Introduction: 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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Step 11: 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.

MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge

Fourth Prize in the
MAKE ENERGY: A US-Mexico Innovation Challenge