Introduction: Redneck Washing Machine

Picture of Redneck Washing Machine

I found this washing machine made from a five gallon bucket on Pinterest and knew I needed to try it out! I've seen similar models through the years, but I love that you can set this one up in front of a chair so you don't strain your back bending over or rolling it around.

We don't have a washer in our apartment, so it's lovely to have a portable washer like this around. Right now it's being used mostly for towels and dog bed covers, but I have a feeling we'll be emergency washing clothes too. I'm also excited to have it for extended camping trips.

This redneck washing machine really helps speed up the washing and rinsing process! You can even use the leftover water outside and around the house if you use the right soap. Check out this list of soaps that are safe to use in grey water systems for more information.

I also really love being able to use so much less water when washing this way!

Step 1: What You'll Need:

Picture of What You'll Need:

It's easiest to use a drill with the right paddle bits, but I'm sure you could also get by using a utility knife.

It might also be a good idea to get a bucket opener. These five gallon bucket lids can be hell on your hands!

Step 2: Drill Holes in the Lid and Plunger

Picture of Drill Holes in the Lid and Plunger

Drill an inch wide hole in the very middle of the lid. This will allow the plunger handle to fit through.

You'll also want to make a couple small holes in the plunger base. I used a 1/2 inch paddle bit here and pushed it through to make two holes.

Don't go crazy making holes in the plunger base - you just want a couple so the pressure inside is not so great that the plunger suctions to the bottom of the bucket. Too many and it won't work as well!

If you have a super heavy duty plunger you might want to add more holes. Test it out by plunging on the bottom of the bucket - if it gets stuck, add more holes! I just didn't have to add many since I bought the cheapest plunger available. ;)

Step 3: Wash!

Picture of Wash!

Put in the items to be washed and add water and soap. (I normally just do a couple tablespoons!) Keep adding water just until the items are covered and then put the plunger in the bucket and pop on the lid.

I like to either sit down and wash, or set the bucket up on something. It'll make it easier on your back.

It normally only take a couple minutes to get a good wash - check out the dirty water in photo two! That was Roscoe's dog bed after just a couple minutes.

To rinse, just pour out the dirty/soapy water and wring out the items. Put them back in the bucket and add new and plunge again for a couple minutes. :)

Remember to use the washing/rinsing water after if you can!


jusirela (author)2015-04-30

These are a great idea! Many years sgo my partner obtained a coleslaw bin from the supermarket...slightly taller than the 5 gal one shown here and it came with a good airtight lid. He got a metal chrome coated rod and a large plumbers plunger and used to wash his smalls whilst standing in the shower...all lovely and white! I adopred the idea when I moved into a house with no laundry or washing machine..Smalls in the bin and other clothes in the bath using an even larger plunger glued to the end of a long for wringing it all out...somebody needs to invent an off the grid WRINGER! The old Whirlpool washers had a set up made of rwo rubber rollers that would squeeze the miosture out by pressing the clothes between the rollers whilst "the washer woman" would crank the handle. Find an old mechanism and adapt that might work....or find an old book depicting 19th century hand washing machines.

jessyratfink (author)jusirela2015-05-01

Oh man, I totally agree about the wringer!! That's always the part that gets me. I feel like the fabric always ends up being far too heavy for me to wring it properly. Or I get the best workout of my life and my arms ache for days. :P

Checking out old books is a great idea! Maybe I'll have to poke around in some of the free online book repositories :D

Here's an idea. Take a second clean bucket and drill a half dozen 1" holes in the side right at the bottom. Then take your wet clothes out of the first bucket, plop them into the second bucket, then place the first bucket into the second bucket and use it to smash all the water out. Of course you'll want to do this outside or in the tub, since the water is going to go everywhere. But it's much faster and easier than the old "twist and shout". =)

LethiaC (author)2016-04-28

I am making one this weekend!!

sgt_rock (author)2015-10-15

This is a great idea. As far as the wringer idea goes, I bet we could make something out of a second 5 gallon bucket with holes in the bottom and something levered to press down from the top that would press the water out.....

1wyzwomyn (author)2015-09-20

bucket tip - if you9 check with a pool company, they have the best buckets... up about 7 gal size... they have had chlorine in them, but if you rinse them well and let them sit open shouldn't hurt to wash clothes... and the best part... THE LIDS SCREW ON AND LOCK DOWN...

Jmintuck1912 (author)2015-08-08

One way to avoid the coin op downstairs.

EricB10 (author)2015-04-29

This off-grid device has been around in one form or another for a while {at least sixty plus [60+] years}. It has even sprouted enhancements such as switching the handle on the plunger for a longer broom handle to save the user some back muscle strain & stress. It is also great for camping. If you live in an apartment you can use the bathtub and/or shower as the work space. All forms of this device are cleaver and unique!

The link to the video that is attached shows an enhanced model in action.

PZ456 (author)2015-04-13

I MADE IT! It took me less than 2 minutes to drill the holes and put it together. I used the blue Lowes buckets they sell in the store for under $3.00 and the matching blue lid for under $2.00 and a plunger I bought at the Dollar Tree for $1.00. So, all told I spent less than $7.00 including tax. BTW, the blue Lowes lid is easy to snap on and remove. No tools needed. Thanks for the Instructable. I'll be testing it today on some oily rags I have in the garage. I don't like washing them in the washing machine.

yukonknight (author)2015-04-07

Try a Gamma lid for the bucket
It would make it a lot easier

darklotus (author)2015-04-06

When I was a kid my dad & mum took us all bush for a few years and we had something very similar to wash our clothes. We kids used to love to do the washing with it! We also had a big washtub (that doubled as a bath) that we'd stomp wash in and a washboard for the really grotty or larger things. We had no electricity, running water or most of the mod cons. My mum also had a similar sort of thing she would use to make butter. Nice to see that good ideas keep circulating!

anniebartok (author)2015-04-04

This is awesome!!!! I am on disability and my washer is on it's last legs. It takes me hours to get one load done since it has a malfunction with the computer system that the manufacturer is aware of but won't fix since it seems to only show up after the one year warranty is up. I can't afford a new washer and was worrying about what I will do when it finally dies. I think I now know what I am going to do! THANKS!

Comanchegyrl (author)2015-04-02

They make a plunger designed specifically for this purpose called a "breathing hand washer." They are great when you are cruising on a sailboat. You can find one here:

amnartist (author)2015-03-31

I was so excited when I read this. I didn't know they made an opener for that darn lid. I bought the bucket and lid to gently soak and wash fine sweaters and my scarves. But boy that lid stopped me in my tracks trying to open it. Thanks!

jessyratfink (author)amnartist2015-04-01

Me too! Thankfully my boyfriend has worked in restaurants for most of his life and knew the solution :D

ChristopherD2 (author)2015-04-01

This would be good for my greasy coveralls instead of using the washer. Thanks!

magicone2 (author)2015-03-31

I've been hand washing for a few months now and use a commerical salad spinner as my final spin cycle. I hand wringe the clothes first to remove most of the water, toss into the spinner and then crank it up. It does a great job. I found mine on Ebay.

jumpfroggy (author)magicone22015-03-31

Which one do you have?

run it over with your car it works

taur561 (author)2015-03-31

sounds like a brilliant idea to wash dirty oily workshop rags instead of throwing them away .

billbillt (author)2015-03-31

Redneck may be the wrong word for this... I used one very similar to this on the kibbutz a long time ago... Got my vote!...

acoleman3 (author)billbillt2015-03-31

actually it's quite fitting, considering the definition of redneck is someone or something that is lacking in sophistication. jeff foxworthy puts it as "a blisful lack of sophistication".

acoleman3 (author)2015-03-31

yah know......i think i may build one of these. i hardly have any clothes in the first place and this would be a lot cheaper than running to the coin op.

CurtR (author)2015-03-31

I once heard of a Peace Corps volunteer who used a plastic garbage can with a snap-on lid. She would put the clothes, water and soap in and then throw it in the back of the Jeep® and drive down a dirt road. After 20 minutes the clothes were clean and ready to rinse and dry. I suppose you could put up a mast at each end of said Jeep, string a line and hang the clothes to dry on the way back, so long as it wasn't to dusty.

snoopindaweb (author)2015-03-31

Also known as "a jail house rocker", Yup. ~(:-})={>---- ]

DarnellMoonda (author)2015-03-31

Really nice to have when going camping. Thanks!

aortizc82 (author)2015-03-31

I used to wash my clothes this way :D

Does that make me a red neck?

chabias (author)2015-03-31

This is a great, cheaper alternative to buying the mobile washer. I use a 5 gallon bucket, but have never bothered to use any type of lid.

One the Apocalypse contest over? This would have been perfect for it.

hooliganrelate (author)2015-03-31

can the panels keep up with the sound system? or is it a use and chare while its off kinda deal?

blissful2015 (author)2015-03-30

ooohhh i LOVE this jessy!! i am happy washing dishes everyday, but can't stand doing laundry (hubby does it all) because it's so boring! now i can splash and play with water.... yay laundry!!!

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2015-03-30

Cool idea. The only thing missing is the washboard for scrubbing and the ringer for squeezing the water out, and a line to hang it on for drying. Add those and you'll be washing clothes just like your grandma did (or great grandma, for the younger folks).

Thanks for posting this. I think I might be needing a way to wash my clothes with less water shortly, depending on what the crew that is currently ripping up the road in front my house has planned..... and yup, it looks like they are about to shut the water off. Better go fill some more buckets.

Jeepdog (author)2015-03-28

Great Idea! If you go to your local grocery store bakery and ask, you can get the bucket for free. I get them all the time, and they are always throughly cleaned and food grade.

worldzend (author)2015-03-27

I used to use a plunger like this for washing clothes, but kept having to buy and prepare new ones every few months, since I do almost all my washing this way. So I bought a breathing washing plunger. That aside, the worst part of handwashing is the wringing. You can save a little bit of strain on your hands if you buy a cheap round laundry basket with a base that will fit into the 5-gallon bucket. Drill some holes in the bottom of the basket, and then you can use it to strain out a lot of the water. Put the clothes in the basket, dump the water, then set the basket into the bucket and just let it drain as long as you want. No sense making your hands do what gravity will do for you.

matt392 (author)2015-03-27

Really great Instructable! Brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness. Thank you!

ashleyjlong (author)2015-03-27

This would probably be great for all my sequined clothes that shouldn't go through the washer. I usually do a hand wash in the tub, but this looks like a much more thorough clean!

Badger4700 (author)2015-03-27

Awesome! I am making on of these for the cabin now.

Uncle Kudzu (author)2015-03-26

I bought a washing plunger a while back. It does do a good job, but the holes in your plunger probably operate in the same way. I'll bet yours works just as well. Thanks for sharing!

horribleliver (author)2015-03-26


bvonmarx (author)2015-03-26

i learned how to make this from some friends that are zombie apocalypse preppers. theyre really freakin' resourceful. showed me how to make a 'portable shower' with just a few items.

Ric Malandrino (author)2015-03-26

um did you take that from a show named hack my life cause that's where I saw it and that episode came out not too long ago

Nope! Never heard of the show. Where I found it is linked in the intro.

jmwells (author)2015-03-26

Two things:
First : you should wring out the soapy water from the wash before the rinse water.
Second : if you buy a gamma seal type lid, you'll be able to open it easier and still be able to keep the water in.

jessyratfink (author)jmwells2015-03-26

True - wringing out before is the way to go! I updated the text.

And thanks for the tip about the gamma seal lid! I've never seen those before. Very smart - I definitely need a few. :)

About This Instructable




Bio: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @makingjiggy to see what i'm working ... More »
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