It’s Washing Day.

When I’m not too busy and the weather is looking good, I do my laundry. By hand. It can sometimes be quite an involved process doing laundry on a boat, but relaxing at the same time.

While living at anchor, we don’t have access to a washing machine or clothes dryer unless we want to drive 15 mins to the Laundromat (if there is one!), and pay $10+ per load. I prefer to hand wash on the shore if there is a tap or source of freshwater nearby.

You don’t really get too dirty living on a boat, and I tend to wear an outfit more than once until it fails the ‘sniff test’, so I don’t have much dirty laundry.


I hand wash about a 20L bucket full of clothes only once a month, but underwear more regularly. If I have something else to do, I’ll sometimes leave my clothes to ‘wash themselves’ soaking in a bucket with some of our dissolved coconut laundry soap.

I was inspired by the ladies/ mamas of the South Pacific Islands who would only ever do laundry by hand. They don’t have washing machines, or even electricity, but they had a good hand washing technique. And they have to deal with extra dirty clothes – from the daily rigours of gardening, fishing, and working outdoors. They would sit in groups at the stream, chatting, scrubbing with clothes brushes and throwing the clothes against the large rocks. If any of you have been to some of the more remote villages and witnessed this you will know what I am talking about. It saddened me though to see them using the cheapest and nastiest toxic washing powder, and it would go straight into the waterways, and eventually the ocean. God knows what sort of damage it is doing to the mangrove and reef ecosystems!

Boeboe Village, Solomon Islands Feb 2011

Boeboe Village, Solomon Islands Feb 2011

If you are using our coconut laundry soap, which is much kinder to the aquatic world, just make sure that it dries out on a draining soap rack after use or it will become a soggy mess.

Stain Removal

The key to getting rid of stains whether it is grease, oil, red wine or blood is to deal with it straight away. Once it dries and absorbs into the clothing fibres it is much harder to remove. And if it doesn’t come out in the wash, don’t put it into a hot dryer! You will set the stain and it will never come out! I have heard that soaking stained clothes in saltwater helps to remove the stain. That is handy for me, I am surrounded by the stuff! (But I have yet to try it.) I usually just wet the area with cold water get the bulk of the stain off and then rub our coconut laundry soap into the stain into a lather and repeatedly rinse then lather until the stain has gone.

100% Coconut Oil Soap

Handmade 100% Pure Coconut Oil Laundry Soap, made from organic cold-pressed coconut oil from Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu, with NO palm oil, synthetic fragrances, chemicals or preservatives – purchase online in our Ship’s Store.

Clothes Washing in Saltwater

We have no shortage of saltwater around us, and I have washed clothes successfully in saltwater before. It works really well with a liquid detergent, and even our handmade coconut laundry soap which lathers in salt and hard water. But be sure to rinse it copiously with fresh water or your clothes will never feel completely dry. Salt remaining in your clothes fibres attracts moisture from the air especially if it is humid or there is dew around, and they will always feel damp and maybe even go mouldy.

I’m reluctant to wash in saltwater unless I really have to, as we only hold about 300 Litres of freshwater aboard, and it is too precious for rinsing clothes in! However we do regularly wash our bodies in saltwater. Our hand made 100% coconut oil bar soaps like our Hemppermint soap actually get a nice lather happening in saltwater, and as long as you dry yourself with a towel you won’t feel salt encrusted afterwards, but very refreshed. Maybe from the seawater you’ll even absorb some trace minerals through your skin that our soils and fresh produce are lacking in?

Drying in the Sun vs a Hot Dryer

On a boat we have abundant wind and sun. When pegged out on the life lines (those wires that run around the outside of the boat), our clothes can sometimes even dry on showery days, because we have so much wind! Apart from conserving energy (and dollars) by not using an electric dryer, we are using the UV light in sunlight to further clean our clothes and kill germs and bacteria.

hanging laundry to dry on a boat

We found these amazing handcrafted pegs/ clothespins made of maple wood and heavy duty stainless steel springs, just perfect for the boat and hanging laundry on the lifelines even when it’s windy!

Kevin's quality clothespins

Aren’t they a beautiful work of art!? Get them from

Environmental Effects

Personal care products and detergents such as shampoo, hair conditioner, body wash and sunscreens are full of synthetic chemicals and plastic microbeads that in high enough concentrations can have negative effects on marine life. Research has shown the germ killing chemical Triclosan, that is added to antibacterial soap, toothpastes and deodorants has a hormonal disrupting effect on animals, and studies in the oceans off the US have found toxic levels of Triclosan in the blood of Dolphins. Studies have found the chemical Oxybenzone that is a UV blocker in sunscreens is damaging coral reefs. There are many other synthetic chemicals that are yet to be studied, so the best assurance is to use only natural products that readily biodegrade. Pure plain handmade soap from plant oils doesn’t contain any added synthetic chemicals that are added to make the products more appealing on the shelf, and it will be safely broken down by bacteria in the environment.

A Natural and Cheap Alternative to Shampoo

On a side note, if you are wondering what to replace that toxic shampoo of yours with, try a tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water. It works really well!  Your hair will be clean and shiny. Finish with a rinse of diluted vinegar (a tablespoon in a cup of water), to bring the pH back down to neutral as baking soda is fairly alkaline.

I hope I have given you some insight into how the simple mundane act of washing on land has turned into a therapeutic, and conscious artform on a boat… Uh – oh, a thunderstorm is on it’s way! I better bring my washing in!!



2 thoughts on “Doing Laundry on a Boat the Non-Toxic Way

  1. Ingrid says:

    Love your blog! Im day dreaming about being near the ocean right now!!

    1. Thank you Ingrid! We could almost say we get sick of the sight of it ;-P

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