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3 Methods to Wash Laundry When the Power is Out

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Our washing machine was not appreciated. It faithfully sat in the corner of our laundry room and dutifully agitated and spun the dirt away… until it broke last summer. It had served us well by cleaning 60 loads a month, but it was not worth repairing. This was the catalyst for us learning how to do laundry without electricity. And boy, did we learn alot!

No one, except me, was enthusiastic about this new adventure. However, this unplanned introduction to off-grid washing forced us to put into practice an important skill that’s necessary to maintain hygiene. We knew enough of the basics and we did have clean clothes. Yet as as those two weeks wore on, we learned a lot more pro laundry tips that come in handy. Read on to discover how we did laundry by hand for two weeks and lived to tell about it.

image: woman in white top hanging laundry to dry inside her house

What to use for laundry cleaning products?

There are a variety of laundry soaps and stain treatments that you can make at home. I have made both the powder and the liquid. The powder is faster to make. I recruited one of my children to grate the soap to see how it would work. It went well and I got a clean-smelling kid out of it.

A food processor was used to grate another batch. It got the job done but it did require electricity. You could easily make a six-month to a year supply of laundry detergent in an afternoon. Personally, I store bars of soap and have additional store-bought detergent as well.

3 Methods of Off-Grid Washing

Methods of off-grid washing vary. A well-designed portable clothes washer can eliminate a good deal of the physical labor involved, and there are numerous options.  Only you can determine what is the most effective way for you to do your laundry when there’s no power. Here are a some of suggestions:

Method 1: Buckets and Plunger

If you are strong, want to get strong, or have kids that need to burn energy, I recommend the 5-gallon bucket and plunger method. It is cheap to make and simple to store. This is what you need:


  • • Two 5-gallon buckets (home improvement store, some restaurants give them away for free)
    • Lids for buckets. Washing can be done without a lid, as we have learned, but a lid is better!
    • A new plunger, average quality is the minimum. This one was designed specifically for off-grid laundry use.


  1. Take one of the 5-gallon buckets and drill holes all around the side of it.
  2. Drill holes in the rubber part of the plunger, if you’re using a traditional plunger and not the one we’ve linked to.
  3. If you choose to use a lid, drill a hole in the lid that is large enough to place over the stick of the plunger.
  4. Put the bucket with holes inside the other bucket.
  5. Add water, soap and clothes. Allow enough room for agitation!
  6. Grab a chair, put the bucket in front of you, and pretend you are plunging the toilet for about 10 minutes.
  7. Dump dirty water out, fill it with clean water, and continue plunging.
  8. When you are finished rinsing, place the outer bucket inside the bucket with holes and press or sit on it. Most of the water will drain from your clothes.
  9. Hang to items to dry using your preferred method.

Method 2: Buckets, Washboard, and Wringer

This method uses more tools to lessen the physical labor.


  • At least two very large buckets. Try to find some 20 gallon tubs at the big box store.
  • Rapid Washer
  • Wash board
  • A clothes wringer, if possible.  If you don’t have the funds to purchase an actual clothes wringer, a mop bucket wringer will work as well. You need something that will get as much water out as possible to help the clothes dry quicker.
  • A clothes line outside or some sort of rack inside to hand the clothes out to dry.


  1. Start with warm water in one bucket with a minimal amount of soap. You need soap to clean but too much and it will take longer to get the soap out of your clothes.
  2. Place clothes in the bucket and just let soak for a couple hours or overnight. Much of the surface dirt will come out of your clothes.
  3. Use the Rapid Washer (or your hands) to agitate the water. The Rapid Washer helps circulate the water and separate the dirt from the clothes.
  4. In the second bucket, place your rinse water. Wring out as much of the dirty wash water that you can and put the clothes in the rinse bucket
  5. Agitate again to get soap out of the items and wring.
  6. The first bucket of dirty water is then dumped and refilled to make a second rinse bucket.
  7. If you need to do a second load of laundry, you can reuse the first rinse bucket and repeat the steps.

Method 3: The Lavario

A more sophisticated retail solution is the Lavario Portable Clothes Washer. My husband and I had a chance to give this a try and were impressed with the sturdy construction, effective design, and the easy, smooth operation of washing our clothes. Read my full review of the Lavario, including a video showing us using it.

Other Options

If you are determined to permanently wash without electricity, there are other options to be explored. For instance, a bicycle-powered washing machine or a large hand-cranked machine can be purchased. Antique stores and auctions often have non-electric washing machines from many years ago that are still functional. These vary in price and quality.

Additionally, if you must use your home as your car, modifying one of these options may be worth considering to save money on the laundromat.

Final Thoughts

We all need clean clothes and we’ve become very dependent on our washers and dryers, but laundry can still be done without these conveniences.  You need a plan, proper equipment, these off-grid laundry tips, and plenty of practice. It will take longer, and it’s not easy, but it’s still do-able.

Do you have a preferred method for cleaning laundry when the power is out? Share it in the comments!

Originally published June 23, 2015

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