a foot pedal, does indeed wash clothes and it’s mighty affordable (40 bucks), but it’s not yet available for sale. Other hand-operated gizmos on my radar are the Laundry Pod and the Wonderwash, which anecdotally sound effective. But both of those fit only small loads (one review mentions only six T-shirts or one pair of jeans at a time), so they might not be very time-effective for you if you have a family’s worth of laundry or go through, say, lots of sweaty gym clothes.

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Then there are the more traditional methods — creative variations of the tub-and-washboard systems employed by our foremothers (I’d say forebears for gender neutrality, but let’s be real). The easiest one is probably the Shower Method: Toss your clothes in the tub with you, plug the drain, use a soap that will work on both your suits and your birthday suit (such as liquid castile soap), and swish the laundry around with your feet until it’s clean. Rinse, wring, and hang to dry.

Another system that requires a bit more hardware is the Bucket or Tub Method: Put your clothes in a plastic storage bin or large bucket and fill it with enough soapy water to cover the clothes, then let it all soak. (Experienced home-washers don’t recommend using the bathtub unless you have a big load, as you’ll need more water to cover the clothes that way.) Next step: Come back and agitate the laundry, either with your feet again or by using a plunger-like tool like this one, which pulls water through fabrics for deeper cleaning. Then rinse, wring, and hang dry.

You’ll want to invest in a mechanical wringer of some kind for all of these methods, by the way — hand-wringing isn’t very effective, so your clothes will take forever to dry, plus it kinda hurts. You can buy a rolling wringer like this, or even use a janitor’s bucket.

And finally, if you’re really old-school, or just have really dirty/stained items, you can add a washboard to the kit, which supercharges your scrubbing. That’s about as equipment-heavy as it gets — until we can buy this bike washing machine, that is. Finally, a way to add some cardio to chore time!

I hope one of these low-tech laundry methods will put your Laundromat days behind you, Tom. You might need a little trial and error to figure out what works best, and you might still want to take big items like sheets and towels down to the Spin-O-Matic. But if turning on a podcast and cranking your way through a load of T-shirts doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a Tuesday night, then I see lots of happy days ahead for you.


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