Living Without Electricity: Washing Clothes By Hand

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[A] couple of days ago I posted a challenge for us all. We were to evaluate our daily routines, choose one activity that requires the use of electricity, and accomplish that activity without the use of electrical power.

Several people shared their super inspiring ideas about what you were going to do! And today I want to share mine :)

Washing Clothes By Hand…well, sort of

A couple of weeks ago I received in the mail a long awaited item — yes, I get excited about these things — a hand operated washing machine as known as The Mobile Washer. I couldn’t wait to try it and this challenge seemed like the perfect time to put it to use.

Side note: Although it looks like a plunger…trust me it’s not :)

As per the description on Emergency Essentials

“This washer uses a technique of pushing and pulling the water through the clothes without excess friction (which also reduces the wear on your clothes). This mobile washer uses minimal water and because of the agitation motion, less soap. Use in a bucket (5-gallon suggested), sink or tub. This hand washer also is able to rinse your clothes using fresh water. The mobile washer is a great item to have with your emergency and outdoor supplies.”

I’m in love!

The Process

Add approximately 1-2 gallons of water to a 5-gallon bucket.

Pour in 1 tablespoon of powdered Homemade Laundry Soap and 1/2 cup of white vinegar.

Add 5-6 articles of clothing.

Plung for 2-3 minutes.

Rinse with clean water and wring out the clothes.

Hang clothing to dry.

Notes

-From start to finish, washing the equivalent to a medium load of laundry took 30 minutes (including washing, wringing, and line drying).

-This is best done outdoors or in a bath tub.

-Total water usage = 4 gallons.

-The clothes most definitely smelled and looked amazingly clean.

-With the ease of using The Mobile Washer, I am hoping to wash one load of laundry per week using this method.

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Shared on: Your Green Resource, Simple Lives, Homestead Barn Hop

Comments

  1. The tool looks from the photo like a plunger. Is that what it is?

    • It’s like a plunger, but it’s made of a hard plastic and has a vent like piece on the inside the allows the water to flow easily in and out. Wish I would have though up the idea…brilliant!

  2. I just ordered one of these and am getting it tomorrow! Now that I’ve seen it in action I’m even more excited. Thanks for the photos…it makes the process seem like less of a ‘process’. haha!

    • That’s awesome! You have to let me know what you think of it. It’s definitely something that you can use anytime…I plan on taking it camping with us this summer :)

  3. I ordered a metal version from Lehmen’s -they have both the heavy duty poly and the metal version. However, I have back problems and arthritis. WHEN things get worse, water is more scarce, and electricity is outrageously expensive, I will use this handwashing tool all the time. In the meantime, I use it to agitate really dirty outside work clothes that are soaking in a bucket. If I had young ones, I would use it to agitate soaking diapers.

    I have been looking into the industrial mop squeezing buckets to help wring clothes if I should need it in the future. Again, I need something to do the wringing. In my expensive area, they run anywhere from $45-75. I am thinking outside the box here, because the wringers one can purchase are either flimsy or so expensive, I could not afford one. And if the power grid never goes down, I am not going to expend the little bit of energy I have on wringing clothes the old-fashioned way; I will continue to use my washing machine.

    I am a 61 year old who has been frugal all my life, and I have been “prepping” for years. However, I have reached the conclusion lately that some preppers get really uptight and think they have to revert to the old (and difficult) ways ASAP. While I encourage all to seek out the old ways that worked long before modern technology and to save as much money, physical energy, and electrical energy as possible, if you have an infirmity or just no time, don’t feel guilty or get discouraged. Do what you can – as you can- but don’t get so obsessive about it that you make yourself miserable.

    Don’t get trapped in the “You can do it all” mentality like my generation did with the “You can have it all” mentality. Either of these will wear you out and use you up and make you feel terrible.

    Start small. Do a small garden. Test it out. Try making homemade laundry soap -not 10 gallons – but cut the recipe by 3/4 and see if it works for you. Make some homemade soaps with shaved soap bars first. You don’t have to run out and buy lye and think to yourself, “Oh my gosh! I am going to blow myself up!” Start small, start with what is comfortable. Get experience, then move to try bigger projects.

    This is meant to encourage, because I have “been there”. I love your website, and I check out many prepper, frugal websites every week. One can always learn more and be a better steward of their family’s resources and of the earth’s resources.

    Enjoy the learning journey and trying out new things!

    Karen R

    • You shed light on some very excellent points here Karen! For my family and I, it’s all about balance and reviving old wisdom. In no way will I be washing all of our laundry using this method :) But it’s fun to try and do once in a while.

      I agree with you in that Frugal Living becomes ineffective when the lifestyle consumes so much of your life energy that you loose yourself. That’s not what this is all about :) That said, it is about baby steps and finding what works for you. Life’s a journey like that!

      The mission of Frugally Sustainable is simply to chronicle my family’s transition…it definitely not for everyone…and that’s okay too :)

  4. I actually just got a Mobile Breather Washer a few weeks ago in my quest to deal with my fiance’s work clothes. My process is a lot more intensive & drawn out because he’s a big guy (6’4″) who wears thick, heavy-duty fabric that gets saturated with coal dust & rock dust. I have to do an overnight soak, only wash one item at a time, and go through multiple washes & multiple rinses, but it gets the clothes clean.

    Using a regular washing machine, his work clothes only succeed at dispersing their filth all over the washing machine & any extra socks I was foolish enough to add to the load.

    Unfortunately at this point, I lack an effective method of wringing out the water. Hand crank wringers are both fabulously effective and a hefty investment, so we’re not quite “there” yet.

    • Once clean, you could just drop the clothes into your regular washer and start the “spin” cycle. I do this with my woollens after doing that thing with the Eucalan wool wash, when they’re supersaturated with water and super-heavy.

      • That’s what I’m doing so far; the downside is that we live in an apartment with a coin laundry.

        • I never bothered to wring things out too much, it really hurts my hands and didn’t get much water out. I just hang dry things on a hanger or pant hanger. I put a boot tray underneath with an ugly towel. Everything dripped into the boot try, the towel caught it and I just would hang dry the towel after to use again…

          • lemniskate says:

            If I were going to do my laundry by hand, i’d definitely get a wringer. A cheaper source would be a shop rag wringer. Harbor Freight used to have one, but unfortunately they don’t carry them anymore. but ebay or amazon is a decent source. If you can wring out the soapy water you’ll use less to rinse, too.

  5. Love it! Sounds like a success! I usually hand wash a few delicate items and hand wring, but the plunger sounds like a great tool. I will look into getting one!

  6. I’ve thought about things like this before, but the part that always worries me is the wringing. Won’t that stretch the clothes out of shape? I’ve looked at roller ringers, and they seem less likely to stretch the clothing … I don’t know.

  7. Our summer rental doesn’t have laundry and with two kids it’s pretty tough. I love this idea!

  8. Lori Davis says:

    I love this idea and when I have time, I wash and hang clothes, too. On the other hand, my 72 year old mother in law has NEVER owned a washing machine. Her washing machine is her two hands and 2 wash tubs on a homemade washing table. We have offered to get her a washing machine but she doesn’t want it. This woman also does not own a refrigerator and grows her own food, getting milk from her goat and eggs from her chickens. She works part time in a corn field and is very frugal. My father in law passed away when my husband was 10, and she was left to take care of them on her own, in a country with NO welfare NOR assistance programs in place. I am humbled by her courage, and admire her strength, having raised my husband and his 5 siblings without her husband for many years. It reminds me of how blessed I am every day.

    • Arwen Fowler-Jonsson says:

      I would like a good way to hand wash clothes—like towels–without having access to this handy dandy contraption. I am an American living in Iceland and when my washer broke I did not have the money to replace it or to order something online that would cost me 4x as much with customs. Is there a good way to handwash towels and other large items. We tried soaking in bath tub and trying to agitate by hand but it did not get the items clean. Would love some good suggestions!!!

      • Try a washboard. If you don’t have a washboard, try a broiler pan. I used one for years before I got a washboard.

      • I put the laundry in my tub, and use my feet as an agitator! I just climb in and trample the clothes both for washing and rinsing. This is not a usual practice for me. We have had such a cold winter that my washer, which is on my enclosed but unheated back porch, has been frozen for several weeks. This method does work. I put the laundry in after I shower, so I’m already wet. I took my towels to my in-laws’ house to wash, but I would think this would work for those, too.

  9. At one point in time my husband and I were trying to pinch every penny. I cleaned houses and he was in school full time. Pinching every cent was important to us because we have always felt that just because you have the money, doesn’t mean it should be spent. Needless to say we did not poney-up the $5 to do a couple of loads of laundry. So we used our bath tub and scrubbed everything by hand… It took ages, killed my back (especially Queen size sheets) and didn’t get things very clean. This seems like a MUCH better way!

    • I know this post is a little over a month old, but just thought I’d say….we are there now….my husband works a lot of hours and is about to start back in school at night, and I stay home with our son and we just got our first house (after screwing up our finances ROYALLY in the first couple of years we were married and ending up having to live with my mom because we had no money and nowhere to go!)….so we are bound and determined not to lose our house, but also not to go to anyone (especially our parents) for help this time around. It really has a detrimental effect on already strained relationships with our parents, and we know we should be doing things ourselves anyway. Well, we have had problem after problem with this new house and we’ve had to take it in stride and learned to DIY, rather than running to our parents for help…tonight (after the laundry room flooding every time I try to do a load of laundry), we discovered there is a clog in the drain pipe and it will probably be an expensive thing to fix (i.e. probably be a job for a plumber if dh can’t figure it out) and we were down to like zero clean clothes…and I’d remembered seeing a tutorial for washing clothes with a 5 gallon bucket and a plunger, so I took the plunge (lol pun intended)..and washed enough for us to have clothes for tomorrow. It was backbreaking and hard…but I have been googling on the subject to see if there are easier ways to do it….and it looks like we are gonna be doing this for awhile because we can barely keep afloat, let alone pay a plumber for an expensive job…..so I just thought your comment was an encouragement…you’ve been there, and I am here now, and so it is nice to see that our family is not alone….I’d always taken for granted having a washing machine to wash my clothes…

  10. Oh thanks for the post. I have been thinking about this for awhile as I know the washer is on its last legs. So ordered one today. I enjoy your posts and learn so much from all the comments too. For me also it is one baby step at a time. I do the things I enjoy. Like gardening, raising chickens, cooking, baking, crafting, learning other skills. Loving the journey. Keep up the wonderful work- everyone ok it is not work it is the wonderful way of living life!

  11. I have had a similar clothes plunger for 40 years. It has a shorter handle and made of a blue rubber, I think.
    When it was bought the ad for it said to wash your delicates in a bucket or in the sink. I have used it on many different pieces of clothing but with the short handle it is a little more difficult.
    I sure wouldn’t want to wash bed sheets with it :)

  12. Yvette Smith says:

    I just stepped on the clothes to agitate them. Sometimes I had the kids stomp around on the clothes, they loved splashing the water and the clothes got clean. :)

  13. Here is how we’ve done it in the past:
    http://tenthingsfarm.blogspot.com/2009/07/laundry.html

    The mop bucket is a great option for anyone who can’t hand wring the clothes. :)

    -Laura at TenThingsFarm

  14. I have been doing quite a bit of my laundry with the mobile washer for over a year. I actually use one of those big Tupperware tubs, and put the Tupperware tub in the bathtub to make it easier to dump out. If the whites aren’t too dirty, I can do those first, then pull the whites out and use the same water for the darks… and then start over with both on a “rinse cycle”. With some fibromyalgia, I wait for a “good day” to do my laundry, as it does require quite a bit of energy to do a few “loads”… so sometimes I just get through a load of darks (one “load”, well-planned, can get me through most of the week)… but overall, it’s not so bad. I don’t really do much wringing. I used to dump the clothes into the tub and pretend like I was stomping grapes to get some of the water out… but now I just let them sit in the tub and drain a bit, wring the easier pieces, and then take whatever I can carry out to the clothes line. The only thing that is still hard is towels and jeans… and sometimes I can barely wring those at all… the grass below the clothesline is pretty well-watered. But as far as cleaning power, you can also add washing soda or give them an Oxyclean soak if things are especially dirty. Overall, it’s not too bad. I live in the city, and very few people know that my clothes are hand-washed (no one at work does)… There are also some hand-crank machines that whirl the clothes to clean them, but I have never tried one of those…

  15. Rachel B. says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I just wanted to say how refreshing it is to read about a woman after my own heart. A nurse myself, mother, and farmer–I love all things natural and sustainable–and saving money! I really enjoy your posts and look forward to reading more!

    Thanks,
    Rachel

  16. I like this idea! Anytime I have hug clothes out to dry they are real stiff. Any hints on how to make them softer with this method??
    Thanks

    • The vinegar really helps with the softening, and so does wind. Hanging clothes on a breezy day or in front of a fan.

  17. Phillip says:

    Hi
    Perfect idea with the hard plastic ‘plunger’. However what is the name and if possible a link where to buy it (preferable in Europe, even in Denmark ;-) ). Any closeup fotoes / descriptions?
    Best, Phillip

    • I just bought one from amazon.com. Fairly cheap, less than $25, so excited to get it in the mail and finally use it!!!

  18. check this link out.they came up with a great idea for wringing the cloths out using this item and saved the rinse water for the next load. i plan to buy this item for hand washing my son cloth diapers as i don’t like the way my washer wash them.

    http://www.livereadynow.com/laundry-on-the-off-grid-homestead-1/

  19. Your blog has jump started (more frugal, isn’t it?!) so many things in me! Speaking on laundry, I’ve purchased the mobile washer and am having a blast. Since I too live in Phoenix, I am washing outside, where I can use my two large laundry tubs (with legs, hallelujah!) set right next to the hose. My hint is this – I stretched out my 100 foot hose in the sun and voila!, HOT WATER for no cost at all. A dark hose would make it hotter, and I didn’t need it hot hot, but it made the water warmer, and that’s always good in washing, right? I also hung a rod from the rafters and hang my clothes out of the tub to gravity drain and to be stable while I squeeze and wring my clothes. It’s surprising how much easier that makes things. I decided to do this because I hate going to the gym, which I just don’t do so why pay, but all my luxuries make me rather sedentary. It occurred to me that taking care of my home and being purposeful about my chores could be a good way to use up the calories, so I’m doing more things the old fashioned way and finding it’s helping my waistline and my mind as well. I am finding a great deal of satisfaction in really caring for my home instead of viewing everything as a chore. My heart is changing toward my role as a homemaker and that is so amazing!

  20. This may seem obvious to others, but is there a reason why you can’t just wash by hand – with your hands? Am looking to do away with the machines and am wondering if I really do need an extra device.

  21. Retta Parker says:

    Hi, I am so interested in your comment and how your mother-in-law lives. Do you by any chance have a blog with more stories about her and tips on how she does things? Please email me at pugthebug@yahoo.com and let me know. I have really been living frugally more today than ever before and appreciate reading about other people. Thank you so much.

  22. I grew up going to living history events with my parents and learned alot about the old ways of doing things. My parents not only gave me a love for history but also for the simple pleasures in life and recently I have been “transitioning” out of the consumer mindset and trying to get back to a more simple approach to life, I am a stay at home mom and so happy I came across your site, I was just doing my laundry and because of recent events I thought to myself I wonder how I would do laundry if the power went out…I did a search and came across your site, what a great place!! I’v added your site to my own blog..and of course am now subscribing. Thank you.

  23. My rental house has an, “as is” washing machine and a clogged drain in the basement and well water that turns brown when it rains heavily. I have no option to move. After months of the basement flooding every time I did laundry and one heavy rain the washing machine finally died. I live in a rural area so driving to a laundry mat every time I need to do laundry is out of the question. I am a single mother also so $5 a load is out of the question also. Buying a new machine is also out of the question. I was forced to start washing clothes by hand in the bath tub. I had prepared for hard times a couple years ago and bought a wash board so that helps. But I have found scrubbing sock together, instead of on the wash board gets the job done twice as fast and just as efficient. Also we have now lost a good portion of our income and ran out of detergent. I prepared last year for this and have enough ingredients for about 6-12 months of homemade laundry soap. I have become so used to this I really am in no hurry to go back even if I had the option. And am considering hang drying the clothes also to cut down on an ever increasing electric bill (the only utility bill I have) that I can not afford. I find it satisfying to know I am providing and making it still. Two years ago we got rid of cable and t.v. reception. Found it was a luxury we couldn’t afford anymore. That ,too, I have come to get used to and am in no hurry to return to the old way. I was greatful for this when the Sandhook shooting happened. My kids did not see the news and I kept them home from school for two days until talk settled. To this day they do not know about it and can live their lives without this fear and that knowledge. As for hand washing, my clothes are very clean. I am ex military and used to be able to go to the gym for free all the time. This I can’t do anymore also. So I find this to be a good form of exercise. Some people look at me like I am crazy when they hear this is how I live. Most of the time I get questions on how I do it. They become interested in this strange way of living after they get over the crazy look faze. I find this funny though considering up until 100 years ago this was the norm.

  24. Reading the post about the mother-in-law who hand washes clothes at 72 and doesn’t even want to washing machine reminds me of my mother. I am old enough to remember when they and my grandparents washed in a big black iron pot with a fire underneath it to keep boiling water and they used scrub boards and lye soap. The Irons (made out of heavy iron) were heated on the wood stove and several were kept heating and changed off when they cooled off. It wears me out remembering. I always had washers and dryers but last week the pump went out on my 22 year old washer. Panic. I am 74 and it’s just me now, but I have 2 dogs and 2 cats…extra towels, beds, blankets…etc. I was thinking I have no spare money for the laundramat when suddenly I remembered mother who hand washed clothes in her kitchen sink long after she had a regular washer. Hand Wash!!! What an idea!!! Well, I just finished doing a load of my clothes in the sinks, washed, rinsed, wrung and hung to dry. Didn’t cost a penny. I may just keep this up and forget about a new washer.

  25. P.S. to my post above: The iron pot with boiling water was to do just that, boil the clothes. They were first washed on the scrub boards and rinsed in tin or zinc tubs and then placed in the hot water. Didn’t want people to think they were scrubbing in that hot pot. :) Clothes were lifted out via a long wood pole and plunged into cold water, hand wrung…2 people wrung sheets and quilts and heavy overalls…Granny lived to be almost 104 years old so guess hard work never hurt anybody.

  26. If I wanted to add fabric softener to the hand wash after I washed them with soap, would I then rinse off the fabric softener or hang the clothes up wet with the softener water still on them? I usually dump it in the rinse cycle but I’m not sure if the machine washes the softener out or not.

  27. If you have a plastic tub with a lid and need to drive somewhere, put your laundry in the car. The motion agitates the clothes!

  28. You can actually make a whole Landry system yourself. You need 2 buckets(one with a lid) a new plunger and a drill.

    One bucket leave alone….that’s the wash bucket. The next bucket you want to drill holes all over the bottom half. Also drill some holes in your plunger…that way it no longer has suction and water can pass through it.

    Unless my clothes are stained our heavily soiled you can skip detergent. Saves time and water…just add a lil vinegar. Wash you clothes like described above only don’t wring them out. Put them in the bucket with holes. Dump your was bucket and put the lid on. Now here’s the fun part! Put you was bucket inside the holed bucket..on top of the clothes. Sit on the lid and you will squish the water out of your clothes! Easy peasey.

    I bought used icing buckets from a local grocer fir $1 each and a dollar store plunger for $1 for a $3 clothes washer :)

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