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Date: 31 July 2018. Washing Clothes Without a Machine (salt water versus ammonia)


Doing laundry aboard Seaweed has long been a chore. I used to wash each night in the galley sink. A teaspoon of Tide in water, plus lots of swishing the fabrics. Next came repeated rinsing using precious water. Sometimes I opted for the ammonia method. Now there are a couple schools of thought on clothes washing without a machine. Here's my take on the whole situation.

It stinks. Washing clothes is labor intensive.

Taking clothes ashore to a laundry is a pain in the transom.

I told you about washing clothes in the Laundry Hauling Made Easier article.

When compared with carrying everything necessary for a load of laundry
to shore, washing aboard the boat is a far superior choice in my opinion.


It's not just gathering dirty clothes, getting it all into the dinghy, and then bringing it to shore. I have to be sure remember the detergent, have enough quarters, wait while everything is washed and dried, then haul it all back in the dinghy, hoping I don't get splashed on the way back.


Many will suggest those of us with limited tankage should wash clothes with salt water. It is better to save the drinking water from our tanks. Advocates will say washing in ocean water followed by a fresh water rinse is adequate. I do not believe that to be true.

To get out the salt requires A LOT of fresh water.
Rinsing takes far more water than you can imagine.


Fabrics that have salt in them do not dry properly. Men may not have difficulties in the panties department. I did. Ugh. I want to feel fresh and salt does not accomplish that.


The Salt Water laundry method used by sailors:


S/V Gypsy belonging to my friend Jessie.

A large motor sailor like Jessie's Gypsy would have plenty of water tankage. He would not have to use water conservation unless he was planning on being at anchor for many months without a way to refill the tanks.

Smaller boats in the 30' and under range often do not have the luxury of plentiful water.


Sailors of yesterday used to put their clothing in a net bag. Tied securely to the mother-ship, they would toss the bag overboard. While sailing between islands the ocean water would clean the clothes.

We will not discuss any potential problems
should the clothes pick up jellyfish tentacles.

Jellyfish are the least of your problems. The major issue is that clothes saturated in salt water will not dry properly. It takes a lot of water to rinse out that salt.

Girls will not find salty panties a pleasant experience.




Another option uses ammonia. This method
requires the least amount of water. It is odiferous.

Odiferous is a polite way of saying something stinks, a lot!

You will use the standard ammonia sold at the grocery store. This is how I do it.


The Ammonia Method:


Start with about a gallon of fresh water.  I use my sink. You could use a bucket. For me, leaning over a bucket does not work. I am most comfortable at the galley sink.

To the water add *1/4 to 1/2 cup of ammonia. I opt for the plain stuff, not the lemon scented ammonia. Nothing hides the smell of ammonia so I chose not to add yet another chemical into the Petri dish. Stir the water with your hand to mix.

*Regarding quantities of ammonia to use: For relatively clean clothes a quarter cup is sufficient. If your stuff is particularly dirty or grimy, use more. 1/2 cup is plenty.

Starting with your cleanest items,
drop a few at a time into the water. Swish.

After swishing, remove each item from the water one at a time. Wring them out, letting the water go back into the sink.
Pile the damp freshly washed items to the side.

I start with the cleanest items as they won't get my water dirty so quickly. For me, that means panties, nighties and such.

Continue dropping items into the water. Swish them around a bit. I only move stuff in the sink around for a minute or two. If an item is particularly grimy I might let it soak for a bit longer. I have used bar soap on spaghetti and tea stains, with little effect.

Should I have a lot of items dirty I may start a fresh sink full of water for another group clothes. In that case I'd swish the already cleaned clothes in the fresh water, then wring them out again. This is not necessary. It does minimally abate the ammonia smell though.

Before washing more clothes I would of course add ammonia to the new water.

After swishing I remove the items. Wringing out the damp items is not easy. I get as much liquid out as possible, then put my items on hangers. Shirts and such are hung where the breeze or a fan can facilitate drying.

DO NOT RINSE. Air drying is all
that is required when using ammonia.


If water is in short supply use ammonia to clean your clothes. It requires the least amount of water to do a load.

When the ammonia dries it leaves no residue nor smell on your clothing.

Though ammonia does not require rinsing, the smell on damp clothes gets to me. Fabric that reeks of ammonia does not make for a happy boater. Of course down island or when water is in short supply ammonia is an option. That is why I presented it here. Ammonia is not my favorite choice.

Washing clothes while at anchor sure is better than hauling clothes to shore.

Photo taken by Cheryl of three power boats at anchor.

After ammonia inevitably I go back to using Tide detergent. I like the scent of Tide. One teaspoon in a gallon of water is sufficient to clean a sink full of clothes. Using Tide requires a rinse, thus doubling the amount of water required. Sometimes I end up using two full rinses.

Though Tide or any detergent will require at least one rinse it does leave my clothes and bedding smelling fabulous. That is important to my happiness quotient. It feels wonderful to lay down on clean air-dried sheets. I truly am blessed.

Having the ability to wash clothes aboard Seaweed is totally worth it. Going to shore for a laundry run simply is not fun. Frankly, when I am aboard my home life is just about perfect. I don't want to be any place else.

More on laundry later. For now, I thank  you for reading.

NEVER combine ammonia and bleach!!!
Together they create fumes that CAN KILL YOU.
(Thanks to Bill for pointing out this important fact in the Comments.)

Have a great day.

I'd love to hear your preferred clothes washing technique.
And, do you regularly wash items aboard your boat?


2018, 2023

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