How to wash your clothes in a river

Last updated on July 10, 2019

How to wash your clothes in a river while travelling

When I was told to use the “Indian washing machine” at Greenpalm Homestay, I envisioned an ancient machine rusting in a corner. Then Thomas’ wife handed me a bucket and announced we were going to the river. When I later recounted the tale to others, some screwed up their nose in distaste at the river water, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind – I was too excited about the idea of slamming the clothes on a rock as I’d seen other women do as I passed their homes on our boat trip. So, in case you ever find yourself without a washing machine, but have a river, some detergent and a bucket on hand, here’s how to wash your clothes in a river! Please excuse my weird washing outfit!

Step-by-step guide to washing your clothes in a river

1. Get two buckets. Put one to one side (this is for your clean clothes).

2. Add some detergent to the other bucket (the same amount you’d put in a washing machine for one load of clothes).

3. Add water to the bucket with detergent and then add all your clothes to the bucket too.

Guide to washing clothes in a river

4. Swirl the clothes around in the bucket to let the detergent spread among them.

5. Take one item of clothing from the bucket dip it into the river.

How to wash clothes in India

6. If you’re lucky like I was, there will be a ready-made washing stone to use. Otherwise try to look for a large, smooth rock.

7. Massage the clothes on the rock, rinsing out the dirty water and paying attention to any stains. You need to use a bit of strength for this. This is the part where you are getting rid of the actual dirt on your clothes.

Washing clothes with a river and a rock

8. Dip the clothing back into the water briefly to rinse off any excess soap.

9. Now comes the most fun bit. Grab onto one part of the clothing and then slam it onto the stone, dislodging any stubborn dirt or soap. Ideally you want the clothing to spread out as it hits the stone. Do this a few times.

Tips on how to wash your clothes in a river

10. Hold onto two corners of your clothing and spread it out as you gently rinse it in the water. This is your final rinse.

11. Wring out the item of clothing and add it to your second bucket.

Ta da! You’re done. Thank you to Lila at Greenpalm Homes for teaching me how to do this 🙂

If you’re visiting Kerala, have a look at our Kerala itinerary post for plenty of tips and advice about what to do and how to get around in Kerala.

11 thoughts on “How to wash your clothes in a river”

  1. Awesome info, could be useful for life on the road! I always imagined my clothes getting thrashed when we handed laundry in in India!

  2. You know, Ive always been fascinated by how it’s actually done. We’ve seen plenty of ladies washing the clothes in the river in India, but I always wanted to know more!

  3. Very interesting…this is how my great grandparents use to do their laundry in the rural areas of South Africa or let me just say in Africa,but now since there are easier ways like getting washing powder and using a washing machines has made things very easy for us….trust me if you had a big family to wash for you would never be able to do that twice a week its hard work!there are so many products that have been introduced to us that make chores easier to complete like cleaning chemicals as well that work effectively so we can get back to living and enjoying life.

  4. This is awesome! Not nearly enough “travelers” out there willing to get down and dirty. I remember when I first moved to Thailand and started washing my laundry by hand, outside in the heat – I felt very accomplished!

  5. This is so much fun! And I love with what excitement you went at the task 🙂 Although lifelong washing in a river might be one of the worst household chores for locals, I wouldn’t mind trying it myself for once, just like you did 🙂

    I only managed to see a local laundry place, where they did the slamming and where I could take beautiful photos among the drying sheets.. 🙂

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