Off Grid Cleaning

Posted on: March 1, 2010

By Deborah in the UP

Ok, you’re considering going off grid, or the power has gone out, and it might stay out. What are the options for cleaning around the house? There is a hand sweeper than does a decent job of surface dirt on carpets, but it doesn’t adequately do any deep cleaning. Thinking back to the “old” days, our grandparents didn’t have carpeting, they had wooden floors. Yes, there may have been some area rugs, but underneath those rugs were bare floors… and brooms to clean them.

Spring cleaning was an event for many reasons. It heralded warmer weather, the first breaths of summer to come, flowers popping up thru the snow melt drenched ground, a time to air out the house from a long winter. And time to get rid of the dirt!! Area rugs were dragged out of the house and hug over sturdy clotheslines, ready to be beaten to give up the trapped dust and dirt. The wooden floors, now free of the rug, were swept with a faithful corn broom, then mopped several times before the rug was set back in place. Sometimes the rug was left rolled up to one side for the summer to make the floors easier to sweep, and rolled back out in the Fall to help keep the feet warm.

Tools: A good corn broom, dust pan, mop and bucket, rags. If there are NO carpets or rugs, cleaning is easier.

Spring cleaning also meant washing all the window coverings… curtains. In times past, heat and cooking was with a wood stove and this produces an initially unseen but progressively accumulating film of soot. Curtains were washed, then the windows and the walls…. Any drapes that were not washable, were hung on the lines to let the wind ‘dust’ them. Most furniture was wood with sitting pads, and those pads were removed, washed and dried outside or taken outside and beaten beside the rugs. Spring cleaning lasted all spring!

Wash Day was an ongoing chore. We are so accustomed to tossing a load of clothes in the washer whenever the need arises. This wasn’t always the case. Remember the term overalls? Well, they were a garment that was worn ‘over all’ the other clothes, to keep clothes clean while doing out door chores. It was much easier to wash one pair of overalls once or twice a month, than clothes every day! The cook of the household always wore an apron.. Why? To keep her clothes clean while preparing meals.. Again, easier to wash a small apron, than an entire dress. Outside clothes (and boots/shoes) were left in the mudroom, a room entered into from outside before entering the house proper, away from the guest entrance.

Everyone in the house had ‘indoor’ clothes and ‘outdoor’ clothes; Sunday clothes, school clothes or play clothes. It’s become way too easy to drop our clothes off at the dry cleaners or even at the Laundromat for someone else to wash & fold. Most have never had the experience nor the need of hand washing a week’s worth of their family’s clothes.

Tools: double sided sink or two washtubs, ringer, scrub board, laundry plunger, clothesline, clothespins, a wooden drying rack for winter and lots and lots of patience.

Personal Experience

All of the off grid cleaning and washing I’ve done. It’s hard work, but it’s do-able, so let’s step back to the beginning, and let me tell you.. HOW it‘s done.

In my home in the woods, where the power was limited to lights, I did not use a vacuum (unless the generator was running), and I did not have a washing machine (not an option). The main traffic area was hardwood floors, cut from our own maple trees: the kitchen, dining area, living area, hallway. The bedrooms and bathroom had Berber carpet tiles, very low napped, but protected the bare feet from the cold of the floor. The Berber tiles were easily cleaned with the carpet sweeper, and would get deep vacuumed once a month. I swept the hard wood floors daily, mopped every week. Walls and ceilings were dusted weekly to keep the woodstove soot to a minimum, windows were washed weekly, too… and I had a LOT of windows! When the generator was running for something else, I would run the vacuum, on the carpeting, on the hardwood (to get into the cracks), on the furniture. I never wasted an opportunity, power was too precious.

Washing clothes was a real chore, and I understand why my grandmother was gray and old at 40!! I was lucky to have the foresight of installing two wash tubs in the basement, and though I never had running hot water, I did have water. And I had the wringer.. set up between the two tubs. I would fill one tub with cold water, about 6” deep, then add water that had been heated on the wood stove upstairs, until the water was at least tepid. Then I would add a minimal amount of soap and the first load of laundry to soak overnight. The next day, I would add another pot of hot water, and use the scrub board to wash the clothes. The opposite tub would have the same 6” of water and the same pot of hot water, for rinsing. After I scrubbed the clothes, they would be put thru the wringer to rid them of as much soapy water as possible, and into the rinse. Once into the rinse water, the wash water was drained and the tub rinsed of soap. I would again add water. The clothes would then be agitated (swished) in the rinse water and wrung once again into the fresh water. Rinse water was then drained. So far we have wash water, rinse, rinse. The second rinse was the final, and the clothes were sent thru the wringer again. If it was summer, the clothes then went onto the clothes line outside, if it was winter, they were set to drip on a line over the tubs, and the next day would go upstairs to hang on the wooden rack next to the wood stove. But wait! We’re not done! That final rinse water then became the wash water for the next load of clothes………………. And it started all over again. Remember, one load might just be socks and underwear, or just t-shirts………. That meant a lot of loads, or fewer worn clothes… The wringer I had was adjustable: tighten it down for doing thin items, like underwear, or open more for thick items like towels and jeans. While I’m thinking of jeans, those had to be wrung forward, then back, as the wringer would not take the usual snaps at the waist.

Then there were sheets… Sheets were washed, and hand squeezed; rinsed and hand squeezed; then put on the line dripping wet. Sheets were much too bulky to go thru the wringer.

There’s a good reason for the saying: “A woman’s work is never done.”

2 thoughts on “Off Grid Cleaning

  1. I do remember how wringer washer and put rubber diapers through that wringer diapers and explodes and I ruined a couple of shirts
    Did you ever get anything caught in a wringer?or ruined a couple of shirts?
    an article of the wash may
    wrap several times around a roller before it is noticed; unwinding such a
    piece is often difficult, sometimes impossible without removing a roller.

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