Archive for the ‘Washing clothes’ Category

How to Use a Washing Sink (“Pila”)   20 comments

This article explains How to use a Washing Sink, or “Pila”, as its called in El Salvador.

First, familiarize yourself with the Pila. All Pilas have a “tub” area to hold water, and one or more “washing” areas/slabs.


Pila, El Salvador


Fill the tub with water, when water is running*.  Be sure the faucet is in the OFF position if you turned it when water wasn’t running, or it will spill over when it comes back on (happened to us already).  I’ll share a phrase my friend in maintenance at the Omni Hotel in Charleston, SC taught me over 20 years ago:  “righty-tighty, lefty loosy”.   Thanks, Jim, still use it today!

Have soap and a guacal ready.

SOAP for washing clothes is sold in short, fat cylinders at the Super in packages of 3.

Max Poder or "Max Power"

My preferred washing soap. We like anything with the word "Indio" here.

GUACAL**: a shallow plastic bucket




guacal - shallow bucket



Now for the washing part: Wet your item, lay it on the slab of the Pila, and roll on the soap.  Use the item to wash itself.   Hold the part closest to you on the pila, with one hand, palm down.  Grab the far end with your other hand.  Bring it to the near end, and rub it against itself, in “away” motions so not to get suds all over yourself.   Don’t by stingy with the soap:  if you don’t have enough, more friction makes it harder to wash and wears it out faster.  For large items like bath towels, I do it in reverse – hold the far end and pull ‘toward’ me for greater arm force to move a heavy, wet cloth.

Pila-Blanket-NoWayBlankets and sheets? Forget the Pila!

Some Salvadoran woman may pride themselves in their ability to wash a blanket on a tiny cement slab, but I’m not that crazy.   Tried it once, pieces of blanket were dangling off the pila, landing on the ground, so tried bunching it up but parts would fall out again, and into the pila’s tub.  Damn thing was more dirty after I washed it than before I started.

Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Mr. Large Bucket.

Throw some “Rinso” in water and mix.  Let ’em set 30 minutes or so, do some “human agitate” like a washing machine, and presto!  Freshly washed bedding.

Works for me.




Wring where needed, and hang. ClothesDrying-clothes-Back-of-Refrigerator drip dry fast in most of the country, heck there’s nothing but sun here.  Except…last year in the rainy season, we were “Living in the Rain forest,” as there was exceptional rainfall between August and September of 2010.   Took 3 days to dry clothes (I got good at wringing).   Sweatshirts – took so long they smelled like sweaty socks, never really dried.  A friend showed me the “hang it on the back of the fridge” trick, it helped tons.

Hangers: People on the mountain put everything on hangers as it rains throughout the day during soppy season.  At the first sign of a sprinkle, one dashes out, grabs all the hangers in one fell swoop and brings them in under cover.  Rain stops, hangers out again.  Repeat.

Dry items ‘reverse’ and Don’t leave ’em out too long. The sun is STRONG here, so if you forget to reverse your nice new green shirt and take off for the afternoon….you’ll find a nice lime green shirt when you get back.

Laundromats? I know of no coin-op laundries in El Salvador.  May be for many reasons:  tradition + economics tied to hand-washing, issues with a city’s plumbing infrastructure, and safety issues (most people are in by 7pm to avoid dangerous encounters – that’s prime laundry time).  Fortunately, there is no shortage of women offering laundry services for the working woman too busy to hand wash.

Benefits of Hand Washing Clothes:

1)  Avoids premature “dingy-ing” of clothes (no “grey soup” in the washing machine from pieces whose colors run)

2)  No more wings!   You know:  the under-the-arm flesh that  jiggle when you wiggle?  Hand wash for a few months and see them disappear!!

3) Saves on electricity.    4) Free Exercise  ( see #2 )

* In many areas of El Salvador, the water does not “run” with constant water pressure 24×7.  Salvadorans have adapted well; they fill their pila and one-two barrels of water to have enough when it is not running.   In some places, like where my in-laws live, there is a specific time window when the water “runs” so homes can fill their drums.  Even the well-to-do live with water interruptions.  They have a large “tank” called a “Cisterna” – seen in urban and suburban El Salvador (a large cement tank to store water, located on their property), or a black hard plastic water tank.

** a Guacal (alt. spelling: huacal) is the word used for a shallow bucket.  Ranging from the size of a small bowl to a large 2 foot diameter basket-size. Guacales are used to pour and store, all over the house and market. Used in washing, cooking, and transporting items like ground corn meal (masa). Women throughout El Salvador (and Central America) carry items in guacales on their head; the shallow shape lends itself well to balancing on the head.

Washing Clothes in the River   6 comments

It was around 1:00pm when my niece Carmen and I went to wash clothes at the river. I put a load of laundry into a shallow bucket called a guacal, this one about 2 feet in diameter. Carmen grabbed a guacal full of her own clothes and we trotted down to the river, passing several neighbors homes, then making our way down the steep hill of rock that brings us to the water. We chose a spot upstream from our usual place, as it was full of post-holiday swimmers, walking along jagged rocks, balancing here, hopping there. Our spot only had one good rock, which wobbled some until we shimmed it with another underneath. Carmen recruited the teenage boy (called a “bicho” in El Salvadoran Spanish) chatting with us nearby to help her build up a pile of rocks and make another washing slab. But I quickly told them to quit it, as we’d waste an hour to do it. and they were making a muddy mess of the water we were washing in. Carmen worked on the smaller rock next to mine while I fumbled along on the larger one – I needed all the help I could get.

My husband says I should wear a tank top and shorts at the river, so folks here don’t stare so much. I can’t get used to all that wet heavy stuff so I wear a two piece bikini and let them look all they want. With women pulling their entire breast out from under a shirt to breast feed just about anywhere and in front of anyone, I don’t understand the shock factor of a woman in a bikini by the river.

We finished the clothes and I washed myself with shampoo and soap, as does everyone here, before leaving. We packed up the guacal and trekked back along the river. Carmen wound her towel up, formed it into a circle, put it in on her head. Then she placed the 2 foot size guacal on top, and climbed up the steep rocky incline. Twenty+ pounds of wet clothes in the guacal, Carmen skipped along like a goat on the mountainside, as if nothing were perched on her head.

Here is a photo and comment from a man of Salvadoran descent I found when searching for photos of women washing clothes.


washing clothes in a stream - Santa Rosa de Lima

Si eres mujer y crees que tienes una vida dificil por que tienes que lavar y planchar, mira lo rudo que tiene que hacer una de mis tias para tener ropa limpia, y por cierto cuando esta quebrada no tiene agua en invierno debe caminar un par de kilómetros o sacar agua de un pozo para poder lavar.

Translated to English:  “If you are a woman and think you have a tough life because you have to wash and iron, look at the rough work one of my aunts has to do in order to have clean clothes; and in addition, when this stream doesn’t have water she must walk a couple kilometers or take water out of a well to wash clothes”

See more of Wilber Calderón’s photos here on Panoramio:   Wilber Calderón photos

%d bloggers like this: