Off Grid Washing Machine

What do you get when you combine a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet plunger? An off grid washing machine. Well, maybe not a machine in the traditional sense, unless you consider my hands the motor. This is something I have been wanting to make for quite some time now. The other day while I was in town, I saw a toilet plunger on the shelf and put it in my cart. I also picked up 3 bottles of Mrs Stewart’s bluing, I’ll explain more about that in a bit.

Plunger with holes

This primitive prototype washing machine started out as a 5 gallon bucket and the plunger. I handed the plunger to PB and asked him to cut some holes in the plunger, that makes it easier to plunge the clothes without making tons of bubbles and a big mess. I left it up to PB to decide how to cut the holes and in what shape. He took it downstairs for a few minutes, then brought it back to me, he handed me the plunger with 3, perfectly round, quarter sized holes. he handed me the rubber plugs that came from those centers.

Off Grid Washing Machine

I had a few socks and a couple of thermal shirts, all white, that needed to be washed. I put them in the bucket, filled it with enough water to cover the clothes by a few inches, added some homemade laundry soap (recipe to follow) and began to plunge. It worked like a charm. But of course, PB is never happy with prototypes, he wants to improve things, so he decided that a lid was in order, the lid would keep the water from splashing about as I plunged the clothes. We didn’t have a lid for the bucket, at least not one we wanted to cut a hole in. PB found another 5 gallon bucket, it had a bad place in the bottom, but it had a screw on lid. PB cut the bottom off that bucket and slid it into the first bucket, it fit like a charm.

Lid with hole
Lid with hole

Next, PB cut a hole in the screw on lid, he created a gasket using a prescription pill bottle, that keeps the plunger handle straight and keeps any water from splashing out of the hole in the top. Since the bucket is several inches taller now, the handle for the plunger wasn’t long enough, so PB removed the original handle and replaced it with a longer handle. Now I can put the whole thing on the floor and plunge from a standing position, I get more power to my stroke now. It works great!

Off Grid Washing Machine

I washed the clothes, I removed the clothes, wringing each one by hand, then I dumped out the water. I added fresh water, a bit of baking soda, that helps freshen and helps soften the clothes too. I added some bluing, put the top back on the primitive washing machine and began the rinse cycle. I plunged for several minutes, until I felt like everything was rinsed well. I removed each piece of clothing, wringing each one, then I hung them on the clothes line to dry.

The next thing I want to get is a mop bucket with a roller wringer, that’s the cheapest way I can go if I purchase one, perhaps PB will make a roller wringer for me in the mean time, I wouldn’t be surprised. I can use the roller wringer for my clothes, the water would drain into the bucket, it would take less time to dry on the line, and the clothes would not have to be hand wrung, that makes more wrinkles. Using a roller wringer, it would smooth out wrinkles instead of causing them, dual benefit.

Now to my homemade laundry soap, this is something I have been using for years, long before I moved off grid. it is so much cheaper to make and use, I have control over what is going in. My clothes come out clean, clean smelling, not smelling of perfumes and chemicals. My clothes are also softer.

The recipe is so simple, it’s 3 ingredients. Bar soap, borax and washing soda (not baking soda). I prefer using a castile soap, you can use Dr Bronner’s, or my personal favorite right now, Kirk’s Castile Soap, of course you can use a bath soap like Ivory, just don’t use anything that has moisturizers or major additives, they may work for your skin, but they will not work well to clean clothes. You take the bar soap, grate it in a food processor, or you can do it by hand, you want to get it grated as fine as possible, I like to run the blade attachment on the soap after I grate it, just to make it finer, it dissolves better that way. Once you have the bar soap in powder form, measure it, you can just eyeball it if you want, it doesn’t have to be exact. Add an equal amount of borax and the same amount of washing soda. Measure by volume, not by weight. So, it’s one part powdered bar soap, one part borax and one part washing soda. Put everything in a container with a lid and mix it well, you might have to break up any lumps in the borax and washing soda.

I know a lot of people who use homemade laundry soap like to take it to the next step and make it into a liquid, some people just like using liquids better, they say the powder doesn’t dissolve well, I have not had that problem, I think it’s because I grate the bar soap so fine, that’s the part that will give you trouble dissolving, especially in cold water if you don’t get it fine enough. Since I go ahead and take the extra time to use the blade attachment of my food processor, the bar soap is pretty fine and it dissolves just fine for me. If you want to make this into a liquid, just do a search for homemade laundry soap, you’ll find lots of recipes that take the next step of making it into a liquid, I just prefer not to do it myself, it takes up much less space this way too.

You use 1-3 tablespoons of the mixture per wash load, no more, it will not seem like enough, especially if you are used to using commercial laundry detergent by the cup full, I like to use a coffee scoop, it is just right. This will not suds up in the water, if you feel like it’s not enough, or you have an especially dirty load of wash, then run it through another wash cycle with another 1-2 tablespoons of powder, adding more to the initial wash will not get things any cleaner, in fact, it will defeat the purpose as it may not rinse out well if you add too much. Have you ever looked at your rinse water in the laundry? Notice how dirty and sudsy it looks? That’s because your clothes are not getting rinsed out very well. Your clothes will be cleaner, fresher and will rinse cleaner using this homemade laundry soap. Give it a try.

Some of you might say that you remember line dried clothes feeling rough, scratchy, not soft at all. One major reason that happens is because not all of the commercial laundry detergent is being rinsed out of your laundry. Take a peek at the rinse cycle about halfway through, you will probably be shocked and disgusted at how dirty and sudsy the water looks, this is being dried into your laundry, chances are you will probably want to do a second rinse cycle after that. It’s amazing at how much dirt and detergent is left behind on your laundry, this is the main reason why if you line dried this laundry, it would come out stiff as cardboard and scratchy as well. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much cleaner your clothes will be, smell and feel, no matter how you dry them.

Now to the Mrs Stewart’s bluing. One thing that commercial laundry detergents have are optical brighteners, this makes your colors look brighter and your whites look whiter. I say they do it to combat the dulling residue that is left behind from the detergent itself. Since the homemade laundry soap does not have these optical brighteners, eventually you will notice your colors and whites are not as bright as they used to be, so if you go back to what your grandmother used, Mrs Stewart’s bluing, you will not have that problem. You use this in the rinse cycle. Be sure not to get any undiluted bluing on anything, it will stain.

Off Grid Washing Machine

Today, I used my improvised laundry washing “machine”, I used the bluing in the rinse, the only problem I have now is I am going to have to use this on the rest of my socks for sure, half of them are going to look whiter and cleaner than the other half.

It’s a funny thing, when I explain to my friends out here about my improvised washing machine, they each tell me that I am more than welcome to come over to their house to do laundry using their washing machine and dryer. In a way, it is not a surprising reaction, they think I’m doing everything the hard way, who in their right mind would want to do laundry by hand when there are perfectly functioning, modern washing machines and dryers available? Well, perhaps I am a bit nutty, living off grid, heating with wood, hauling my own water, generating my own electricity… it seems natural to me to want to wash my clothes by hand and dry the clothes using a solar dryer, a clothesline.

Off Grid Washing Machine

Of course I can use a washing machine and dryer, any time I want, but knowing that I CAN do it without electricity or machines, unless you count muscle power. I am now one step closer to being more independent. There is also a small laziness factor in there too. How can doing laundry by hand be lazy? Well, it’s easy, to do laundry with a washing machine and dryer means I have to gather all the laundry, sort it and carry it down the hill to my neighbor’s house, it’s a big hill. I am tied to his house for as long as I am doing laundry, then I have to lug those clothes back up the hill, did I mention it’s a big hill? Then put them away. If I am doing laundry at the skycastle, then I can do them as I please, without having to lug anything up or down the hill, I can do the laundry as I go, I don’t feel like I have to have a full load, I can do smaller loads with no guilt.

Would I recommend this to everyone? Probably not, most of the people I know wouldn’t be interested. But for those who are interested, this is one way to do it. Even if you don’t use the primitive method of washing, you can still use the homemade laundry soap, it will save you money, it will get your clothes cleaner (IMHO), and you will feel better about the whole thing. I know there will be someone out there with a dozen kids, several toddlers and at least one in diapers who will say they aren’t interested in all the extra work, and to them I say, my heart goes out to you, and more power to you, thank God for modern conveniences like washing machines and dryers. You can still try the homemade laundry soap, it doesn’t take that long to make and you will save money using it, plus the extra cleanliness factor of using the homemade stuff verses the commercial stuff. You also might want to put aside a bucket or two, and a clean (unused) toilet plunger, just in case, you just never know when it may come in handy.

One cautionary note, if you use a gray water system and your gray water pours out on plants you want to keep alive, do not use the borax, it will kill plants. Just omit the borax in this case and don’t worry about it, your clothes will still come out clean.

I am now wearing one of the thermal shirts as a sleep shirt, it is soft as can be, it smells clean, not of perfume, but clean. Did I mention it’s soft? I love the feel of the material against my skin, knowing there is nothing that is going to irritate my skin, not that I am particularly sensitive to things like that, it’s nice to know that I don’t have be concerned about it. It is possible to develop sensitivities by being exposed to chemicals over a period of time. And yes, I know that everything I listed above is a chemical, the difference is I know what these chemicals are, I can pronounce the names, they have been in use for generations. Yes, I feel better about using these.

Do you use homemade laundry soap? Do you make your own bar soap? Do you use a primitive method of doing laundry? Let me know about it, leave a comment, especially if you try any part of this, let me know what you think. :)

Click here to go to the update on the laundry soap I use now and more about doing laundry

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  • Scruffy

    Oh, how I wish I’d found this about a month ago when our washer broke down. Coulda saved me a lot of trouble! Still, something about this looks super fun. I have several pails I normally use for fermenting grains but this would be a great way to use them in the meantime and save a couple of dollars. Thanks for posting this!

  • Dina

    This is an interesting homemade machine that can save your hands from washing and ringing clothes, the original off the grid. Makes life easier for people who want to save money or electricity. If you want really off the grid and all natural try the techniques for making black soap. Lye is made from roasting or cooking banana peels.

  • Thanks George, I appreciate your interest and advice, I don’t have a problem getting hot water, I do however want to eventually have a solar powered water heater, it’s not hard though, just a black coil of hose/pipe with water in it, sitting outside will get up to boiling/scalding hot in pretty short order. :)


  • George

    Hello Wretha,
    First, thank you for your inspiration.
    I have made some small steps to become more energy conscience.
    I like your idea of the manual washer.
    I have a 60 litre water proof barrel, I’m going to make it into a washer. It will be a dual purpose item I can put my clothes and stuff in it when I am working away from home, and can keep my clothes clean.
    You were saying that you had a hard time to dissolve your bar soap. What if you used one of those solar shower bags to heat water for your washer. Or paint your bucket black.
    I hope this might give you some ideas.
    Best regards

  • campfirepoetry

    There is just something calming about washing clothes off grid. I’ve used an old wringer plugged into generator, then plugged into the solar, also used a portable washer spin dryer combo, and also a Lehmans Mobile Breathing Washer. All work and depends on what you want to spend, and your climate and if you have a porch. If you want to see the Lehmans idea, you can watch it on our video, we have another one showing the wringer washer also.

  • Old Dreamer

    I introduced this type of washing clothes in the mountains of Guatemala. I prefer to use a plunger with suction cup; it draws more water through the clothes.
    I must admit, I was not successful with my project; the laden in the mountains are too ingrained in their system of washing in a creek. And…how dare a male teach women about a women’s job!

  • gille liath

    It’s actually easy enough to wash clothes in the bath. The hard part, in the British climate, is drying them without a spin cycle.

  • Thanks Bekah, glad I could help :)


  • Bekah

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I live in an apt complex, but I grow my own food and I am looking for more ways to reduce my carbon footprint. Thanks again!!!

  • Thanks anna, glad you like it. :)


  • anna

    My husband and I live off grid on a sailboat 6 months out of the year.. We are hoping to find a peice of land in the north east to build a 350 sq ft off grid “shack”… I love this wasing machine idea Thank you

  • Arch

    Well yes each to there own if anyone has the means give it ago !
    Another way would be to attach a engine to a washing machine instead of the electric motor, may need a reverse gear to get a good wash etc, so that another one to play with guys

  • Thanks Arch, that is one of those “back burner” projects, for now my washing system is much improved since writing this article, in fact I plan on writing about my wash room as it is now.


  • Arch

    Get an old front loader washing machine and a push bike and attach the bike to the washer, bolts, bars, abit of welding, however, you may need to weld the free wheel up to ? Put your soap in boiling water etc and peddle like a good en ! And then reverse ! Until its done, fit a drian tap to the washer to bi pass the pump, let the water out and peddle harder to spin dry !

    Not as daft as it sounds gives you a good workout and makes good used of a lot of the washing machine which is designed to wash clothes and will do it well, you are just replacing the electric motor and the electronic chip that does the cycle, ie so many slow turns then fast etc etc, you will get a good wash and reasonable dry at the end, get building love to see what you all come up with !

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  • Wow great skills and article I have been making my own soap for years. I am a plumber (Female) plumber that’s and my jeans and clothing all gets washed so good. And its environmental “Green” So Kudos to you great job.

  • Ms. Chickim

    I did this almost 30 years ago. Not because I wanted to but because we were so tight on money I couldn’t afford to go to the laundry mat. I love the idea of the top though as I splashed all over the place.

  • Samantha’s going Green!

    I have been dying to make one of these washing machines for about a year now! I just never see a bucket with a screw on lid and I haven’t broke down and bought one off amazon or the sorts. I remember browsing at Tractor supply and seeing the Brehrens 10gal steel bucket with a locking lid, (thinking in the sense of durability) I would think water would squirt out of the lid with every pump but what do you think?

  • Mark

    Great article! I’ve been making my own cold process bar soap. It’s just 5 oils and lye water. I love that I can wash myself without something that has sodium lauryl sulphate in it. I’ve been looking at making my own laundry detergent and your articles will help me greatly. Thanks again!

  • Thanks UnhookedLiving, I just checked out the pic, I like it :)


  • Thanks for the tip Wretha. I’ve always liked Dr. Bronner’s products and will give it a try. Coincidentally, I was at my friend’s antique shop yesterday and stumbled on an old laundry plunger. I took a picture of it and posted it on her FB page:

  • UnhookedLiving
    I have started using Dr Bronner’s SalSuds for my laundry, I still use the powdered stuff I make when using a machine (just omit the borax, your clothes will be just as clean), I found the powdered stuff doesn’t dissolve as well when I’m hand washing and using cold water, SalSuds works great and it is plant and garden safe, I asked them about it before allowing it to be dumped on the ground.


  • So much good energy here! Can’t wait to try these great ideas. I recycle all my gray water on the garden since I haul water. Does anybody have a good laundry soap recipe that won’t kill plants (sans borax)? I’ve had great results with commercial soaps as far as the garden, but would rather make my own soap to get away from the chemicals. Also, I recently started a FB page called Simple Unhooked Living. I’d like to invite everybody with tried and true ideas to share them there and share the page too. Meanwhile I am going to paste link to this page.

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  • Laura

    Cool! I did make my own laundry detergent once. I used Sunlight (bar) soap, grated & melted in boiling water, Borax, and Washing Soda. I might just try it again, with boiling & melting the soap. I like to hang my laundry out every chance I get. In fact, on a sunny day, that’s the first thing I do is get laundry going, and I have 2 clotheslines. My fave is hanging out cloth diapers. :)

  • Fritz Derf

    I have been hand making bar soap for several years, for personal use and for occasional craft show sales.
    Good bath/shampoo/face soap is supperfated. That is there is about 5% of the total oils used in the recipe remaining as oil when the soap making process is completed. This excess oil acts as insurance against having active lye left in the soap and is good for the hair and skin but not something that you want left on your freshly laundered clothes. When making bar soap to be used in making laundry soap, not detergent, I use a simple one vegetable oil (soy because it is inexpensive and works well) recipe with 0% superfat. I use a laundry soap recipe similar to the one which you posted. The soda and borax neutralize any lye which may remain in the 0% superfated soap. The laundry soap works well and is VERY INEXPENSIVE. You can scent it, or not, as you wish. Years ago my dad had a tin plated steel device designed and built to perform much as your modified plumber’s friend. Thank you for the article.

  • GL N Houston

    littleone- search bicycle powered gadgets
    Wretha- thanks for the great post, and thanks to all the additional commenters

  • a75butterfly

    God I hope not but they do have another recipe for a fruit enzyme for consumption from the same site. Similar ingredients.

  • Sounds great a75butterfly, I wonder if anyone would mistake it for homemade hooch and try to drink it… :)


  • a75butterfly

    I am making a homemade enzyme cleaner that is good for many different uses: cleaning, insect repellent for self and garden, fertiliser, hair conditioner. You use 1 c. sugar, 3 c. any fruit scraps you want, I just use citrus scraps from juicing and peels if just eating, and 10 cups water in a plastic juice or water bottle. With lid in place shake everyday then loosen lid so gases can escape and bottle doesn’t explode when opening. Do not tighten lid all the way. Let it sit for 3 months on your counter to ferment (shaking everyday) and it’s ready to use. A short cut is to add 1 tsp. of yeast to it and let it sit (shaking everyday) for 2 weeks on your counter and it’s ready to use. Here is the blog I got this off of. I am halfway to having my first shortcut batch ready.

    I am really excited to use this and have read alot about it and if it’s made from stuff I already have in my pantry, compost bucket, and well, then I’m in for saving some bucks not having to buy individual cleaners. I already have the recipe that Wretha uses and am making me some homemade laundry detergent tomorrow. I also make my own cheap hair products for cleaning and conditioning and use it on my 4 year old daughter and my fiancee uses it. It makes my hair very clean and shiny without harmful chemicals. Shampoo: 1 tbs.baking soda to 1 cup water shake and pour onto hair massage into scalp and hair, then rinse. Conditioner: 1 tbs Vinegar(white distilled or apple cider your choice) to 1 cup water, shake to mix pour onto scalp and to ends of hair leave for 1 to 3 minutes and rinse. If you don’t like the smell of the vinegar rinse again with water with whatever essential oil you prefer added for scent. I use lavender or eucalyptus or teatree. Hope you try it I love the way my hair feels and looks, my natural curls really like it. Now it might take a few times using this to get good results, it depends on how much commercial product you use right now and how much build up there is from it. I used a sulfate and paraben free shampoo and conditioner because my baby girl is allergic to lots of stuff and we wanted to be safe with her, but there was instant results for me. These are things you have to try to believe. It saves lots of bucks when you think about it though how much do you spend on all your cleaning products for your person and your home.
    You can even use the enzyme on yourself, on your car or garden and houseplants. Hope it works for someone out there and that you spread the word like I am.

  • I enjoyed reading your post – it made me think… Also, thank you for letting me to comment!

  • Littleone

    This is a great thred thanks to everyone….
    I am going to try the OTG washing machine I am currently washing by hand in the double sink and wringing out by hand (got the blisters to boot) :( I am going to rig up a ringer from an old washing machine somehow attach a crank to it so as to spin it by hand! Should work! If anyone has any more ideas about how I could do this I invite them :) I have been making my own bar soap for years and absolutely love it.

  • Ivlia Vespasia

    Am going to try this as soon as I can get the bucket to use. I use a small electric one at the moment, fill by hand to wash, drain and refil to rinse, no spin, just an electric agitator. Hand wring. Cleans very well, better than an automatic. Sheets are the only problem due to size. I use ecover detergent as it is environmentally friendly and not too expensive to use. It’s also better than most other commercial products. Will look for a larger bucket big enough to take sheets and blankets and try, cheap and easy to use and can be done sitting down (useful for the disabled like me). Can’t wait.

  • johnsuri

    drying is always a problem with handwashing–some people use commercial salad spinners to address the problem.

  • Amanda

    Very interesting post. I never thought about trying to do laundry without my washing machine. My friend and I started a laundry service from our homes a few years ago. We started looking for ways to save money and came across a simple trick. Tennis balls. If you toss a few into the dryer it cuts down drying time by about 25% while fluffing bulky items at the same time. I know we aren’t off the grid but since we have such a large amount line drying isn’t an option. Just thought I’d share my old school dryer ball tip ;)

  • Sounds pretty ingenious Jodeum, there are lots of great ideas out there for washing clothes, I prefer doing things in a simple fashion, that works good for me, I also like to touch and check each article of clothing to make sure it’s getting clean enough. :) I do use a larger container for washing now, the 5 gallon bucket just isn’t large enough to do more than a few things at once.


  • Jodeum

    Okay, a similar but massive upgrade if you’re interested. My brother also started out with a 5 gallon bucket just to see if he could do it. While we were building that we got to talking about how our grandpa had two big square aluminum tubs on a single metal stand with drains in them for laundry in one of his farm buildings.

    We decided to build that, but we improved on it. Two tubs on feet but with a vertical board coming up between the two tubs. Then at the top of that bar we attached a long wood horizontal bar centered on the vertical one and is pivotable at that connection. Then on that horizontal bar out a couple feet in either direction from the center we attached another vertical bar that goes down to the center of each tub (each of those also can pivot). We attached plungers at the bottom of each of those bars. The we made it all splash proof by putting a cover over the tubs hinged close to where the bars go down in the tubs. This way we can load and unload clothes without taking the entire cover off.

    Basically think of the old railroad hand cars you see in westerns, the ones where two people can pump the handle on either side up and down to move the cart. This way two loads can be done at the same time, so hots and colds or two of the same if there’s a lot.

    Makes for a very nice hand powered washing machine.

  • Audrey Rogers

    After I microwave the Ivory soap, I clean the microwave by zapping a lemon, lime or orange cut in halves for one minute. That softens anything in the unit and takes away odors, including the soap smell. Rinse the oven with a wet rag, using one of the citrus halves to scrub any stubborn food splatters. This is the only thing I ever use, as my son complains that any soap or detergent taints his food afterward.

  • Thanks Will, I enjoy living off grid and I also enjoy sharing my experiences about it. :)


  • Thank you; Very informative and AWESOME!!!! I hope to get a lot more learning stuff out of this website you have going on here

  • bydrered, that is definitely on the list of things I want to/will do… :)

    Cool earbuds BTW!


  • You need to look into rocket stove mass heaters and make yourselves one.

  • Rob

    Besides being off the grid, looks like it would do wonder for the fore arms and biceps!!!

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  • Tanya


    You need to look into rocket stove mass heaters and make yourselves one. You could heat your home on 1/2 cord of twigs and small branches a year. We cook on a rocket stove now and I rarely turn on our electric stove. We shut the hot water heater off when we moved here on our wedding night and use wood to heat it our water now. BTW you can also hook a water heater to a rocket stove and let it heat the water as well. Grand things they are!

  • Cherry

    I do make my own bar soap. That’s the only kind we’ve used for years. I used to make my own laundry soap but I had some problems with it. One was that my whites were looking dingy. (I didn’t know about using bluing) The other was when I washed a load of jeans, my washer would get a bad blue residue that was extremely difficult to wash out. I figured the homemade soap was taking the dye out of the jeans. It does seem to get out ANY stain. LOL

  • brad

    Oops I meant Sodium Carbonate not Calcium Carbonate for the washing powder.

  • maggieb2409

    I want to thank you for the washing machine idea. I had been handwashing prior to this and was heartily sick of it. I adapted your concept and used a large black rubbish bin that my daughter no longer wanted, and then checked out the inorganics for an agitator from a washing machine. I was fortunate to find one a few doors away from my home amongst someone else’s inorganic pile and even more fortunate to find a tiki torch that fitted the inside of the agitator perfectly. An added bonus to the tiki torch is that it has a hole drilled through close to the top that I am able to put a steel bar through which makes it easier for me to pull it out of the bin. After inserting 6 large screws through the agitator and torch I was ready to get to work. It has reduced my laundry time by at least 60% as I am able to wash in bulk. I am hunting high and low for a handwringer, but anyone in New Zealand who has one, knows its worth. they do not part with them.
    I am currently trying to find a bluing agent here, but they seem to have disappeared along with the wringers, so for the time being I will use an environmentally friendly washing liquid. Once again, thankyou for the brilliant idea.

  • brad

    I made some home made washing powder and it works great.
    I used 1/2 cup washing powder
    1/2 cup borax
    1 cup of soap flakes
    I used Zote a Mexican clothes soap, it comes in a big bar. 1 to 2 tbls per load is all it takes.
    I froze it to make it grate better on my hand grater.
    You can buy washing powder ( calcium carbonate) at a swimming pool supply store or Home Depot. Read the labels on the pool chemicals and make sure it says 100% calcium carbonate.

  • Hi Lauren, Thanks for the tip, it does make sense and is an idea I have tossed around before, sort of like a big salad spinner. I did cloth diapers with my son, of course that was 20 something years ago, but even then disposables were what most people used, I used a product called Basic G made by Shaklee, it was a germicidal cleaner, I put a little in some water in a diaper pail, I would put the used diapers in that (rinsing the poopy ones first of course), I kept adding diapers until it was full, then I washed that load of diapers, the germicidal action of the cleaner kept the diapers from stinking, and I’m sure you know what that smells like :P

    I don’t know if Shaklee still makes Basic G any more, I just checked their site and it seems they do not make it. I would use something like Dr Bronner’s liquid soap, the one with the orange label, it contains tea tree oil, and would have a great anti-germicidal action, of course you would need to make sure your baby isn’t sensitive to that, wash something like a shirt or socks in it and make sure your baby doesn’t react to it.


  • Lauren

    Thanks for sharing, Im was looking to make something like this for use with my cloth diapers. Im hoping to make one that I can drain directly into the toilet tho. Anyways I have this possibly random idea that might make life easier for you (or I could be completely wrong and it wouldn’t work but as I don’t wash laundry that this way I’m not completely sure.) But here it is if it works great if not…oh well. What if instead of having to use your wringer for each individual piece of clothing if you secured your bottom bucket to a lazy-susan with maybe something like those flip locks you find on canisters. then with a new third bucket with drilled holes in the bottom you could slide into your original bottom bucket. Then secure a crank to the lid of this bucket and you could spin it at a high speed to remove the water and allowing it to drop down into the bottom bucket similar to a spin cycle on a washing machine. I hope that makes sense, seems like it could work in theory….

  • Thanks Pat, all great ideas, if you will follow the link at the bottom of the article (recently added) I wrote an updated article about my current laundry habits, they are much improved, no more castile soap for my clothes, although I didn’t have trouble with it while I was using it, I did use a vinegar rinse and perhaps that helped… now I use another type and it works even better. :)


  • Pat

    A couple of points. Olive oil soap is the least effective at cleaning so avoid genuine castile soap. Coconut and palm kernal are the most effective, lard and beef tallow soap are also very good.
    If you have hard water you will get scum if you use soap, and that will make the clothes grey and sticky. Add some vinegar to the rinse water will help.

  • hats off
    simple and great

  • Thanks Christine for the link, it’s fun to see what other people do like that. :) I don’t believe the soap would expand in a pot like it would in the microwave, I still haven’t tried doing the microwave thing, I would have to do it in my neighbor’s microwave and I’m not brave enough to do that, the bar soap I’ve been using has a very strong scent of sandalwood, I fear that his microwave might smell like sandalwood for a while if I tried that. LOL

    I can’t wait to hear how your laundry experience goes.


  • I bought the supplies for my washing machine last night to wash our cloth diapers. We just moved from Alaska to Arkansas and are now in a small enough town I am able to line dry my laundry. We’ve been taking all the laundry to the neighbor’s to wash, but I can’t see them being to thrilled about me bringing over dirty diapers.
    As soon as I run out of this box of laundry soap I will start to make my own, normally I buy natural soap but I’ve not been able to find it in such a small area so I had to suck it up and buy some commercial soap.
    Here is the video I originally found for a camp style washer, she makes a ‘luxury’ version as well :)
    I would love to be off grid, and we probably will be eventually when we have the money to buy our own place. Thanks for the wonderful article, I will definitely be back to let you know how my laundry washing goes.
    I am wondering though, if soap will expand when heated up stovetop instead of in the microwave? Or is it simply something that occurs during the microwaving process?

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  • Thanks Lynn, your ideas sound great! :)


  • Lynn

    I originally found this article through a page I belong to on facebook. Since my washer gave up on me last winter I have been hauling my laundry to a friend’s house to wash every week. Which for me means an entire day spent away from home just to do laundry ….not to mention the loading out from home, the hauling it in to wash p& dry, the loading it back to the car to bring home and then hauling it back into the house to put away! Tried your idea (couldn’t wait for the lid to be finished just put the bucket in the bath tub and did a couple of loads). It works great! Even though it is by hand it is still easier than all that hauling it around! I am already thinking ……30 gallon trash can and a wooden “T” dasher similar to the ones in a butter churn….. Thanks again for a great idea!

  • Wendy, thanks for your great comment, I am sorry about your hubby, I will say that I fully believe that everything happens for a reason, even the things that seem so negative, trust in God that He knows the full plan. :) I am so glad that I am able to contribute (though this site) to helping. I need to write an update, I use a larger bucket now, it’s so much easier and I don’t have to change the water out as often. Keep in touch, you can email me direct if you want, wretha(at)gmail(dot)com.


  • Wendy D.

    Thank you so much for posting this! You saved me and my family! My husband had a heart attack back in February and due to troubles with resuscitation has an anoxic brain injury he is working to overcome, however due to his injuries I am unable to return to work yet. Our washing machine just died and we don’t have laundry hook ups. Finding a portable washer has proven difficult and at this time there is no way we could afford to have someone come in to install hook ups. I had everything necessary to finish this project and it works GREAT!! Maybe better than my old washing machine, lol! My favorite part? My arms get a great workout!! I’ll be tank top ready in no time! Thank you again!

  • Thanks Beth, glad you liked it. :)


  • Beth

    Wow!!!! Thank you so very much for this article! My husband and I have begun the process of going off-grid, and there are so many things that we need to switch and learn. I found this article while looking for ways to cut down our current usage of electricity to train ourselves to live on less power. What a wonderful source of encouragement and ideas! Thank you!

  • Thanks Merla, sounds like you are being very frugal, I likes! Rain water is great, it’s softer and the soaps rinse out cleaner.


  • I have been using rain water, 5 gal. pails (3-wash, rinse, rinse) and scrap soap for outside wash 9 months of the year. I will try your method for winter.

  • Sorry Ironboots, not going to wash any of my clothes in our cement mixer, we use that for cement. :) You don’t seriously do that do you? LOL


  • Ironboots

    Try a cement mixer….electric or hand driven.

  • Thanks Gwendolyn, sounds like a great place to live! I understand what you are talking about with the half-barrel washers not getting the clothes as clean, I bartered for a Lehman’s manual washer, personally I think my plunger washer gets the clothes cleaner, I’m not too impressed with it, but the wringer attachment that came with it is worth its weight in gold!


  • Hi Wretha; I live in a sustainable eco-village in Alaska. We use hand-cracked laundry machines that are half-barrels with agitator attachments that swing back and forth to churn the clothes, and clothes-wringers. The problem is that they’re impossible to get completely clean because of the way they are built and where the drain in. I think your bucket-plunger combo sounds like it would be more transportable and easier to use, although maybe not as sightly. Almost everyone goes to town to do their laundry! Hopefully I can convince them that this is a better way.

  • Thanks Roxanne, give the homemade laundry soap a try, I fully believe that once you use it, you will not want to go back, on the occasions when I run out and fall back on the commercial stuff, I quickly realize how much I really love the homemade stuff, you will also save soooooo much money. In fact, I just used the last of my homemade laundry soap, I need to make a new batch, now I just have to figure out which scent soap I want to use, I have rose scent and sandalwood scent, they are both wonderful! BTW, what is your laundry soap recipe?

    I just read about your experiment, and the comments left by your readers, what fun!


  • Hello! I followed a trail to get here, and enjoyed this post. A friend sent me a recipe for homemade laundry soap, and I just haven’t tried it yet – maybe it’s time.

    I wrote about my experimentation here:, and my readers begged me to stop and get our old washer/dryer fixed, or go to the laundromat, or ANYTHING but this. Since then, I’ve splurged on a hand wringer and a folding clothes rack. I agree that it’s the lazy way to launder, and also meditative, if I don’t try to do more than one thing at a time.

    Thanks for writing!

  • Dee

    I use lavander scented lysol & Dawn dish liquid.i dont have a specific mix it varies from batch to batch…… i dont get rashes and it smells good and rinses out well………. a little goes a long way!

  • Lady Digger

    Fascinating article Wretha. I live and work in the heart of the English countryside and have been using this method for many years. It produces very clean clothes and keeps me in great shape! I made a slight adjustment to my clothes plunger. I fitted a wooden crossways handle onto the plunger “stalk” and found this made agitating the clothes much easier. Also, in place of a wringer I take a large dry towel, roll the wet piece of clothing inside it, get a colleague to hold the other end of the towel “sausage” whilst I keep twisting the other end round and round – pulling it taut as I do so. I work as an archeaologist and you can appreciate we can get very mucky so this method is a Godsend at keeping us clean. The pub landlord won’t serve us if we are covered in mud! Keep up the excellent work.

  • Susan

    Thanks for the tip about the bluing. I think I found the solution to our dull looking whites.

  • doug

    Thanks Wretha, great article! Recently made our first batch of laundry soap. did the liquid version. works well but the whole ‘cooking process’ seems a waste of time. next batch will be the dry stuff. love the plunger idea for camping!

  • Donna, I have seen those, the biggest problem I hear about them is it’s small, you can’t do many clothes at a time, and it doesn’t do much to remove the excess moisture from the clothes when you are done. The good thing is it doesn’t take much water and it’s supposed to work very well since it uses higher pressure to help clean your clothes.


  • Donna

    Has anyone tried the wonder wash? It’s a hand crank washer, I just ordered one. Here’s a video link:

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  • Turtlelove321

    I do my laundry just like this too. I have a similar set up. My husband and I(7 months pregnant) live in a 40′ fifth wheel. I do my laundry in the shower stall. I use the bucket with a hole in the lid, plunge for 2 mins, soak for 15, plunge for 2 and then the clothes go into a old mop press/wringer that I found. I have it attached to a milk crate so when I press the clothes the water drains through the crate and into the grey tank which we use to water the garden. Then the clothes go back into the bucket for a rinse cycle. I use a vinegar/baking soda/essential oil mix for a fabric softener and plunge for 2 mins and then wring out in the press again and into a laundry basket and out on the line or onto a rack. I do plan on using this method for cloth diapers and cloth wipes when our little one arrives. I enjoy doing laundry like this, I agree when someone said it’s almost “zen-like” :) Has anyone else done cloth diapers by hand? Any tips for a new ‘mom-to-be’?

  • Thanks Lynn! I do enjoy washing my clothes like this, I use a bigger bucket now, other than that, everything else is the same.


  • Lynn

    Oh, how great it was to find this spot, with all this info! I plan to try the homemade-soap. And, even though we do have a washer and dryer, we’re going to get all set up (within a week) to be able to do it all manually (in case we lose power . . . or I suspect that may just WANT to clean our clothes this way!) To the lady who had arthritis and couldn’t wring clothes out, maybe she could set a cheap plastic lawnchair in the shower or bathtub and just pile the clothes there for awhile, to drip (might need to drill some holes in the seat of the lawn chair for extra drainage.) God bless you folks! This is wonderful info.

  • That’s very impressive Molly! Thanks for telling me about it. :) The coolest thing about this IMHO is you are doing it on your own, no one is forcing you to do this, the government isn’t regulating you into doing this, you are choosing to do this because you want to and you are happy with it. I understand the looks of pity, I am on the receiving end of those looks on occasion as well. We lit our wood stove for the first time last night, it’s not something we do all the time, the days are fairly warm as long as the sun is shining, the nights do get cold, last night it got down to 39 F, a few nights ago we got down just to freezing (outside). We will let it get down into the lower 40s, sometimes even into the 30s inside the sky castle, we dress very warmly, and use a thick down blanket on the bed (that helps a lot!). We really only try to heat the place when the pipes are in danger of freezing or if we have to get up early in the morning, Bob takes pity on me and starts a small fire to take the chill off the place. LOL!


  • Molly McGuire


    I wrote to you back in August when my poor washing machine stopped agitating properly. I have been plunging my wash ever since I was lucky enough to find your site. I still find it relaxing and actually look forward to it.

    You have started me on a journey that I never would have expected. By doing my laundry this way, I have come to be interested in other aspects of my life where I can have a more “hands on” approach to controlling in a thoughtful manner how much energy I am using and how much I am wasting thoughtlessly. I have made a decision to use my “resources” carefully instead of having them use me.

    I was able to cut my electric bill by 64% this September by taking some drastic steps. I refused to use my central air conditioner and instead used a fan, ice water and a T-shirt soaked in water to cool off. I spent many nights with a cold, wet washcloth on my chest, which worked well in cooling me off as I slept.

    I bought myself a little hand-cranked LED flashlight that I use when I get up in the morning to go to the kitchen and start my coffee instead of turning on every light in the house. When I go away, I take my little flashlight with me instead of leaving on my porch light so I can see to open my door when I come home after dark.

    For lighting, I am using Christmas candle lights (like you put in the window) with a larger bulb than is normally used. I find that I can read comfortably by having the little candle next to me. I have one or more of these candles in every room. I don’t carry this to insane extremes. If I need a bright light so that I can see to clean, etc., I turn it on.

    I have been very careful about using appliances that make heat, such as my curling iron, etc. I turn them on, use them and turn them off right away instead of letting them on while I do other things.

    Amazingly, I was able to reduce my electric bill by 64% during the month of September!

    Now I am in the process of lowering my oil bill. I live in a little rowhouse in Northeast Pennsylvania, and I did not turn on my heat at all until October 31. I only did it then because it was going to drop into the 30’s. I have baseboard hot water heat and didn’t want my heating pipes to freeze. The coldest in got in the house during the night was 59 degrees, and I was fine because I had plenty of blankets on.

    I pay careful attention to the morning weather report. If the high is in the 50’s, I turn off the heat before I go to work, and I do not turn it on again until I am ready to go to bed. I am fine, because I wear warm clothes (wool sweaters, socks, etc.). In fact, if I’m moving around a lot, I frequently get over heated. If I’m sitting around reading and feel a little chilly, I light a couple of candles on the coffee table in front of the sofa and find that they warm up the immediate area nicely.

    If my bathroom is too cold, I will turn on my space heater for a short while. However, I find that the heat from showering makes the bathroom comfortable while I dress.

    I intend to go on like this until the temperature is such that I have to turn on the heat all the time. Perhaps luck will shine on me, and we will have a mild winter.

    I don’t tell many people these things, because they tend to be shocked and look on me with pity. However, I’m finding this little adventure fun. It’s impossible to convey my delight when I found I had lowered my electric bill by 64%.

    At any rate, Wretha, this little journey of mine started all because you shared your story about your laundry-in-a bucket method.

    I thank you very much and wish you well in all things.


  • Hi Bill, just shot you an email with a question about your Mean Green Washing Machine. Thanks!

  • Would like to get some feedback on a new product, we have been manufacturing chamois and clothes wringer for 18 years and came up with the Mean Green Washing Machine. Please let us know what you think.

  • kareBear,
    Glad you enjoyed my article! :) If you can’t get washing soda where you live, you can order it on-line, if you choose not to get it, then just omit it or you can add baking soda for extra freshness, don’t worry about having to use the washing soda, the other ingredients will get your clothes clean enough.

    If your container is large enough, you don’t need a lid on it while washing and rinsing, the only reason you would need one on a 5 gal bucket is because it does splash, if you have a larger container you shouldn’t have much trouble with splashing, or you can wash clothes in a place where a little splash doesn’t matter.

    I am using larger buckets now, don’t remember the exact size but I’d guesstimate they are about 30 gallons, physically they are about the size of half a 55 gallon barrel. I find it’s much easier, I can do more laundry per bucket load of water and the splashing is minimal. I still use the 5 gal buckets if I have a super small load to do and don’t want to drag out the larger buckets.

    As far as stiff clothes are concerned, most of the time clothes come out stiff because people use way too much laundry detergent, honestly washing machines don’t get things rinsed out well enough for me, when I do use one, I almost always add an extra rinse cycle. The homemade laundry soap does help keep your clothes from being so stiff, using the smaller amount (1-3 tablespoons) is the main trick here. Line dried clothes will never be as fluffy and soft as clothes dried in a dryer, but after you wear them (or use them) for a bit, you’ll never know the difference.

  • Lesa, wow! Thanks for sharing all of that great info! Sounds like you need to start writing about your experiences, either here or in a blog, it’s pretty easy to do and people eat it up, especially coming from someone who is actually living the life.

    Let me know how the microwave melting soap method works for you, I still haven’t tried it, I would have to do it in my neighbor’s microwave and I’m not brave enough to try it in someone else’s machine yet. LOL!

    Yup, solar is still pretty expensive, we knew we were going to be doing this ahead of time and started buying solar panels a few at a time, we also lucked out on a great deal on some used ones, unfortunately those don’t come around every day!

    You can use a mop bucket with a ringer, but not the kind that mashes, you can get ones with wooden rollers, that kind would work just fine, it’s something I intend to get soon.

  • Lesa

    This is a great idea
    My hubby and I have been out in the boonies…LOL almost a year now
    Tried the off grid and battery bank but just not enough power and using our generator to charge the batteries what sooo expensive
    we just didn’t have the money to get all the solar etc…
    We come out here on a whim got tired of the day to day rat race
    Anyway we finally broke down and had elertic run into our place but use very very little
    2 hours computer time
    2 hours tv time
    one light 1 hour oil lamps after that
    have a dorm fridge but had to get a freezer becaue we raise our own food garden and livestock
    do a lot of canning but do freezing as well
    haul all our water in store in 55 gallon barrels
    I have been doing laundry by hand sense we moved here could hook up a washer and dryer but don’t want too like the old fashion way and line drying except winter when cloths freeze dry LOL
    Have been looking for easier way then using tubs to wash in
    LOVE your idea going to go out tomorrow and get buckets..
    Already have 5 gallon ones but would not be big enough for bedding so going to look for larger
    Was wondering if 55 gallon barrell cut down would work but who would I put a lid on it???
    10 gallon would work great might try and find one..
    I have arthrist real bad in my hands and it kills me to wringe out by hand and need an idea for wringer
    Someone on here said mop bucket wringer wouldn’t work well
    We live in a travel trailer with one room built on and are working on our other addition 20X40
    Have to get done before winter using woodburing stove for heat though about maybe getting a small woodburner or having hubby make one of the homemade barrel woodburners for small porch area so I would have some heat in winter so my hands don’t freeze off…LOL
    An if can figure out a way to wring out cloths good enough so they don’t drip will hang them in the room where wood burner is and that will dry them in winter and also provider moister as well….
    We recycle everything and use anything we can find to recycle into usable items ours rooms we already have done and one we are in process of building are all made out of pallets and free plywood plus we built a large fenced in area for our cattle and goats all out of pallets we get for free
    So we are very very resourceful
    Just couldn’t do it without elertic on what funds we had to work with
    However not just limiting lower usage on elertic sometimes we still run off invertor and battries just not for all power….
    Neighbor interduced me to your homemad laundry detergant and have been using it for quite sometime now and LOVE it
    Going to try the mycro to melt becasue I make the concentrate but am thinking for just using the powder now that Im going to be using the plunger washer…..
    Want to learn how to make homemade body soap and bar soap for hair …
    (we arnt too good to use a bar of soap on our heads as long as it get u clean….LOL :)
    To scrub the stains out of our cloths and beleive me we both have lots of stains with pigs cows goats chickens rabbits quail ducks rabbits not to mention cats and dogs..LoL we got lot and lot of stains
    I use a scrub brush and wash board the soap on the stains works great…
    I still use bleach on whites but am going to look for the other stuff you use…..
    That would be much much better I think
    Want to know what all is in my stuff and bleach is just eating up our whites so cant be good for your skin..
    Also just food for thought
    We make all our dog and cat food homemade if anyone hasn’t thought of doing that for their animals
    much cheaper better for them and they LOVE it
    They think they are eating what you are and sometimes they are minus the salt and fat……
    Also glad about the other idea on here someone had about the flea repellant
    I use a quart of warm water and one lemon sliced thin soak over nite strain and put in spray bottle and spray your furry friend leave in kills fleas ticks and flea eggs..Also to get fleas out of your carpet sweep good then sprinkle regular table salt leave on your carpet three days then sweep up kills living fleas and eggs…
    Just food for thought. Know we are suppose to be talking about washing and all but though someone might be interested in that info…
    Thanks again for great site.
    Anyone tell me how to make homemade body and shamppo soap??? Would greatly appreciate.
    Thanks all

  • kareBear

    This is cool. I’m a young mother who is moving out in the country by a lake in an old fishing cabin. There are no washer and dryer hook ups. I thought about doing laundry by hand but I didn’t want to hang clothes out to dry because they get so stiff. Now that I have read this I have a plan. I am going to get one of those big plastic storage containers from the dollar store. I have an old one where the lid warped and I’m going to use the lid as a separator in the middle and silicone it so that it’ll hold water. That way I have a wash side and a rinse side. Then I’m going to put some kind of spout in both sides (not sure what kind yet) because it will be too big to dump. Then I need to figure out a way to wring the clothes. My dad said he would make up some other kind of diaphragm for the plunger, but I don’t see why. Since you said that with the homemade laundry soap won’t make my clothes stiff, I now have no problem with hanging clothes (they smell better that way anyhow). Also, washing soda is hard to find where I live but I found an article on ehow ( that says you can make sodium carbonate (washing soda or soda ash) from sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). I don’t know if it works but I’m going to try it. I do know that if you heat sodium bicarbonate enough it will release carbon dioxide and water and leave sodium carbonate, but I don’t know if the method on ehow works. Thank you very much for the ideas!

  • Thanks Steve for writing, I am so honored and humbled that I could be of help to you and everyone at your COP! I have a son in the Army, he spent one tour in Iraq and my hubby’s son is a Marine, he will be going to Afghanistan, it’s a scary world we are sending our offspring into, but ultimately I hope it makes things better for all of us. I’m happy that I was able to make one little part of your lives out there a little better. Keep up the good work!

    I know you have limited access to water, maybe you can use the mountain stream water… anyhoo, I have learned that if you have a larger container for washing and rinsing, it works even better, you can do more laundry per load of water before having to change out the water. Also, reuse your rinse water for wash water.


  • Steve

    Thanks for the ideas and easy-to-find components- while deployed to a remote mountain COP (Combat Out Post) in Afghanistan, we didn’t have much- and I was a hero for making this device to help us wash our clothes- we were isolated w/o running water (except for bottled/ mountain stream), and limited on power usage because everything was running on our generators. I was tired of stinky clothes that became unsuable after only a few weeks due to the harsh environment and inability to wash- that’s what prompted me to look this up on the internet. All the guys at my COP say “Thank You!”

  • Thanks Molly McGuire, I have graduated to larger buckets, for the sake of doing more laundry, I can do 3 loads of laundry per container of water now, actually 2 containers, one for washing and one for rinsing. I did something similar to you, I needed to get some laundry done quick, my neighbor’s washing machine is going south, at least on the agitating part of the cycle, but the spin cycle still works, so I washed and rinsed the clothes in the tubs, then took them inside to spin and go through the dryer, it worked like a charm, though honestly, I still prefer doing it all by hand and hanging to dry, our climate is sooooo dry, it doesn’t take long to dry.

    I agree that the plunging process is soothing, almost zen-like… :)

  • Molly McGuire

    Wretha, I love your washing machine. My washer quit agitating properly, and I don’t have the money to repair or replace it. I was lucky enough to find this site just when I needed it. I have made a nice little set-up for myself to do the wash by putting the bucket on a stool so I don’t have to bend over. I find the plunging process quite relaxing, and it provides me with an good upper body workout. Since the washer’s spin cycle works, I use that to get the water out of my clothes. In the future, I might try a mop bucket, but someone here didn’t think it worked well. I just last night made some laundry detergent from Fels Naptha and currently have some dish towels soaking in it at home. I’m anxious to see how they turn out.

    Thank you so much for sharing your tips.

  • tigertrax, thanks for your reply, I do use a sort of washboard, it’s a round metal steam rack that fits into the bucket, I use that for stains and really dirty stuff, for everything else, using the plunger works just fine.

    I just purchased 2 big plastic buckets, lots bigger than the 5 gallon buckets. I don’t know off the top of my head what size these are, but they work great, I can wash up to 3 loads of laundry in one session without having to dump and refill the buckets, I start with the whites and less dirty items and work my way to the darks and most dirty items, it works great.

  • tigertrax

    I liked your method – I do a lot of hand laundry and was wondering why you don’t just do it by hand with an old fashioned washboard? Have you researched that method?

  • Antoinette, why do you believe using a microwave is being hypocritical to living off grid? I use lots of “electronic” equipment, computers, lights, water pumps, vacuums, power tools, radios… I use all of these things and more, I am just not hooked up to the “grid”, I make my own power, it’s a small system, but it’s all we need, and it makes no difference what I choose to use my electricity on, I am still “off grid”. Being off grid doesn’t mean you have to go back to the stone age and give up all modern conveniences. Now, I do a lot of things by hand, like laundry, dishes, cooking and such, that’s my choice, that has nothing to do with being hooked up or not hooked up to the electric company, anyone can do those things. :)

  • Antoinette

    Isn’t using a microwave hypocritical to living off the grid? I think so! But I like the homemade washing machine idea and know how to make one better than I the way I tried before using a plunger.

  • I have a mobile washer but the plunger with holes might be just as good. Now that you mention it, I think I’d be happier with a longer handle, too.

    I like that idea of using the pill bottle in the lid hole. I was just going to cut a hole in my lid and leave it at that. It is glued, caulked or just stuck in there?

    I use the same laundry soap recipe and love it. The only problem I’ve had was trying to use it in the detergent dispenser in powder form in a modern front load washing machine. Some of it got stuck in the little tray and didn’t make it into the laundry. Making it into a liquid or adding directly to the clothes solved that problem.

  • Oh cool is this. Love it and my honey said he wants to make one too. Lots of projects in the works, but would be nice to have one for small items when needed and I like the idea of homemade soap which I’ve always wanted to try.
    peace n abundance from northern New Mexico geodesic dome home livin’

  • Darla

    You people are amazing, so insperational.
    I am looking to sell off my little city life and “run away” ! Thank you for your tips and I hope to be like you when I grow up. lol (I’m in my 40s)

  • carol

    What great ideas. I’m looking at washing boards to use as a pretreatment and I’ll definitely try the homemade soap. We have a cabin in upper Michigan so the homemade washing machine will work there. I haven’t been this excited in a long time! LOL

  • Jenn

    I just made a similar version of your washing machine yesterday and did my clothes today.. the only difference with mine is that I used a 7 gallon bucket that cost 2.99 at Tractor Supply and also installed a drain spout on it so that I did not have to do so much tipping over.. also would make it beneficial to hook a hose up to for gray water collection. Fun stuff though. :)

  • Thanks JaneyP, yup sometimes you have to use the old elbow grease to get out the really tough stuff, I use a rub board (of sorts) on my socks, they get really dirty on the bottom, and now my new(ish) boots are leaving black marks on them, it still doesn’t get them spotlessly clean, but it helps. I also use the rub board on any stains, it’s amazing how well it gets them out, even on older stains. My rub board is really a steam rack that came with a really large pan I purchased years ago, it works just like a rub board and it fits right into my bucket or in the sink. I rub the cloth on a bar of soap then I go to town on the stain. I’ll take a picture of it sometime.


  • JaneyP

    Loved your article. I read it on Homesteader News.
    I have been making my own laundry soap (liquid form) for about a year and a half. I use Fels Naptha bar soap in it. The only problem I have is that when my husbands work jeans are stained on the front of the thighs, the stain will not come out with one wash. I use extra of the liquid soap, rub it in really well, then scrub the legs together against one another. I am really thinking about using my old washboard (which I have as decor) to scrub the tough stains before I put them in the wash. That’s how our grandmothers did it; we’ve become accustomed to a life of ease & want to just spritz some “super powered” stain remover instead of using muscle power! Thanks for the article.

  • Tori

    When I was younger we had to haul water in the winter when the irrigation canals weren’t running to fill the cistern. My dad cut a plastic 55 gallon drum in half and would let the final rinse water run into it at the end of a wash.

    He used a sump pump to pump the rinse water back into the washing machine as wash water for the next load of laundry. Doing 4 or 5 loads of laundry saved over 150 gallons of water a week.

  • j.l.

    Have used this periodically. I learned about it from an Amish supplies magazine. So I was backpacking @ Nicaragua and the only real washing facility I could find were the stone washboards. Destroys clothes, is not an effective cleaner, and takes a LONG time. This is a very simple solution to a very real problem. I want my next to be built using the same design as a hand pump for a well. More leverage, less effort. Love your post, thanks.

  • Karen

    I’ve been doing laundry this way for over a year :) congratulations!! it’s one of the few ways I can go off grid as a renter. I use castile soap, and a mixture of lemon juice and white vinegar, equal parts, hand wring, and hang up to dry.

  • This was a great article. Wish I had seen this when I lived off grid for 5 years.. With just me and my husband I would not have had to go to the laundermat. My daughter-in-law who lived off grid with us, made her own body soap and just graded it for laundry soap. With our AZ dirt stained clothes nothing took the stain out anyway so it did not mater, and it cleaned it. But with 5 kids I did not ask very often to use her washing machine made especially for off grid. Will keep this in mind with this economy who knows. Also plan to make the laundry detergent. My daughter made some and she liked it.
    thanks for the great article and idea.

  • Nick

    My hat is off to you, I enjoyed reading your website, Now i know hoe to make my own soap, The washing machine will come in handy during our next hurricaine.. I am seriously thinking of living off the grid.. We waste so much.. God Help Us.

  • Judith

    Concerning soap in a microwave: I do this sometimes, and it’s not even for making bar soap into liquid — it’s for cleaning out the microwave. Take a shpritzer bottle and shpritz the inside of the microwave, then cut up your Ivory bar into quarters and nuke each one for a minute or so. Shpritz the microwave in between quarter-bars. When you’ve done all the bars, not only is your soap in liquid form, but your microwave is easy to wipe clean — no more crusted-on old food (yech!).

    I’ve also done this using a glass of water with a few drops of liquid soap, but if you do that, be careful — it bubbles and it superheats, so DO NOT let it microwave for more than about 2 minutes at a time. Watch it closely. When it starts to bubble out of the glass, shut it off and WAIT FIVE MINUTES before opening the microwave door.

  • Wow JBB, what a great video, it’s amazing that soap does that in the microwave! Thanks for posting this. :)

  • JBB

    Here’s a video of my bar of ivory soap in the microwave. 2 minutes on high. I stopped the microwave when the soap wasn’t doing anything anymore.


  • Thanks Penny, yes, it is often too expensive to convert existing situations (on grid) to off grid in one fell swoop, the way we did it was to start from scratch and build our place (ourselves) with the intent to being off grid. If you have an existing home, I would suggest doing what a friend of mine did, he converted one room at a time to be off grid, starting with the laundry room. He didn’t “replace” the wiring, he added secondary wiring and wall plugs that were going to the solar/battery array. He made the wall plugs for the solar side a different color, this way he had the option of using either or both systems, and if the grid power goes down, he just plugs into the solar side. I have found that having separate systems instead of one big system to be superior, at least that’s how it has worked out for us. We have 2 sets of solar panels going to 2 separate sets of batteries. We had a problem with one set of the batteries (2 batteries went bad), so we just used the other system until we figured out which batteries were bad.

    As far as refrigeration goes, right now we have a dorm room sized refrigerator (it’s a small, very small unit), we don’t use it all the time, we only plug it up when we need it, which isn’t very often. We don’t use a freezer. Something I have in the works, I have a small chest freezer and I am going to buy an external thermostat plug, you set the temperature where you want it, for us it will be refrigerator temps, then you plug the freezer into the thermostat, it allows the freezer to get to the set temp then it cuts off the power, these were originally created for beef keg usage, but it works just fine for making a freezer work like a refrigerator. The freezer is better insulated, plus having a door on top, instead of opening at the front, it is much more efficient and doesn’t use as much power.

    Our only power source is solar, we have a wind generator, but never hooked it up, long story…

  • Penny King

    Hi there thanks for the inspiring article. My husband and I are in the process of going off the grid in New Zealand. We are in the very early planning stages. The cost of off the grid electricity systems are astronomical. So we are trying to simplify our life as much as possible to cut down electricity usage. The homemade washing machine looks and sounds brilliant, thanks a lot. I will also try the homemade laundry soap. What do you do regarding fridge and freezers? and what is your main electrical system, solar ? Look forward to hearing your comments. Penny King

  • Thanks Randy, that’s my next soap project, making bar soap. I actually have everything I need to do it, I just need to DO IT! Do you use the hot or cold process?

  • I’ve been making my own bar soap for years. I can make enough soap in an afternoon to last for an entire year. I use all vegetable oils (olive, coconut, soy, palm, castor) and the soap is great. I make some to wash the dogs to which I’ve added some peppermint oil to help kill and repel fleas. I also make shampoo bars. Most people don’t like the idea of rubbing a solid bar against the hair, but I have military short hair and it takes no time at all. I prefer it to using commercial detergent bars sold as soap. Homemade soap is also very moisturizing. No more dry skin in the winter.

  • JLP

    I’m sold on making my own detergent!!! It doesn’t take much time and my laundry comes out clean and smelling fresh. I prefer fresh to perfume. I don’t even have to use fabric softener anymore, even the items I choose to hang dry are soft. I love the fact that I know what is going in the detergent since two of my children have sensitive skin.

  • Dave

    Instead of wringing by hand you could take another 5 gallon bucket, drill holes in it, place wet clothes in it, put another bucket in it and press. Doesn’t get out all the water but its a hell of a lot easier than hand wringing. Mop bucket wringers DO NOT WORK. You need a proper wringer like a dyna jet or the ones Lehmans sell, but they are expensive. A spin dryer would work well, if you have the power.

  • Thanks ModgePodge, I like adding a few drops of tea tree oil, especially when washing something particularly smelly, it really freshens it up. I’m glad you like the homemade laundry soap, it really works great, I am spoiled by it and remember why I like it when I run out and use the commercial stuff…

  • ModgePodge

    I read about a similar set up many years ago in a camping book called Roughing It Easy. They also recommended putting your clothes, water and detergent in a lidded bucket and putting it in the trunk of your car as you drive to your next camp site, arrive with clean clothes! It’s the agitation that cleans your clothes more than the detergent, anyway.(That’s why our ancestors used rocks on a river bank! lol ) I make your recipe for detergent and love it! Sometimes I add a few drops of lavender oil to scent my sheets. Smells heavenly!

  • Great going Mike! When you get it finished, how about a picture?

  • Mike

    Wow, great!
    I am completely off grid with a little generator to give me power to top up batteries and power my computer, I need to rely on my girlfriend for washing which means I have a two week cycle for getting clean clothes back :) (love her for doing it for me! and other things too of course!)

    This reminds me of the weekly wash my gran used to do in the back yard….should have thought of it sooner ! Thanks for the details, will be making a ‘machine’ this weekend!!!

  • Thanks AshleyO, it’s great being independent and doing things on the cheap! :) Sounds like you got a great deal on your stuff.


  • AshleyO

    I stumbled across your article after I had just made a similar “washing machine.” I purchased the bucket, plunger, and nice metal drying rack for around $20. I have been making my own laundry soap from a similar recipe for years now. We usually spend around $30 at the laundromat every month, so I figure this plan will at pay for itself in less than one month!! I just did a load and it’s outside hanging on the drying rack. It is a very good feeling to be doing these things on our own! Thanks for the article!

  • Thanks Joanne, I have read about soapnuts before, looks interesting. I would like to try a local plant that creates saponins, need to do more research and find something, I think at least one of our cactus can be used for that.


  • joanne

    Hello, I’ve been using soapnuts with fantastic results. Also, the water is completely fine for the garden and the used up soapnuts can be composted.

    Thanks for the washing ‘machine’ idea. Brilliant!

  • Way to go Nickie! :)

  • Nickie

    Nice article. It’s good to know how to do things by hand. Maybe we won’t replace that washer when it finally dies :-)

    A broken dryer last summer helped us gain some energy-reduction momentum. We found that most of the world does not use clothes driers at all. So we got some of these sturdy clothes drying racks and began changing our laundry habits. By drying overnight under the ceiling fan we can even deal with the winter months!

  • What a good idea roddy6667, that would work great! Especially out here where I live, the roads are unpaved, dirt, rocky, hilly, mountainous, up and down, jar your teeth out of your head rough. A trip to the mailbox and back would be just long (and bouncy) enough to get clothes clean.

  • roddy6667

    This is a variation of the “cowboy washing machine”. They used to put their clothes in a milk can with soap and water and leave it in the back of their pickup truck. After a long day of bumping around, they were washed. A 5-gallon plastic pail can substitute.

  • Thanks Turid, I think I have seen what you are talking about, at least a modern version of it, on the internet. Is there a name or model number on it?

  • Turid

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I just want to tell you I own a hand-driven washing machine that’s actually made for that purpose to begin with. It’s made from aluminum, it looks kind of like a ball attatched to a set of legs. There’s an air-tight lid and you make it move using a crank. It’s pretty small, you could put it on a sturdy table. Cool, right? :-)
    Take care!

  • JBB, it will be a while before I need to make another batch, just made a big batch, but I’ll give it a try when it’s time to make more. I’ll do a partial bar and give it a day or so to make sure the smell does go away, or I might lug mine to his house and use it. If it only takes a couple of minutes, I might even give it a go at my house, the timer part will not like it, but the microwave itself should work just fine on my power. I’ll be sure to write about it if/when I do try it. :) Thanks for writing again.

  • JBB

    Hello again.
    I’ve done this in my own microwave, honest. I did use Ivory soap, though a coworker told me he used Irish Spring and it worked fine too. I suspect there are enough air bubbles in most soaps to make it work.

    The microwave did smell rather like ivory soap when I was done. After I removed the plate with the soap foam on it, though, there was no lingering taste issue. Honestly, I considered the odor a minor bonus — a fresh and clean (smelling) microwave. Probably the best my family’s microwave smelled since we bought it. :) And you’ll note that I’m still alive and typing, so my wife didn’t find the results offensive either. ;)

    The Ivory soap does foam up quite a bit. That’s probably why it crumbles so well. But it didn’t overfill my microwave or anything. You can always stop the microwave and it’ll stop expanding instantly.

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  • Thanks JLP, I know you’ll like the laundry soap, let me know when you do it and what you think about it.

  • JLP

    This is excellent! I would love to make a primitive washing machine, if anything just to keep on hand in cases of emergency. I am going to make my own detergent….excited about trying it out!

  • Thanks JJB, I’ll give that a try, I do have access to a microwave, I even have one but don’t use it because of the computer chip/timer in it, I don’t have a pure sine wave inverter, yet… computer chips and timers do not like modified sine wave inverters. :)

    I’ll give that a try, if nothing else, to see the soap bar do its thing. Yeah, I’m still a kid at heart. ;)

    OK, I just watched a couple of YouTube videos about microwaving soap, they specifically use Ivory soap because it come with tiny bubbles in the bar, that’s why it floats. It seems that the bar really REALLY expands, a lot! If I were to try this, I would cut my bar of soap into at least 3 pieces and nuke each one separately. The other thing it seems to do is make everything, including the inside of the microwave smell like soap, not very appetizing for the next food item to be nuked, if I knew for sure I could get that smell out of the microwave, I might try it, perhaps I’ll take my microwave down to my neighbor’s house and do it in there instead of using my neighbor’s microwave, I don’t want to mess up his microwave. :)

  • JBB

    I know it isn’t off-grid… But a microwave works surprisingly well at reducing bar soap into powder.

    Microwave a bar for a couple minutes. It’ll start puffing up and expanding, growing into a weird-shaped mass as the microwave expands the tiny pockets of air between particles of soap.

    Let the foamy mass cool. Crumble it in your hands and you’ll have your fine soap powder. If anything, it’s TOO fine — add a little water as you crumble it to keep the dust down.