Ah, the great outdoors. It’s wonderful. Spending time with your family in the bounty of nature is truly one of the best things in life. Too bad it sucks so awfully to pack up the car, set up your campsite, take down your campsite, reload the car, then put all the crap away when you get home.
There are ways to make all of that packing and unpacking less painful, but those are for another blog post. This post about is an often-overlooked aspect of spending time in the outdoors: basic, regular, everyday chores.
Chores actually can happen at any type of outdoor activity, but for this post, I’m focusing on camping. The kids and I have been on three multi-day camping trips since school let out in May, and only one of them was actually just for the purpose of going and having fun. The other two were functional; we had somewhere we had to be, and camping was the cheapest, most fun option.
My oldest recently attended a super-cool dance intensive at a university a few hours away. It was pretty pricey, but absolutely worth it. The only thing is, it didn’t include room and board. That meant she had to stay somewhere, so we camped. Yup, my kid was the one who had to camp every night, then get up at the crack of dawn to go dance for ten hours, then do it all again the next day. That’s because a campsite at the state park costs $34 a night, and a hotel in that town is over $100 a night.
So, camping it is! But that also meant six days’ worth of meals, showers, and (ugh) laundry. Kiddo had to wear several different dance outfits each day for the different types of classes she would be taking, and I had to have a way to wash the sweaty dance clothes.
Well…THIS is how you wash clothes in the woods! There are several different methods, all based on how long you’ll be gone and how often you plan to stay in the woods for an extended period of time. You also have to consider your gear, and how much room you’ll have to bring a washing system.
One of the most popular and most effective washing methods involves a five-gallon bucket with a snap-on lid, a toilet plunger (new, please!), and a hole drilled in the lid for the plunger to fit through. This method will remind you a lot of churning butter. However, this method also means carrying a five-gallon bucket with you; if you can use that bucket for some kind of storage or as a stool or a table when it’s not a washing machine, that might be okay. But we already had to bring gear and food to camp for six days, so an extra bucket wasn’t really in our space allotment.
This method is for a much smaller stash of laundry, like leotards and dance tights. If you’re not dragging a future Broadway dancer with you on your camping trip, this method would also be perfect for making sure you have two clothing essentials: clean socks and clean panties. You can actually wear a t-shirt until the smell frightens away woodland creatures, but socks and panties really need to be clean for optimal health. You can wash your socks and undies with this method.
NOTE: I know some readers will ask why I didn’t just go into town and use a laundromat, and I want to say that on our first long-stay trip this summer, that’s exactly what I did; we spent eight days camping, so I went over to the state park’s wash room and popped in some quarters one morning. But on this trip, those dance clothes had to be washed every night. Besides, washing one pair of tights, two leotards, some socks, and a pair of shorts in a washing machine is very wasteful of water and quarters.
HOW TO WASH CLOTHES IN THE WOODS:
- Get a large wide-mouthed jug with a screw on lid. Wash it thoroughly several times before you try to use it.
- Get some kind of “agitator” to go in your jug. I used a nylon sock filled with rocks that I’d washed. The sock is just to keep my rocks together so when I’m rinsing and draining, I’m not dropping the rocks everywhere and getting them dirty again.
- You can use powdered or liquid soap, but I would recommend powder in case it spills in your gear. It’ll be far easier to clean up than liquid.
- Place the dirty clothes, the agitator, and the soap in the jug. Fill with just enough water to cover the clothes. Shake the jug for about three minutes. You can do this by just holding it while you cook dinner, by having your kids play with it back and forth, by putting it on the roof of the car and driving back up the bumpy road to the camp store, whatever. Just get it moving!
- After you’re sure it’s been agitated, drain the water and refill the jug with fresh water. Agitate it again for about a minute, then let it soak for a little while to make sure the soap comes out of the clothes.
- Final rinse: drain the rinse water, then take each piece of clothing out of the jug one by one and rinse it under running water. Then hang it up to dry! That’s it!
Again, washing your clothes while camping isn’t something you need to do on a weekend getaway, but if you will be staying for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea, especially for personal items, any cooking cloths you’ve used that might attract animals to your campsite, or basic spills.