Washing Clothes in Mexico

Way different
BY: JESSIE RODRIGUEZ

It's almost comical when people in the USA and Canada say they are doing their laundry when in fact, the washing machine is doing their laundry. In Mexico, and Baja California, when people say they are doing their laundry, they actually; both literally and figuratively are doing their laundry, washing dirty clothes by hand. It is an age old tradition in Mexico, dating back to the indigenous Aztecs and Mayans and earlier civilizations since the beginning of time.

And of course, if people are washing their clothes by hand in Los Cabos, they are not using a dryer before folding them by hand and putting them away. Almost everyone in Northern and Southern Baja California as well as mainland Mexico, dry their clothes using the almighty bright and warm, hot sizzling sun; which is free. Whether they are hanging the wet, cleaned clothes on a line in the backyard or on a rooftop, or by an open window, the natural sun is the preferred means of drying washed clothes. On a regular hot sunny day in Cabo, the clothes can get dry within an hour or two of putting them up.

Throughout the evolution of history, washing clothes in the river was pretty much the normal way of doing laundry in many less-developed parts of the world. Even in prosperous parts of early society, riverside washing continued well into the 19th century and really all that has changed is the location of water. In today's modern world, every apartment or house built in Cabo or Mexico, has a gray concrete washing area with wash board grooves in the concrete. It’s a concrete washboard. Washing clothes by hand is still very much a common everyday practice for both the middle class and poor.

While early civilizations often found themselves washing clothes down by the local river, a rigorous yet effective method that is still practiced all over the world, especially in Mexico; the modern era has brought the water to home to every structure built, and clothes are now washed in the comforts of home. Usually in a backyard in a patio area. Garments are no longer beaten over rocks, and scrubbed with abrasive sand or stones, but still hand washed, using stiff brushes and soap.

Up to about 18 years ago we could still see Mexican senoras washing their laundry in San Jose in the estuary, at the old bridge, not the new one that goes right close to the sewage treatment plant. Still, that estuary water didn’t look that good.

Gringos are usually surprised at what a bargain taking their clothes to a local laundry is. There are few laundromats where you put your quarters into the machines and wait around for the cycle to finish, most Cabo laundries are drop offs. You drop off your clothes and they wash, dry, and fold them nicely. And many of them will iron if you pay just a little bit extra. Most of the local laundries eyeball your bag of dirties and come up with a price. Like a large garbage bag is about $10 for the wash/dry/fold. 

It was actually the Romans who took this basic concept of washing clothes and turned it into a commercial industry. The shift from homespun fabrics to much cheaper clothes, called for a more frequent washing. Human urine was used, collected from public restrooms, since the pee, containing ammonia, was an important cleaning agent not only in Roman times, but Medieval Europe as well. Some people would thus, sell their urine to laundry businesses except the poor who had no pot to transport and sell their pee; hence the popular term, ''they're so poor, they don't have a pot to piss in.''

Surprisingly, whereas London was drawing its drinking water from the polluted River Thames as late as 1854, the Aztecs supplied their capitol with fresh water from the nearby hill of Chapultepec by means of their two aqueducts. The sacred importance of water was as important to the Aztecs as it is to everyone living in Cabo and all over the globe.

Aztec fathers allegedly told their daughters; ''If you want your husband to love you, dress well, wash yourself and wash your clothes.'' They didn’t mention deodorant and without that, we fear the worst.

Ancient Egyptians vigorously scrubbed linen with natron – a naturally occurring mixture of sodium salts – then dried laundry in the sun. The Dutch from 1,000 A.D. were laundry ''experts'', who would soak dirty clothing for up to 8 weeks in a mixture of lye – water run through the ashes of a wood fire – and sour milk to get it really white. It was around 1800 A.D. when the scrub board was invented, possibly in Scandinavia. The first motorized washing machine was built in the USA during 1851. In the 1920's the first electric washing machines were built in America, which used an agitator or rocking action. USA spin dryers were developed during that same decade.

And while the current American administration is still trying to keep using fossil fuel, Mexico has embraced the future of solar energy with visionary enthusiasm. At a total cost of $100 million US dollars, the government of Mexico constructed a solar energy farm in 2013 at nearby La Paz. Hector Olea, president of Gauss Energy, the company that built the facility, explained its energy would be sold not to the public, but to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in a contract agreement for the next 20 years. The 247 acres (100 hectares) in La Paz, contains 135 thousand solar panels which have the capacity to power 164,000 homes, or 64% of the capitol city of Baja California Sur. Further proof, there is more than enough free solar sun power to dry the hand washed clothes - cleaned by roughly 85% of  Southern Baja people.