Introduction: Easy-Build Handwashing Station, With Videos

About: I'm a family physician with interests in patient empowerment and infectious disease. I'm also a Team Leader in Portland's Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET, like CERT), so Disaster Sanitation combines my inte…

Without running water, how can you wash your hands? Without running water, how will your neighbors, your whole community, wash their hands? If they can't wash their hands — they're bound to get sick, and spread disease.

We all need a way to wash our hands when a major (or even minor) disaster takes out safe running water. Same when we're away from plumbing, like at a farmer's market or a camping trip.

Here's the answer: A PORTABLE HANDWASHING STATION that's easy, cheap, and quick to build, made from a plastic bucket. You can make one, and take it on a camping trip. Or you can call a work party and make a bunch. If your community has 4 or 5 of these stacked in garages every few blocks (along with stored water), they'll be ready to set up immediately when needed.

How many do you need? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 1 sanitation station for every 20 people. If you have fewer than that, people start getting sick. So, a stack of 5 Handwashing Stations can help protect 100 people.

Let's get to work!



  • 5-gallon bucket, with lid.
    • Tip: Buckets are FREE. Ask businesses that receive food in buckets (groceries, delis, bakeries, restaurants) to set them aside for you. Otherwise, they go in the landfill.
    • Try to get the lid with the bucket. Separate lids cost about $2. The lid does not have to seal perfectly. It's there to keep leaves and such out of the water.
      • Tip: If you want to use the Handwashing Station indoors, or don't want to create a mud puddle, use a 2nd bucket to catch the water.
    • Spigot. CoolerSpigot, NOT a Carboy Spigot.
      • Cost: About $3, down to $1.30 in bulk.
    • Scrap of wood, about 12 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide, to be the foot pedal
    • 2 Offset Drapery Hooks. Cost: About 15 cents. Less in bulk.
    • Sturdy string or cord, about 3 yards.
    • Bar of soap, on a string or in a nylon stocking.


    • Electric drill
    • 3/4 inch Hole Saw (explained in video)
    • Hammer
    • Nail

    Step 1: Overview

    Step 2: The Spigot: Drill the Spigot Handle

    Step 3: The Bucket: Drill a Hole for the Spigot With a Hole Saw

    Step 4: Attach the Spigot to the Bucket

    The Handwashing Stations stack compactly for storage:

    Unscrew the spigot, slide the washers onto the spigot stem, and screw the hex nut onto the spigot stem. Leave the string on the spigot, but untie the knot to the foot pedal string.

    Stow the spigot inside the bucket. The bucket lids & foot pedals can sit on top of the stack.

    Step 5: Drive in the Hooks to Carry the Cord That Operates the Spigot

    Step 6: Run the String From the Spigot Through the Hooks

    Step 7: Last Step: Drill & String the Foot Pedal, Tie It in to the Spigot String

    Step 8: Acknowledgements

    Thanks to

    Patrick Pangburn, videographer and director

    Trampoline Town, for a quiet space to film

    EVCNB, Emergency Volunteer Corps of Nehalem Bay, for the cooler-spigot-pulled-upward design paradigm, and for leading the way on widely distributed DIY handwashing stations