You could go to the river and pound your clothes on the rocks, right? But maybe a river isn't nearby. Or maybe it's frozen. Mostly, you probably don't really want to do that. It isn't practical in USA culture.
Okay, here's a better plan. Make your own laundry soap for about $2 using this recipe.
1 bar of Fels Naptha soap
1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
5 gallon bucket
(I can find all these soaps at Wal-Mart.)
Shred the bar of soap. Pour 4 cups of hot tap water into a kettle. Add the shredded soap. Heat over medium heat, stirring all the while until the soap is dissolved. Then stir a bit longer to make sure it's dissolved entirely. Remove from the heat.
Fill a five gallon bucket with cold tap water. Add the soap mixture, washing soda and Borax. Stir until powders are dissolved. Fill the bucket the rest of the way with hot tap water. (I use all cold water because my hot tap water stinks like rotten eggs. But the recipe I followed said to use hot water, so whatever works for you should be okay.)
(The first recipe I linked is just that- the recipe. The second link takes you to a detailed step-by-step-with-pictures process. I also don't use the exact same recipe, as you may notice.)
Let this set overnight. It will turn into a gel. In the morning you can stir it to turn it back to liquid or get in with your hands and squeeze it. At this point it is ready to use. Or you can dilute it further. Fill an empty laundry soap jug halfway with water and fill it the rest of the way with the soap mixture. I use it full strength and it does a good job. It is still way more economical than other laundry soaps (5 gallons for $2!). Just use the regular amount you would use of any liquid laundry soap.
Add peroxide to your load if it needs "bleaching" (not whitening). It will do the job, without killing all good microorganisms. Use 1/2 to 1 cup per load.
For laundry that needs deodorizing, add white vinegar to the wash cycle. Use about a cup per load. Vinegar also helps to remove grass stains on jeans. Just start a load like normal but let the laundry soak about a half hour in the washer between the wash and spin cycles.
These things have worked for me and make me feel a lot better about the things my family wears. Not so many chemicals. For better health.
Another trick that has helped me, is to wash with cold water. You can wash anything together in the same load when using cold water. Okay. Don't put the dirty jeans in with good dress clothes. But darks and lights, polos and jeans, dresses and towels... it works! And it eliminates the sorting, the piles all over the house. Just basically empty the hamper into the washer. It makes it simple for children to do their own laundry this way.
Cold water, for me, means less stains on the laundry too. There is something about the metals/minerals in our water that will put spots on the clothes if using hot water. Iron Out will take the spots out but who wants to mess with yet another step?
And ironing. Who wants to iron clothes? Not me. Put those dress shirts, dresses, dress pants, etc in the dryer for a few (5-10) minutes. Or use your dryer's "tumble press" setting. Then immediately put them on clothes hangers, shaking out the wrinkles. Hang them on the shower curtain rod, the laundry line, the door frame, a tree branch, the garage door slide- wherever it works. Let them dry there and see if you like the results. I hang pants over the backs of the dining room chairs (be careful you don't get stain on your clothing and/or take the varnish off your chairs) or pinned by the waistband to the laundry line. (I don't like the marks clothespins make on the legs.)
Keep a bottle of cheap dish detergent close by and add a squirt to the random grease spot on your clothes. My dresses get splattered with grease sometimes when I'm cooking (because I rarely wear an apron!).
Lastly, fold the laundry immediately when you take it from the dryer and put it away. It takes no more than five minutes and it's off your mind. Donna Goff has taught me this and also taught me to enlist the help of the children in doing so. I'm still learning to be prompt about it. Sometimes I set it aside thinking I'll do it with the next load. Well, guess what? The more it piles up, the less I feel like doing it.
Put a load in the washer as soon as you dress in the morning for a good start on your day.