A boy washing clothes in a metal tub using a washboard

Washing Clothes When You’re Off the Grid

If you’re planning to take a vacation off the grid for a substantial amount of time or just working towards self-sufficiency, you have to learn how to wash clothes without washing machines. It may seem inconvenient, but remember, people have lived without electricity and appliances for years. Even the Amish people today and people living in the far reaches of Texas are living without the use of washing machines, and if you plan to live off the grid, you can learn from them. Here are some of the ways to wash your clothes without electricity.

Bucket and brush

Let’s start with the least expensive and most basic option: handwashing using a couple of buckets and a scrub brush. For your convenience, you can also use a washboard for scrubbing to make it easier for you to remove dirt from clothes. The idea is to super simple, and here’s how to do it:

  • Fill a bucket with about two-thirds full of water.
  • Add laundry soap or detergent, and mix it with water.
  • Add your clothes and push it down the soapy water, making sure they are thoroughly immersed.
  • Let it soak for at least 30 minutes. How long you let the clothes soak will depend on how dirty they are.
  • Using a scrub brush, scrub the clothes, focusing on the soiled areas. While scrubbing, have another bucket ready with rinse water.
  • Rinse three times, and make sure to replace the rinse water each time.
  • Squeeze clothes to remove excess water, and line dry under the sun.

Rules of washing also apply here – you have to sort your clothes first based on color or dirtiness before washing them all together in a bucket. You may have to use two or three buckets or repeat the procedure twice or more, depending on a load of your laundry. If you’re washing a lot of clothes, it’s always best to choose a large bucket to make handwashing using this method easier.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to the bucket and brush option. You will be bent over in the ground, and your hunched over position is a bit hard on the back. The solution for this is to place your buckets on a countertop or table so you will be standing instead of bending over.

Also, throwing away the water from the bucket after a wash or rinse can be tiring to do, especially due to the weight of the water. Squeezing clothes for drying is another procedure that needs your strength and effort. It also tends to be a pretty wet job since there’s a lot of splashing involved. This can be fun during warm days, but you may want to minimize the amount of water that touches you on wet or cold days.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy

EasyGoProducts Hand Powered Clothes Washing Wand, Blue

Twin wash tub with stand and drain

The Great American Wringer Co - Model Black Coated Steel - Hand Wringer - Made in USA

Lehman's Own Hand Washer and Wringer

The Laundry Alternative - The Wonder Wash Compact Washing Machine - Non-Electric, Hand-Cranked Small Portable Washer - Perfect for Cleaning Woolens, Silks, Knits and Cashmere - 5-Pound Capacity

The Laundry POD, White

 

Washboard

Traditionally made of wood or metal, washboards today are made of plastic or silicone as well. Some are even sold with decorative artwork, so it can double as a decoration when you’re not using it. It’s used similarly to the bucket and brush option.

One difference of using a washboard is that instead of soaking the clothes in soapy water, the detergent is applied directly to the washboard, then the wet clothes are scrubbed up and down the washboard to remove dirt and wash the whole garment.

Hand plunger method

The hand plunger method is another cheap option for off-grid laundry.

For this manual washing method, you have two options: using a hand plunger that looks like a toilet plunger (in fact, some people use an actual toilet plunger – but a new one, of course!), and a plunger specifically designed for cleaning clothes. A famous example is the Easy Go Washing Wand.

To use the plunger for cleaning clothes, place them on top of the clothes in a bucket with water and laundry detergent. Then, push down and pull to activate the washing and cleaning of clothes, mimicking the action of a traditional electric washing machine.

The benefit of this option is that you can wash clothes while standing up rather than bending over. Both the plunger and the wand are easy to use, portable, and lightweight. The EasyGo Washing Wand even has a shovel type handle design for a more comfortable grip.

The EasyGo Washing Wand is designed with holes in the cone that pushes and sucks the water, allowing it to provide a more thorough cleaning than the traditional plunger. The cone part of the wand has a mesh grate on the bottom that stops clothes from entering and blocking the cone area, allowing for more air and water circulation.

The downside with this option is that you may still need to brush some more soiled or stained clothes than others, as the hand plunging won’t be able to target specific dirty spots. For best results, soak the dirty clothes longer than your other laundry load.

Washtub and wringer

Another great method for washing clothes off the grid is by doing it great grandma’s way. Your great-grandma sorted, soaked, scrubbed, wrung, and hung the laundry in the fresh mountain air. You’ll need a galvanized metal washtub to soak, wash and rinse clothes, a washboard to remove dirt and a wringer.

The galvanized twin washtub mentioned above is the same they’ve made for 100 years – including a drain and a double stand. Then, affix this tub to a laundry wringer to make drying more convenient. Wringing wet laundry by hand can hurt hands and wrists, so it can help reduce these instances. A wringer can help you remove water from clothes effortlessly, so you can quickly dry them on a clothesline or clothes rack. Just make sure you don’t use the wringer for delicate clothes since it might damage them.

Hand crank washers

You may not be familiar with it, but there are some pretty cool hand-cranked washing machines in the market. There’s the Lehman’s Hand Washer and Wringer. It’s costly, but it’s made to last for a lifetime. Its first-rate construction includes the wringer and a stainless steel tub. The pendulum motion of its agitator slashes effort and shortens wash time.

Another popular yet cheaper option is the Wonder Wash Compact Washing Machine. It can help you wash five lbs.-load of laundry that can be clean in just a couple of minutes. Its manual crank operation uses less water than standard washing machines and even hand washing and uses no electricity. It has no motor or internal moving parts that allow for a longer lifespan.

With these hand-cranked options, be prepared for an arm and upper body workout.

Laundry Pod

A device of its own kind, the Laundry Pod is a non-electronic washing machine that is easy to use and offers a more convenient method than handwashing. It’s one of the best advances in the field of non-electronic washing since the washboard. It’s perfect for small loads and delicates, making it a great clothes washer alternative if you’re planning on solo off-the-grid living. This machine is also a portable alternative to conventional washers, making it a great washing machine to bring on camping or for use at a tiny home or a vacation home in the cabin.

The Laundry Pod does not use electricity or any kind of motor. The rotation of its internal basket helps agitate the clothes to get them clean. It uses centrifugal force to extract most of the water using drying, so you don’t need to use a wringer.

Here’s how to use the Laundry Pod:

  • Fill the Pod with 4-6 liters of water and a tablespoon of detergent.
  • Place up to 10 garments in the basket and let it soak for a couple of minutes.
  • Make simple rotations using the handle to agitate the clothes, helping them get scrubbed and cleaned. Rotating it for one minute is enough to clean the clothes.
  • Drain the soapy water by opening the valve and rotating the handle to extract dirty water.
  • Start the rinse cycle by putting clean water in the Pod.
  • Rotate the handle as you did the first time.
  • Repeat rinsing for up to three times.
  • To drain and dry clothes, open the bottom valve and place the draining tube in the sink.
  • Rotate the handle again to extract most of the water. This action also removes water from the clothes using centrifugal force.
  • Hang the clothes on a clothesline or rack.

Wringer washer

The wringer washer was once very popular during the post-war era in America. In this modern era, these washers are called the “Amish way” to wash clothes. Many Amish households run their wringer washers generated by diesel. The Maytag Wringer Washing Machine is the most common choice.

These wringer washers work like regular washing machines, except that there is an additional wringer attached.

If you want to try this type of clothes washer, you’ll have to scour the vintage market and discover how to rig it up to a diesel generator. It’s hard to find a new or unused one, and if you buy one used, it will cost you around $200 to $400 for one in good condition.