Month: June 2014

Digging my own hole. (Part 1)

by D.J.

It’s been bothering me lately that whenever we do laundry, we’re just filling up the washtub with tap water from a garden hose. I like to picture myself doing laundry like my ancestors did. But it’s hard to do that when I’m uncoiling a hose and turning on a nozzle, filling the tub with water that came from some sort of water treatment plant where they scrubbed all the life out of it. I might as well be buying a couple cases of bottled water at Sam’s Club!

Map to river

So I’ve decided to make a change and start getting our water more naturally. Unfortunately, Cate thinks we live too far from the river to get our washwater there. It’s less than a half-hour walk, but Cate grew up in the suburbs so I guess that’s a big deal to her. I’d do it myself, but sometimes guys on the street mess with me, whereas with Cate they just whistle at her and ask her to smile. I swear, it’s like she lives in Disney cartoon. We should all be so lucky!

So with the river out, I feel like I’ve only got one option–I’m going to dig a well in our backyard. I bought a pickaxe and shovel at Home Depot, and I’m going to start digging this afternoon. Wish me luck!

Apparently my wife is too much of a princess to carry a tub of water from the Anacostia River every morning.


The Road

by D.J.

Summer is finally here. And that doesn’t just mean we get to hand-wash white pants—it means family vacations.

Now, I’ve met people who claim to be part of the Slow Landry movement, but who don’t hand-wash when they’re on vacation. Frankly, this suggests that they somehow want to take a “vacation” from doing laundry!

Slow Laundry is perfectly consistent with family vacations – you just need to plan ahead and carve out plenty of time and money. And just as with traveling itself, when it comes to hand-washing laundry the reward is not in the destination, but in the journey.

So how to do it? It all depends on your vacation. For every trip, there is a strategy for making sure that the magic of hand-washing laundry is part of the fun.


This one is a no-brainer.

Stop at a truck stop and fill your washtub in the shower (this is also a great way to meet fellow travelers, by the way). Boil it by sitting the tub on your hood and revving the engine for an hour or so. Then put your laundry in the tub, get back on the highway and start scrubbing. And here’s a tip – try driving over potholes, rumble strips and stray retread to help agitate the laundry.

When it’s time to dry the clothes, just hang them out the window and drive fast. (This also works when you’re not on vacation – sometimes I stick our wet laundry to the car with refrigerator magnets and drive up and down Rock Creek Parkway, enjoying the weather.)

Doing laundry at a truck stop

Just 59 more minutes to go!


The good news is that in a hotel room you’ll have a bathtub that will fit the whole family’s laundry. And if you use a propane heater to heat your washwater, most hotel fire alarms won’t pick it up.

The bad news is that we’ve had problems with hoteliers complaining when we hang laundry out the hotel windows to dry. But keep in mind that in most jurisdictions, it takes a few hours to evict you from a hotel room: more than enough time to dry the clothes a little before you have to move on.

Remember that when you check in, your room has probably been stocked with machine-washed sheets and towels. I like to call ahead and request hand-washed linens. And you’d be surprised: most of the time, I get a “Hah! Yeah sure, no problem! We’ll get right on that! Hah!” It’s always encouraging to find a fellow Slow Laundry supporter.


Camping is the heart and soul of Slow Laundry. This is when we can most closely approximate the natural and traditional way that our ancestors washed clothes: in the open air, hunched over a creek, swatting at mosquitoes. I wish we could move to the woods full-time, but Cate has told me to stop bringing it up.

Still, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A lot of park rangers have let the power go to their head, and they’re liable to give you a hard time – “you can’t rinse soapy clothes in the stream,” “you can’t drape wet clothes over other people’s tents” and so forth. So you may need to do your laundry by moonlight.
  • When building a fire to heat your washwater, it’s important to remember that in the hot summer months, wood will go up like kindling. So be sure to build your fire close to a lot of underbrush, so you have quick access to a lot of good, dry wood.
Camping clothesline

We ran out of space so hung laundry by the tent next door. It was exciting for them when they woke up and saw it!


Are you ready to join the “Mile High Club” of Slow Launderers who’ve washed their clothes while 30,000 feet above the ground? It’s easier than it sounds, and there are two good options.

Option one is to do laundry at your seat. Just bring a plastic bag to use as a washtub, and ask the flight attendant for a dozen cups of hot water. (And don’t take any guff on this – you bought that seat and you’re entitled to as much hot water as you want.) Once the water, the clothes and the soap are in the bag, tie the end off and bang the bag against the window for a few minutes. You’ll find this is a great conversation-starter!

Option two is to use the aircraft’s lavatory. Keep in mind that because you’ll be in there for a while, someone might knock on the door and ask if you’re ok. Just yell, “I’m trying to join the Mile High Club!”

The first time this happened to me, when I finally finished and left the lavatory, the flight attendant raised her eyebrow and asked me “you were alone in there?” I think it must have blown her mind that I could tackle a load of laundry all by myself!

Speaking Truth to Power

A few weeks ago, we contacted the corporate oligopoly that lies athwart the global washing machine industry like a sprawling, soapy octopus.

So far, none of them have had the courage to respond. We will keep you updated.


Attention corporate appliance baron:

Doing laundry used to be something that people did with their families and friends as a communal activity. To wash clothes, people needed only some water drawn from the river at dawn, handmade soap, and several hours of honest physical toil. 

But today, thanks to companies like yours, people just dump their laundry in a machine, push a button, and forget about it. Let us say that again: they forget about it. We’ve become totally disconnected from the understanding of laundry that our ancestors had.

Don’t believe me? Think about the socks you’re wearing right now. What day were they washed? You probably don’t even know, do you? I wish there were an emoticon for “slowly shake head, exhale, and look up in frustration while thinking ‘how can I even talk to this person,’” because that’s what I’m doing right now.

It’s not too late to turn the corner and make amends. Here’s how.

  • First, starting today, stop manufacturing washing machines and dryers and dismantle your factories. Use the land to build dog parks or gastropubs or something.
  • Your employees will thank you – they probably can’t even look in the mirror, knowing that they’re contributing to the industrialization of life. But they still need an income, so you should put them to work telling their friends and neighbors about how they can liberate themselves from the shackles of machine laundry. (Just part-time, though, because they’ll need a lot of time to do laundry the natural way, by hand.)
  • Don’t succumb to the temptation to sell through your inventory of washing machines and dryers. Every one you sell robs someone of the experience of doing laundry by hand. Dump your leftover machines in the ocean to form artificial reefs or scuba diving attractions.

In summary, you need to decide where you stand. Do you stand with your shareholders, directors, vendors, customers and consumers, all of whom would probably like you to continue making and selling appliances? Or do you stand with the small but meaningful Slow Laundry movement and its embrace of a return to a more natural way of washing clothes? 

We await your reply.


Hypocrisy (Part 4)

by D.J.

I’ve decided that it’s just not realistic for someone like me, who lives in an urban environment and doesn’t own a car and doesn’t watch TV, to catch enough wild animals to supply my family with all of the animal fat we need for soapmaking.

Cute rat

With an all-cheese diet, just think how much fat this guy has!

Now, I could totally catch enough rats by using a humane-catch rat trap, and then killing the rats. But Cate has this quaint hang-up about rats, and she doesn’t want to use soap made from rat fat, or store dead rats in our freezer. So, whatever. I guess no one is perfect.

While I wait for her to change her mind about the rats, I’ve decided the best option for getting good quality fat is to buy livestock and slaughter it myself.Goat

My first attempt was a goat I bought on Craigslist ($220! For a goat!). I picked it up and brought it back home on the Metro by putting a leash and harness on it, wearing sunglasses, and telling anyone who asked that it was a guide dog.

So, here’s how it worked out. I was in my backyard getting ready to slaughter the goat. I’d taken my shirt off to keep blood off of it, and I had a replica Sword of Gryffindor I bought from the Skymall catalog on a cross-country flight after I’d been drinking a little. I wasn’t able to find a chart showing the fattiest cuts of meat on a goat, but I found one for pigs, which I figured was pretty close.

swordI was chasing the goat around the yard with the sword when out comes my neighbor Noah, who starts yelling “what the f are you doing?” and “are you insane?” and “is that a tramp stamp on your back?” He called the cops, they took my goat, and from what I understand they gave it to the petting farm at the National Zoo.

Now, I happen to know that Noah eats meat, because of the time a cloth diaper blew off our clothesline onto the steaks he was grilling. Well, you know what, Noah? If you eat meat, you don’t get to freak out when you see someone slaughtering an animal. How do you think that meat ended up on your plate? Pretty much exactly like what you saw me just do.