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Best Off Grid Laundry Options

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: December 11, 2019
Best Off Grid Laundry Options

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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.

Your Off-grid Laundry Starter Pack

Wonderwash Non-electric Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine

Non-electric, Hand-crank unit washes a 5-lb. load
Uses far less water than even hand washing and no electricity
Perfect for apartments, singles, boats, RV's and even small frequent loads

Minky Outdoor Retractable Clothesline

Easy to use retractable outdoor washing line
Double line - each with 49-feet length
Fully retractable with UV stable protective casing

Whitmor Wood Natural Clothespins

Durable clothespins
Galvanized non-rusting wire springs
Hardwood pins with wax coating

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.

Wonder Wash Compact Washing Machine

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 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.

Japanese Style Washboard

Plunger Style Washer

Ball Clothes 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.

Beer Bottling Bucket

(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.

Clothes Wringer

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 the pice 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.

Commercial Wringer Mop Bucket 35 Quart Capacity

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

Small Washers That Burn Under 300 watts

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.

Propane Dryer

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 Cleansers

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 the price this is a good way to just take care of budgeting for your laundry soap for a long time. No more running out.

Dr. Bronnor’s Sal Suds

Natural Drying

Clothes Line Kit 50 FT

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.

Retractable Clothes Lines

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.

Clothes Pins

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 this price 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.

Grandma’s Pegs Clothes 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.

  1. Use generous amounts of oxygen cleaner and allow to soak for several hours or even overnight if very dingy
  2. Realize that whitening clothes with bleach and harsh detergents makes the fibers break down faster so clothes do not last as long
  3. 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 the price for the attachment it is a laundry tool suitable for a tight budget!

MD Deluxe Mixer Paddle

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.

Changing Habits

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.

Author Bio

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. 

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13 Responses to “Best Off Grid Laundry Options”

  1. I am leaving my house and moving to a 30 x 24 log cabin in the woods of western WI. It has almost everything, but no running water. Friends and family are freaked out by it, but I don’t mind. Most water used in the world is for flushing the toilet! I have 8 30 gallon barrels that I will keep full of water. 2 or 3 will be for catching rain water the others I can get filled at the neighbors house. My dog uses more water than I do on a daily basis. I’ll have a good supply of baby wipes for washing up daily and when I need a shower, a canning kettle of hot water, heated on my wood stove, is more than enough water to wash myself from head to toe. I’ll have a composting toilet installed, but I can easily make due without wasting so much water.

  2. You forgot about Lehman/s. Their hand washer comes with wringer. []. Granted it is a bit more expensive than the ones you showed but it would do a whole load and not just 2 lbs or small items.

  3. When you mention changing clothes and how in tough times you might not be able to do that as much, it’s worth mentioning things like aprons, overalls, and underclothes. Overalls can, for the most part, stay dirty, and protect your “regular” clothes from dirt and grime; aprons also protect your clothes, but are lightweight so can be washed easily, and the right kind of underclothes protect your clothing from body oils and sweat and are lightweight and easy to wash, saving laundry efforts!

  4. A common, cheap, home-made laundry powder that works well is this: 1 cup Borax + 1 cup washing soda + 1 bar grated soap (I use Fels Naptha). I make a large batch that lasts a long time because only a small amount is needed per wash.

  5. when i drip food onto my clothes, especially if they’re clothes i only wear at home, i just go to the bathroom, take off the garment, wash the stain out (easy when they’re fresh), blot the wet spot with a towel, and put it back on. i wouldn’t do that with a baby since it might get chilled wearing partly-wet clothes, but i’m a big fat “hot mama”, so it’s no big deal for me. i’ve even done it when away from home if i had access to a one-seat bathroom (i wouldn’t want to stand at a public sink in my undies!). even if i plan to throw the garment into the hamper when i get home, at least the stain is gone.

  6. Whats the water source in all this? Sounds trivial, but are you using rain run off water? Or, do you just have a large supply stored for said events when needing to use these items.

    • Just whatever you have on hand. When I was doing this I had access to a garden hose but you could definitely use catchment water, creek water, or any other source that doesn’t have a ton of sediment. If sediment levels are high you can always let water settle out. Trying times might call for making do with whatever. Thanks for reading!

  7. a free 5 gallon bucket and a cheap plunger with a wooden handle work great. cut a hole in the lid for the handle to stick thru. cut some holes in the plunger so the water flows thru better. you can modify the handle with a cross piece if yer clever enough.

  8. At 18 bucks, the beer bucket is a rip off. Get a 5 or 6 gal bucket locally for free, put a 1.49 spigot on it, and cut a hole in top of the lid. Sheesh! I have a Ball and a Wonder Wash set back. I have tried both, just to see how they work, and the Ball is great with blue jeans and heavy shirts like flannels. The Wonder Wash seems better for smaller, lighter items.I will get another of each for redundancies’ sake. Samantha, you are knocking them out of the ballpark! I have read article after article of good, common sense. That is not a common trait and I thank you. Peace.

  9. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the “plunger” style “washers”. They look almost like a toilet plunger and the original Gay who started this site did a blog on them. It looked like a great choice and is what I will be using if need be, cheap too! Just need a tub or bucket to go with it and you are ready to rock and roll!

    • Hi. I did mention the Ball plunger style washer in the article. It has a more comfortable handle then some of the real old fashioned metal ones and not rust over time. Do you have a brand or style you have used that you like that is different than this one? Thanks for reading!

  10. I have become a big fan of Samantha Biggers. Not only are your articles extremely useful, I love that they are written by a real person who is living this stuff and has tried out what they are writing.

    As for laundry suggestions, this is a grid option that simply gets the electric bill way down and makes each load easier for me to deal with, having very limited back and arm function.

    Just don’t use the dryer. I track my electric consumption online and actively work at reducing it. I wash small loads on the small setting and hang them around the house.

    I hang laundry on the two shower rods, chair backs, the towel bars on the stove and fridge, towel bars in the bathroom, and the washing machine lid in the upright position. Shirts can be hung on plastic hangers on the shower rod. Things dry in 24-36 hours even if raining outside. These small loads are manageable for me to fold or hang when dry. The shirts on hangers are ready to go in the closet when dry with no more effort. I should get a drying rack but so far I have spent zero and saved a bundle just by not using the dryer.

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