Tuesday, November 24, 2015


If you're cruising or maybe just off the dock for weeks on end, laundry becomes an issue.  TC & Kelly aboard s/v Wind Strider share with us their method for producing clean clothes while away from shore:
In my-not-so-humble opinion, laundromats suck.  Marina laundries even more.  Few and far between, they are a quality craps shoot.  Tending to be hot and steamy, they may or may not have fully functioning machines.  Even if the washers function, there are other probable problems like not getting all the soap out.  Then, what was left behind by the previous user?  For instance, boat waxing rags leaving all kinds of muck in the machine?  Dryers...well, they take forever.  Everything is also expensive.  Further, the facilities tend to be crowded...one is lucky if the crowd is friendly.

No sir, I don't like it and would rather spend time on the boat vice a marina laundry.

So, a search for an alternative was deduced, experimented with and the results are presented.

The basics:  Wash and dry.  There may be a few intermediate steps in the process; sort, load into water with cleaning agent, agitate, wring out cleaning water, load into rinse water, agitate, wring.  Most of these are normally done by automatic washing machines.  Hands on are only required for the sorting, initial loading and transfer to the dryer.  Lucky these are modern times and we are not living in grandma's era huh?  I promise I don't envy grandma and I am too lazy to do all she did.

First, an admittedly smart assed assumption:  Everyone is familiar with solar clothes dryers.  This is the clothes drying method used since ancient days where clothing is placed such that circulating air and the shining sun can dry them.  Modern versions generally include a stretched, horizontal line and the use of clothes pins to secure the clothing to the line.  Sail boaters know lifelines and sheets work well for this purpose.

How to do the wash?  I had stumbled across the Wonderwash a few years ago and thought to purchase one.  Reviews were good, but it is a one-use-product, only used to do laundry.  I don't like one-use-products aboard, especially fairly large (size of a small microwave) one-use-products.  There is just not enough space. 

So, alternatives were looked for.  The internet and youtube can provide a lot of information, some is quite entertaining and I came across this 'cheap and easy DIY washing machine'.  Now this could be done easily as both the bucket and holey bucket were already aboard!  The on board bucket, besides being a just a bucket, seconded as the bottom half for a 'Bucket Head' vacuum cleaner.  With a lid, the holey bucket, suspended into the water next to the boat, is a live seafood container also known as a 'crab condo'.

Instead of the drilled plunger for an agitator though, a Breathing Mobile Washer was purchased w/o a handle.  It is small enough to store very easily (inside a bucket).  The boat hook already aboard has a compatible screw-in portion and could double as a handle.

So, bucket and agitator:  Check.  How to get rid of the water (wring) efficiently?

It is important to effectively get rid of the wash cycle water prior to rinsing.  The more soapy water removed, the less rinse water required.  While the sit squish method in the video worked, my 220 pounds did not 'wring' the clothing well enough and they came out wet.  The spin method just took too long and was labor intensive.  Hand wringing is a viable option.  But unless the clothes-damaging, around-the-lifeline-stanchion method was used, the bare hand method is just not effective enough.

Then a buddy suggested a wringer, an actual hand crank, roller wringer like grandma used to use.  They are still available!  Several were looked at and the DynaJet BL-38 was selected because of its simplicity.  A couple Magma T10-380 grill mounts easily replaced the stock mounts to enable rail mounting.  Mounting and adjusting the wringing pressure will be dependant upon the model purchased and your personal preferences.

Bucket, agitator and wringer:  Check.  Cleaning agent....

Strider only holds 30 gallons total fresh water.  Tough to do laundry with so little.  The first thought was to use salt water for the wash (detergent) portion then rinse with fresh.  Via cruiser forums, this was a bad idea.  More fresh water would be used to rinse the salt out than if fresh was used in the first place.  It is critical to get the salt out!  Salt will attract water (hence rice in the salt shaker) and the clothing, or bed sheets, will always feel damp.  Other forums discussed how much soap to use etc.

Then a reference was found to use ammonia instead of detergent.  An ancient cleaning solution, the Romans actually collected urine to convert to ammonia for use in their laundries.  Now, before anyone says 'yuck' or 'smells bad' or 'are you nuts' or 'piss' - ask yourselves how did the Romans get their togas so white?  And they did not walk around smelling like urine (BO maybe, but not urine).

So ammonia has a strong smell.  Use it in a well ventilated area like the stern of the boat.  Further, it is an organic, completely natural, disinfecting cleaner and not a bleaching agent - it will not change the color of the clothes.  Last, and best of all, it evaporates.  That's right, evaporates.  Translation:  No Rinsing is Required.

How much:  3/4 cup clear ammonia to 2.5 gallons of water is a good baseline and was found to work very well.  Make sure to get clear ammonia and not sudsy ammonia.  Sudsy ammonia has a small amount of detergent...which will require rinsing.

Bucket, agitator, wringer, cleaning agent:  Check, check, check and check.

The rest is just technique.  2.5 gallons of water and 3/4 cup ammonia in a 5 gallon bucket is not a lot of water/space so small loads are required or the clothes will not get an adequate agitation.  Since the wash water/ammonia solution will be used over and over, sort the clothing into small loads from lightly soiled to most heavily soiled and this is the order of washing:  Lightly soiled to more heavily soiled.

Details:  A small amount of clothing was loaded and agitated for about 2 minutes.  A lid was put on the bucket to prevent ammonia evaporation and load left to soak.  After about 30 minutes, the load was again agitated for about 2 minutes.  The wash cycle was now complete!  The trick now was to conserve as much of the wash water as possible.  Items were removed one at a time and some water was hand wrung back into the bucket.  Then the item was put through the wringer.  Smaller items were folded a couple times to increase the wringing pressure.  Larger items, like towels and bed linens had to be folded to make them narrow enough to fit into the wringer aperture.  Each wrung item was then set aside for hanging.  After the entire load was wrung, the next load was placed in the bucket and agitated for 2 minutes.  While the new wash load was soaking for 30 minutes, the wrung load was hung to dry.

100% water recovery is not possible and if there are too many loads, the water level or load amount will have to be adjusted.  If the loads are really dirty, a fresh batch of water/ammonia may be required.  Your option of course.

All in all, each load required about 40 minutes from loading to hung for drying.  30 minutes was soaking time, essentially down time available for something else like relaxing or another boat chore.

In the end, the left over cleaning solution was often pretty dirty.  Most times, the dirty water was just poured over the side (organic, natural remember) via the cockpit drains to help keep them clean.  Relatively clean solution was used to clean the sinks, countertops, around the toilet etc.

The results were impressive.  My wife, a skeptic with a nose able to detect a mouse fart, was thoroughly amazed and loved the results.  Fresh, clean, crisp bed linens!  The boat buddies with us decided to try it and are now purchasing their own equipment.

1 Home Depot buckets              ~$3.00 (free since it was already aboard)
1 Home Depot bucket lid          ~$1.00 (free since it was already aboard)
1 Whisper w/o handle               ~$14.00
1 DynaJet Wringer                    ~$140.00
2 Magma Grill Mounts             ~$50.00 ea
Ammonia                                  cheap

The only cost I don't like was for the grill mounts.  They work great...just hate the cost. 

The formula is simple:  2.5 gallons fresh water + 3/4 cup ammonia + agitator + wringer + clothes line + sunshine = fresh, clean, crisp clothing.

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