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One Adventure After Another!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Doing Laundry On The Camino

When I was a girl, washing the clothes was considered women's work, and had been throughout much of history. Laundry day wasn't fun, but it also wasn't boring. It was often done alongside other women, and the work was made more pleasant by the sharing of stories and gossip.

In some places along the Camino, you can see large clothes washing troughs, usually under cover, where women still gather to wash their clothes.  These are made of stone or concrete and have inclined slabs around the rim for scrubbing.
 A girl could learn a lot by hanging out with the women on laundry day! When I had my first child, I lived in the Caribbean, away from my mother. I was 19 and had nobody to teach me about how to take care of a baby. I learned to hand wash diapers from the women who were working as maids in the trailer park where I lived. Wash day was an excellent time to make friends, hear stories, and to get advice. The women also (accurately) predicted the birth date of my son, which surprised me! I loved the look and scent of those sun-bleached diapers hanging from the clothesline, a rare sight in today's busy world.
One of the situations people who are planning to walk the Camino don't give a lot of thought to is how they will do their laundry. They just assume there will be laundromats all along the way. This is far from the reality.

You MAY be lucky enough to find a lavadora and secadora (washing machine and dryer), but for me, those were rare finds. I have heard that more albergues acquired them for Holy Year last year, but I have yet to see that for myself. Besides, machines were too expensive for my tight budget, so I was happy to do my laundry by hand.

There is no need to carry liquid or dry laundry detergent on the Camino. It is excess weight that is unnecessary. If you do find a machine and pay to do your laundry, the detergent is provided.
The washing machines in Spain are front-loaders. If you've never used a front loading machine, please read the instructions carefully and if you do not understand how to use the machine, please ask your hospitalero. They will be more than happy to assist you. It's good if you can share a machine between 2 or 3 pilgrims (or more) to save costs and energy by doing a full load.

Often, even if there is a lavadora, there will be no secadora (dryer), and you will need to hang out your clothes to dry. Sometimes there is a clothesline, but more often, you will find these really cool drying racks, loaded with pilgrim's wash.
You don't really need clothespins because you drape your clothes over the rack. But I usually carry 4 or 5. You may also want to carry some safety pins to pin your laundry to the rack on windy days. The safety pins are also great for pinning your laundry to your backpack on those days it hasn't dried by morning.
I like to carry a travel clothesline for those times the drying racks are full or you just prefer to hang your clothes on your bed or some other place. These elastic clotheslines are very nice, and don't require clothespins at all! You just slip the corner of your clothes through the elastic and it holds.

Steve Ricks' website and sell travel clotheslines. Here is a link to a tutorial for making your own out of rubber bands!

Sometimes you'll find a funny looking little can that looks like r2d2 sitting next to the washing machine.  This is a clothes SPINNER and it works like a centrifuge! You open the lid, put your wet clothes into it, and close the lid. It spins all the water out of your clothes and makes them almost dry. Taking advantage of this cool little machine can  cut your clothes drying time down to an hour or less.


Most of the time, you will be hand washing your clothes. Here are some simple instructions for people who've never done this.

When you arrive in Spain or France, find a market or hardware store and buy a bar of Fels Naptha soap.  This soap is made to work in cold water. Although it is now advertised in America as a pre-treatment for stains, it was originally was made as a hand-laundry bar.  You will find it all along the Camino and it is less expensive there than anyplace I've found in the USA.  The 5.5 oz. bar is a big 4.75" long. I paid less than 2 Euros for mine.

Fels Naptha is the consistency of any bar soap. You can easily slice it with a thin sharp blade.  Cut it into manageable pieces (thirds or fourths), and keep it in a plastic soap keeper or ziplock bag. One bar is plenty for 3 or 4 pilgrims, so find someone and share!

The clothes-washing stations on the Camino all look pretty similar. They are a stationary tub with faucets. There is almost always a built in clothes scrubber. Wash basins are often provided, and used not only for laundry, but for foot-soaking!
If there is no wash basin, and no stopper, use one of your socks to stop up the sink. I have never bothered carrying a stopper -- it's just extra weight.

The process for washing hasn't changed much in centuries. First, get the clothes wet. Toss in your dirty clothes into the tub (sometimes there is a wash basin!) and cover them with water. It will be cold water, so don't bother running it looking for it to turn hot!
 Take each piece out and rub the dirtiest spots with the end of your soap bar. Pay particular attention to collars and underarms. Then , rub soap over the entire piece. Turn the wet, soapy clothing over and over and rubbing the dirty portions against the ribbed sink. Lean into it and rub with an up and down motion, scrubbing the soap into the clothes.
Grab the piece in both hands and rub it together.
Sometimes a brush is provided. Rub soap onto the brush, and scrub the clothes with the soapy brush. This is especially good for washing dirty socks!
  When you're sure the clothes are clean, then rinse well with clear water.
 Wring as much water out of the clothing as possible. If there is a centrifuge available, use it!
Now hang them up and go find some dinner or take a siesta! By morning, they will be dry.
Photo by Carl Stonebreaker
Wasn't that easy?

Women have done laundry by hand for centuries, and they're still doing it, all over the world.
Washing bats, called "beetles" or "battledores" are still used for moving cloth around as well as for beating the dirt out of it. Doing this with a piece of wood was called possing, and various styles of of possers developed as an improvement on plain tree branches. Squarish washing bats could double up as a scrub board. Simple wooden boards can be taken to the riverside, or rocks at the edge of the water may be used as scrubbing surfaces.
Beating laundry with a posser.
Washing laundry in the river is still done in many places
Originally, clothes were scrubbed on (or beat with) rocks. Then ridged rocks, and finally scrub boards were invented in the late 1700's.

Rolling the soapy clothes is a good technique for delicate items
There's that bar of Fels Naptha!

Young people today don't realize that there weren't many options for women's work up until as late as the 1970's. You could be a housewife, a secretary, or a nurse. If you had no money for education, a woman of any color, who otherwise had difficulty finding work, could always make a living as a washerwoman. This could be done at home, or as an employee for a washing company.
Women washing clothes at a well.
During the 30's crank wringers became common, saving a lot of time.
Washing clothes in Tibet
Native American woman washing clothes. Photo by Paul Natkin.
Women washing clothes in a stream in Japan.
Washing clothes in Cameroon.
Really dirty clothes, like men's work clothes or diapers were boiled.
People discovered using a plunger worked great for washing clothes. The first ones were made of metal.
Any plunger can be used. I have a small sink plunger that I use only for clothes washing. You just use it to agitate the clothes in the soapy water. It's handy for camping and for when the electricity goes out!
Plungers for clothes washing are still made.
Well... that's it. A little history of clothes washing, and some instructions for doing your own hand wash. Although I wouldn't want to do the entire family's wash "on my fingers," I do find something very satisfying in washing my clothes by hand on the Camino. 

It gives my brain time to rest, and the cold water does a great job of pulling stress and negative energy from my body, leaving my mind as fresh as my laundry!

So grab that bar of Fels Naptha and your walking clothes and get busy!
You'll be an expert by the time you reach Santiago,
I promise!

Note:  If you are interested in walking the Camino Santiago,
but are not quite ready to go it alone, 
consider joining AnnieWalkers USA on one of our small, 
affordable Camino walks. 
For more information see our website
at this link: 
AnnieWalkers Camino

However you decide to walk,
whether with us or on your own,
Have a Buen Camino!

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Sunlight bar soap is very similar - it is the same colour and is for the same use.


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