Introduction: Off-Grid Washing Machine

Picture of Off-Grid Washing Machine

In just a few short minutes, you can make your very own clothes-washing system that doesn't require electricity or running water. This system will go great in your emergency preparedness supplies!

*PLEASE NOTE: This is not a new idea... it has been around for many years. I'm not sure where I first heard of it, but thought I'd try to make something worth your time with clear pictures and instructions. We all enjoy the shade of trees planted by others we have never met. Whoever came up with this idea originally, we salute you!

Step 1: What You Are Going to Need:

Picture of What You Are Going to Need:

(1) 5 Gallon Bucket with Plastic Lid

(1) Rubber Plunger

(1) Drill

(1) 3/8’’ Drill Bit

(1) 1 1/8’’ Hole Saw Bit OR

(1) 1 1/8’’ Spade Bit OR

(1) Razor knife

(1) Hammer (for getting the lid on tight)

(1) Bucket Opener (for easier opening)

This is not an exhaustive list of tools for this particular project.

You can get creative with what tools you use to get it done.

Step 2: Drill/Cut a Hole in the Bucket Lid

Picture of Drill/Cut a Hole in the Bucket Lid

There are a variety of ways to get a hole cut out of the middle of the bucket lid.

The hole just needs to be big enough for the plunger to fit through, with a little wiggle room.

I used a 1 1/8’’ hole saw bit, but you can use a spade bit, or even just a sharp knife.

It is pretty easy to center the hole right in the middle of the lid

Step 3: Drill Holes in the Plunger

Picture of Drill Holes in the Plunger

Drilling holes will prevent the plunger from sticking to the bottom of the bucket and allows water to flow more freely.

This makes the agitating process more efficient.

Step 4: Get Washing

Picture of Get Washing

Very little laundry detergent is needed in such a small load. We prefer using TOUGH-GRID Laundry Liberator to get the job done. ¼ Tablespoon of this stuff will be plenty. If you use other detergents, be sure to follow proper measurements. Please note that anything you put in your clothes will need to be rinsed out.

Step 5: Agitate Well for Several Minutes (wash Cycle)

Picture of Agitate Well for Several Minutes (wash Cycle)

Sasquatch Arm Not Required ; - )

Step 6: Empty the Grey Water Out of the Bucket, Wring Out Clothes

Picture of Empty the Grey Water Out of the Bucket, Wring Out Clothes

Since you will probably be dumping this water outside, it is a good Idea to use a detergent that won’t harm the environment. Be sure to use a soap that is biodegradable AND good at cleaning your clothes

Step 7: Rinse Cycle

Picture of Rinse Cycle

Place the clothes back in the bucket with fresh, clean water

Agitate well for several minutes to rinse out the suds

Wring out your clothes (if permitted by your clothing care instructions)

Hang clothes out to dry, or put them in a dryer

Voila! Clean Clothes Off-The-Grid!

Visit us at for friendly Prepper tips and advice

There are all kinds of great ideas floating around out there that can make this off-grid washing machine even better! Thanks, EricB10 for sharing this great video: (copy and paste this URL) with a few tricks on how to better rinse your clothes with an improvised spin cycle! This simple trick can save you from wringing out your clothes by hand.


bd5 (author)2015-04-28

All and any laundry detergent is biodegradable. If the label says "green" and "environmentally friendly" that is just a ploy to get people to pay more.

terrefirma (author)bd52015-04-28

Yes but you don't want to add more phosphate do you?

bd5 (author)terrefirma2015-04-28

This is just a bucket of soapy water. The phosphates are a fertilizer when poured onto the ground. Phosphates are good for plant growth. They also help clean more effectively. There is no downside to pouring out soapy water onto land.

EcoExpatMike (author)bd52015-09-19

Phosphates that run into waterways or lakes are a MAJOR problem.

So, YES, if you live in the middle of a field, and you dump a teeny bit of phosphate into a hole in the ground it's not a problem.

hbear89 (author)bd52015-05-12

Phosphates are a major source of eutrophican - the process that destroys lake and stream communities. The excess phosphate (and other nutrients) from pollution runoff causes an algal bloom which depletes the water of oxygen, killing most other aquatic life.

Skwurlito (author)2015-07-01

Ok made mine. Its not as nice as yours. I repurposed a bucket that once housed hydraulic oil. They wont let me recycle.

Skwurlito (author)2015-05-20

that's a good idea for people in trailers or apartments as well.

rich420 (author)2015-05-02

no way i was at the 2007 scout Jamboree small world was great fun

jbillh (author)rich4202015-05-02

Hi rich420,

Two of my sons were at the 2005 Jamboree in VA, Right near where the group got electrocuted. It was quite an event!

It was also their first time experiencing real humidity. The porta-potties were almost unbearable between the heat, humidity and stench from what everyone said.

They washed their clothes in sinks but saw people using a similar bucket washer to this.

All-in-all, we raised over $30K for our whole group to go. It was a great experience for all.

Thanks for Commenting & Take Good Care,


imark77 (author)jbillh2015-05-05

I wonder if that was my troop, but then again I'm sure that there were a few others as the idea was probably copied around.

imark77 (author)2015-05-05

so I guess it's time to add my name to this great invention.

2005, USA, Fort AP Hill VA, National jamboree, Troop 307.

although are plungers had 1, 1 1/2 or 2 inch holes, I believe the larger holes aid in the agitation process.

vjdoro (author)2015-04-29

Great idea. Live in Hurricane territory. Could use it to do laundry before the electricity is back on, or else to use up the milk before it goes bad. ;)

omikeo (author)2015-04-28

ohhh and hook it up to a bicycle for the agitation somehow(or pogo stick ?)

omikeo (author)2015-04-28

yeah what he said but they have black buckets, nice job thanks

barnabas09 (author)2015-04-28

Another enhancement for a really cool ible...paint the bucket black, let the water sit out in the sun for a while, then add a very small amount of detergent. Warm water is thinner and penetrates the clothing better to wash out the dirt and you save detergent in the process as warm water enhances the chemical reaction when you add water to detergents. Warm water also is more effective to remove body oils. Detergents have a bubbling action and enzymes that help release dirt. Also bio-friendly detergents use vegetable oils vs petroleum based detergents.

nikki.hozack (author)2015-04-28

By the way, for those of us who use this to wash our dedicates every week, that Sasquatch arm would be AWESOME! ;)

lifeinbeats (author)2015-04-28

And I'll go ahead and remove this (even thought it was "resolved").

jbillh (author)2015-04-28

Hi Lifeinbeats,
Yeah, I never saw that one but really don't know where I first heard of this some years ago. No disrespect intended. As for improvements, everything I think of just complicates a simple thing. I'll keep working on that and appreciate your feedback. BTW, I have added a note to the first part of the Instructable with a bit of a disclaimer that I'm not the originator of this idea. Not sure where you saw any advertising although I do mention the soap we use... which is our brand. Is that not cool? Should I mention Tide instead? I prefer ours. We do offer to help people with this or other Prepper type things but have nothing for sale on our site. Two of my sons and I help people with all kinds of Prepper stuff every day without any compensation. We just like doing it, and I suppose that is why so many folks like Instructables so much. All the Best to You and Yours, Bill

lifeinbeats (author)jbillh2015-04-28

I appreciate your reply, Bill. I apologize if my comment was unwarranted. It's becoming more and more common for companies to sneakily advertise under the guise of posting an instructable, and I rashly mistook this post for one of those. I apologize. I should have looked at your website prior to commenting.

nikki.hozack (author)2015-04-28

I made the Jessieratfink's machine with the modifications - a much better version than this, as it allows you to press the water out of your clothes, making the wringing out process much less cumbersome. I have to agree, it would of been in the spirit of the Instructable community to give credit where credit is due.

jbillh (author)nikki.hozack2015-04-28

I'll have to check that out. It's sounding like I should have searched Instructables before making mine. I'm quite new at this. The old saying "there is nothing new under the sun" seems alive and well. No disrespect to anyone intended. Thanks for your comments. Bill

nikki.hozack (author)jbillh2015-04-28

Elegantly addressed jbillh - and it's still a great idea!

onemoroni1 (author)2015-04-28

I must say this is an elegant instructable. Uncomplicated and efficient. I am going to make this for emergency use and practice. I want to put up a clothesline and try out the pioneer way. My only advice would be to use a good quality plunger and not a cheap one

biolaburman (author)2015-04-28

This is an Boy Scout long term camp solution. I used these at the 2007 World Jamboree (the centenary) in England. I've seen pics of something similar at the 1953 National Jamboree at Irving Ranch, Ca (not in a plastic bucket). My understanding is, that while washing clothes in a bucket is old, it was american ingenuity that drilled the hole in a pickle bucket lid and added a plunger. I'll post a pic if I can find it. Great build. Holes in the plunger make it work so much better. You also need to use this sitting down to save your back if you use a plunger handle (if you are 14, no worries). Great to keep a good idea going!

EricB10 (author)2015-04-28

This off-grid device has been around for a while {at least five (5) years}. It has even sprouted enhancements such as switching the handle for a longer broom handle to save the user some back muscle stress. Another enhancement being adding a 2nd bucket to the device to facilitate the rinsing and wring out of the loads of clothes. The link to the video that is attached shows the 2nd enhancement in action. All forms of this device are cleaver and unique!

Bujholm (author)2015-04-28

that recommendation sounds like a contradiction in terns to me. All stuff I have ever seen is either good at washing OR biodegradable :)

Dan__Crocker (author)2015-04-28

A great idea - which got me to thinking that for larger loads, compost turners like the ones shown here would work for larger loads.

jbillh (author)Dan__Crocker2015-04-28

You bet... great idea! It really steps-up the commitment but wold be ideal for a large family over an extended period of time.

kelms1 (author)2015-04-27

Looks like a butter churn! Lol

jbillh (author)kelms12015-04-28

Yep, I was thinking the same thing. ;-) Thanks!

mattcintosh (author)kelms12015-04-28

that was my first thought

mfayyaz (author)2015-04-28

It's a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

lalunette (author)2015-04-28

Oh, I like this !!!

Beats wearing the clothes, taking a dip in a lake or creek and washing the clothes while still on your back... 'cause I've done this !!! LOL

danarnoldlaw (author)2015-04-28

Plus, it's a great way to clean the bucket you use as a toilet. ;)

terrefirma (author)2015-04-28

I wonder why clothes line don't spin- wouldn't it help?

relbatto (author)2015-04-28

in the second world war,troops rigged the fans from wrecked jeeps to turn a crank on a fifty five gallon drum.wind turned the fan and a plunger rode up and down on the shaft.. love to see you add wind power to your great invention,great instructable...

mrsbump (author)2015-04-28

Wondering if anyone has come up with an easy wringer system? This would be great for my son He lives in a nice trailer but no washer. He has a small one but the breakers won't support it.

Dan__Crocker (author)mrsbump2015-04-28

A manual hand wringer like this one shown on Amazon would work.

spark master (author)2015-04-28

A friend of the family started doing this in the Merchant Marine , then
he still did it, in the kitchen sink when he could not get to the
laundromat, just prior to WWII. In his apartment he just used kitchen sink.

this is way way nicer

neopolitan (author)2015-04-25

really good idea. i tried one of those tumble ones on board a yacht for a while but am sure this would clean better. maybe i would add a crosswise handle at the end?

Ric Malandrino (author)2015-04-25

It's awesome I use one camping. but I saw it on hack my life weeks ago

PaleHorseRider (author)2015-04-25

Seriously, this is amazing. How wasn't this featured.

jpayne21 (author)2015-04-13

Probably the best instructable I've read lately. Good job!

amberrayh (author)2015-04-13

Very simple build. Thanks for sharing!

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