Doing Laundry On Board

It seems that some of the modern conveniences that “earthlings” take for granted are considered luxuries for liveaboard cruisers, particularly the washer and dryer.

We’re quite fortunate to have both on board, in fact, we have the original Maytag A-50 twin tub washer and separate matching dryer that was installed on Moonshadow when she was built twenty years ago. Aside from a bit of rust on the exterior panels and the odd drive belt breaking, it still serves us well and makes life on board just a bit easier.

For those not familiar with the twin tub washer, it has a larger tub with agitators for washing and rinsing, and a smaller high speed spinning tub for squeezing most of the water out of clothes after a wash or rinse cycle. This water can be diverted back into the wash tub for reuse or sent into the galley sink to drain overboard. The main advantage of the twin tub is that the wash and rinse water can be used for up to four loads of wash, which saves on fresh water. The disadvantage is that it is a semi-manual operation. One has to manually fill the tub from the galley sink tap for washing and rinsing, and then manually transfer each load to the spinner after each wash or rinse cycle. Although this model was discontinued by Maytag in the pre-Starbucks era, we often see similar models in appliance stores, particularly in third world countries. When our machine dies and goes to washing machine heaven, I’ll be looking for a plumbed-in, combined unit to fit into its allotted space at the aft end of the galley.

Living out on the hook in remote places in the tropics, we’re usually in board shorts/bikini, and can go for weeks without having to do laundry. I gave up on terry cloth bath towels years ago, in favor of chamois cloths, cutting our laundry load in half. When we are close to civilization, and regularly gong out in public, wash day will come around more like once a week.

Since our little washer requires a bit more time and labor, we opt for marina washers or local laundromats when one is available. Since we left Australia last year, they have been as hard to find as a schooner of Foster’s on tap. We generally avoid the local laundry services, as we have had many garments come back with rust spots or holes from the old equipment they use. Every now and then an item of ours goes missing or we acquire something that doesn’t belong to us. That said, in some places we’ve visited we’ve gotten word of a good, reliable local service who does excellent work at cheap price, making it worth our while to outsource the work.

From time to time we are fortunate to visit a town where we have friends living, and they have offered us the use of their washer/dryer. We never turn that down! The last time I hauled out in Australia, I rented a hotel room for a week, which was self-contained with kitchen and laundry. Over the course of the week, I washed every garment, towel, sheet, pillow cover, shower curtain, crew cover and engine room rag on the boat. Sometimes, it’s great to get that “boat smell” out of your stuff.

When it’s raining, we’ll occasionally catch a few big buckets of fresh water in the awnings and use it for washing and rinsing a few small items by hand. When and where it is politically correct, i.e. the locals do it, we may even trundle off and do some wash in the communal stream.

In most cases we hang the laundry on the lifelines and headsail sheets to dry. Because of the energy it uses and the heat it omits, the dryer doesn’t get much use these days other than for storing bags of chips and snacks. We’ve never heard any objections to hanging out our laundry while on the hook, but quite a few marinas stipulate that doing so is in violation with their aesthetic code of conduct. Fortunately, they are usually the ones that have some on-site facilities. In this part of the world (Southeast Asia), everyone hangs out their laundry, so we just seem to be blending in. That said, it is a good idea to use some discretion when hanging out certain intimate items, as one does not want to offend any fundamentalist religious groups or arouse too much interest from one’s neighbors. If it starts raining, the engine room is warm and dry and we can hang quite a few items on plastic coat hangers from a small clothesline I have set up in there.

There are a few tips for keeping your laundry from being blown away if the wind pipes up. First, small items like knickers can be tied though one leg hole and will be secure. When hanging out large items like bed sheets, use lots of big, strong pegs. An item hung over a lifeline should never just be pegged to the lifeline itself, but to itself under the lifeline. This will allow it to spin in the breeze. We have found some very large pegs with round jaws in Australia and Asia that are great for big items like wetsuits and for hanging items on the stainless rails.

We endeavor to use cleaning products that are environmentally friendly wherever possible and stock up on them whenever they are available. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, the level of environmental awareness is nil to low, the cost of biodegradable products is generally relatively high, and there aren’t any Amway distributors to be found. Things are slowly improving, but for the time being, when we run out of the good stuff, we are forced to use whatever is on the shelves of the local markets.

George and Merima

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