Clothes Washing in a Grid-Down World

by Erich

If we are ever forced to live through an extended grid-down situation, I think many of us would realize how much we rely/depend upon our “common” appliances like our washing machines.

For that reason, having an off-grid secondary option will really make living a whole lot easier if things do go south.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you how you can make your own effective off-grid “washing machine” using easy-to-obtain items:

What You’ll Need

  • Two 5-gallon buckets with one lid
  • Toilet plunger (make sure it’s a newly purchased one)
  • Liquid detergent (optional: stain stick)
  • Vinegar
  • Rope or clothesline
  • Clothes pins

How to Make an Off-Grid Clothes Washing Kit

Step 1: Drill a hole in the middle of the lid just big enough for the plunger handle to fit through.

Step 2: Place the following items in one of the buckets:

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Plunger
  • Stain remover/stain stick
  • Vinegar (1/2 cup added to rinse water helps to remove soap)
  • Rope or clothesline
  • Clothes pins

Step 3: Put bucket with items in it into other bucket and place lid (with holes) on top of buckets (feeding the plunger handle through it).

Step 4: Store away for a time you need it.

How to Use Your Off-Grid Clothes Washing Kit

To use your kit, simply perform the following steps:

  1. Take out the items in the bucket
  2. Fill both buckets 1/2 to 3/4 full with water — enough to completely cover your clothes
  3. Put a small amount of detergent in one bucket (this will be your washing bucket)
  4. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the other bucket (this is your rinsing bucket). Vinegar helps to remove the soap from the clothes
  5. Place clothes in the washing bucket, cap the bucket after feeding the plunger handle through the lid’s pre-drilled hole
  6. Move the plunger up and down for a few minutes until your clothes are clean
  7. Pull out clean clothes and wring them out
  8. Place soapy clothes in the rinse bucket and use the plunger as you did when you washed the clothes
  9. Wring rinsed clothes out again and hang them up to dry
  10. Repeat with another load of laundry until water becomes too dirty.

NOTE: You can get away with doing the above steps with only one 5-gallon bucket if you wish. The only difference is in-between washing and rinsing you’ll need to empty the water.

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Comment by cj06
2012-12-22 02:03:55


Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-22 12:39:12

Lol 🙂

Comment by Carol
2012-12-22 02:25:43

Great idea, you get an A+ on this one, I have an old plunger that my mother use to use to clean clothes, it looks sorta of like a toilet plunger, but it is web style in the middle and really works up a lather.. She use to use that to get stains out of tablecloths by soaking them in an old tub and using the plunger to clean them. Don’t know if they still make them anymore. Keep up the good work..

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-22 12:38:50

Thanks Carol

Comment by greg
2012-12-22 02:30:54

me too

Comment by Becky DeWitt
2012-12-22 03:37:42

I saw something like you’re talking about for sale on Amazon. Am going to order one for myself. I like the way this is packaged to put away. Great idea.

Comment by Charles Gibbens
2012-12-22 05:31:46

Hey I was a WW2 baby. Every one had a huge cast iron cooker, clothes washer, cracklin maker in their back yard . All it took was some kindlin, stick for stirring clothes and lye soap and a set of strong arms if you have a big load of clothes. Boil and stir clothes clothes for about an hour, Rinse with water, and throw them over the clothes line to dry. Those froze dried in the winter, and humidified your house where you kept your fireplace. Helped your eyes and nose from drying out.. You would not pack it far, but you could roll it. Charles with sterile, clean clothes from 68 years ago. You also made you soap in the kettle from the ashes and grease from kracklins. You could boil some flowers in the water if you did not mind having some wild tiedyes.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-22 12:38:08

Thanks for the great tips Charles.

Comment by Trey
2012-12-22 08:43:53

We used this exact system at Boy Scout camp for years. It worked great and allowed us to only carry one dress uniform shirt with us for 2 weeks of camping in the south Georga mud and dust. The system is simple, easy to make with a new plunger and a drill and Two new buckets. These buckets should be 5 gal or larger, but do not need to be food grade. (Just clean with proper fitting lids.)
Glad to see this old piece of Boy Scout technology is still being taught. It works!

Comment by Tinman
2012-12-22 10:01:42

Wringing out (by hand) a pair of blue jeans gives ones fore arms quite a work out. (Think multiple loads of laundry here).
One suggestion is to acquire a mop bucket wringer. The sort of equipment you would see a janitor pushing down a hallway. a bucket on wheels with a hand wringer slipped over the top. This makes an excellent solution to hand wringing.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-22 12:35:00

Great idea! I was trying to think of a better way of wringing. Thanks

Comment by Annita J Arthur
2012-12-22 10:02:13

This is a great idea. It reminds me of my mom’s butter churn. 🙂 I think this is a much better idea than having to build a fire and boil the clothes in a pot, wring them out, and use a rub board! My grandmother, told me several stories about ‘wash day’. They were poor and couldn’t afford a wringer type washer, so once a week, the all day process began. Thanks for the idea! I do believe I will get the items together and make a wash day kit!

Comment by O
2012-12-22 10:27:11

Genius. Easy & practical.

Comment by FredrockinVa
2012-12-22 11:08:47

I am an apartment dweller and have to use the machines in a laundry room that closes an hour after my workplace. Sometimes I need to do a small load of laundry, this will be my backup system as well as my emergency laundry unit.

Comment by Susan
2012-12-22 11:39:55

Hadn’t thought about losing the luxury of my washing machine! Thanks so much! Will put one of these together for camping AND emergencies. Have a beautiful Christmas.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-22 12:40:30

You’re welcome Susan. You have a wonderful Christmas as well.

Comment by michael
2012-12-22 11:42:30

I once saw a man in a campground washing his clothes like this… mostly. He had a camper, but wasn’t working so he couldn’t afford luxuries like a plunger. He just used a stick. I don’t know if he knew about the vinegar, and I didn’t, so that’s cool.

Comment by Patricia Adams
2012-12-22 12:01:39

so funny to see this. when my 4 children were small and times were tough I did my wash this way in the bath tub. this was in the “80”s. not that long ago. great article.

Comment by Donna Dewey
2012-12-22 13:17:34

I got my plunger – type, washing tool at Lehmans.

Comment by Jake
2012-12-25 13:40:03
Comment by Arthur
2012-12-22 13:19:33

Good stuff. We need to be reminded of more of these Ol’ Timey ways to get things done. Thanks

Comment by jedward
2012-12-22 16:10:43

best to stock up now. don’t wait untill need arises

Comment by Glen
2012-12-22 16:14:15

This a great way to extend your resources. Now is the time to re-think the amount of water needed daily. A gallon per day per person is really the bare minimum. Thanks.

Comment by frank brickey
2012-12-22 16:43:15

When I was small I remember my grandmother’s basement having an old washing machine that was open topped with an upside down U mounted on top of it. The machine was all white enamel paint with red highlights like pin stripes. The top part was a roller wringer that had a turn hamdle on the side of it. Next to this “modern appliance” were two large two foot deep tubs about 3 feet in diameter. Both had drain holes in the middle with a nipple on the bottom that a hose came off and ran to a drain in the floor. They sat on saw horses. My grandmothers wash board was hanging on the wall. The entire basement, except grandpa’s shop and the area by the coal shoot door, was strung with clothelines. Grandma used the tubs for years and then grandpa bought her the modern washer, so she used the tubs for rinsing after that. Later I learned that grandma felt the machine was too rough on her personables so she only used the tubs for those. Grandpa rigged a “helper” for grandma on the wall with two large c clamps and a couple of small boards. Grandma would wash, wring, rinse, wring. But instead of just hanging all the clothes, then she would take the heavy work clothes like denims and put the bottom hem of the trouser legs between the wood between the clamps and tighten. Then she would step back with the waist in her hands and twist the trousers like a steering wheel until the water just ran out of the trousers. Then later, I remember my father helping with putting in the modern washing machine and dryer combo. During the summer months grandma used the clotheslines outside, but for most of the year she used the lines downstairs. My grandmother was a registed nurse for her entire adult life and worked way past twenty years. My grandfather was in WW1. He was an amazing tinsmith. I have not thought about this for awhile. Thank you for bringing back some good memories.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-24 08:59:14

You’re welcome and thanks for sharing your story.

Comment by saffron
2012-12-22 19:01:20

Perfect timing guys. We just ‘lost’ our entire laundry. The bucket and plunger idea is a LOT cheaper than the local laundromat. Shopping list being revised as I write this comment.

Comment by laurajeanike
2012-12-22 19:30:38

Lehmans sells them, I have one.

Comment by Roger
2012-12-22 23:33:54

This is a great idea especially for those small loads of necessity items. I have found that using some soapwort, lavender, certain tree barks and other herbs avalible and readily found in the summertime can be used for washing of cloths and body. If we are talking about the lack of power needs “we” may be resorting to the old time uses of these herbs. You’ll want to store them up for winter use too. We may even be resorting to making our own lye soap too.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-24 08:57:59

Some good thoughts Roger, thanks.

2012-12-23 00:54:28

Heres the info to query at Amazon
Rapid Washer – DIY Manual Hand Washing Machine
Product Features
Manual washing machine to use for power outages or as a hand powered washing machine
Hand washer machine for delicates and sweaters
Hand washes clothes as well as a portable washing machine
DIY laundry for camping, fishing, hunting, expiditions and RV trips
DIY washing machine to add to your emergency preparedness supply list or 72 hour kit in case of earthquake, flood, tornado, hurricane, or other natural (or even not-so-natural) disasters
Product Specifications
Brand NameGetPreparedStuff
Model InfoRapid-Washer
Part Number Hand-Washer-Machine
Item Dimensions
Weight2.4 Pounds
Depth24.41 inches
Width7.09 inches
Height8.66 inches
Product Description
For hand clothes washing, this simple hand clothes washer is more effective than hand washing laundry alone. The hand powered up and down plunger washer action uses the pushing and pulling of water through the clothes to get them clean without a lot of wear and tear on clothes or your hands. This non-electric washer uses minimal water and because of the agitation motion, less soap. It sounds like it’s breathing with every clothes washing motion. Save a trip to the laundromat and use it in your sink, 5 gal. bucket, pail or tub to quickly and simply hand wash soiled and dirty clothes. More compact than a hand crank washing machine, the portable rapid washer hand washing machine is a great item to have included with your emergency preparedness kit or 72 hour kit and for those week long outdoor camping expeditions with scouts or hunters or just working on the homestead where a DIY washing machine is needed. This modern breathing mobile washer version of the old rapid washer doesn’t use tin plated steel in it’s plunger style funnel cone construction so rust will never be an issue yet it’s as durable to last and work better than those made in the 1800’s. It’s a great item to help you get prepared or just make your daily DIY laundry chores easier. MADE IN USA
Have Fun !

Comment by Robert
2012-12-23 08:41:27

Wait till I tell my wife how much electricity we are going to save!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by judah
2012-12-23 12:44:39

might have to use that sometime. :^)

Comment by Ray
2012-12-23 15:46:52

I love the great advice that is being giving. I have a washer and dryer, but some times in between using the machines, I wash a few things out by hand, but if the grid goes down, it is good to have a good alturnative. When I was a kid, my mom also used the old wringer type washer and hung things inside during the winter. If you run out of detergent and have some bar soap, you can grate the bar soap up with a cheese grater and use it. Also when your bar ‘s of soap are down to the last small piece, why not put it aside and dry it out and recycle it, also those small piece’s of soap can be used in a shaving brush mug.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2012-12-24 08:51:58

Great tips Ray! Thanks

Comment by iris
2012-12-23 23:25:09

Or, if you don’t have a bucket, you could pin down your clothes with a rock in running water and let nature do the work for you.

Comment by Pete
2012-12-24 21:45:47

If you have gas and are still driving, put some clothes in a 5 gal. bucket or a square sided plastic barrel with a removable lid. Put the soap in and drive down your dirt driveway or curvy road or about 25 miles. Come home and dump it out. Put in some rinse water and swirl around, remove clothes, wring out, dry etc. No Work, No Worries on the way to town laundry. Boaters have used this technique for years.

Comment by Gary
2012-12-28 17:43:59

Made one and the wife laughed at me…….until she saw it work!!!!! Thanks for the tip!!!

Comment by Joe
2012-12-31 11:33:37

Great idea. All the things that our grandparents did are coming back. Thanks guys.

Comment by Janice W.
2013-01-05 23:09:24

I used this technique for decades and washed many a cloth diaper. I would pour the old rinse water into the wash bucket to cut diwn on an extra step. I would throw clothes over the towel bar at the back of the tub and even them up. Twisting would wring a great deal of water out and was easier on the hands.

Comment by Tucker
2013-01-06 06:57:36

I also have one of the specialized plungers that Lehman’s sells. But, for anyone who wants to use a regular toilet plunger – I’ve heard that it is a good idea to drill half a dozen or so 1/4″ or 1/2″ round holes into the rubber plunger, evenly distributed in a circle around the rubber portion. This helps prevent the plunger from forming a suction grip to the bottom of the wash bucket, which can be a pain to have to break loose.

Also, the wringing of the rinsed clothes would most definitely be the most difficult aspect to this SHTF laundry method. Blue jeans, or any other bulky and thick material garment would be a considerable chore.

Comment by Evandro
2013-01-08 21:32:27

Nice idea! i’ll try one myself! never, ever thought about it!!
Greetings from Brazil

Comment by AZAnge;
2013-01-12 15:15:52

Great idea…thanks

Comment by bruce weetman
2013-01-25 06:28:21

The plunger was called a posher in England during the last war an it was used with a dolly tub which is a metal barrel with virtical corrugations.Must have a gander and see if mums is still in the barn. LOL

Comment by Radar
2013-01-28 17:38:45

so you have a drill in a grid down country……..uh huh.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-01-29 00:14:13

You’re not serious right…?

Comment by Queen Quinn
2013-01-29 06:29:54

Glad to find your blog with useful information.

Comment by Remi
2013-02-01 09:00:19

I have an old wringer washer set up with a exercise bike to wash my clothes should the power go off for any length of time. You can soak your clothes, wash it as long as you want, use the wringer to wring your clothes, separate tub to rinse your clothes and wring it again. It’s an exercise bike with a V-belt crossed to fit on the washer pulley, then peddle away. It helps if two or more people are helping to do the laundry. I thought of modifying a chain saw to power the washer using the same V-belt pulley system once the blade and chain have been removed. I haven’t done the chainsaw model but I know it can be modified. This can be used for cottage use where no power is available.

Comment by Glenda Russell
2013-02-02 11:21:18

I can remember having to wash clothes in the bathtub. Run water, add a bit of laundry soap, wearing shorts or rolling up my pants legs, and stomping the heck out of the clothes. You can actually do quite a few this way. Pull the plug, let drain for a bit…..stomp for a bit longer to get more of water out. Then fresh water in and repeat. Then this time you get the pleasure of wringing. You can string a line above the tub to let them dry. Forget a membership at the gym……..this firms you up fast. LOL.

Comment by clinton
2013-02-14 14:55:30

look up( Lehman’s non) electric catalog … and type in the search .. WASH CLOTHS

Comment by iris
2013-02-24 17:53:49

I lived with my grandfather in the Northern bush for a spell. He had this wooden barrel washing machine from the pioneer days. Imagine a barrel with a wooden wheel on the side which would turn a paddle inside that would go up and down (or was that around). It was exhausting. It was easier to tie clothing to a fish line and let the current toss a garment around. I just read an article on the Wingleaf soapberry. You toss acouple of them into your wash, whether dishes or clothes, and the water soaks into the nut which softens the nuts to release soap or it said to put it in a blender. It takes 10 years for a young sapling to produce nuts which means IF I could find American or India grown soapberries to start my own trees, I will be 80. Hmm?

Comment by iris
2013-02-24 18:15:33

What if we were to take a wood barrel, add a wooden wheel to the side, paddles inside, but use a wind mill for energy to turn the wheel, rather than human muscle. It’s possible, as long as it is not too windy.

Comment by iris
2013-02-24 18:34:38

This mite be a handy gadget to add to the “bag”. It is about the size of a pop can but when one adds clothes and water to this rubber square football thingy, zip it up, one could sit on it and bounce away, or put it under the feet if one was to get tired. Could they play ball with it? Undoubtedly. It is called the Scrubba (rubber) bag by inventor/climber Ashley Newland. You could buy dozens of them, up the price to cover your time and resale them. But, the fishing line thingy is cheaper, however, there is the bear thing with the fishing…rite?

Comment by iris
2013-02-24 18:45:46

It’s too bad that Scubba washing machine is SO small. I mean, something bigger, MUCH bigger, might be something to snuggle next to at night time. But, I would want a designer Scubba in the shape of a teddy bear, a sleepy teddy bear with a soft toothless smile and I could squeeze it or roll my head on it, cause I turn over all night. Yeah, I could go for a larger Scubba washing machine pillow type thing. And, if they made one to measure out to human length, kids could jump on it all they liked but there may be a mold problem if not dried out correctly…rite?

Comment by iris
2013-02-24 18:52:12

I wonder if the Scubba has a release valve or just the zipper? A release valve may be used to put air inside although I think that even if there was water inside, it would still float and one could add netting or a tied cloth around it to get across a river or through a flood. An experiment to be tried on a trek.

Comment by Dyanaru
2013-03-10 18:30:01

You can still buy this on Amazon. Mobil Washer and Rapid Washer are the names.
Designed to push and pull water efficiently. Around $20-25.00.

Comment by Pam Jenner
2013-03-11 08:08:30

Love to hear great ideas like this

Comment by Kat
2013-06-30 11:56:35

Well that could be done. Just replace the plunger handle with a mop handle so it will reach further down into the barrel. Great ideal for large families too.

Comment by JAMES R.
2013-07-23 15:18:31

you can find those & most anything for off grid laundry at

Comment by Jan
2013-08-06 10:27:30

Saw this online for a three bucket laundry system:

To “wring” the water out of your clothes, use one more 5 gallon bucket for your laundry system and drill many small holes in the bottom of it. (You could probably drill some small holes in the sides also for even better water removal efficiency.)

Next, place this bucket (with the holes drilled in the bottom of it) inside of one of the other two (empty) 5 gallon buckets. Then place the wet clothes inside of this “holey” bucket. Place the other (empty) 5 gallon bucket directly on top of the clothes. Put the lid on top, sit on it, and most of the water will be automatically “pressed” out of the clothes.

Comment by Michelle
2013-10-20 21:30:53

I’m due to have a baby in December and one thing that I made sure to have on hand is a huge bucket with lid to use as a diaper washer. I plan to collect cloth diapers in the bucket and do a small load in the same bucket every day using a method similar to this one.

Comment by wq8h5etu
2013-11-30 18:32:34

re-posted on wicked zombies

Comment by gary andersen
2013-12-28 03:19:37

good tips

Comment by Cheri
2018-05-06 16:07:05

I use this system during the warm months! My washer went out a couple of years ago and I haven’t replaced it yet.
I sit under a shade tree next to my clothes line and wash the previous day’s laundry.
However, I do like the lid idea to keep everything together.

For those who use a new regular plunger, remember to add a few holes to prevent suction lock and try to end each down-stroke on top of fabric.

Also, don’t forget to include kid energy at wash time! It’s a great way to teach them self sufficiency, clean their clothes and let them play in the water!

Comment by Uber Laundrys
2018-11-20 13:22:25

Hi, This is very interesting and informative article for me. Thank you so much for sharing. Keep up the good work.

Comment by Shauna
2020-11-13 20:47:03

Or u could just sit on it. Put the lid on the solid bucket, place it on top of the wet clothes in holey bucket, and squish

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