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Laundry Kit For SHTF: How to make your own detergent, wash, and more!

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: May 24, 2021
Laundry Kit For SHTF: How to make your own detergent, wash, and more!

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If you have never been in the position of being without a means to clean your clothing then count yourself lucky! During a SHTF situation or even if you are just trying to save a little money, a good low-cost laundry kit could help out a lot.

During a SHTF situation, hygiene is important. Maintaining some level of cleanliness can help prevent illness, the spread of germs, and avoid bacterial and fungal infections.

I am going to show you a laundry kit I have put together that I feel will allow me to keep us reasonably clean in a SHTF situation. Depending on your family size and needs you may want to change this kit a bit.  The washer and spin dryer I use are sold by The Laundry Alternative.

Making your laundry soap

I tried to buy soap that was listed as being 100 loads so I would have many months worth of soap on hand. When I bought the liquid soaps, I always seemed to forget to buy soap and ran out.

I am so glad I started putting together my laundry soap. It takes little time, costs less than standard laundry soaps, and cleans our clothes so much better. I also have to say that we are careful about laundry soaps because the artificial scents can make us both itchy or our skin red in places.

Here is what you need to make your laundry soap mix

Laundry Soap Bars or Soap Flakes

I have just used Fels-Naptha bar soap. You can text so you can make some laundry soap and still have plenty of bars to put back in a tote for SHTF.

Fels-Naptha is readily available at many stores in my area and one of the most common classic laundry soap bars. Other brands that are notable are Zote Soap. You can use bar soap that is not listed for laundry use if you want. I have used Dr. Bronnors or Watkins when I have caught it on sale. If it is not a very good deal, the Dr. Bronnors bars are a lot more cost prohibitive than laundry soap bars.

A bar of Dr. Bronnors is around $3.50 in my area whereas a bar of Fels-Naptha is $1.59 and seems to offer a deeper clean on heavily soiled garments while leaving a clean smell that is great, especially when you take your clothes off a clothesline in the sun!

Fels Naptha bars are 5 oz whereas Zote Soap comes in a 14 oz bar so you can get three batches of my soap recipe out of one Zote soap bar. I do not know how well Zote cleans compared to Fels-Naptha so you may need more or less.

Remember that soap recipes can be changed to suit the type of water you have and how strong a soap you want. Don’t be afraid to alter the recipe to meet your needs. 

I have hard water so I can say that my recipe seems to dissolve and work well with water that is heavy on minerals.

This shoebox-sized tote contains four of my soap recipe. I used 8 cups of borax, 8 cups of washing soda, and 4 bars of grated Fels-Naptha. I recommend not keeping soap in a tote as I have displayed here. The lid is not secure enough, and you would have a major mess on your hands if you drop it. This is just for display so you can see the consistency. A small pail with a secure lid and a handle would be ideal to keep this in.

I estimate that this much soap will last around eight months or maybe longer. That is for three adults since I make soap for my Dad to use too.

Washing Soda or Soda Ash

Arm and Hammer Washing Soda is the brand you can usually find at grocery or variety stores. I have recently discovered large buckets that can be purchased too. You could always buy a big bucket of Washing Soda and put it back in your preps for future SHTF laundry needs.


20 Mule Team is what most people buy and the brand that is in any grocery store you go into. Like the washing soda, I discovered big buckets of this for sale online too.

A big bucket of washing soda and a big bucket of borax combined with a couple of dozen bars of laundry soap and you could have enough to keep your family clean for a few years or even longer if careful.

My go-to recipe:

Grate 5 oz of laundry soap ( 1 whole bar of Fels-Naptha) using a very fine vegetable or cheese grater. The finer, the better.

Measure out 2 cups washing soda and mix with 2 cups borax. Add in the grated soap and mix well. Use 2 tbsp for a standard washer load in a conventional machine.

I find this soap works just fine in cold water too. I do advise adding it before you add clothes to give it time to dissolve well. If you add it after your clothes, just make sure to distribute it so that it doesn’t get caught in the folds of pants or similar and not dissolve well.

Cost Breakdown

This is based on Wal-Mart prices and includes the fact that I had to add a little extra in from partially empty boxes to make a full 8 cups of washing soda and borax.

Washing Soda $4.50

Borax                 $5.00

4 Bars Fels-Naptha $7.00

Total: $16.50

I know that it is hard to believe, but this stuff is concentrated.  You don’t get much soap at the grocery store for $16.50! You can see how taking just a few minutes to make soap while you watch tv can save a lot of money and trips to the store. Plus you are not buying liquid detergents that leave you with a lot of jugs to dispose of.

The Laundry Alternative is offering Backdoor Survival readers a special coupon code! If you decide to purchase the Wonder Wash or any of their spin dryers, remember to use code BDS6 for 6% off your total purchase! They have a lot of other great laundry solutions on their site so you should explore and decide what products are best for your family.

The Wonder Wash

I wanted one of these washers years ago but just never got one. They make a lot of big claims about how clean they get your clothes. I had to admit that I was skeptical at first, but I am pleasantly surprised at how well this little washer cleans clothes..


It is important to not overload this washer. The first load I did in the machine consisted of 5-t-shirts in various sizes and two pairs of knit shorts. Since this was the first load, I measured out the water as directed in the instructions so for a full load I used 6 quarts and added  1-2 tablespoons of my homemade laundry detergent. The handle is easy to turn, but I have to say that I did not have the rhythm down with the first load. If you turn too fast, all the clothes just stay stuck to one side and don’t slosh around. You want to slowly turn the handle so that your clothes make a sort of “chugging” sound as they slosh.

Regardless of my user error, after a few minutes of cranking the handle. I pulled the drain plug and inserted the drain tube. This time I didn’t measure water for rinsing. I just used the shower nozzle to spray a generous portion of rinse water in the washer, sealed it back up, and cranked it for less than half a minute. Just long enough to rinse a little and make sure I got most of the soap out. I did spray the clothes a little just to make sure they were well rinsed. At this point, I could have just put the drain tube in and let the clothes sit for a minute, but I wanted to try out the second part of my laundry kit.

I just sit the washer in my shower. I have to say the dirty water coming out of it will cause your shower to need a wipe down after you are done with laundry duties.

Wonder Wash Capacity Guidelines

I managed to wash the following in a single load
1 large towel and 4 hand towels
6 t-shirts and a sports bra
2 pairs of jeans but do a single pair if they are especially dirty
12 Pairs of Men’s Athletic Crew Socks
You can also wash and spin dry a 50 x60 fleece throw but you have to make sure to drain well or wring out some by hand because even a small blanket holds a lot of water.

The Nina Soft Spin Dryer

  • 12 lb load capacity
  • Spins at 1800 RPM per minute once it comes up to speed
  • Weighs a mere 15 lbs which makes it easy to store when not in use.
  • Uses 136 watts of power! This means you can run the spin dryer on a small power supply.
  • Requires no venting. Just put a small tub under the spout. I used a shoe box size tub.

I wish I had one of these in college. I would not have spent so much drying clothes and waiting around.

First off this dryer has no heating element. It just spins clothes at 1800 RPM and ejects the water out a spout at the bottom. In 3-5 minutes clothes are spun out. No, they are not dry like what you get out of a conventional dryer, but they are just damp, so the drying time when you hang them up is drastically reduced.

Even if you can put clothes in a standard dryer, I think that a spin dryer like this may be able to save you a lot on your electricity bill over time: the more water you get out of clothes, the less energy needed.

If your spin dryer can get clothes to the point of just being a little damp using a max of 136 watts in 3-5 minutes and you can run our standard dryer for 10-15 minutes instead of 30-45, that is a lot of saved energy. Of course, the spin dryer can only spin-off so many clothes at once.

Two pairs of jeans or 5 t-shirts and two pairs of knit shorts seemed to be the limit. So sure you may spend 10 minutes or so ringing out clothes for the week, but you can do other things while they are spinning and you don’t have to run a big dryer. Electricity rates are not getting any cheaper. I knew in my area last year they went up about 15%

Spin Soft Dryer Capacity Guidelines

This is the limits I found that would not overload the dryer.

2-3 hand towels or 1 large bath towel
6 t-shirts and a sports bra
12 men’s cotton socks or 6 pair
1-2 pairs jeans depending on size

Using the spin dryer was very easy. To use:

  1. Press the button to open the lid. There is a cover that helps keep clothes from spinning out. Place your clothing in the spin basket.
  2. Cover clothes with included cover
  3. Close and then plug in. There is no of and on. I kind of wish there was, but you just have to remember to unplug it when done. You don’t want to leave it on for too long. It will just keep going.
  4. Let clothes spin for 3-5 minutes depending on how heavy they are and how wet they are.

Note: If you overload the spin dryer it will just thunk around and not spin. This is hard on the motor and basket. I did it a few times because I wanted to test the limits of the machine for you. It is important to put the heavier items in the bottom of the basket to start with. This helps steady the machine and the basket, so it spins smoothly.

You have to use this machine on a level surface. There is suction cup like feet, but I found I needed to hold the machine down a little from the top so that it could start spinning in a balanced manner. It seemed like it wanted to topple a little without me doing that, but it was more turn over resistant than I thought.


Reduced drying time makes hanging out clothes more practical and less frustrating

I used to hang all my clothes out as a teenager. One of the frustrating aspects was when you needed clean clothes, so you got your washing all done, and then everything hung out, and the sun would be out and beautiful and then here comes a thunderstorm in the afternoon. This could mean that you had to bring all your laundry in and then rehang it later. That was a lot of extra work, and if you happened to have to be away doing another job or away at work then everything would just get soaked and be wetter than when you took it out of the washer to start with!

The Spin Soft Dryer wrings out enough water that clothes finish drying fast. Instead of 4 hours or more on a clothesline, your clothes will be dry in 30 minutes to an hour in the direct sun after using the Spin Soft.

Washing Board

I chose a nontraditional washing board for a variety of reasons.

1. Small, strong, and easy to store

Traditional washboards are quite large and more than what most people will ever use. A small washboard is just fine for addressing major stains and spots.

2. Plastic washboards dry out fast and will not warp like wood framed washboards

Plastic doesn’t corrode as metal can

My washboard was a mere $5 and will hook onto the edge of a small tub or tote. You can even get these washboards that are built into a basin for around $12, but I like the idea of a washboard I can use in any tub or tote. If the basin got a hole in it, I guess the washboard would still be usable, but it would not be very convenient. This board works well in the shoebox-size tub I use for catching water that comes out of the spin dryer.

Laundry During SHTF

There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes more than one day

This may seem like a common sense thing to a lot of you, but I know and see plenty of people that never wear the same clothes for more than a day. Maybe part of it is just jobs or keeping up appearances, but during SHTF everyone needs to realize that wearing jeans for 2-3 days is not the end of the world, especially if they have not been doing any major physical activity or participated in anything messy.

The prospect of having to use a hand-cranked washer for every load and air drying is an incentive to wear things longer. If you are normally the one that does most of the laundry in the house, you may have to remind people of the importance of reducing loads during an emergency. People don’t always think about changing the way they deal with hygiene issues, and you do not want that to result in others expecting one person to do it all by hand. During SHTF, laundry duties can be shared by anyone that can turn the crank on the machine.

Make sure to have some rubber gloves and hand cream too

Gloves will help protect your hands from the harshness of laundry soap. Years ago it was very hard on your hands to do a lot of laundry. A good hand balm helps.  Some kitchen gloves would be a good addition to a SHTF laundry kit. As far as hand balm goes, even just coconut oil will do. You just need to make sure not to let your hands get dry and cracked. Too much soap contact can also irritate the skin. Some people are more sensitive to this type of thing than others.

Presoaking helps

Especially dirty clothes can be presoaked. Lava soap is made by the makers of WD-40 and is useful for removing major grease and grime from clothes. It has some pumice in it for light abrasion, so it is just soap for really bad spots.

If hot water on tap is not available, you can do a lot with a cold wash but remember that if you are keeping a fire going anyway, why not add some water in a big pot or kettle? Years ago women would build large fires so heat water and boil out clothes. That is a lot of work, and they were doing that for big families or extra money, but if it is a SHTF situation and you have plenty of wood for fuel, then it is one way to get some hot water.

Remember that the Wonder Wash is efficient and only uses a little bit of water to was so you could wash enough clothes to last an adult for a few weeks with 3 gallons.

Large families may consider having two washer units so that two people can be washing at once. You could get a lot of items clean like this.

The laundry kit I am proposing is affordable. A second washer can be purchased for as little as $35 if you are fine with an open box unit.


Takes some physical endurance and is time consuming compared to traditional laundry

Of course, any hand-cranked device requires some physical strength and stamina. If I had to use this machine for basically all my laundry needs, I would be sure to do a load as soon as I dirtied enough to make one. For me, that would be easier than sitting around and doing five loads at once.

Too small for many blankets but can do some sheets

You can wash a queen size fitted or flat sheet in the washer, but there is no room for anything else. Fleece blankets and throws will fit too, but any major blankets or quilts are out of the question. For this reason, I recommend following the protocol during a SHTF situation of just washing sheets regularly and only washing heavy quilts that go over the sheets, as needed.

Sheets are what really gets dirty, and the fitted sheet is usually the worst. A lot of people could get away with washing the flat sheet about half as often as they need to wash the fitted part. I am just mentioning these strategies because you may not have time to do everything as well as you would like, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot develop strategies and implement then that help you make the most out of your abilities and resources.

Clotheslines and Drying Racks

To be honest with you I have so many fences that I have been just hanging clothes out like that. I plan on getting a clothesline or a collapsible carousel style line. These are handy if you want to be able to take them in easily or set them up just wherever. There are retractable clotheslines that are portable and roll up like a big tape measure.

You can get retractable lines that you can mount in place and pull the line out just when you need it. Of course, there are more complicated lines that have pulleys so you can run your laundry out and make better use of high up spaces or similar. This style of line was once popular in cities and although not so common in the USA now, there are places in the world where you will see clothing strung between buildings or wherever is possible.


There are quite a few types of pins out there. I advise buying a variety of pins. Put back some pins that are moderately priced when you can. Do not get the cheapest pins out there or if you do, get a lot of them. The cheap plastic or wood pins that you get in huge packs at the Dollar Store will work just fine for a while, but you get what you pay for. The metal part of the pin and the spring always seems to malfunction.

I plan to purchase some of the old-fashioned style clothespins that have no metal parts or springs at all. I am happy to see you can get a plastic version of these now. The wooden ones are great, but wood and water just don’t mix that well over time. Also, most people that hang a lot of laundry out are not always on top of gathering up pins and removing them all from the line so that they are not out in the weather deteriorating.

Laundry Kit For SHTF Checklist

  • Something to serve as a washer
  • Laundry soap or the components need to make it such as laundry bar soap. borax, and washing soda
  • Tub and washboard for stain removal and soaking
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Wringer or spin dryer. This is not 100% necessary, but I will say it is extremely difficult to wring out a lot of water by hand. Imagine having to do that for a whole family!
  • Oxygen cleaner for additional laundry boosting and soaking whites such as socks
You will find other washer options, clotheslines, pins, and more by reading my first article on laundry Best Off Grid Laundry Options”.

The Laundry Alternative is offering Backdoor Survival readers a special coupon code! If you decide to purchase the Wonder Wash or any of their spin dryers, remember to use code BDS6 for 6% off your total purchase!

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to do all your laundry by hand? What was the hardest part for you?

Aff | Tactical Pen

[DEAL] Ultimate Concealed Weapon

Tactical Pen / Multi-Tool (Flashlight, knife, etc)

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5 Responses to “Laundry Kit For SHTF: How to make your own detergent, wash, and more!”

  1. Hi Samantha! I don’t know if you will get this message or not but I hope so because I’m confused about the laundry detergent. I get the 8 cups, 8 cups and 4 bars but here’s what I’m not getting: “Grate 5 oz of laundry soap ( 1 whole bar of Fels-Naptha) using a very fine vegetable or cheese grater. The finer, the better.
    Measure out 2 cups washing soda and mix with 2 cups borax. Add in the grated soap and mix well. Use 2 tbsp for a standard washer load in a conventional machine.”
    Is the recipe 2cups, 2 cups and 1 bar? Or are you giving a recipe for a smaller amount? And Is 2 tbsp. correct for a full size washer? Thanks for your help and all of your articles.

    • Hi Mick. Yes the recipe that says one bar of soap, 2 cups borax, and 2 cups washing soda is just a smaller amount for those that don’t want a big container premixed or that want to see if they like this style soap before making up a lot. 2 tbsp works for me in a full size washer. I do not use the modern hi efficiency washers so if you have that style then you may want to use half the amount of soap. Part of what you use really depends on how dirty your clothes are. I sometimes add a little more if we have a load of farm clothes that are really soiled. The hardness of your water makes a difference too. If your water is very hard you can add an extra cup of washing soda into the recipe. Thanks for reading!

  2. I would disagree. The Wonderwash normally lasts many years. The frame is designed to “give” rather than being overly rigid and snapping. The Lavario is fine too.

  3. What amount of your laundry detergent would you recommend using in a standard top loading clothes washer (not HE)?

  4. A prepper site (may have been Backdoor Survival) reviewed the Lavario Portable Clothes Washer. Got one on-sale and love it. Use it with a mop bucket and mop wringer for total off grid operations and to easily salvage gray water. Both very simple and durable. The mob bucket and a plunger are a good back up if the Lavario ever fails. The wonder washer has a pretty flimsy stand, gears (most likely nylon) and not-so-hot reviews. I wouldn’t expect it’ll survive hard use during a long term SHTF without substantial modification. And the spin dryer has a motor…a weakness in itself. If/when those break, better have a back-up. Go manual…or go dirty 😉 They both may be great for a small apartment to keep from running to the laundromat for clean underwear. But that’s about it. My opinion. Keep em coming…love your site.

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