How to Wash Clothes Without Electricity

One of the most convenient appliances ever invented is the modern washing machine. If you don’t agree, you’ve probably never tried to wash your clothes by hand. I promise, it’s a lot tougher than you think. 

We’re definitely spoiled in this day and age. Although just a few generations ago, our grandmothers were using washboards and wringer machines, many of us have no idea how to get our clothes clean without an electric washer and dryer. 

Honestly, knowing how to do the laundry without a washer is a handy skill to have. 

Whether you’re planning to live off-grid or you just want to be prepared for a lengthy grid-down situation, there are plenty of ways to do the laundry without the help of electricity.

Washing Clothes By Hand

To wash your clothes by hand, simply fill a container with water (you can use cold water or water you’ve heated by the fire or on your camp stove). Add some soap and your dirty laundry. Agitate the water with your hands and rub the clothing together under the water. 

If you aren’t using standard laundry detergent, don’t be surprised if your laundry water doesn’t create a bunch of bubbles. Unlike standard laundry detergent, most soap (including the biodegradable variety) doesn’t contain phosphates. Even though you won’t see loads of suds, it doesn’t mean the soap isn’t cleaning your clothes.

You can also use a washboard to help scrub your clothing clean. Washboards were pretty common in Grandma’s day. Today, they are mostly used as decorative pieces. Thankfully, they are pretty easy to use, but be prepared for a good upper body workout. 

Galvanized Washboard

After you’ve scrubbed your clothing, rinse with clean water. You’ll probably want to use a separate basin for your rinse water. Then, wring as much excess water from the fabric as possible, and hang to dry.

The Trash Bag Method

If you don’t want to scrub your clothes by hand, you can try this handy camper’s trick.

Put your clothes, some water, and your laundry soap in a clean, heavy-duty trash bag. Tie off the trash bag, and jostle the bag around to simulate the wash cycle of a modern washing machine. 

After you drain your washing water, rinse your clean clothes with fresh water, and hang to dry.

Portable Camping Washing Machines

If hard labor isn’t really your thing, there are several portable laundry systems perfect for campers. 

You won’t be lugging one of these machines across mountain trails. They are definitely too big and bulky to be bug-out friendly. However, they are convenient if you are car camping or stuck at home without electricity. Most camping washing machines run on batteries or with a power socket adapter for your car’s cigarette lighter, so technically they do run on electricity.  

The Wonder Wash

Another option designed for campers is the “Wonder Wash.” The Wonder Wash is basically a washing machine that runs on human power. It doesn’t need batteries or a power socket adapter. Instead, it uses a good old-fashioned hand crank. However, it takes a lot less effort than hand washing your laundry. 

The Wonder Washer looks like a big plastic jar. You just toss in your dirty clothes, add some soap and water, and crank it up. After you’re done cranking, you just drain the water and add fresh water for the “rinse cycle.” 

It only takes a few minutes to thoroughly wash a small load of laundry. 

Wonder Wash

Drying Your Clothes Without A Dryer

After you’re done washing, you’ll be left with a sopping wet pile of clean clothes. The easiest way to dry your clothes is to hang or lay them out to dry in the sun. However, there are a few things you can do to speed up the drying process. 

Hand Wringing Your Clothes

Before you hang your clothes out to dry, you want to squeeze out as much water as possible. Hand wringing your clothes is the easiest way to do this, but like hand washing, it can be a serious workout. 

The easiest way to hand wring your laundry is to twist each piece individually, letting the force of the material squeeze itself. This will get the most water out with the least amount of physical effort. 

It’s not as easy as it looks.

Use a Mop Bucket

If you have a mop bucket, it has everything you need to wring out your clothes with a lot less effort than using your bare hands. You can just place your wet clothing in the top basket of the bucket and push the lever. It works on wet clothes the same way it works on a wet mop. 

Although this method works well, you definitely don’t want to use the same mop bucket for your laundry that you use on the kitchen floor. It just isn’t sanitary and kind of defeats the whole purpose of doing laundry in the first place.

Put It Through The Wringer

My grandma told me stories about her laundry wringer. The contraption (which is also sometimes called a mangle) is made of two cylindrical rollers attached to a sturdy frame. When you turn a crank, the cylinders roll, feeding the wet laundry between them and squeezing out the excess water.  

A hand-cranked wringer will wring out your clothes much more efficiently than you could do it with your hands alone. All you have to do is turn the wheels, and the rollers do all the hard work for you!

Although wringers were common in Grandma’s day, the electric washing machine’s spin cycle eventually rendered them obsolete. Fortunately, you don’t have to hunt through antiques stores to find one. You can find a brand spanking new one right on the internet.

The Great American Wringer Co – Just like Grandma used.

What About Laundry Detergent?

How do you do the laundry when you can’t run down to the grocery store and pick up some Tide Pods? You make your own, of course.

When you have to do your laundry, and there’s no electricity to run your washing machine, you’ll actually be thankful you aren’t using that grocery store laundry detergent. The detergent that you find in stores makes tons of suds. This is thanks to sulfates. The suds aren’t essential to cleaning the clothes but does make the standard consumer feel like they are getting their money’s worth. Without a standard washer, however, you’ll have some major problems rinsing all those suds out of your laundry. 

A quick Google search will turn up tons of laundry soap recipes. Any of them will work, but the basics include the following ingredients:

That’s it. Mix them together, store in an airtight container, and add a teaspoon or so per load. 

Fels Naptha Laundry Bar

Don’t expect that “clean laundry” scent. This recipe one doesn’t have any of the chemical fragrances we’ve come to associate with clean laundry. Clean doesn’t actually have a scent, but if you want something that smells “good,” add a few drops of your favorite essential oils. 

Final Thoughts

Washing your clothes, even if it is without electricity, seems like it would be an easy concept. However, many of us have been so spoiled by modern conveniences that it can be hard to know where to start when we suddenly find ourselves without them. Hopefully, the info here will be helpful if you ever find yourself without electricity and in need of clean clothes. 

Have any of your own laundry tips? Hit us up in the comments. 

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