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.

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    52 Discussions


    3 years ago

    This is a project to do list, wonder if we could engineer a stationary bike to do the cycle, a cycle washer for health, lol, have to give this some thought. But great project as is.


    3 years ago

    You should find a way to attach it to a bike, then you could just pedal power it.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Do you think you could modify that system to when you stepped down on the bottom board (pushed back up by a spring) it rotates just like an old sewing machine? That way you could just step down instead of getting your upper body involved?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I experimented with a treadle design, but I couldn't get a long enough throw of the op-rod to make the bucket rotate, it could be done but it would need gearing and probably a fly-wheel. Rotating a bucket is a different math than making a little sewing needle move up and down and inch. That, and the mass of the bucket with a wet load is a different physics- so although it could be done it fell out of my design parameters of something more or less easy to build with readily available materials.

    Thanks for the input though- I love the feedback!

    I've seen a design for this. The laundry barrel gets tire material around it, and sits on top of the back wheel, which is raised. I'm interested in a station that you can bike up to, perform a function, and bike away.

    I think the best solution would be some kind of front end support- like a bicycle rack, and a set of rollers to park the rear bicycle tire on. Use a belt from one of the rollers and around the bucket. The ratio from wheel to roller to bucket might have a high energy cost though... maybe someone can work out the math on that and let me know before I start building...


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Actually that would be kind of awesome. You'd have to change the mount design a little bit - but many stationary trainers for bikes are actually fluid filled. Only slight issue with hooking it up to a bike is you would have to figure out a way to mount it. If you have some metal working skills you could create something that mounts through the back axle (as most stationary trainers do). Alternatively I suppose you could create something that mounts to the front of the bike somehow.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    A drive belt maybe?, remove the outer tire and place the belt where the tire would go, then let the belt go around the bucket, you would need to add a way for the bucket's outside to drive the insides though .


    4 years ago on Introduction

    So do the clothes come out clean? I remember seeing one that was a container in a rocker cradle. It was in a caravan, and the action of driving rocked the container. I think speed is not necessary, just action. What do you think. Maybe a pedal instead of a drive shaft.

    4 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    being 15 I still watch the washer, during the wash cycle, it rotates a few times rather slowly, stops, goes the opposites direction, and repeats. for the rinse, it does the same thing. On the rinse, I was thinking of making a second hole right above the drain to avoid the need to open up the washer to pour rinse water in, you would just need a funnel and jugs of water.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    After watching the video, the same realization occurred to me! I have already began the modification and will be posting it when I can complete it.

    Great recommendation, and thank you for the feedback!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I tend to use this for lighter clothes, like workout clothes that I don't want to leave in a smelly pile, but I don't want to run in the washer all by themselves. It does get clothes clean. I haven't tried to wash a load of muddy jeans or wool blankets yet, and I don't suspect it would do a great job either.

    This was NOT the first edition! I tried several versions and this ended up being my final because it was so elegant and so easy to operate. A tried a different type of drive shaft, I tried a "treadle" design, but it was complicated, reduced the lightweight portable nature of this design, and was more tiring because it was a shorter stroke.

    You are correct, speed has nothing to do with cleaning. During the "wash cycle" I tend to go slow, and reverse directions every so often.

    "Spin cycle" needs speed. And obviously this will not spin the clothes dry, but it does spin out enough water out to make it worth doing.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Andy - Yes, I can see that, thanks. Lighter clothes tend to multiply by magic too. Great 'able.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    So clever. I'd like to try using one. Yes, please add a video showing the whole operation and with clothes in it. :-)

    1 reply

    4 years ago

    Excellent design and cheap too!