So how do I do laundry? I have a tiny house, and am off grid, so space, water, and power are all limited. I think my parent's laundry room is larger than my whole house. How do I get clean clothes without lots of all those things?
There are several options for a tiny house. The closest to a "normal" washing machine would be any of the combination washer/driers that are designed for apartments and are non vented. I do have a good friend who has one and he has been using it happily for years. You can put your laundry in, turn it on, and forget about it. And I hear they are very gentle on clothing and generally a good deal. But, they do take up some space and still use power. On the other end of the spectrum, you can just wash things totally by hand. I suppose I could even get a washboard out and walk down to the creek beside my house to do my laundry. I did not go with either of these options however.
I have an hand crank washing machine, a Wonderwash, which I am very happy with. It probably falls somewhere in the middle of the options listed above. It is pictured above, set up ready to drain into my sink. I was actually using this while I lived in a hotel before moving into Fy Nyth so I have had a while to obtain experience with this set up. I really like it, but it is not an electric washing machine that requires no involvement or thought. If that is want you are expecting, you will not like it. Using it also requires at least some turning, and for me lifting and carrying of water (due to my off grid water set up, when I was still living on grid, I just filled it in the tub and did not have to carry any water), all things within a basic level of physical ability, but if you have a hard time with any of those tasks, again, it's probably not for you. I'll explain further how I use it below.
For laundry detergent, I use soap nuts. They are totally natural (and work just fine in a regular washing machine as well, I have been using them for years now), biodegradable (important for my grey water's health), and non toxic. I've always had sensitive skin and most soaps really irritate it, but soap nuts are terrific. You can even eat them or the liquid, though you'll probably get a slightly upset stomach, so I don't recommend this.
Most of the time I just put 5 or 6 nuts in a little bag like this, and toss them into my washing machine with my clothing. You can also make liquid soap with them however. Below you can see about 15 nuts boiling in a quart of water (you end up with less due to evaporation). I just boil them till the water had turned pretty brown and no more seems to be leaching out of the nuts. About 45 minutes? Then I strain out the pieces of nuts, and I have liquid detergent.
As the liquid cools, some solids will settle out like as you can see below. This is totally normal. The liquid soap will create some bubbles, but is not a bubbly as a commercial detergent. The liquid soap is a little more effective if you are using cold water to do your laundry. It's also great for washing dishes or anything else. The one thing to be aware of is that since this it totally natural and has no preservatives, it will spoil unlike a standard bottle of soap. I've found if I just leave it on the counter for about three weeks, it will start to mold on top. Usually this is no problem as I use it up faster than that. I'm planning to experiment with making the liquid into a shampoo at some point too...
Back to the washing machine. It's basically a large (well kinda small) barrel on a frame with a handle. Above you can see the drain spout inserted so the dirty water can drain into my sink. (Or your shower, or outside, or anywhere you want the water, like watering plants, especially if you are using no chemicals in your laundry.)
You do have to do a small load, but at my house it's just me, so I can take time to do maybe two loads some afternoon every two weeks or so and that's sufficient. I can get a pair of jeans, cotton pants, and handful of tee shirts, and some socks and underwear all into one load. I am also not a terribly large person, so realistically there is just less fabric in my clothing than some people will have. If you are larger, you'll have to do more loads I imagine.
Here's my laundry pile at the start. Obviously you can separate colors, but since pretty much all my clothing is dark, I don't bother. I usually add some water to the bottom of the barrel first along with my bag of soap nuts. Then add clothing till it's just over half full, and finish filling with enough water to cover my clothing. If you stuff it too full, there is not enough room for the clothes to agitate and they will not end up as clean.
Now you turn the lid on and use the small handle to screw it down tight. This give you an air and water tight seal. Now you can start to spin your machine. I usually sit mine on the counter so it can drain into the sink and this also makes it a nice hight for me to turn comfortably. When I was using it in the hotel, I did the same thing in the bathtub and just sat on the edge to turn it. Also fairly comfortable. I think the instructions say something like 200 turns in each directions. What I actually do is this. I turn it maybe 20 times each way, and then I go do something else for a little. Often I am cooking at the same time so this works well. A few (5-15 minutes) later, I come back and give it another 20 turns each way. It seems that repeating this 4 or 5 times gives it plenty of time to soak, and enough agitation.
Now I insert the drain and walk off to do something else while the dirty water drains down the sink. Usually catching some to water all my house plants first. When I was using it in a bathtub, I found it faster to just take the lid off and spin the whole tub upside down and drain it that way.
Next I add more water and repeat the above process to rinse everything well. This sounds like a long list of stuff involved, but really, the way I do it while doing other projects around the house only involves a few minuets of actual attention. And everything really does get clean. Gym clothes, hiking clothing, everything I've tried comes out clean.
Now we go to my Nina Soft Spin Drier. This is electrical. It's not a drier that blows hot air, it's more like a giant salad spinner. And it really does spin out a ton of water. You can certainly wring everything out by hand but when I tried a side by side test, one sock from a pair in the spin drier, one by hand, etc, I found the items in the spin drier were totally dry about 10 hours sooner than the stuff I had wrung out by hand and that made it worth it for me to have the drier around taking up space. The stuff from the drier actually feels almost dry enough to wear when it comes out unless it is a very heavy fabric.
You fill the drier with your dripping wet laundry and drop that pink thingy on the top. This keeps little stuff like a sock from spinning out and getting stuck between the spinner and the main body. I've done this when I forgot to use the pink thing, and getting stuff out of that little gap is tough. You also want to be sure you stack the things into there in a balanced way of it will have a really hard time spinning smoothly. When turned on, it spins about 1200 rpm, and gets and amazing amount of water out of the clothing.
Before you start it, make sure you put some kind of container under the drain. Again, if you are able to use it in your tub or shower you can just let it drain right there. My bowl from my kitchen aid fits perfectly under there and holds the amount of water I generally get from a full drier of laundry.
Next comes my handy rack. I find the fastest spot for drying everything is to put the whole rack in my bathroom since one third of all the heat is venting into that little space, plus it's out of my way. And then I can hang items I want on hangers on the shower curtain rod. It makes a full little bathroom for sure, but it works!
If I have a huge pile of stuff to dry (say you accidentally turn your shower on and soak all your clothing that is hanging in there...) I can extend my old curtain rod across the whole house, and hang everything in the living room. Much more in the way, but this works as well.
So far I am very happy with this set up. But if I ever change my mind, or have more power, I could choose to install one of those apartment combo washer/driers and have a more conventional system.
In case you are interested in a similar set up for your tiny house or RV, following are links to some of the items I use and describe in this post. If you buy them through my link, you will be helping me pay the bills here in my tiny house!