Introduction: 5 Gal Bucket Clothes Washer

Picture of 5 Gal Bucket Clothes Washer

I've seen a few 5 gallon bucket clothes washers, I thought I'd make a front loader.

I made this entirely out of left-overs and scraps, there are things I could have done differently, but I was working with what I had.

I want to mention- the most significant advantage of this "double bucket" design is that the clothes never rest in the soil/ dirt washed out of them. The two inch gap between the bottom of the tumbler bucket and the main bucket allows the dirt to settle out.

The second advantage, obviously, it is modeled off a front loader, which uses less water to get the job done.

Third, the use of the long drive shaft increases maximize mechanical advantage by being able to stand upright while doing the work.

Lastly, I want to thank 3of5 for making a great recommendation that I will incorporate and add to the Instructable as soon as I can complete it.

Step 1: Washer Drum- Drill a Bunch of Holes in a Bucket

Picture of Washer Drum- Drill a Bunch of Holes in a Bucket

Make a washer drum:

  • Remove the handle from the first bucket.
  • Drill a bunch of holes in the bucket, I figured that too many should be just right, so I drilled a bunch of holes with a 1/2 inch bit.
  • I drilled holes all around the sides and in the bottom.
  • I had a spare Gamma Seal lid, so I snapped the ring on- You can use any lid you have available, but the Gamma Seal makes it easy to load and unload.

Step 2: Agitator Bar and Rotator

Picture of Agitator Bar and Rotator

The agitator bar is a piece of plastic decking, the rotator is a piece of "L" bracket.

  • The rotator is attached at the top with self drilling screws going through the bracket, through the bucket, and into the agitator bar.
  • I used a lath screw near the bottom through the bucket and into the agitator bar. I use a lath screw because of its very low profile head,
  • I could have used more screws, but three is enough.

Step 3: Drive Shaft

Picture of Drive Shaft

I used a 5 foot piece of 1&1/2 inch ABS pipe for the drive shaft.

  • It is comfortable to hold, is very light, so it takes less energy to move the shaft and more energy is delivered to the washer drum.
  • I made a spacer/ washer cut out of a nylon cutting board with a hole-saw.
  • I had a spare trailer hitch pin, but you could use a bolt just the same, it's just what I had laying around.

Step 4: Frame the Bucket.

Picture of Frame the Bucket.

Remove the handle from the second bucket, and make a frame to fit.

  • I used pan-head bolts through the frame to mount the bucket. The holes previously used for the handle are snapped over the bolt heads. Some buckets may need a little trimming to "snap" onto the bolt heads.
  • The bolts are not going all the way through the bucket!
  • A few small blocks will keep the bucket from rotating on the bolt heads. The angle of the bucket is important, ideally you want the water level inside to be up less than half way up the "bottom" of the bucket, and not quite to the opening of the bucket.
  • The block under the platform ensures the drive shaft/ rotator doesn't hit the ground/ floor while cranking.
  • I had an old grout float laying around, so I claimed the handle and added it to make the washer easier to tote around.

Step 5: Install a Drain- If You Want.

Picture of Install a Drain- If You Want.

Putting in a drain valve is unnecessary, but again- I had the part so I thought I'd use it.

I used a quarter-turn valve, it is threaded on both ends.

Step 6: Wash!

So now that we have built a washer, how do we use it?

  • Wash cycle: Add about 1.5 gallons of water, and some detergent, crank it around for a few minute, alternate directions, it doesnt need to go fast, it just needs to go 'round and 'roun.
  • Soak cycle: Let it sit, just rotate it once every couple minutes as you think of it.
  • Drain.
  • Rinse cycle: Add a another 1.5 gallons of water and crank it around for another minute or two.
  • Drain.
  • Spin cycle: Leave the drain valve open and crank it around as fast as you can-
    • Obviously this wont spin dry your clothes like your home washer will, but it will get out a lot of water and save your hands from some wringing.

That should about do it.

It really does work, the degree of "clean" will depend purely on how long you want to spend on the wash and soak cycles.

Step 7: Improvements

Picture of Improvements

As I mentioned earlier on, I built the washer with what I had on hand, then I started thinking, "What if I had purpose built this?"

Starting with a 24 inch square piece of plywood, I reconstructed the base.

I actually used some geometry to get the bucket angle.

Now the bucket rests on the platform, and no longer needs the small blocks to keep the angle.

Step 8: Water Inlet

Picture of Water Inlet

After watching my own video an obvious improvement became apparent to me, then when 3of5 made the same suggestion I knew we were on the right track.

I added a water inlet to the outer bucket. I could have just drilled hole and used a cheap funnel, but since I was going for a purpose built project, why not take that up a notch?

  • I used a 3 quart drum funnel. The funnel has a 1 inch threaded outlet.
  • I used a 1&1/4 inch PVC threaded bushing and a 1&1/4 inch PVC threaded adapter.
  • I carefully drilled a 1&1/4 inch hole with a spade bit
  • Screw the bushing into the hole, it will be a very tight fit, but with some patience it will get in there.
  • Screw the adapter on from the inside, this supports the bushing.

When it is time to use it, screw the funnel into the bushing, and add water through the funnel. No messy opening the lid and sloshing water in!

Step 9: Make It (more) Portable

Picture of Make It (more) Portable

I wanted to make the drive shaft fit inside the bucket.

  • I cut the ABS pipe down into 10 inch segments
  • I cemented male and female ends onto the shortened pieces.
  • I added a 2 gallon pail to fetch water in.
  • The completed drive shaft segments, the funnel and the 2 gallon pail all fit inside the washer.

Step 10: Non-Skid Foot Platforms

Picture of Non-Skid Foot Platforms

I added some non-slip tread to the platform on both sides of the bucket.

Step 11: Final Build

Picture of Final Build

This last view shows the washer set up and ready to go.

My last note here: since both the drain and the inlet are now threaded, this could easily be connected to a drain hose and a water source if available.


jcp75 (author)2016-03-20

This is a project to do list, wonder if we could engineer a stationary bike to do the cycle, a cycle washer for health, lol, have to give this some thought. But great project as is.

Rocketraccoon (author)2015-08-28

You should find a way to attach it to a bike, then you could just pedal power it.

Wiggelstick (author)2015-01-17

Do you think you could modify that system to when you stepped down on the bottom board (pushed back up by a spring) it rotates just like an old sewing machine? That way you could just step down instead of getting your upper body involved?

andy.knote (author)Wiggelstick2015-01-21

I experimented with a treadle design, but I couldn't get a long enough throw of the op-rod to make the bucket rotate, it could be done but it would need gearing and probably a fly-wheel. Rotating a bucket is a different math than making a little sewing needle move up and down and inch. That, and the mass of the bucket with a wet load is a different physics- so although it could be done it fell out of my design parameters of something more or less easy to build with readily available materials.

Thanks for the input though- I love the feedback!

Sean545454 (author)2014-12-06

What about hooking it up to a bike?

I've seen a design for this. The laundry barrel gets tire material around it, and sits on top of the back wheel, which is raised. I'm interested in a station that you can bike up to, perform a function, and bike away.

I think the best solution would be some kind of front end support- like a bicycle rack, and a set of rollers to park the rear bicycle tire on. Use a belt from one of the rollers and around the bucket. The ratio from wheel to roller to bucket might have a high energy cost though... maybe someone can work out the math on that and let me know before I start building...

srilyk (author)Sean5454542014-12-09

Actually that would be kind of awesome. You'd have to change the mount design a little bit - but many stationary trainers for bikes are actually fluid filled. Only slight issue with hooking it up to a bike is you would have to figure out a way to mount it. If you have some metal working skills you could create something that mounts through the back axle (as most stationary trainers do). Alternatively I suppose you could create something that mounts to the front of the bike somehow.

Romninja (author)srilyk2014-12-09

A drive belt maybe?, remove the outer tire and place the belt where the tire would go, then let the belt go around the bucket, you would need to add a way for the bucket's outside to drive the insides though .

calyad (author)2014-12-09

So do the clothes come out clean? I remember seeing one that was a container in a rocker cradle. It was in a caravan, and the action of driving rocked the container. I think speed is not necessary, just action. What do you think. Maybe a pedal instead of a drive shaft.

3of5 (author)calyad2014-12-12

being 15 I still watch the washer, during the wash cycle, it rotates a few times rather slowly, stops, goes the opposites direction, and repeats. for the rinse, it does the same thing. On the rinse, I was thinking of making a second hole right above the drain to avoid the need to open up the washer to pour rinse water in, you would just need a funnel and jugs of water.

andy.knote (author)3of52014-12-13

After watching the video, the same realization occurred to me! I have already began the modification and will be posting it when I can complete it.

Great recommendation, and thank you for the feedback!

andy.knote (author)calyad2014-12-09

I tend to use this for lighter clothes, like workout clothes that I don't want to leave in a smelly pile, but I don't want to run in the washer all by themselves. It does get clothes clean. I haven't tried to wash a load of muddy jeans or wool blankets yet, and I don't suspect it would do a great job either.

This was NOT the first edition! I tried several versions and this ended up being my final because it was so elegant and so easy to operate. A tried a different type of drive shaft, I tried a "treadle" design, but it was complicated, reduced the lightweight portable nature of this design, and was more tiring because it was a shorter stroke.

You are correct, speed has nothing to do with cleaning. During the "wash cycle" I tend to go slow, and reverse directions every so often.

"Spin cycle" needs speed. And obviously this will not spin the clothes dry, but it does spin out enough water out to make it worth doing.

calyad (author)andy.knote2014-12-11

Hi Andy - Yes, I can see that, thanks. Lighter clothes tend to multiply by magic too. Great 'able.

area1 (author)2014-12-09

So clever. I'd like to try using one. Yes, please add a video showing the whole operation and with clothes in it. :-)

andy.knote (author)area12014-12-10

I've added another video for you.

DragonDon (author)2014-12-07

I don't understand how it cranks. please add a video.

andy.knote (author)DragonDon2014-12-10

I've added another video for you, hope this helps!

How about clicking on "NEXT" and viola... there is a video..

abaneyone (author)2014-12-10

Excellent design and cheap too!

Jack Rodgers (author)2014-12-10

Great! For years I have thought to build a much smaller unit for motel use to wash several changes of underwear and socks to hang up at night in the bathroom. Using the sink works but a small hand operated unit would be nice.

I'm inspired.

gronan1 (author)2014-12-09

Very good!! I have A off grid fish camp that I stay at for several week's A time and one of these would be invaluable. I have been thinking of how to power A conventional washing machine that has A burned out motor with an exercise bicycle but your idea is easier to accomplish for now.

masterbuilder (author)gronan12014-12-09

Your exercise bike idea has got me thinking... Maybe an old bike with the back wheel propped up, with an old bike tube as a belt running from the rear bike rim to the bucket.

masterbuilder (author)2014-12-06

I wonder how hard it would be to create a solar-powered electric version of this. It would probably be a friction drive, With a small motor with a rubber wheel spring-tensioned onto the rim of the inner bucket, much like two gears sit together. New project for me.....

srilyk (author)masterbuilder2014-12-09

Dryers (and I assume washing machines) have a long rubber(ish) strap with ridges that they use. You could potentially make one out of an old blown bicycle inner tube.

masterbuilder (author)srilyk2014-12-09

A rubber belt would be a good idea. Old bike tubes work well as belts (at least in hand-powered machines), I used one in a small boat:

andy.knote (author)masterbuilder2014-12-09

It wouldn't be hard at all! But using solar adds a few complications, solar power means you are going to need a battery, you can't run the motor directly off a solar PV panel. A battery means you are going to need a charge controller to keep from burning up your battery. An electric motor means you are going to need a speed controller. I use at least three speeds when I use this thing, wash- slow , soak- intermittent, and spin- fast, and I like to occasionally switch directions each cycle

If I was going to make this motor driven I would use a small winch motor, I believe most power tool motors would stall. I would make it belt driven, but modifying the bucket to keep the belt from slipping up or down would be a little time consuming.

So although I would have no problem making this a cool solar project, I don't think the return would be worth the investment- except for nothing other than the "Hey! I made this!" factor.

ushuaia (author)2014-12-09

Did the clothes come out clean?

andy.knote (author)ushuaia2014-12-09

As clean as if I washed them by hand any other way!

GrumpyOldGoat (author)2014-12-09

I can see wives building this for their husbands to take with them on their hunting trips instead of bringing home a bunch of dirty, smelly clothes.

andy.knote (author)GrumpyOldGoat2014-12-09

That Sir, is a great idea!

1hotpilot (author)2014-12-09

The lid description is not a familiar item & I assume the plastic inner tub has no seal to the outer so if it were to tip closer to a horizontal level it would leak. Not a bad idea for tiny-house/cabin living in the boonies (rural areas) or for camping to wash your undies. Since my current electric machine takes 35-55 minutes to wash I have to ask what time & effort is needed for "normal" cycles & how many pounds of clothing = a single load. I think it is fair to compare to hand washing/soaking in a bathroom sink. What would be the time to wash 2 pair of denim jeans? I may have to try this for our annual week long Spring camping trip to see how well it works. Thanks for sharing.

andy.knote (author)1hotpilot2014-12-09

Great comments! If you aren't familiar, here is a link to the Gamma Seal Lid

You are correct, this thing isn't sealed in any way, I wouldn't actually use this in the house, except maybe in an unfinished basement with a floor drain!

You nailed a big reason for the base, and why my foot is on it when I've got it going around. If it tips forward water will come out.

It works great for small load of stuff you don't want to wait around until you have enough of for a full load in the washer. Summer work-out clothes are a good example.

grapenut (author)2014-12-09

I suppose the 'drain hose' could also be a Fill Hose. Maybe with a quick disconnect fitting; or the fill hose could be in the center with a swivel type fitting; so as not to interfere with the rotation. I love this instructable.

andy.knote (author)grapenut2014-12-09

Thank you for the compliment. :)

With a Y-valve a water supply line could be connected. Or an inlet could be mounted anywhere near the bottome of the outer bucket, Honestly my favorite way to fill the the bucket is with a garden hose sprayer- use the "spray action" to kind of blast the clothes, help wet them through a bit, rinse out a little soap, etc.

This design is really meant for an outdoor kind of location, I didn't design it to be an indoor permanantly fixed replacement for a real clothes washer!

1hotpilot (author)grapenut2014-12-09

If a drain line 'T' were placed ahead of the valve with a taller extension + funnel in place it should speed draining & filling but would use slightly more water for each cycle.

steveofthenw (author)2014-12-09

So, what sized bucket is your inner bucket? Can't also be a 5-gal bucket 'cause it wouldn't fit.

andy.knote (author)steveofthenw2014-12-09

The buckets are both 5 gallon buckets. One fits in the other, just like how they are stacked up at the store. The "lid" is attached to the top bucket.

Mamohau (author)2014-12-09

Next step, fit it up to a bike.

andy.knote (author)Mamohau2014-12-09

I considered driving this with a bicycle, in several different ways, but here's why I didn't:

1, I wouldn't want to take something as potentially valuable as a bicycle and permanently modify it just to drive the bucket washer

2, I didnt have the materials on hand to make a "front end stand" and a "rear wheel roller" to make it a temporary use of the bicycle

3, During the "wash" and "soak" cycles you actually want to avoid going fast, you want the clothes to tumble around in there, not stick to the walls by centrifugal force. Only during the spin cycle would the ability to maintain a higher RPM for a longer time be useful.

PaulL9 (author)2014-12-09

looks fine in theory but with a bunch of clothes and water in it, it would be a bitch to crank... the weight would be a lot...

andy.knote (author)PaulL92014-12-09

Surprisingly, it is not hard to turn, in fact the water acts as a lubricant, and in "spin cycle" (when you want to spin it fast) the wet mass acts as a flywheel to make it easier to rotate. I will try and post another video to show it.

foobear (author)2014-12-09

I saw another variation on this idea where you just put your clothes in a ball and let the kids kick it around for a while.

keenan51 (author)foobear2014-12-09

This is the funniest remark I've heard in a long time. Because of circumstance, I've had to hand wash too and I tried a lot of ways but...shoot, the neighborhood kids coulda had a tournament , Who woulda thought?? All that wasted water !! Ha!!

rayleb (author)2014-12-09

well, how well did it do?

gcanders (author)2014-12-06

Wow, very cool. Like this a lot!

Ninjarooster (author)2014-12-05

Ooh that's nifty!

DukeDarby (author)2014-12-05

Cool project!

mikeandre (author)2014-12-05

Nice job. Just in time for Christmas too! I bet my wife would love one.

peppypickle (author)2014-12-05

really neat! I've actually purchased one of these before, so making my own would be way better! thanks!

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