Clothes line

How To Hand Wash Clothes NICA Style In 5 Steps

Strong gusts of wind are swirling through Leon, Nicaragua today. Mangoes blown out from the trees hit the metal roof with a loud bang and tumble noisily down into our yard. They are almost as loud as the cats at night running from rooftop to rooftop, sometimes squabbling, occasionally falling through into the homes below.

roof that a cat fell through
Picture of our roof taken from the surveillance camera. The one we reviewed to see who attacked Jonas (see prior post)

“How does a cat fall through the roof?”  My mom asked.

Metal/tin roofs here are often pieced together. In some homes, this metal is the only thing between the living space and the sky. I can see the sunshine through the ceiling above our kitchen sink.

One afternoon while washing clothes a cat fell behind the basin from the ceiling. Normal life here.

The strong wind welcomed on wash day. Our hand-washed clothes dry out before lunch!  Small things like this make me excited, especially after just emerging from the rainy season where it seems that nothing ever dries. It was a constant battle to keep out the musty smell and truly feel like our clothes were clean.

My first attempts failed

I had to learn to wash the clothes by hand here.  Occasionally we stay in a home that has a washing machine, but so far only one place had a dryer. You wouldn’t think washing clothes by hand would be that difficult, however, I realized how inept I was at this after a trip to Haiti years ago.  I joined some of the local ladies to help wash clothes. They redid every garment I had washed.  Well, I tried!

I never hand-washed my delicates separately before this trip either – who has time for that? Isn’t that what the delicate bags are for?  OK, I did hand wash some items on long road trips or backpacking trips, but they were never quite clean, just good enough. Now that hand-washing is a regular chore for us I googled for instructions. Most sites assume modern conveniences which are not available here. So if you ever find yourself here in Nicaragua needing to hand-wash your clothes here is how I did it, Nica style.

What you need:

  • Laundry detergent powder – ex. Espumil
  • Laundry bar
  • Large bin for water
  • Washing board
  • Dirty clothes (not shown below, you don’t need to see those)
what you need to hand wash clothes
Our Nica sink.

See more about adventuring in Nicaragua, from threats in Ometepe, to a cold night at the top of a volcano, or a treacherous journey to the Corn Island.

Five steps to hand-wash clothes

Step 1: Soak the Clothes with Detergent

  • Fill the large bin with enough water to cover the clothes, and add the detergent powder. 
  • Swish it around with your hand until dissolved. I sometimes heat the water for this part, but it can be done with cold water.
  • Soak the clothes for 15-30 min.  I generally soak for 30 minutes as it gives me more time to read a good book or take a Spanish lesson.

Step 2: Soap up the Clothes

  • Take out each article of clothing one by one and rub it with the laundry bar. 
  • Pay attention to the armpits and other soiled areas. It is so hot here and sweat is inevitable so I generally rub the whole garment down.

Step 3: Rub the garment on the washing board

  • Rub and scrub! Our washing board here in Nicaragua is made of cement.  It is a sink that was purposely not smoothed out when the concrete was poured so that it could be used for scrubbing. In the absence of a washboard, you can rub the garment against itself – grab the garment in two places and rub them together. You can do this methodically to the entire piece of clothing.

Step 4: Rinse

  • Fill the bin with clean water and rinse each garment.  
  • Repeat as needed if the clothes still feel soapy.  
kitchen in which to hand wash clothes
Our open air kitchen.  This is the sink where we wash dishes (on the left) and clothes (on the right).  Sunlight streams in behind the sink, as well as cats when they fall short of jumping on our roof.

Step 5: Drying the clothes  

  • Wring out every garment. I know some clothing care instructions say to never wring a garment, but it has to be done or it won’t dry. Damp clothes mold and then smell – eww.
  • Optionally, you can snap them to get a little more water out. Snapping clothes takes a little practice and I still get drenched when snapping the clothes. Roma, our host lady here in Nicaragua, showed me how to do it. Hold out the garment in front of you, arms forward as if you are checking out a shirt at a store. In a swift motion, raise it a few inches then quickly move your arms downward, flicking your wrist down at the tail end of the motion. This will cause the other end of the garment to snap and expel some water. Since we are in the dry season now I skip this step, but it is necessary during the rainy season.
  • Hang the clothes to dry on the line and hope it doesn’t rain before they dry. Many homes here in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have clotheslines that are under the overhang of the roof in the courtyards. Since rain is a daily occurrence during the rainy season this is necessary.
hand wash clothes then hang to dry
Our clothes hanging outside our bedroom door.

Inner Courtyard

Another awesome feature of most of the homes here is the inner courtyard. From the street, pedestrians only see a long wall of concrete. The color of the wall varies and the doors are often really cool, but every street is lined with block after block of walls. With no front yards, the only thing between most the wall and the busy street is a narrow uneven sidewalk.

Front doors are often left open during the day for a nice breeze, but security doors with metal bars remain closed. Through these metal bars, we are sometimes treated to a glimpse of beautiful courtyards inside. Behind these walls, many homeowners have created peaceful little paradises that one would never know existed from the outside. These courtyards are also where the clothes hang to dry, away from the dust in the streets.

Typical home fronts.  Non typical empty street as it was Christmas morning

Thankful for Time

Are you thankful for your washing machine and dryer now? Oddly enough I’m enjoying this task. For years I have longed for more time, time to read a book, study a certain subject, or simply to catch up on everything that needs to be done. Finally, I have time. I still keep a “to do” list. I think it is part of my personality to keep a list. However, since leaving corporate and embarking on this nomadic lifestyle my “to do” list is reasonable. I can actually get everything on the list done and that feels really good.

Life here might take longer, but it is much less complicated. Time is the greatest luxury.

6 thoughts on “How To Hand Wash Clothes NICA Style In 5 Steps”

  1. Can’t believe that you didn’t know how to wash clothes by hand. Where have you lived all your life? LOL That is neat the way that you wrote it step by step. lol

  2. Hahaha that is why I keep looking for a house with a proper laundry and a proper laundry washing sink… things of developing countries ? That make a huge difference! Now think about washing shoes when your are back from hiking, aren’t thise sinks handy?? Loving the posts! Miss you guys!

  3. Liked the reference to the area where sunlight streams in, and cats…
    My favorite tip was reading or learning during the soak time. Our modern machines rarely help us slow down. Enjoyed the read!

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