wash clothes by hand without electricity

How To Wash Clothes Without Electricity /Off-Grid

Maybe you’re planning an extended off-grid stay somewhere. Maybe you live off-grid. Or you’re wondering how to wash clothes while camping or boondocking /RV’ing. Or maybe you’re planning for what you would do during an emergency — long electric-grid-down situation. One issue that will arise is as follows… washing clothes without electricity.

Eventually you will want to wash your dirty clothes! But how to do laundry, off-grid?

What You Need To Wash Clothes Without Electricity

1. Water
2. Soap
3. Agitation

That’s basically it!

Even without soap, you can get clothes cleaner by water-soaked agitation.

Other helpful items will include some sort of wash basin, ideally two (one for wash, and the other for rinse). You might want to get yourself a relatively large basin or two (wash – rinse). You’ll find various sizes and shapes of these tubs at your local Tractor Supply Store, or equivalent store near you.

Ordinary 5 gallon buckets will work too, although they’re kind of narrow and won’t fit too many clothes at once.

Bear in mind that you could also wash clothes in a body of water too (river, stream, etc..), however a washboard is probably best for that (see below).

Also, a ‘nice to have’ item will be a clothes wringer for speeding up clothes drying times.

There are a few clever inventions that may assist in your efforts to do laundry without electricity.

Portable Clothes Agitator Plunger

While the plunger is a far cry from today’s modern washing machines, and it’s not really a ‘machine’, it will get the job done with a bit of elbow grease! You can wash clothes without electricity with this one, which is quite popular.

Basically, it’s a plunger with a built-in “breather” for agitation action, which helps to clean clothes.

Portable Agitator Plunger
(view on amzn)

Could you use an ordinary plunger that you might already have in your bathroom? Yes, however there’s an important difference. This type of handheld mobile washer is designed to push and pull water through clothes. When you raise the plunger a few inches, the air goes in through the top portion called “the breather.” Whereas an ordinary plunger will not be as effective.

Galvanized Washboard Does Not Require Electricity!

You’ve all seen these before right? A staple during the “old days”, the washboard will get your clothes clean along with a little elbow grease. And some soap and water.

I have two washboards. One is an old ‘Capitol Line’ washboard (from a yard sale). The other is a ‘no-name’ purchased long ago.

Columbus MAID-RITE Washboard
(amzn)

How to use a washboard?

We’ve done it a few different ways. However here’s one person’s description how to use a washboard:

Here is the way I was taught to use a wash board:

The wood area at top is where you set your bar of laundry soap. Put clothes in a tub of water with desired detergent and swish around for a bit.

Wet the metal surface of your washboard and rub the grid with your bar of soap. Now rub each item on the soapy surface of the wash board. Pay particular attention to stained areas. You will need to re-soap the washboard surface occasionally.

Once all clothes have been scrubbed, swish them around some more in the tub. Then drain the water, ring out the clothes, refill the tub with rinse water and swish around for a while.

Drain, wring out and, if desired, rinse a second time. I used to wash all my laundry in the bathtub with a large washboard.

~ washboard reviewer

So, yes I prefer to use the LG front loading washing machine! However, I’ve got my emergency backup clothes washers up on the shelf (grin).

Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine To Wash Clothes Without Electricity

Here’s a novel invention (actually it has been around for quite a number of years).

WonderWash Mini Washing Machine
(amzn)

hand crank portable washing machine

It’s a very portable hand crank washing machine. You turn it /rotate at about one revolution per second (not hard to do).

Tip: If you fill it halfway (rather than cramming it full), it’s easy to crank.

Tip: If you spin it slowly so the clothes drop from top to bottom each revolution, the clothes are slammed down through the hot soapy water 60 times per minute. So, two minutes of cranking will slosh them 120 wash rotations. However, if you spin /rotate it faster, centrifugal force will tend to keep the clothes at one end of the washer, and the clothes won’t clean properly (they won’t ‘fall’ to the other side upon each rotation).

Hand Crank Clothes Wringer

The following hand-crank clothes wringer, although not necessary, it will squeeze out much of the water and significantly speed up overall drying time:

Heavy Duty Off Grid Laundry Wringer

NORTHWOOD CALLIGER
(amzn)

Clothes Drying Racks and Clothes Line

Mrs. J has three of those folding /collapsible wooden /bamboo racks for hanging clothes to dry. She uses them especially for clothes that might shrink in the dryer. It also enables drying clothes indoors, during bad weather, instead of a clothes line outside. And, no electricity required…

Household Essentials Bamboo
(amzn)

We also have a outside clothes line that gets used a lot during favorable weather.

[ Read:

A Washboard Is A Great Survival Prep Item

How To Make Laundry Detergent Soap

20+ Other Uses For Soap

15 Comments

  1. great article ken.
    hygiene is going to be more important to peoples health than they realize. i have a clothsline set up ready to install under my front porch if ever needed, eyebolts already set. coated wire and turnbuckle bolts in a bucket. being under the porch may discourage birds from landing and pooping on the clothes, don’t forget the clothespins and aprons.
    i have a Rubbermaid mop wringer put back for rinsing. a few washboards and many large galv. washtubs
    i don’t have a Portable Clothes Agitator Plunger yet, but i have 2 on order now. thanks again for the reminder.
    i gotta go to town and get some more buckets, ya just can’t have to many.

  2. Good article Ken
    I’m going to use the plunger/bucket method, with the mop wringer, or the big sink in the basement.
    I still remember my mom bringing in frozen clothes. Circa: 1957. My baby brothers training pants. lol

  3. I found an old wonder-wash machine in Mom’s stuff, but it leaked. Probably the rubber ring shrank or some such thing. I put a plastic bag over the top of the machine and each bag works for a couple of washes, until the bag itself gets torn.

  4. We have used all of the devices listed.The absolute best for off grid laundry is the Lavario.It sets up is used and drains in the
    shower or bath tub.Large capacity and is even better if you have kids to work the plunger.

    It is pricey but our plan is to barter with folks.Clothes washing traded for chocolate chip cookies.

  5. Two Wonder washers, a Lavrio, and going to buy a double sink/wringer for next door. Have a large mop bucket. If people are here, there will be no silent cranks! Bought a stainless foldable expandable drying rack. It can go on the screen porch or next door. Have stainless clothes pins and some cheapy wood ones. Buy Naptha or Zote soap almost every time I go to the store. White vinegar will soften clothes in the rinse. Need to buy washing soda and some pool shock plus a couple of the plungers and board or two. Boys will get washing implements this year for Christmas. Hygiene is this years theme.

  6. If you would like to buy a large, high quality wood clothes rack,check out Lehman’s. I bought one when we moved to Arizona and it was a great purchase. The smaller cheaper ones I’ve had before can’t come close to the Amish made ones

  7. I had electricity but no gas for hot water. Could only afford to use coin machines for the cloth diaper load. So heated water on stove for baths and laundry. I used the making grape wine method of agitation for most loads. Rolled up my pant legs and started marching in the tub of laundry. I have always used clothesline in nice weather and hanging rack year round. I expect, other than heating the water over the firepit or on the woodstove, I will use the same method.

  8. Keep in mind this: Not only will you have to hand wash, you will have to sanitize. A few drops of Pine Sol or Lysol concentrated disinfectant (it has a oily aroma) will render your wash not only clean but sanitized. If you are set up for it, you may want to even boil your clothes. My paternal grandmother with the aid of my dad when he was a boy, would set up an assembly line in the back yard. A fire was lit under a galvanized wash tub. White King soap was added and the clothes were stirred with a stick and then scrubbed on a wash board. They were then wrung out with a portable wringer and hung on a clothes line. This was in Los Angeles in the late 1920’s. So there was plenty of sunshine.
    FWIW, I have fabricated a clothesline frame which will fit into my target stands(?!). Here in Winterfell (North ID) we will have to dry our clothes indoors. and drying racks will not cut it for me and my tribe. As the cultural/social/political situation continues to deteriorate; planning prepping, vigilance, and silence are paramount. Bleib ubrig, my friends.

  9. Not long ago I found a cheap seller on ebay, bought 6 blocks of ZOTE soap but I wish I had gotten more.
    I got mine at $2.20 per bar, can’t find that anymore.
    I bought it for the antique washboard I have.

    The way things are I may be forced to use it lot too long from now.
    Not wasting gas on a washing machine if I can help it.

  10. I must admit that when I lived off grid, doing laundry was one of the primary reasons I went to town at least once per week. I was single and I only had to worry about me and my own clothing. I also did my grocery shopping and ate a solid meal at a nearby diner while I was in town. I know how to cook but it is nice to take a break from my own kitchen once in a while. That was why once per week, I could be found at a strip mall that contained a laundromat, a deli or coffee shop and a small market in a largish town near where I lived and worked. I always carried a gun on my person and nearby for these trips because I noticed that the laundromats were always in the lower to middle class of the income spectrum. (only time rich folks go to laundromat is when their washer or drier is broken). Mostly, I babysat my clothes while they spun in the washer or drier. I was reading the paper or working on my homework.
    I washed my own clothes in the mountains when I was exposed to really gross contaminants. (ie. dead body recoveries). In those cases, I washed my clothes in a large basin wearing rubber kitchen dishwashing gloves and I used Dr Bronners Castile soap with Peppermint Oil to cut through the smell of biohazardous material. I line-dried my clothing after washing and double rinsing. On fires, I would wash my underwear, T-shirt and socks when there was no laundry facility nearby while I was in the shower. The outermost layer was nomex coated with fire retardant so it was not supposed to be washed. If we were lucky, we could get a fresh set of nomex at the fire camp. We were not lucky too often. My priority was to have clean, washed cotton next to my skin to protect my skin from the itchy nomex garment that contained fire retardant. On my feet, I used wool socks and I spent good money on Smartwool brand socks.

    1. Calirefugee,
      in my youth the laundromats were a great to pick up women. i would just look lost and confused and they would always help ; )

  11. – Couple of things. When I was 6 or 7, I remember a gasoline-powered wringer washer my great-grandmother had, that was used with a hose run from a hot-water faucet in the house out into the yard. Clothes were washed in the back yard and went directly to the clothesline from the wringer. That is, until my father replaced her little gasoline motor with an electric, and clothes could be washed in the kitchen. It was warmer that way when cold weather hit. This was in the early 60’s. When my great-grandfather died, and washing went to just her clothing, one of the Wonder-washers picked up the slack until she got gifted an automatic Maytag in the early seventies. She still preferred the clothesline except when the weather was bad, and clothes were taken to the laundromat to dry.

    When I was in the Army, clothes in the field were washed with whatever means necessary, including going in the water with them on. An open top, clean 55-gallon drum half-full of clothes and water with a little soap added with the top clamped loaded in the back of a truck on a rough dirt road will agitate fairly well with the drum laying down and a driver willing to dump and refill with clean water before returning would rinse.

    Drying lines made of 550 cord doubled and twisted on it self so that there was a twist every 6 inches or so, would let you get by without having to have clothes pins. A stout stick tied in the works and used as a windlass would let you get the cord nice and tight. Just pinch the clothes between the two lines.

    Now, we have three various sizes of washboards, from a big family model to one intended for use in a bathroom sink. We also have two of the wooden drying racks stashed , one in the garage and one actually in use sitting in the bathroom tub.

    – Papa S

    1. – Forgot to mention, when we were stationed in Germany, we used the apartment building’s ‘trockenzimmer’ or drying room. Cothes got dry, but were as stiff as a board and felt almost like they had been lightly starched. LOL
      – Papa

  12. Reply to Scout: A laundromat on the poorer side of town was generally not the place to pick up on women unless you liked them already married with multiple children already. Doing laundry in those locations was a good time to practice being the gray man. Being a low paid young federal officer, it was not hard for me to dress and act the part of a homeless person on days off. The only way several people spotted me was when they read the material I was reading or studying and noticing I was stone-cold sober. Homeless, unemployed people never read the Wall Street Journal or studying macro economic theories of vertical integration in the oil business. (a real sleeper subject that requires a cup of good strong coffee with each chapter). One of the folks that recognized me was the fire boss from our park. The disguise worked well enough that folks were dealing drugs out in the parking lot while ignoring me.

  13. To Scout on picking up women at the laundromat: Read or watch the movie: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. There is a chapter where Bill’s hiking companion Steven Katz becomes friendly with a lady in a laundromat while in town. Husband finds out and begins hunting them down. They lived so it was funny. In real life…not so funny. Anyway, it is an enjoyable book and a funny movie. (I do not read boring crap ALL the time)

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