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June 4, 2008 Laundry Lessons

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done my laundry by hand. In the States, I avoided handwashing laundry like the plague. I put all kinds of things through the Delicate cycle that should have gotten kinder treatment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, exactly; it was more that I didn’t trust that I could do it. I couldn’t imagine how a few minutes of rubbing in soapy water could accomplish even a fraction the cleansing power of an agitator-powered washing machine.

But there aren’t a lot of washing machines in Morocco. There are some, especially in the larger cities, but I haven’t actually seen one in the three months (three months tomorrow!!) since coming here. So hand-washing clothes is simply a fact of life. And since I’ve still only unpacked the top foot of my huge backpack, I don’t have a whole lot of clothes; I’m pretty much re-wearing and re-washing the same handful of outfits. In fact, without even glancing around my room, I could name off every item of clothing I’ve worn in the past three months. For that matter, I bet any of my PCV friends could do it, too; they’ve certainly seen them enough. It’s really not a long list.

I’m guessing that there is at least one person reading this blog who has never washed an item of clothing by hand. And there have to be lots of y’all who have never washed an entire load of laundry by hand.

So here’s what I’ve learned from all the tsubbin (laundry) I’ve done:

1. It’s a fabulous way to clean under your fingernails. Seriously, your nails will never be as clean as after you’ve done your laundry. Maybe right after a shower – but only if it was a reasonably long one, and you really scrubbed your hair. Otherwise, dirty fingernails are a fact of life in my non-daily-shower world. After trying a lot of unsuccessful approaches to clean fingernails, I’ve given up and filed them all down to nubs. Usually, if my nails are this short, it’s a sign that I’m really, really stressed about something. Right now, it just means that I’m tired of seeing little black crescents. (I really don’t understand it. In the States, I never even owned a nail brush. Daily showers were enough that I never noticed my nails getting dirty. Here, they’re black again within hours of being scraped clean. It’s not like I’m making mud pies; where does the grime come from?? Hence the short-as-possible approach to nail care.)

2. When it comes to laundry detergent, less is more. My first “load”, I used about as much detergent as I would have in a washing machine. For a full load. And I was washing one pair of pants, five shirts, and assorted undergarments. Nothing resembling a full load of laundry. So despite rinsing everything, all my clothes were crusty with white soap residue. The next half-dozen times I did laundry, I used progressively less detergent. I’m finally down to about a tablespoon or two for a five-gallon bucket (stl), and it still takes two rinses to get the suds out.

3. Rinsing matters. And once isn’t enough. Just keep kneading the clothes in buckets of clean water until it stops coming up sudsy. You can also rinse under a running stream of water, but that takes more water – and Morocco doesn’t have enough water to be wasteful of it. (I’m here as an Environmental Educator, after all; I have to practice what I preach!)

4. When your clothes come off the line “crispy”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s soap residue. Line-dried clothes are just crunchier than machine-dried ones. Although if you’re in a windy city near a desert, odds are that there’s a fine layer of dust sun-baked into your clothes. But if there’s a whitish cast to the clothes, and they smell extra detergent-y, you probably didn’t rinse them enough. No problem; just rinse the crispiest garment or two once again, and this time let them maybe let them dry indoors (bathrooms are great for this), not on the roof. It’ll take longer without the direct sunlight, but they won’t get dust-ified.

5. If you hang the clothes right, they’ll never be wrinkly. It’s like magic. Did people even own irons back in the days before dryers? They might not have a perfect crease (but then again, depending on your skill with a clothespin, they might), but they’ll be tidy. Plus, thanks to the line-drying crispness, they’ll already feel starched. :)

6. Clothespins are gravity-defying, wind-defying, sandstorm-defying miracles of engineering. Love them, appreciate them, and use them on everything. I’ve found items of clothing wrapped twice around the clothespin. All I can figure is that they were blown enough to do two full laps around the clothesline – and they still didn’t come off. If you’re hanging your clothes indoors, you don’t need them (but it can’t hurt), but if your clothes are encountering the elements – let alone the occasional sandstorm – it’s either clothespins or coming back to discover that your freshly hand-washed shirt is now in a pile on the ground. And depending how wet it still was when it fell, it might be in a muddy pile on the ground. You don’t want to have your laundry dirtier afterwards than it was before you washed it; seems to violate the whole “laundering” principle.

7. Not all “clotheslines” are created equal. I once mistook a rooftop cable antenna wire for a rooftop clothesline. And I still have the rust stains to show for it. Check before you hang.

8. Handwashing with detergent = dry hands. Very dry. Tide is a worse offender than its local competitor, Omo. To avoid having hands that actually look grayish from desiccation, wash them off with hand soap after doing a load of laundry. Applying lotion never hurts, but if you wash with soap and water, it’s not necessary.

…I think that’s it. If I come up with others, I’ll get back to you. :)

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