The Methods of Washing Clothes in Africa

Written by audrey pannell
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The Methods of Washing Clothes in Africa
African women in rural areas often walk and visit while doing laundry together. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Some regions in Africa are remote and unindustrialized. Simple tasks such as doing laundry make use of primitive methods, compared to methods used in large cities or areas with access to modern appliances and cleaner water. Unfortunately, those who wash clothing in outdoor areas such as streams are at a greater risk of contracting illnesses like schistosomiasis if the water is contaminated with bodily fluids. Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by a parasite, which can penetrate human skin in contaminated water sources.

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Water Holes

Rural areas often have only water holes as the sole source of water. The water holes are often near a small village located by a wetland. This area is referred to as the "dambo." Women often visit the water hole in the early morning or late evening to gather water and wash clothes. Near the end of September or October, they may have to dig for water or share water bowls due to a lack of rain. If there is an adequate amount of water, the women are able to wash clothes. They submerse the clothes into the water or a bowl filled with the water. They scrub the clothing between their hands to rid it of dirt and stains. After scrubbing the clothes, they wring them out and allow them to dry in the sun or hang them on a makeshift clothing line.

Rivers and Streams

Those who live near rivers and streams use them to bathe in and wash clothes. Women typically visit the streams after the hottest part of the day once their other chores are completed. They immerse the dirty clothes in the running water and use large rocks to assist in the scrubbing process. Washing powders and bars are not available in extremely rural areas, so the women use homemade soap to clean the clothes. In large cities it is more likely that typical washing detergents are sold for use, but operational deficiencies sometimes make them unavailable. After cleaning the clothes, the women hang them to dry or drape them over something to dry in the sun.

Water Wells

In areas where water wells are installed, women pump the water into large buckets and carry it to their homes for household use. The clothes are washed in large basins filled with water. They use laundry soap or homemade soap to scrub the clothes. The clean clothing is set out to dry in the sun.

Modern Appliances

Modern washing machines and dryers are used to clean clothes where they are available. People living in large cities have access to modern appliances and household products. They are able to purchase typical washing detergents and wash their clothes at home or at a laundromat. Such appliances and products are viewed as a luxury to those living in undeveloped areas. People who are able to afford piping in their homes and washers and dryers are not subject to the health concerns of washing clothing in open water sources.

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