Introduction: How to Build a Portable Hand Washing Station

About: Niels J. Nielsen is a recovering ex-engineer who has maintained a homestead in Corvallis, Oregon for the last 36 years. He started playing electric bass in 1970 and since becoming a high-tech fugitive in 2007,…

This is a step-by-step tutorial on how to construct a portable handwashing station using recycled materials and commonly-available hardware. Cost of materials is less than $10 (US); time to construct is approximately four hours, using ordinary hand and power tools. These plans may be shared freely, with attribution. Contact me at my website if you have questions. - Niels

Step 1: 1. Major Raw Materials

A) 5 gallon bucket with handle

B) 5 gallon bucket with upper portion of rim cut off and handle removed

C) Snap-on lid for drum with hole cut in the center for snug fit with bucket

D) 55-gallon food-grade poly drum

E) Drum with lid installed (ignore hole at bottom of drum)

F) Drum with installed lid and bucket pressed into hole

G) Packaged fluid transfer pumps from Harbor Freight

Step 2: 2. Drip Irrigation Riser Pipe, 12” (at Hardware or Home Stores)

This will serve as the “sink drain”, which will be screwed into a hole cut into the side of the bucket, and will extend out of the drum through a second hole.

Step 3: 3. Drip Riser Cut to Length

Cut off the last 4 threaded segments of the Riser Pipe, and discard

Step 4: 4. Drill the Drain Hole in the Bucket

Drill a 3/4” diameter hole through the side of the bucket, as close as possible to its bottom, using a spade bit.

Step 5: 5. Apply Silicone Caulk to Riser Threads

The silicone caulk will serve as a lubricant for threading the riser pipe into the hole in the bucket, and then will serve to leak-proof the resulting joint.

Step 6: 6. Forcefully Screw in the Riser

While pressing the riser threads with force into the hole, firmly twist the riser so you can feel its threads dig into the bucket wall; then screw the riser in until it is firmly attached to the bucket.

Step 7: 7. Smooth Out the Caulk, Same on Inside of Bucket

To ensure a leak-proof joint, smooth out the caulk around the riser where it meets the wall of the bucket. Then apply a small amount of caulk to the stub end of the riser which protrudes into the inside of the bucket, and smooth it out.

Step 8: 8. Bucket in Lid With Riser Installed

Here we have pressed the bucket into the snap-on lid for the drum, showing how they are to be assembled.

Step 9: 9. Cut Another Bucket in Half As Shown

Note: This bucket has not had its upper rim removed. Also note that the bottom of the bucket remains attached to one half of it.

Step 10: 10. Half Bucket Fits Around Sink Rim

The Half Bucket fits around the outer rim of the bucket which forms the sink. The half bucket is positioned so its back wall is centered on the position of the drain pipe.

Step 11: 11. Attach Half Bucket With 3 Pop Rivets As Shown

Use 3/16” aluminum pop rivets to attach the half bucket to the outer wall of the sink rim as shown. Use aluminum pop rivet washers on the inside of the pop rivet join.

Step 12: 12. Drill Hole for Riser Exit

Measure 10-3/4” down from the top-most portion of the drum rim. Drill a 1-1/2” diameter hole with a hole saw. This will allow the riser pipe to drain the sink outside the drum.

Step 13: 13. Riser Pipe Emerges From Hole

With the sink rim pressed into the snap-on lid for the drum, and the riser pipe installed close to the sink bottom, the riser pipe position should coincide with the location of the hole as shown, when the lid is attached to the top of the drum.

Step 14: 14. Pump Label

This is the package label for the transfer pump from stores such as Harbor Freight.

Step 15: 15. Pump With Clip

Attach a plastic bike pedal toe clip with zip-ties to the handle on the end of the pump.

Step 16: 15.2 Pump Clip Closeup

Four holes are drilled through the pump handle to allow the zip ties to be threaded through it and capture the toe clip.

Step 17: 16. Pump Fully Extended Layout

Position the pump on the side of the drum, opposite the location of the riser pipe hole. Fully extend the pump handle so the bottom of the toe clip is even with the flange on the bottom of the drum.

Step 18: 17. Cut Hole to Clear Full Travel of Clip

Cut a hole in the drum wall to accommodate the full stroke of the pump handle (with the clip attached). Make the hole 1 to 2” wider than the clip.

Step 19: 18. Drill Holes for Pump Fittings As Shown

Remove hoses from the pump. Using a 7/8” spade bit, drill 2 holes in the locations of the pump outlet ports as shown.

Step 20: 19. Attach With Pipe Hangers & 1/4-20 Hardware

Insert the pump fittings through the holes and position pipe hangers as shown. Drill 1/4” holes and attach with 1/4-20 hardware. Be sure to use flat washers and lock washers on the inside of the drum, and fully tighten them. (Pipe hangers and 1/4-20 hardware are available at most hardware stores.)

Step 21: 20. Finished Pump Installation

When properly installed, the toe clip can be moved up and down through the full stroke of the pump, and the clip will not interfere with the sidewalls of the hole cut in the drum wall.

Step 22: 21. Drill Hole in Closure of 5 Gallon Bucket

In the closure of another 5-gallon bucket with lid, drill a 9/16” hole in the center to pass the feed hose leading to the pump.

Step 23: 22. Thread Bottom Hose Into Bucket

Firmly press the red plastic hoses (included with the pump) into the pump fitments protruding inside the drum. Thread the hose from the lower fitment through the hole in the bucket closure, so it reaches the bottom of the bucket. Then, snap the lid on to the bucket. This bucket will serve as a 5-gallon water reservoir for hand-washing.

Step 24: 23. Drill Hole Through Bucket Near Top

Using a 9/16” spade bit, drill a hole through the sink bucket wall, centered above the riser drain. This hole must be just far enough below the sink rim to emerge under the drum lid. (See next photo for reference.)

Step 25: 24. Thread Top Hose Through Hole Into Bucket

Thread the red plastic hose from the upper pump fitment through the hole and into the sink bucket as shown.

Step 26: 25. Assemble Carefully So Drain Pipe Exits Through Hole

Angle the entire lid/ sink/ half bucket assembly (while dropping the assembly into the top of the drum) so the drainpipe will emerge from the drum through the hole previously cut for it.

Step 27: 26. Secure Hose With Zip-tie Inside Bucket

Pull the red hose so approximately 8” of its length protrudes through the hole. Secure it as shown with a zip-tie.

Step 28: 27. Trim Hose to Four Inches

Using diagonal cutters, trim the hose length to about 4 inches.

Step 29: 28. Almost Finished

The handwashing station is now almost finished. Inside the drum is the 5-gallon water reservoir. On the front of the drum is the foot-operated water pump. Behind is an extra 5-gallon bucket positioned under the drain pipe outlet. Above the drum lid is the half-bucket that protects the inside of the sink area (where the soap will be stored) from rain. Fill reservoir inside the drum with water by carefully pulling up the lid assembly, reaching inside, and removing the bucket.

Step 30: 29. Operate Pump With Toe

By inserting the toe of one’s shoe into the toe clip, water can be pumped up into the sink for handwashing by working one’s foot up and down.

Step 31: 30. in Use

Work pump with your foot to wet your hands. Scrub with soap for 20 seconds. Then work the pump again to rinse the soap from your hands. (Don’t waste water!)

Step 32: 31. Another Toe Clip Serves As Soap Holder

Another toe clip can be pop-riveted above the hose outlet to serve as a soap bar holder if desired.

Step 33: 32. Water Draining Into Extra Bucket

The sink drains through the riser pipe, out the barrel, and into another 5-gallon bucket for disposal.