A recycled double sink, an old outdoor-appropriate shelf, a nice location in shade of an olive tree, a drain to the garden - and voila, a garden laundromat is borne! The decision to wash by hand at least some portion of our clothes came when our three year old son developed a fondness for mud and water play. There is no way his clothes could go inside of the house, much less directly into the washing machine! At the same time it became abundantly clear that most of this clothes (and some of ours) don't really need any kind of vigorous, best-performed-by-highly-specialized-and-very-professional washing machine wash. A good number of things needs simple refreshing or spot cleaning.Living with a young child necessitates frequent cloth changes. Today he is a baby goat and is therefore running around on all four, butting into things and chewing on grass. Tomorrow he is making adobe mud bricks and washing his toy animals in the resulting mud soup. In between there are milk spills, apple smears, building projects and painting with watercolors. A good old fashioned apron is a partial answer to the task of keeping a child somewhat clean (prevention is always a good tool, though when practicing green living, one cannot fuss too much around preventing life from happening and from dirtying the clothes)!
The pattern for this sweet and very functional apron-smock comes from A Children's Year book, and is made out of an old skirt with bias tape to finish the edges. We have two of these around, with pockets often full of treasures, seeds, screws and dried apples. When the apron fails to keep things clean, the time for outdoor washing arrives. Two baskets, one for mother and one for the child, full of little items to wash are carried to the sink. Warm water is poured in, natural soap is mixed, and the washing begins. (Detour here to read on Garden Friendly Detergents and soap). Much like the beloved water play, it involves a little bit of splashing, swooshing, sorting and fishing things out and drowning them again. While mother washes, child plays - each on a different side of the sink and each with a different goal in mind.
At the very end, a reward arrives - one can pull out the stopper and watch soapy water drain into a bucket. Not very elegant yet (no drain hose so far) but just as efficient when it comes to taking water to a deserving tree. The cycle is completed at the clothes line where a rope is placed low enough for a three-year old to be able to hang his own shirts and pants. The whole cycle takes about 30 minutes - of being outdoors, living great life, watering plums and peaches that surround this little "laundromat", spending time with someone you love. This is the chore we do after dinner, and by the time we are all done, the sun is setting and it is time to put animals to bed and go inside.
Shirts, pants, pillow cases are on the line strung between two native plum shrubs (these are VERY large shrubs) - they will dry in the shade, which in New Mexico is not a difficult proposition. Two shirts (blue and red ones) on the child's line are hand-sewn.
p.s. I have figured out home-made dishwashing liquid which is good, and now it is time for the next step - laundry powder or liquid. Here is a good link (though untested!): Cost Comparisson and Recipe for Laundry Soap