Keeping your clothing something resembling clean is something that is easy to take for granted in today’s world. Doing your laundry off the grid is a lot easier if you have some basics. During a SHTF situation, cleanliness is one of the defensive measures you can take against health hazards.
While changing your pants every day may not be necessary when roughing it, you do need to make sure you are not making a health hazard for yourself and those around you. Let’s look at some options for off grid or emergency laundry.
Hand Cranked Drum Style
There are several types of these out there and they all seem to be the same to me except they defer in price very slightly or one brand will have more reviews than another. The design is just so basic.
I have found myself almost buying one of these more than once but have not. These little washers are used all over the world. At just 5 lbs and under $50 this is a device that will pay for itself quickly. You can do 5 lbs of laundry with about 2 minutes of turning.
It takes another 2 minutes to take it apart and put together for the next load. This would be nice to have for those times when you just have a few dish rags to do or if you have a child you may have diapers that need washed ASAP rather than waiting for a lot to accumulate.
It is some work to use this machine but then again, during SHTF, you are going to have to do things the hard way at times. While I would not want to use this to do all my laundry, if you had two of these and everyone in your family took turns you could get a lot done.
A single person or couple could definitely make do with this washer and tub for larger items. Since the washer takes up to 5 lbs there are plenty of blankets that would fit in there.
5-7 adult size t shirts or 2 pairs of pants is a typical load but when you put that in perspective, you don’t have to do too many loads with this machine to have a weeks worth of clean clothing to wear. Some parent’s use these for washing cloth diapers after soaking.
The classic washboard will always have its place in a laundry situation where electricity is lacking. I am not going to say these are a pleasure to use. If you have clothes that have a lot of ground in dirt and stains in them.
The old fashioned washboards definitely work and are very easy to find but there are some modern versions that seem like they would be more comfortable to use and not rust or warp.
If you want one of these that is attached to a tub you can get it here.
Plunger Style Washer
The plunger style washer was commonly used back before electricity. The updated modern version is made to be more comfortable to use and gentler on your clothes than the metal ended versions that can rust over time.
To use this you need a 5 gallon bucket or a tub. Soak clothes and then use this to agitate. Drain water and then rinse.
Cost: Check here
(You may be able to find these for less locally)
Bucket laundry is easier with a drain
To ease the burden of emptying, especially in between washing and rinsing you can get a bucket with a drain at the bottom.
The buckets you get for making wine or beer in work very well and they have a lid on them that can be secured tightly for safe soaking. A tub with a drain would work well too.
Safety Tips For Laundry
Buckets and tubs full of soaking laundry can be hazardous if you have small children and pets. Buckets and tubs are drowning hazards and should always be placed out of reach or at the very least covered with a lid that a child cannot get off.
This is one of the main reasons I recommend using buckets with securely fitting lids.
While I see how these are nice to squeeze all that water out, I have always thought that they were expensive. I know they are built to stand the test of time but $180 is a lot to pay for a clothes wringer.
If you are doing a lot of laundry by hand it would definitely save your hands over the years so in that case I can see making the investment or at least trying to figure our a method or homemade device.
Cheap Washer & Wringer Combo
One way to get by cheap is to buy a new wringer mop bucket shown below.
A commercial mop bucket and wringer can be a fabulous hand washing solution. The wheels make it easy to maneaver. You can soak and agitate clothes in the tub using your chosen tool or device like the plunger style washer described earlier.
Use the wringer to get the dirty water out of them and then rinse and wring them out. The wringer comes off so while you are washing you can keep it out of the way. This is so much cheaper than wringers that have to be mounted.
You can also just buy the wringer part if you want and mount it wherever you want. Considering that the bucket part is so handy I would just get both.
Quick Tip: Fast drying fabrics have their advantages if you are doing laundry off grid and by hand. After wringing, they can be dry in very little time.
Other More Energy Dependent Options
There are some small washers out there that get good reviews. They are very portable and take very little power compared to some.
If you have a nice solar set up and panels then this might be an affordable and effective option for you. The machine above is available for under $100, but check here for the latest price.
Clothes dryers take a lot of energy so those that don’t have a lot of electricity to spare choose propane. Of course this means you are reliant on being able to get propane or natural gas to use.
It is still a good solution while times are good if you are living off grid but close enough to get fuel.
Soaps and CleansersBorax
Oxygen Cleaner or Sodium Percarbonate
The main ingredient in oxygen cleaner is sodium percarbonate which you can buy in a pure form. Since the pure form requires you to use less it goes a lot further for your dollar.
Natural Concentrates Such as Charlie’s Soap
A 5 gallon bucket lasts for over 1200 loads. Plenty of customers report that a bucket lasts them for 3 years for a family of 5! At $150 shipped this is a good way to just take care of budgeting for your laundry soap for a long time. No more running out.
I am putting a kit on here because it is inexpensive and can be moved with ease. There are a ton of innovative ways to make a quick clothes line.
Matt rigged me one up a few times for drying clothes and hides out of a few ratcheting straps. The kit above is a good deal. The line is rated to 1700 lbs and you get the pulleys and stops you need.
Cost: $40 @ Lehmans
If space is an issue or you just like the idea or portability then a retractable clothes line is the solution you have been looking for. For those that are just doing small amounts of laundry at a time this might be all that is needed.
Save yourself a huge headache and spring for some clothes pins that will actually last. The cheap plastic ones from the Dollar Store just seem to fly apart after not too long. I probably was overloading them. Wood clothes pins will last longer if you make sure to bring them in from the weather.
The old fashioned clothes pins that don’t have springs but are made of wood are nice but I found an alternative that is made from recycled hay wrap up in Canada. At $20 for 36 these are not cheap pins but it is worth it to have something that won’t warp, crack, or rot like most pins.
Folding Drying Rack
Again these are not expensive but anything that you can hang clothes on and allows for good air flow can be substituted. I used to hang by clothes near the wood stove when I was a teenager.
It works well so long as you don’t get them too close. You don’t want clothes falling on a hot stove.
Tricks For Making It Easier
- Pre Soaking Helps A Lot!
Dirty clothes are easier to get clean if you do a pre soak, especially if your clothing is particularly dirty from work. Brush off anything you can and soak for an hour or so and rinse before proceeding with the regular wash.
This also prevents transferring so much grime to other clothes that you are trying to clean but are not as dirty to start with.
- Remove Spills Or Treat Stains ASAP
Stains that are set in are much harder to remove without any major traces. If you spill something then absorb what you can with something like a rag or towel.
Paper towels are nice if you have them around but not something you can count on having in a SHTF scenario.
- Heating Water Until Very Hot
A lot of us have probably seen some old pictures of folks on laundry day standing around a steaming pot of clothes. Years ago heat was one of the major ways to sanitize clothes.
Boiling clothes is not the best for them but heating water until 160 degrees or slightly more is going to help clean clothes. Some clothing will be damaged in really hot water but for some things you can do a lot with a little water heating.
You can heat a lot of water using sticks laying around in some cases. I know when we were building the house we used to get a 55 gallon metal barrel and use windfall branches and trunks to heat water so we could take a hot bath in a 160 gallon stock tank.
It takes some tending the fire or being very patient for water to reach a good temp but it got us through.
- Get over having wrinkles in your clothes
If you are off grid and in a survival situation it is best to just forget about the wrinkles. Hang clothes up if you want to release some wrinkles here and there but the truth is that kind of aesthetics is just not something that will be a concern.
I think I can safely say most people don’t care if your clothes are wrinkled anyway even during good times.
- Pants Stretchers
I would never take the time to use these but they were popular back when my dad was a kid and people insisted on jeans that were wrinkle free.
- White clothes are challenging
I find white and lighter colored clothing to be challenging to keep bright and fresh even during good times especially with all the things we are doing around here that lead to a lot of dirt and grime staying on clothes throughout the day.
- Use generous amounts of oxygen cleaner and allow to soak for several hours or even overnight if very dingy
- Realize that whitening clothes with bleach and harsh detergents makes the fibers break down faster so clothes do not last as long
- Whites can be very clean and still look dingy. Staying clean during grid down is more important than keeping up appearances.
The Concrete Mixer Washing Machine Incident
When Matt and I were building our house things could get a bit strange. We poured all the concrete using a mixer we bought from Northern Tool. Well the washing machine at my dad’s house down the road was broken and located a good ways from our place so we improvised.
The large tub on the concrete mixer would hold a lot of clothes. If you turned it sideways, it would really wash hard! My delicate and soak cycle was when I had the tub in the upright position. This mixer ran on 110 volt power.
The biggest problem I had was that the steel arms on the inside could tear sheets or more delicate items. I could have put some silicone caulk on them or similar if I had been forced to use this method for more than month.
I thought it was pretty neat at the time. I could sit in our old 1987 Ford F250 and listen to the radio and we had wireless internet. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do and make the most of it. This experience has made me consider other non traditional options.
Using A Rechargeable Drill
You can get concrete and mortar mixing attachments for drills that have a standard ½ inch drive. Those with a solar array and inverter could keep drill batteries charged and use this attachment to agitate clothes.
There are times when I would have utilized this tool for sure if I had thought about it. At $15 for the attachment it is a laundry tool suitable for a tight budget!
Just use this and a bucket or tub and you have an agitator that is capable of some high speeds! You might have to be very careful with this method with delicates.
Clothes may get wrapped around the mixer a bit as well but that can be avoided by using quick motions.
Deciding What Back Up Is Best
As you can see there are a lot of things to think about when it comes to doing laundry off grid or during a survival situation.
My personal choice would be the handcranked drum washer combined with a mop bucket and wringer and clothes line. Here is what my laundry set up would cost.
- Drum Style Crank Washer: $45
- Commercial Mop Bucket and Wringer: $60
- Clothes Line: $50
$155 Total For A Complete No Electricity Laundry System
That is not too bad of a start up cost. I could use the mop bucket to pre soak clothing or wash delicates and then use the wringer to ensure that clothing didn’t take forever to dry on the line.
It is always disappointing to hang your clothes out to dry and then here comes a thunderstorm in the afternoon! Being able to minimize dry time makes it less likely clothes will hang long enough for weather to set in.
Best Choice For Those With Some Power
The small washing machines that burn under 300 watts are a good choice if you have some extra power. I would still have a clothes line and a crank style drum washer though for times when power is not available.
Getting Your Whole Family In On The Laundry Chores
During a situation everyone in your household except the very young needs to know how to do laundry and pitch in to help. Laundry is going to take longer and be more tiring.
While the division of labor in your home may be that you take care of all of the laundry needs, make sure you at least teach older kids and the adults in the home how it is going to have to be done in an emergency.
During good times, a lot of us probably don’t think much about switching out what we are wearing just because we feel like something else is better for a given situation or maybe we just want to dress up more after work. The more times you change outfits the more laundry you are going to have.
A little bit of dirt on your pants or a speck of grease on a shirt front is no reason to go change. During tough times you may have to deal with not always getting to shower and change after every time you work up a good sweat. For some people this is going to be a bigger adjustment than others.
Please add your hints and tips for a laundry system!
Do you have any tips for doing laundry under less than ideal circumstances? I bet some of you out there have some great hints and tips for stain removal and other issues that I simply couldn’t fit into this article.
I hope this post has got you started thinking about your daily household hygiene needs and what you can do about them. Just know that it is not all washboards and expensive hand washers that cost more than a standard washer.
Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.
If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates. When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of the e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide. Also check out our Facebook page regularly for links to free or almost free eBooks that I personally reviewed just for you.
You can also vote for Backdoor Survival daily at Top Prepper Websites!