Off Grid, Non-Electric Laundry Alternatives

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by Rachel Craig,

Taking Your Laundry Off Grid

Taking Your Laundry Off Grid I once had to hand wash and hand wring our laundry during a blackout, at least a few loads. It took a lot of time and effort to wash each piece. The wringing was especially hard on my hands. And the water! I’ve seen tutorials online that are exactly this basic, and exhausting. I’d rather not have to do it that way again. With laundry, a little simple technology goes a long way!

There are low voltage washers and dryers, a few designed for solar, and for the energy imbiber of the two (the dryer!) there are low watt alternatives such as BreezeDry (BreezeDry uses >=90 percent less energy than a traditional dryer!) You may decide to get an energy efficient washer, but air dry your laundry outside on a clothes line in the warmer months and over the wood stove on a drying rack in the colder months. I don’t blame people for at least wanting a modern washing machine. Personally, I want to go more “primitive” than this.

The following off grid, non-electric laundry ideas include: simplistic hand washing buckets, old fashioned washboards and wringers, and modern laundry pods. Wash time, as in the time you’re plunging or spinning, is several minutes per load for all the below options. That doesn’t count any items that might need extra attention due to stains or heavy soiling. The general recommendation is to give your laundry a soapy soak (overnight is fine), and also to soak it a bit during your “rinse” cycle. Between soaking and drying, it seems laundry is always in progress with an off grid/non-electric system. However the actual hands on work doesn’t have to take hours, anymore.

Non-Electric Laundry Bucket Washer and “Dryer” Set Up

I found a bucket washing machine tutorial on Pinterest, using a DIY plunger with holes. There are similar tutorials on YouTube. The key to this is the plunger. It agitates the laundry back and forth like a modern washing machine. You can buy this sort of plastic agitator manufactured:

To the least, someone with a <$20 bare bones laundry system may want something like a loofah scrubber sponge to help with tough stains and heavily soiled clothes. Here's a YouTube video of a bucket clothes press to speed up the drying process:

Back at summer camp my friends and I were called the “bucket brigade” because we had so much girly product we each needed a huge bucket to carry all that product to the river for our daily waterfall shower/icing, but I digress…

Old Fashioned Washboard and Wringer Set Up

Products with a sink or sinks, or barrel, and a drying wringer – the racks that resemble a pasta roller – are shockingly still made today, like this one for $949. These also use an agitator to get items thoroughly clean. If they are going really old school, they’ll include a washboard for stains and grimier items. You’re looking at spending hundreds, even upwards of a thousand for a new “complete” system. With the not so great reviews I’ve seen on some of them, it might be just as well to save hundreds and use a freestanding utility sink (if a bucket — or your tub — are really that “hillbilly” to you!) with an agitator as pictured above and these “attachments”:

You can get that “rustic laundry center” without spending a thousand dollars!

Modern Laundry Pods, The Salad Spinners of Laundering

Perhaps a step above are the non-electric, hand-cranked or pedal-powered pods/barrels. They are low tech spinning or tumbling washing machines, like the $40 pedal-powered GiraDora washer (video below). There are also some low wattage electric versions of laundry pods (washers, dryers and combos).

The $40 GiraDora’s Information Video (via YouTube):

The $99 Laundry POD Non-Electric Washing Device as featured on HSN (via YouTube):

I may be wrong, but it seems like most of the cleaning comes from what is soaked out, verses the spinning effect. Perhaps if they were made to gyrate back and forth rapidly instead of spinning like a delicate ballerina…? Until then, I think I’m going to Mario and Luigi it.

The Close Line

When you can’t just shove your laundry in a machine, toggle some buttons and pretty much forget it, there are a few tricks to keep it from getting overwhelming:

1) Wear your clothes more than once, just short of or until they are getting ripe. If you’re willing to push it, air fresheners (like baking soda with essential oils, hanging herbs, or natural perfumes) may help, as well as airing them out.

2) Beyond making sure you and your underwear are both fresh, there are “clothing shields” for armpits. Similarly, you can wear lighter cotton layers, such as undershirts.

3) Do laundry every day, or whenever you have a full load to go.

4) Don’t forget you can take large items (like your duvet, blanks, pillows) to the laundry mat instead. Or treat yourself to a trip to the laundry mat for a whole week’s worth of laundry, occasionally.

5) Cotton is easy to clean!

6) Try wardrobe minimalism; for us this means having both a reasonably small wardrobe of mostly basics, and owning very few colors (nothing that can’t be washed together!)

Based on what I presently know, and to have a totally non-electric laundry system… I am leaning toward buying a huge portable bucket (equivalent size to a modern washing machine’s barrel, and able to fit in a tub for mess control when I can’t do laundry outside). If possible, we’ll stick a drain or tap at the bottom. For the wash cycle I favor that blue plunger/agitator, and a washboard (if for nothing else, just to hang it on the wall!)

For drying I’m leaning toward a hand-cranked or pedal-powered spinner dryer, possibly using an actual salad spinner if I can find one large and sturdy enough. Perhaps I can bring out my “inner Tesla” to make a DIY spinner-dryer. I hope to use this along with a retractable laundry line above the wood stove and a clothes line in the back yard.

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8 comments on “Off Grid, Non-Electric Laundry Alternatives
  1. Peter Shepherd says:

    Does anyone know how to get cotton towels to feel less rough if not using a conventional dryer? May-be by brushing them with a moderately stiff bristle brush after drying? I’m fine with using a harder towel but can’t convince my partner to do so.

  2. Rachel Craig says:

    I just bought our laundry supplies at Lehman’s online store!

  3. Deb says:

    We used the Lehmans Mobile Breathing hand washer that you have a photo up above on. Works real well, especially if you have a spinner.

  4. Jody Graham says:

    Great laundry tips for those of us who don’t have electricity to spare. I have been to Haiti several times and they have some of the cleanest clothes (and brightest whites) I have ever seen. None of them have electric clothes washers. I have lived off the grid in New Brunswick for over 12 years now and don’t have any extra electricity to waste. Keep up the good work!!!

  5. Renee says:

    I have this: I bought it to do clothe diaper laundry when Emme was little. I didn’t use it at all. . .wish I lived closer, I’d give it to you to add to your collection 😉

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