Off-Grid Washing Machine Options for Dependable Cleaning

Living off-grid does not mean living without any modern conveniences. Devices like washing machines are typical in off-grid homes. After all, you’ll still need to do laundry off-grid. As with any appliance purchase, you must determine the features you require. In the case of an off-grid washing machine, water consumption, electrical demands, and reliability are the primary factors to consider. There are several high-efficiency products available. Even DIY washing machines are a viable option.

Setting Your Parameters

Much of living off-grid is dealing with limitations. You must determine what you are willing to forego and what you need. In the case of a washing machine, you must consider your water source and the amount of electrical power available. These two factors will guide you in the selection process.

Water

Water consumption is a significant concern in most off-grid homes. The type of machine and amount of dirty laundry will impact water consumption. Determine how much water you can afford to spend daily or monthly. If you choose a smaller model to conserve water but do more loads, are you really saving? Plus, you don’t want excess water after a rinse cycle, increasing the time and energy needed to dry the freshly laundered clothes.

Wash Load Statistics

  • The average electric wash machine uses 19 gallons per full load to clean clothes.
  • The average home runs 5.5 full loads a week.
  • The Integrated Water Factor (IWF) provides the water efficiency of washers.
  • The EPA Energy Star Program provides a database of certified washers IWF.

It is great if you are lucky enough to have an ample water supply. For many off-grid homes, water conservation is a significant concern. Look for a washer with a LOW IWF rating.

Bonus Tip

You can choose the quick wash program instead of the regular wash program so that it only rinses the clothes once instead of twice to help save water.

Electricity

You need to know the power usage of your washing machine, as most off-grid homes have limited power for appliances. A basic washer requires approximately 500 watts of power. However, machines with special features consume more power. A washer with steam features can use up to 3000 watts. If you choose to go with an electric unit, avoid special heating features. Remember that operating a manufactured electric machine will require solar panels, batteries, and an inverter to provide AC electricity.

Electrical Power Factors

  • Washer size.
  • Special features.
  • High-efficiency motor.
  • Electrical efficiency values are available from the Energy Star Program.

Off-Grid Washing Machine Types

After establishing your requirements, select the type of machine that best fits your lifestyle. Each type of machine has its benefits and drawbacks.

Manually Powered

Before electric motors drove wash machines, hands provided the energy to wash clothes. There are several manually powered wash machine designs on the market. If you are a fabricator or like to experiment, a DIY washing machine may be for you. And if you don’t want to use electricity or another power source, then a little elbow grease can get the job done and help you save money if you’re on a tight budget.

Manufactured Manually Powered Units

Manually powered washers take many forms. Most manual washing machines are powered by providing an up and down motion to agitate the clothes in a tub or a crank that stirs the clothes. There are also hand-cranked units that rotate a drum. The clothes tumble in the drum to agitate. A hand washer can be effective, but it takes some effort to operate and may require a small load so your hands don’t get tired. A pedal-powered washing machine is also an option if you do not mind a little physical activity.

PROS:

  • No electricity required.
  • Simple to use.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Readily available on the internet.

CONS:

  • Small capacity.
  • Require a lot of effort.
  • Questionable quality.
  • Made primarily of plastic.

The Wonder Wash is a popular compact washing machine for off-gridders. It is a small machine with a hand crank that can wash up to 5 pounds of dirty clothes at one time.

The Laundry Pod is another popular choice in off-grid washing machines. It’s a manually powered unit that churns the clothes by pedaling. It is made of stainless steel and can hold up to 10 pounds of clothes.

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DIY Manually Powered Units

If you are interested in building your own washing machine, a quick Google search for DIY Washing Machine will provide various designs. There are simple bucket and plunger styles. You will also find dual drum units driven by a bicycle or solar-powered motor. Even an old, nonfunctioning washer can be adapted to manual or solar power with ingenuity and experimentation. Your imagination and skills are the only limits.

PROS:

  • No electricity required unless you want it.
  • From most basic to complex mechanical design.
  • Potentially inexpensive.
  • It can be built with everyday items you may already possess.
  • Can evolve.

CONS:

  • More complicated designs may require a lot of work to build.
  • Non-electric designs require effort to operate.
  • May not be water efficient.
  • Complex designs may take tinkering to refine operation.

Bonus Tip

If you’re into manual washing machines, there are also ways to dry your freshly laundered clothes manually. A clothes wringer or a DIY solar clothes dryer can help speed up the process. You can also line dry your clothes the old-fashioned way.

Electric Powered

Electric washing machines can function in off-grid situations. Modern washers are much more efficient than older models and get the work done with minimal effort. Much of this improved operation is dependent on electronics. Repair parts of any modern washing machine or appliance may be challenging to acquire. If you decide to go electric, look for a washer from a dependable manufacturer with an Energy Star rating.

Top Load Electric

A Top Loader is the most popular style of traditional washing machine in the United States. The machine has a large spin tub that you load from the top. Water fills the tub to wash. The soapy water is drained, and the tub is refilled to rinse the clothes. The size of the spin tub and the type of agitator determines how much laundry you can wash at one time. These washers use 20 to 40 gallons of water per wash load.

PROS:

  • Inexpensive.
  • Easily available.
  • Wide variety of sizes.
  • More basic models can be owner maintained.

CONS:

  • Basic models are not very water efficient.
  • Require AC power source.
  • Require a pressurized water supply.

Front Load Electric

This style of washing machine has made significant advances over the past decade. Front-loaders tend to be more water and electrically efficient than top loaders. They use as little as 15 gallons of water to wash a full load. Their spin cycle also makes clothes dryer than other styles. The lack of an agitator makes them more gentle when washing clothes.

PROS:

  • Very efficient.
  • Better for clothes.

CONS:

  • Most models have complex electronics.
  • No smaller models.
  • Not user maintainable.

Horizontal Axis Top Load Electric

This hybrid washer is considered the most efficient style available. It employs a vertical drum, like a front loader, but loads from the top. It is generally accepted as the most efficient electric style available. Its odd configuration, and patent issues, have limited its popularity. The design makes this style of washer owner serviceable.

PROS:

  • Energy-efficient.
  • Owner maintainable.
  • Simple design.

CONS:

  • Minimal manufacturer base.
  • Small capacity.
  • Potentially challenging to find parts.
  • Expensive.

Laundry Detergent

You will not find any special requirements for laundry detergent when using an off-grid washing machine. The same soaps and detergents used in conventional machines will also work in your manual or solar-powered models. You may need to experiment with the amount of soap required, as some brands are more concentrated than others.

Last Words

When going off-grid, creature comforts often get left behind. A washing machine does not have to be one of the comforts sacrificed. If you decide to purchase an electric washing machine, efficient and robust models are best suited for off-grid applications. Simple is best when it comes to an off-grid washing machine. A hand-powered unit or DIY design can be surprisingly effective if you prefer to be entirely self-sufficient. Whether electric or manually powered, a washing machine can be part of your off-grid life.

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57 thoughts on “Off-Grid Washing Machine Options for Dependable Cleaning”

  1. This is a really well executed homemade washer. I used a clean toilet plunger in the bathtub but your idea is much better!

    For a wringer I screwed a hinged pair of polyurethaned pieces of plywood to a windowsill over the sink, and used a c-clamp to hold it closed after I put a corner of the item wanting wringing between the pieces. Then I twisted. Not perfect, but it got most of the water out.

    A ‘been-there/done-that’ tip? Wring the clothes after washing and before rinsing, then again after the rinsing. Gets more soap out. Also a good tip is to use a lot less soap than you would in a electric washer.

    What I was really after for wringing was to build a pedal powered centrifugal force tub-now that really gets the clothes wrung! I had an electric one but would have liked to have figured out an off-grid solution. I’m back to using an electric washer but I’ve bookmarked your page (a friend sent me a link) for a weekend project.

    1. I like your design. Regarding the centrifugal force concept for wringing, the old school potters wheels used a kick fly wheel which was easy to operate even for kids. You just sat astride the potter wheel and kick away whatever the speed you needed. Since many potters prefer the electric type now, they are probably really cheap to get on a craigs list or from a school art dept. you would have to devise a way the innards of your device could be lifted out or tilted back and the basket be allowed to spin freely within the hole in the table. Good luck.

      1. A plastic mop wringer will work well with the above homemade washing machine.The harder you pull the handle the dryer the clothes

    2. I saw a neat commercial unit that woulod be easy to build. It was a small barrel shape with a slightly narrower neck mounted on a pivot frame. It was patterned after the regular tumble style of washer, but smaller. You washed clothes with the barrel bottom tipped down using a crank handle. Ridges inside the barrel gave it a tumble action. When you were finished you tipped the bottom up and the entrance down to dump water. But you’re right, no wringer

    3. A plastic mop wringer will work well with the above homemade washing machine.The harder you pull the handle the dryer the clothes

  2. So where’s the pulley system to power it off that ATV in the background, Harv?

    Nice design. Is that just angle iron? And the whole agitator lifts out of the washtub, hinged with the bolts at the rear/left?

  3. The cheapest way to make a clothes washer is similar to the post above. Take a five gallon plastic bucket with a lid. Cut a hole in the center of the lid just slightly bigger than the commode plunger handle. Put the clothes, water and detergent in the bucket with the plunger, install the lid on and plunge the clothes clean. A new idea that was recently posted on another site is to get a broom or some other screw on type handle that is longer and you won’t have to bend over to plunge.
    We picked up a stainless steel James clothes washer at a antique store for $75 and a clothes wringer that is used at car washes for $15 so these are available at reasonable prices you just have to look around. Every time we go out of town we try to visit the local resale and antique stores for bargins. You would be surprised at what you can find in some of the small towns.

  4. As nice and innovative as your washer is, I can’t help but think that a few minutes with Craig’s list would turn up a used washer for the same money, and less effort. GE, Maytag, Kenmore, and Amana have paid thousands of engineers millions of dollars to design and produce today’s washer. Unless you have no electricity, and no coin-op Laundry within an easy commute, what you have built is a curiosity, not a practical way to produce clean clothes.

      1. Matt in Oklahoma

        No electric, this is a “prepardness” site there Ralph. BTW How do you know it’s not practical for him? It may also very well help others in foreign nations, where some of this low tech is used for missionary work, rescue efforts etc.

    1. Huh? The whole PURPOSE of a contraption like this is to wash your clothes when the power is out or you are off grid. Amazing!

    2. This comment is old however I wanted to add that some of us CHOOSE not to use modern appliances in our homes. An electric washing machine is noisy and consumes huge amounts of water/electricity that I have to pay for. I live among neighbors who get suspicious when things are quiet because they think somethings wrong. I find that ironic. I find when things get loud its unnerving and means something usually is wrong.

  5. Thank you to everyone for the kind words. My reason for building this washer was to have something that would work after; the the power was gone, after I’d ran out of gas for my Generator system, and that cost less then $50.00. The bucket and plunger works fine, but is a little too labor intensive. My wife and I are getting up in years and won’t be able to survive long term without some of the necessities. And you can set in a chair next to it and work the agitator. Another reason is I love a bargain. The Manual washers and Wringers I’ve seen on the Internet are sorely over priced compared to things I can build myself.
    Someone on here said this is “not a practical way to produce clean clothes.” Well I disagree, it’s better then a rub board, takes less labor then the plunger method. Sure there’s better ways and improvements that can be made. But before I built this I had nothing (except for those appliances that required electricity).

    To answer Stan, yes that’s just a angle iron frame and the agitator is hinged to lift out. I just used material I had in my shop.

    By the way Howard I really like this blog…….Harv

  6. @Ralph-check the header to note this is a preparedness blog. I’ve been through hurricanes that knocked the power out for weeks at a time and being able to have clean clothes made a huge difference in how my family coped with the rest of the disaster. Me, the trusty plunger in the bathtub then wringing with my hinged plates saved the days for my family. I also liked knowing how to get the clothes clean for the price of hauling some buckets of water up from the creek-made me feel great.

    I was unemployed for nearly a year and saved a lot of money washing clothes in the bathtub, too.

  7. Hey if it doesn’t prove out to wash clothes, you can try to make it the biggest ice cream freezer around. Well that is if you can find ice enough.
    You are very handy. Good idea.

  8. i love this idea. it takes something most ppl have come to take for granted and makes it easily made and used to be less reliant on current energy sources. i say yes to this idea and plan on making one(similar design) for my family to use seein as we dont have a washer. besides my son wets himself at night and this makes him understand what goes into him getting clean clothes. besides like the blog states. its for preparedness.

    1. @angelo
      I’ve seen several articles saying often wetting is from sleep ing to deeply. The last one gave a 3 pronged approach. 1. He needs to have nightly “talks” with his braintelling it that if his bladder is full it is IMPORTANT to GET UP & GO! You do not need to fully awaken, just enough to get there, do it & get back to bed safely. This continues (the talks)
      until the issue is resolved.) 2. Go to bed with an empty bladder. Push until you think you are done, take a deep breath and push again to the point of a grunt (3 times) to get every extra drop out & 3… before YOU go to bed usher your sleepy child for one last empty trip.
      My friend,s child turned out to have sleep apnea so the minutes he really slept between breaths were VERY DEEP. He eventually had his adenoids out…problem solved (other things changed once he actually started getting real

    2. Keep looking into the reason behind the bed wetting! My son did it until his teenage years it took a specialist to find his bladder never grew with his body 🙁
      I am SO excited to try this idea out but I want to add to it with a wringer tub next to it 🙂 Has anyone looked into adding a drain plug to the bottom?? Keep the great ideas coming!
      ~~It better to be safe then sorry prepare for anything and everything:)

  9. I love it!! Great job. I know as time goes you may think of improvements but this will do the job. The kids will be able to use it without my worrying they will get hurt and they will be able to participate in a meaningful way. Thank you for the time you put in on this.

  10. The only improvements I might suggest would be to add a drain composed of a rubber pipe in order to easily drain the water, and to replace the blades with something that is not so easily rotted. It seems like the wooden blades will not last that long. Thing about sturdy plastic instead?

  11. well, I think it’s AWESOME! I’m defnitely going to have my bf build me one. We’re planning a completely off grid yurt (that will double as a vacation home until the shtf then it’s home sweet home) and this will help us keep clean clothes. Honestly, clean clothes aren’t #1 on my survival list but they will be important near the top.

  12. Thank you for this design. I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time and FINALLY my seaches paid off. I’ve been in situations where severe weather knocked out power for days at a time, the longest was two weeks in an urban area. What I wouldn’t have given for something like this at the time with little kids in the house in need of clean clothes. Thank goodness I had a bucket and a scrub board in the house at the time but this would have been so much easier.
    The person who feels “…what you have built is a curiosity, not a practical way to produce clean clothes.”, must live in an area where severe weather is never an issue. Lucky, lucky person!!
    Again, THANK YOU for providing this info, it will be put to good use.

  13. I have been researching manual washers online for sometime now. I have to say that this one appeals the most to me. While the photos are awesome, is there anyway that you can give instructions and maybe a materials list for building this? Is there any welding required or is it just bolted together? I have one of the very expensive, high efficiency, all the bells and whistles electric washers that I absolutely DESPISE!! I have had to rewash loads so many times that I feel like the ‘HE’ feature is just BS! I’m going low tech to get my clothes CLEAN and would very much like to build this one. Thank you for sharing your creativity.

  14. As an engineer I would say that there is much hand and shoulder work involved in doing any quantity of clothes; very labor intensive in the long run. I would like to suggest that you get an old bicycle, set it up on a stand and adapt what you have to the bike and have it rotate via foot power. In fact, if you make it right, you can attach/detach the washing machine and then use the stationery bike for other things (like grinding flour, producing some electricity, etc..)

  15. Are there directions on how to build this? If so could it be e-mailed to me??
    Please make note in he subject bar “Homemade Washing Machine”

    Thanks
    Michele

  16. I didn’t see any instructions for this and I am not handy enough to figure it out by the picture. Is there anyway that Harv can post instructions and a supply list?? I would really like to make something like this. Thank you!

    1. Unfortunately, the pictures are all I ever received from the gentleman who build the washer. I know that it has been build by others from the pictures, but no one to my knowledge has drawn up plans.
      Howard

  17. what i use for a manual wringer…. cause my hands and arms are pretty much shot….. is an industrial mop bucket wringer for a mop…. they are plastic so nothing gets rusty marks…. they are sturdy (been using the same one for almost 15 years) and as long as you do the squish and twist thing at least 2 times…. they come out pretty darn wrung out.

  18. “And you can set in a chair next to it and work the agitator.”
    I love that thought! Could we make it a rocking chair? Hook the washer up to the rocker, grab your knitting and laundry day is looking better and better.

  19. What is the name of the metal part system of the washer ? How do you call it ? so I ca try to find one myself.

  20. I love it! Maybe some old fan blades from an outdoor ceiling fan for the paddles? They’re plastic. I agree about putting in a drain. That would be pretty heavy to lift when full of water. Lehmann’s sells washing machine wringers, but they’re not cheap. The mop bucket ones sound like a good alternative. If I were to build this, I’d extend the bottom shelf on one end to hold another tub with rinse water. Mount the wringer on the end of the upper shelf so the clothes would go straight into the rinse water.

    1. Yes, I can see how two dough rolling pins fastened together somehow would be ideal for wringing your clothes. How do you propose to fasten them together? Some sort of vice grip on both ends? But how? Anybody have any idea about this seemingly great idea? I think it might just work.

  21. I think Sandrine missed the point. you can not buy the metal part of the washing machine at walmart or order it from amazon. This feller made it from scratch. any one who tries to make something (you dont even have to succeed) instead of buying it from the store deservs a medal. “not good with your hands” thats ok. Just by trying to make something you need or want is going boost your self esteem and develope new skills. the other excuse i here is “i dont have money for tools”. the thing about tools is that they usualy out live there owner, and you can pick them up dirt cheap at yard sales.

  22. BED WETTING and LITTE BOYS: My brother used to wet the bed at night. Our Dr. told us that the urinary track of boys is slow to devlope
    and to put an ordinary house brick under the foot of the bed.
    This little tilt was al he needed. Saved his dignity and a lot of laundry.

  23. Very innovative and interesting idea to save the electricity, design is perfect and to rotate the use of handle is good.

  24. cant believe this washes ma cloth cleaner than ordinary hand……hand made washing machine is great!!

  25. Great Idea! For a wringer, I bought one of those industrial mop wringers over a bucket thingees from the hardware store. $50 for the better quality unit.

  26. This may have been mentioned as a solution for wringing the clothes out already, my phone signal is spotty so load time is too long to check. Anyway, I have found that using the mop wringer that you can purchase with a mop bucket combo works well if you are unable to locate an antique wringer.

  27. Joseph L Morehouse

    I like your washing machine , I am moving back to Arizona to the back country and I need some new ideals to deal with limited power in the area . Thank you

  28. How do you get the water out of that? I am going with the idea that you use a water hose to fill it, but how do you empty it without lifting a large container full of water?

  29. Use a double tub to create a wringer. Attach a drain hose to the bottom and pull it up during the “wash” cycle. Insert the second tub over the clothes you just washed, drop the drain hose into a place to receive the dirty water and push the second tub down. It would work for a rinse cycle and a wringer. I suppose you could stand in the tub to force more water out and drain the water outside to water plants or whatever.

  30. Dhanuka Lakmal Hettiarachchi

    Can i have the complete procedure with regarding how to make this washing machine. I am a food science student in Sri Lanka. I got a chance to do a research. in this research I need to reduce microbial count in dried Moringa powder. I have identified that the washing process is not effective as much as needed. Please give your support to make and effective leaves washing machine

  31. Get two 5 gallon buckets drill a bunch of hole in one put your wet clothes in that one and put the other one inside and sit on it. take the top bucket out and hang the one with the hole by the handle and start spinning it. works pretty well for cheap.

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