Sink-cleaning is NOT the desired way to get your clothes clean. I don’t care what anyone says; no matter how much you scrub, you will not rid your t-shirt of that funky I-just-spent-three-days-on-a-bus-with-chickens odor or return your undies to their original whitest-of-white color. However, if you just can’t rustle up the energy to track down some change and walk down the street, or you need to get spic-and-span before your travel companions start hawking your clothes as fertilizer, it will work in a pinch. Here are a few things to keep in mind when scouring away.
1. Figure out what clothes you want to “sanitize”. As a general rule, small, thin articles like bras, bandanas, underwear, swimming suits and other such items are far, far easier to purify than thick, coarse jeans, jackets and additional heavy-duty accessories. They’re less bulky, faster-drying and rinse-friendly. Tiny items usually take at least a few hours to dry in a warm place, while jeans can take up to two days (depending on the climate you’re in).
2. Consider your drying options. Do you have a clothing line? Can you string it up between two bunkbeds or somewhere in your room? Is there an outdoor rack available? Is it sunny or cloudy outside? Is it hot (good) or cold (bad)? Is it humid (bad) or dry (good)? Can you drape wet items over railings without fear of them disappearing (or soaking your bed?) Be creative. Lamp shades, chair backs, even the top of your rucksack will work for certain things. Weed out the items that are too big to put anywhere, or don’t need to be spruced up, in order to make room for other ones. Just make sure you don’t “hang yourself out to dry” and not have anywhere to put your damp clothes.
3. Locate and assess the sink. Take a good look at your sink. Although a large mud room or laundry room-style sink would be great, I’m assuming that if you had a laundry nearby, you might think twice about sucking the foul-scented air swirling around that sweatshirt you’ve worn every day for the past two weeks. This means that your sink is probably standard size, with a “one article at a time” policy. Enterprising folks can risk the irk of their peers and also do the duty in the hostel bathtub or shower.
4. Choose your weapon. Liquid soap will give you the best bang for your buck. Powdered soap tends not to work very well. In extreme cases, hand soap is better than nothing, and will at least give you some self-pacifying suds.
5. Check for Stains. Sniff for especially rancid items and track down the source of the stench. Pre-treat with your weapon of choice by adding a direct hit of liquid soap or showing your offending apparel some love with the bar soap and good ol’ elbow grease.
6. Inspect the sink and fill ‘er up! Clean out any gross ‘sink stuff’ like phlegm, hair and toothpaste. The goal is to get your clothes as clean as possible, not win the “where did that come from?” award. If you do have access to an over-sized sink, plug it with a stopper and fill it approximately 3/4 full with warm water, adding about 1/4 cup of liquid detergent (if available) along the way. If the plug is missing, do the best you can with a bandana or other small item. Make sure to leave room in the sink for the clothes!
7. Divide and conquer. The lucky ducks with a big sink (or tub) should place items in the water, making sure they are submerged and fully soaked before kneading and wringing the items. The purpose is to move the dirty, nasty things from your clothing and into the water. Trust me, you won’t want to drink it after a few t-shirt scrubbings. When you are finished, drain the water and then run clean water to rise out the excess soapy grit.
Those without large tubs of water must scrub and rinse each item individually, running the water to soak the article of clothing. Watch the pressure of the water and don’t place items directly below the stream, as they can ‘repel’ the agua, sending it all over you – and the floor! “Spot treatment” should be your mantra when washing individual items. You may have to wash large articles such as jeans in segments, as only part may fit in the sink at one time. Place paper, plastic bags or a towel below the sink to catch or sop up the extra splish-splash.
8. Twist and shout. Large-sink lovers have the option of squeezing out the water at the end of their scrub session, while the less fortunate need to do it as they go. Work your muscles and wring water out with all your might, concentrating at the ends where it tends to build. The better you twist, the faster your clothes will dry, and the sooner you can smell like…soap.
If you’re worried about appearances, avoid unsightly wrinkles and skip the twist-fest – roll the items in a towel to remove excess water instead.
Not near your ultimate drying location? Throw your damp clothes into a few plastic bags to transport them to dry-sky paradise.
9. Hang loose. Hang and drape your clothes with maximum air-flow in mind. If you must place an item flat, remember to flip it over after a few hours.
10. Fold and pack. Once your items are utterly, totally and completely dry (unless you love the smell of mildew), take them down, fold ‘em up, place them in your bag, and promise yourself that next time, you’ll find a laundromat.