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How to Wash Laundry Without Electricity

The author is in the process of building a tiny house. They are always looking for more sustainable ways to live.

If you find yourself in a grid-down scenario, the power goes out, or you are living an off-grid or nomadic lifestyle, you have to find new—or very old—ways of doing things.

Managing the functions of life is important to feeling human and in control of things. Things like bathing and managing waste have to be done in less conventional ways.

Similarly, having clean laundry is a simple thing that will be incredibly important to your sanity and well being. Here are a few suggestions on how to clean your laundry if you do not have access to electricity.

How to Wash Laundry Without Electricity

The first part of the process to getting laundry clean when you are off-grid is washing. The main components of washing laundry are just water, possibly some soap, and agitation. It is that simple.

To that end, here are a few different ways you can wash your laundry.

  • Wonder/Pressure Washer - This is essentially just a large jar. You put in your laundry, a gallon or two of water, and a little bit of soap. Put the lid firmly on the top. These washers usually come with some sort of stand. You move a lever back and forth to shake the jar, thus agitating the contents inside. Once you feel the contents have been sufficiently stirred, let out the water and replace it with fresh water for a rinse cycle. If you have a particularly dirty load, allow it to soak for a while before agitating.
  • Bucket/Tub Method - You will need three five-gallon buckets. One bucket should have a single, ½-inch to one-inch hole drilled in the side, near the bottom. One should have a series of smaller holes drilled into the bottom. And one should have no holes in it at all. Much like the pressure washer method, put your clothes into the bucket that has no holes. Add water and soap. You may let it soak, or you may decide to agitate it right away. You can agitate your laundry in a variety of ways. Use your hands or feet if clean. You can use a plunger specially created for that purpose (yes, laundry plungers are a thing). Or, you could place the lid on the bucket, pick it up by its handle, and swirl or swing the bucket. When you are done, dump the laundry in the bucket with all of the holes in the bottom. Place this bucket in the one with a single hole in the side. Place the wash bucket on top and place the lid on the wash bucket. Sit on the wash bucket to squeeze water out of the laundry. Repeat this process with fresh water to rinse.
  • Wringer Washer - Lehman's is a store that sells all kinds of off-grid products. There you can purchase an older style of wringer washer like you might find in an antique store today. These washers feature a tub for doing laundry with a hand-cranked wringer. Wash the laundry in the tub, and then send clothes through the wringer.

Wringing Out Laundry When You Are Off-Grid

The next step in the process is to wring out the laundry, so that drying does not take forever. The aim is to get clothing to dry before it begins to develop mildew.

Here are some suggestions.

  • Hand-Wringing - This is pretty much what it sounds like. After you have rinsed your laundry and dumped the water, pick up each piece and twist it by hand like you might do when wringing out a dish rag.
  • Bucket Press - As mentioned above, you need three buckets. When you are ready to wring out your clothes, place them into the bucket with multiple holes in the bottom. If you just set this bucket on the ground, the holes will be stopped by the ground. Placing it in the second bucket will provide a few inches of space between the bottoms of the two buckets. Place the bucket with multiple holes into the bucket with single hole. Place the bucket with no holes in the top. Place the lid on the top bucket and sit on it. Your weight should press a lot of the water out of the bottom.
  • Mop Bucket - When I heard about this, I thought it was genius. Get a brand new janitor's bucket with a mop press. In theory, you can use the bucket to do laundry. But whether or not you use the bucket for washing, you can use the mop press to squeeze water out of your laundry.

The Bucket Method

Drying Laundry Without Appliances

No matter how well you wring out your laundry, it will drip. If you are going to hang laundry indoors, it is a good idea to lay a towel or a rug under the laundry as it dries. If you hang your laundry outdoors, then it doesn't matter.

Clothing usually dries faster outdoors. On a fine day, you can get laundry to dry in an hour or two.

  • Clothes Line - This is a method that has been employed forever. Tie a line between two trees, posts, pillars, whatever you've got. Then, hang your laundry over the line. If you are hanging your laundry outdoors, then it is a good idea to also employ clothes pins so that it does not blow away.
  • Drying Rack - A drying rack is great, because you can put it anywhere that you can find space. This is an easier way to hang laundry indoors because it takes up less space than a clothes line. It is inexpensive, too. You can find them in any department store that sells laundry paraphernalia. They can cost as much as $30, depending on how large a rack you purchase. I like to put mine on the porch. I bring the rack inside when I want to dry underwear.

A Recipe for Simple and Inexpensive Laundry Soap

Commercial laundry soap creates lots of suds and is difficult to rinse from clothing. Homemade laundry soaps will get your laundry just as clean without suds and for less than half the price.

There are many different soap recipes on the internet. Depending on who you ask, it can cost you anywhere from 0.02 to 0.10 cents per load. Some recipes are for a liquid soap which has basically the same ingredients as the dry variety but often require heating or boiling the mixture. Since I am in favor of doing things as simply as possible, here is a recipe for dry laundry soap that is pretty simple to concoct.

The ingredients can generally be found at your local grocery store in the laundry aisle:

  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha soap, grated.
  • 1 cup washing soda. (It's kind of like baking soda. In fact, Arm and Hammer makes washing soda.)
  • 1 cup borax.

Mix all ingredients and place them in an air-tight container. You can make double and triple batches if you want to have more time between refills. Use one to two tablespoons per load.

Closing Thoughts

Most people think that doing your own laundry has to be labor intensive. It may require more labor than just tossing it into a washing machine and pushing a button, but the labor involved does not make it prohibitive.

People also worry that if you do not machine wash your laundry that it will not actually be clean. This is also nonsense.

And if your washer or dryer is broken, you can't afford a washer or dryer, or you have lost power, being able to have clean clothing is what will keep you feeling human. And being able to provide it for yourself will be empowering.