Doing your laundry with a Japanese Hillbilly twist

Guest post by Breanna

Like many young adults (of my generation, at least), there are three options for doing laundry:

1. Beg parents. This normally comes with a benefit of food.
2. Haul everything to a laundromat and pay $5 per load. And wonder who is watching your underwear spinning around at light-speed in the dryer.
3. Don’t. Re-wear until death, spot clean as needed and buy new undies every paycheck.

Vicious cycle, huh? Well, our grand-parents and great grandparents didn’t necessarily have high efficiency washers and dryers. They had time, the sun, the wind, and Borax. And taking a few pages from their books, I came up with my brilliant plan that, believe it or not, will only end up costing me $30 a year.

You’ll need:

AND you’ll also want a line of some sort. Army Stores have 550 Paracord which you can get other places. But a regular line in the camping section of a super store would work too.

Making the laundry soap:

Grab a bucket and start cheese grating the Zote or Fels Naptha. This is literally the longest part of the entire process. After you have grated all of the soap, gradually mix in all of the other ingredients and seal away.

Believe it or not, this laundry soap only takes 1-2 tablespoons a load, AND costs you maybe $30 a year. Hallelujah, right?

Using a washing method:

If you’re using this soap with a high efficiency washer, it will only take one tablespoon. And, as a warning, it doesn’t suds up, so don’t ever add more than that. It’s actually better for the washer and for those with sensitive skin for that reason.

If you don’t have a washing machine, you can make your own “hillbilly washer.” To make instructions short as possible, cut 3-6 quarter sized holes in the plunger’s rubber with scissors and place in a bucket.

If using the hillbilly washer, do small loads at a time, wring them out and hang them. It’s best to come home from a bad day at work, or turn on some really angry music and just plunge and stir away with the plunger.

I’ve also heard this works great on cloth diapers, so that’s a plus.

Drying laundry:

When it comes time for the lining of the clothes, its preferable to pick a hot, windy day, but sometimes you just have to make do. However in the States, we don’t have a “laundry index” like Japan does. (Seriously, it’s awesome to look at, and it makes me really jealous of the Japanese). So use your best judgement. If it looks like rain, don’t put out your clothes. If you feel like dying when you step out into the heat, probably a quick clothes drying day.

Comments on Doing your laundry with a Japanese Hillbilly twist

    • protip on the zote/fels napatha bar:
      1-slice it up like cheese for a party on a plate, paper or otherwise.
      2- pop it in the microwave for like 30 sec, depending on size of the slice
      3- watch in wonder at it expands like a crazy, sciencey alien
      4- grab a piece for grating with a doubled papertowel, they’ll be BLAZING hot
      Result- 2xs faster grating!

      • When we make ours, I use the grater blade on my food processor. Super fast! We also unwrap our soap and let it sort of dry out first for a couple of days (we use Ivory rather than Zote/Fels Naptha, though I might switch it up next batch). I find it grates better when it’s drier.

  1. I think I might finally make some of the laundry mix. We’ll probably still use the coin operated machines in our building, but detergent is so expensive! I like the bad day plungey cleaning idea though, we used to wash some of our clothes by hand (literally with our hands and a wooden spoon) in our bath tub using a textured bath mat to scrub. Great workout.

    • My former house (for 18 years) had traditionally been a widows house. Literally, my husband and I were the only family we could find out about in the 100year + history of the house, every other occupant had been an aged widow! My DH’s grandfather (97) could remember walking to school and passing the house while the “Old Lady” Ott sat in her rocker on the back porch and washed her clothes in a washtub by swishing and stomping them around with her feet!

  2. You go girl! This is what I used to do until I was gifted a laundry pod for christmas. The only things I machine was are bedspreads. I live in a tiny apartment and use a drying rack on my balcony in the summer or put it in the tub during winter. Anothe thing you can do is you can buy a another shower curtain rod for like $10 and hang it over the center of the bathtub. That way you have two shower curtain bars to hang things on. I use the middle one for things that are drippy after ringing them out, and the out shower rod for things that are almost dry and not drippy. Also I use sock hangers that have multiple clips on each hanger, use them for underwear, socks, and bras.

  3. Oh how I love my homemade laundry detergent! I only use Borax, Oxyclean, and washing soda though. I think when it runs out I might try adding the Purex crystals. What is the point of the baking soda though? Deodorant purposes? I also need to find a better container for mine, with a good seal. I suspect the slight dampness of my basement is why it is one gigantic rock…..

  4. I have made my own laundry soap for a little more than a year and it works great. I only mix together Borax, washing soda and Fels Naptha, though, but I do add varying levels of Oxyclean on top, depending on the load.

    I do, however, put white vinegar in the Downy fabric softener ball to make sure everything rinses out cleanly — sometimes a residue remains on my pants (but never my husband’s pants, for some reason) if I don’t.

    Also, I hear this is really good for high-efficiency machines since it doesn’t sud up. We don’t have one, but it’s what I hear.

  5. When I was a kid we lived on a research station in the Serengeti National Park. No washing machines in sight! Mom learned from the old bush hands that the simplest way to wash all our clothing and sheets while keeping her hands from getting raw was to run a bit of water in the bathtub with detergent, put the stuff in, and stomp around on it. Maybe a bit of hand-scrubbing on particularly recalcitrant stains, but the tub-stomping method saved her hands. With the bonus that four-year-old me could help.

    We had a huge rainwater tank to use for water when elephants dug up the water pipes coming in to the station during the dry season, which is a sentence not many people get the chance to use, but I think at those times we just didn’t bother to wash clothes except at direst need!

    Mom also tells me that everyone learned to tie-dye as it kept your white sheets from looking dingy.

    • Please turn this comment into a full article! “We had a huge rainwater tank to use for water when elephants dug up the water pipes coming in to the station during the dry season,” This sentence makes me want to read your memoir!

  6. I love this so much!! We have a washer and dryer (and use homemade soap with it), but this is an awesome way to save money and get some stress out!

    Just one question though, before hanging them out to dry should you rinse them in clean water? I don’t even know if our washer does that, I’m just guessing here!

  7. Where do you FIND washing soda? I’ve wanted it for other homemade cleaner recipes and just can’t find it. Of course, I’ve only really checked grocery stores. Where should I be looking?

    • I use Fels Naptha soap, Borax, and Washing Soda:

      1 bar FN
      1 cup B
      1 cup WS

      Use at 1 Tbs/load, makes about 60 loads.
      I’ve never had any staining or residue problems with this recipe! I’ve also used Dial soap, which is recommended for those that prefer a lighter fragrance. FN smells like lemons, which I prefer :o)

  8. I seem to remember another article about homemade laundry soap on offbeathome a while back in which someone commented that Naptha soap isn’t great for you. I don’t mean to put this post down at all, especially since I don’t actually have any hard information to contribute other than “I think I remember a post way back sometime . . .”. But does anyone have any information about that?

  9. I recently converted to making my own laundry soap and I love it! My washing machine is small and can’t wash comforters, so I might have to give the bathtub-stomping method a shot.

    Love these kinds of tips!

    • My boss at work also lives in the same apartments and on her days off will soak all her laundry all day in the tub. She lives upstairs so she gets the benefit of a patio. So unfair. 🙂

  10. I’ve been using the bucket-and-plunger method for a few months now. I live in a remote Brazilian town and most families have simple agitating machines but even those are expensive, and since my little place came with a sweet double sink – one half is molded into a washboard at a convenient angle, and the other is deep and round. The bucket and plunger work pretty well and are definitely easier than washing each item by hand, although I find it’s still a good idea to check each item and wash dirtier parts on the washboard – deodorant stains, underwear and socks, pant hems, and mud stains need special attention. Soaking clothes for a while and plunging periodically also helps and saves your arms. I use a big bucket – maybe 5 gallons – which handles a set of double sheets or two towels well, and the plunger has been a lifesaver for these and heavy clothes like jeans and sweatshirts. I highly recommend drilling the holes in the plunger rather than cutting them if possible. I didn’t, and one of my cuts came out teardrop shaped, and then the pointy part ripped a bit and now the clothes sometimes catch in the rip. I’m not going to do my laundry like this forever – it really does take a lot more time – but it’s kind of meditative and nice to break my mental dependence on washing machines. another tip for those with the sun, wind, and space… Don’t bother wringing out sturdier items like t-shirts and sheets. The weight of the water will stretch them as they dry and leave them less wrinkled.

  11. I make liquid laundry soap using Fels Naptha, Borax, and washing soda. I’ve been doing it for the last 3 years and so far I’ve spent a grand total of $15. After the next batch I make (soon!) that total will go to $17.

    I’ve used Ivory soap, too, when I couldn’t find Fels Naptha. This stuff even works on cloth diapers almost as well as the Cotton Babies detergent – if I line dry them I can’t tell a difference!

  12. I’m allergic to borax (seriously, when I was a kid, my dad started putting some in the wash, and I got a full-body rash that looked like I had gotten bitten all over by giant alien space ants). Will this still work without it?

    • I would assume so. The real power is really in the oxyclean, the soap and the sodas. Why not try it and see how it works for you? There are also always other recipes for it. 🙂

  13. I do this! It doesn’t just save money by using cheap ingredients and no electricity, handwashing also makes your clothes last a lot longer which is an additional saving!

  14. Borax is not available within the EU (it’s actually banned). You can get substitutes, but I just use Dr Bronners – 4-5 tbsp per load, depending on how big your load/machine is. You can get gallon bottles really cheaply on Amazon (I would also buy a pump dispenser if getting a large bottle of soap). It’s a little more expensive than DIYing it but still eco-friendly and much easier :p

    FYI, I get the unscented soap and then if I want some fragrance, add a couple of drops of essential oil to a clean rag/cloth and add that to my laundry.

  15. This is pretty similar to how I used to wash clothes when I was in the Peace Corps. I used two buckets, one for washing and one for rinsing, with store-bought powdered detergent. After two years of that, I was happy to move into an apartment with washing machines in the basement — though as you say, they’re expensive. Now you’ve got me almost nostalgic enough to try the bucket method again.

  16. I make my own version of the above detergent, and I always find borax and washing soda at hardware stores (read tools and gardening equipment) in the cleaning section.

    However, I use a little apartment sized portable washing machine (Haier, and I fucking LOVE IT. We have a newborn and the washing machine full does one days worth of baby clothes, diapers and washcloths. And it spin drys so well, the diapers are always dry within 8 hrs. We use our canopy bed and a set of plastic hangers like a drying closet, best drying rack ever (if your clothes are spin dried first). I would highly recommend this particular model of portable washer if the plunger thing doesn’t appeal to you!

  17. Do you empty the soapy water from your hillbilly washer and refill with clean water to rinse the clothes, or just wring with the detergent still on them?

    • Empty. The apartments we live in pay for our water as long as we pay the gas and electric. But you do always need to rinse out any clothes with detergent on them, no matter how its made. The soap in contact with your skin has the potential to give you a horrible rash (Trust me, I learned the hard way with my undies)

      • Thanks! I figured that was the case, but didn’t want to assume. I’ve never made homemade detergent so didn’t know if there was something different about it. 🙂

  18. Made this in January via Pinterest: Still going strong and it’s almost August!!! I do laundry for five people. Best. Thing. Ever. Also look up the recipe for dishwasher soap. It’s almost the same thing.

  19. I have a recipe that I have been using for a while now and it is even simpler than this:
    1 bar Fels-naptha (grated)
    4 cups Washing Soda
    3 cups Baking Soda

    I removed the Borax because I found out it wasn’t good for the environment and we’re on septic so our waste hits the environment faster. The other ingredients listed aren’t really needed.

    This washes better than the liquid version of detergent that I used to use. So far as I can tell this makes enough for about 60 loads (I am going to track that a little better next batch)

    I also use white vinegar in place of fabric softener – cheaper and better for you.

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