I miss my Pila from El Salvador. This must be hard to believe, considering the hardest part about doing laundry in the U.S. is carrying it to the machines, or to and from the laundromat.
I’m like one of those old people now who shake their head at new inventions. I’m convinced the washing machine can’t clean clothes as good as ‘the old fashioned way’. It shakes and stirs them, makes a lot of bubbles, and ultimately perfumes your clothes about 80-90% clean. Don’t get me wrong: the washing machine was a great invention, but chances are your clothes wont hit the 100% clean mark. That extra 10-20% the machine misses has to be caught by you before getting baked on in the dryer – but how to when you don’t have a Pila?
There’s simply nothing like the Pila for: just a few items or very small loads, isolating bright dyed items that run (heck, almost all do these days), washing stinky socks separately, etc.
I tried bending over the bathtub, cleaned two very soiled jeans and a few pairs of socks, but my back was not happy with me later.
My new Pila
So…I came up with something:
This table, set near the back door sits at an angle, so the soapy water does down the drain, which runs into the sewage pipe (no, it doesn’t go back into natural waterways or the harbor).
Mind you, this will work 8 months out of the year in New England, tops. After December 1st, fingers will turn into frozen sausages and the back patio a skating rink. We’ll see what I come up with later.
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
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.
Blankets 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. Clothes 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.