The Dirty Truth About Off Grid Laundry



I thought it might be a good exercise to try doing laundry without using the washing machine and dryer.

Whenever there is a hurricane approaching one of the preparation chores that I do (in addition to making sure there is enough water, food and supplies for several days) is to do the laundry while power is available.

Ideally, you’d already have clean clothes available, but what if there is an extended power outage?

I saved a few pieces of clothing, some socks and a large towel to do the experiment.


I piled the clothes in the bathroom sink.  For clothes washing, I tried using a  Mobile Washer sample that I received..  It was easy to assemble.  The washer looks like a plunger, but without the rubbery plunger smell.

The instructions simply say add soap and 4-6 inches of water and agitate the clothes using up and down motion.  I used my homemade laundry detergent added to some water.

The socks were stained but I did not use bleach, as I wanted to keep the experiment as simple as possible.

Although the Mobile Washer instructions say you will feel a pulling action while the clothes are agitating, I did not really feel that the up and down motion was doing anything.  Perhaps the clothes had to be level to the ground or bathtub for this to work, as using it on a bathroom sink level felt unwieldy to me.  I wish I had a better result to report to you, but I always write the truth in these experiments regardless of expectations.

I contacted Mobile Washer after the experiment about my less than stellar results and got a quick response, which actually addresses what happened:

“The best way to get this action on the clothes is to make sure you have enough water so the clothes float freely, have a deep enough container (sink, bucket, tub etc) so that you can get some good plunging action without splashing the water out of the container.  When these steps are followed, the washer seems to have great results.  I can’t say that you were doing it wrong, maybe it just required a little harder agitation.

This is actually the first negative feedback we have received, so I do appreciate you letting me try to explain how it should work and what results you should be able to expect.  Normally the feedback is that the washer has pulled old stains and residual dirt and soap left behind by traditional washing machines. ”

I think the Directions for Use should mention the container should be deep enough for enough water so the clothes can float around.  The “4-6 inches of water” was quickly soaked up by the clothes.  The next time I wash off-grid, I will use a 5-gallon bucket.

Back to the story…

I resorted to washing the items by hand.  My hands did get all wrinkled and “prune-like” so if I do this again I would wear gloves.

After washing, I let the soapy water drain out.  I then rinsed the clothes with plain water in the sink.  The interesting part was in trying to wring all the water out.  Socks and shirts are easy enough, but the towel was quite heavy.  I had to wring it out in sections.


I found some space to hang the clothes using hangers and some of the shelving.  Because of the humidity, the socks and shirts took about 12 hours to dry, and the towel took over 24 hours.


T-shirts and blouses dried well enough with minor wrinkles when hung up in clothes hangers.

The clothes and socks smelled fresh and appeared to be clean enough.  The socks did not come out as white as when bleached and washed in the washing machine.

However the towel took a very long time to dry, causing even more humidity with a slightly musty smell when it finally dried.

What I Learned

Living in a humid climate, if clothes stay wet long enough, there is a possibility of getting mildew, so you must try to wring out the clothes as well as possible.

If you live in a dry climate, the drying time would be a lot faster.

Having a clothesline outside would be much better than drying indoors as the hot sun would help dry things faster.  However because we rent, I doubt apartment management would look too kindly to having clothes flapping in the breeze out in the balcony.  So if I had to line dry, I would likely set the line across the bathroom.

Line dried clothes do not come out as soft as they do in the dryer.  On the other hand, this saves on wear and tear on the garments.

To minimize wrinkles, you need to “snap”clothes such as t-shirt and shirts before hanging them.

If you had to do laundry off-grid, you’d best have some backup clothes available to allow for longer drying time.

No doubt about it, washing and drying clothes are chores that would be much more challenging without electricity.   It is doable, and I am glad I tried this experiment.

Editors Note:  I have done plenty of laundry “off grid” at my grandparents home, I have even on occasion used a washboard at my Great Grandmothers home.  We are so very spoiled now, even though I have done it… It’s not something I fancy doing all the time.

On an interesting side note, the amount of laundry detergent we use is actually much more than is really needed.  I read a story a while back about how you can wash your clothing 2-3 times and the residual soap left over after the rinse cycle is more than enough to clean your unmentionables.

Do you have any tips and tricks for Off Grid Laundry?

Want more? Check out other articles we have for you from our site:

Follow us on Facebook, InstagramTwitterTumblrand Pinterest!

***Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer.***

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 2, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

Continue Reading


  1. Joel

    August 2, 2013 at 7:52 AM

    I use the Mobile Washer occasionally and always find incredible results. You’ll really sense the ‘pulling action’ if you use a bucket (I use a 5-gallon bucket.) Seriously, love this product and have used it in power outages for a few years now. The one thing I need to get yet is a manual clothes wringer.

  2. Chuck

    August 2, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Get a plumbers plunger and a 5-gallon bucket with a lid at the hardware store. Make a hole just big enough in the center of the lid for the plunger handle to fit through. You can buy folding wooden clothes dryers from a variety of places. The Vermont Country Store carries them as does Lehman’s. I am sure there are other sources. This is what my mother used to dry clothes inside in wet weather long before there were power driven clothes dryers. Set it up in the bathtub or shower to avoid dripping on the floor. Open the bathroom window. You can also set it outside on drive way if it is not too windy. You can set it out in the garage if you have one. You don’t have to move the car all the way out, just partway will do and that will help slow down intruders. If things have gotten really bad, you will want to guard your clean clothes, so indoors is slower but safer. Plunge your clothes with the plumber’s plunger. If you get the one with the big flexible head, it will do clothes better than the cheaper model with just a small rubber cup. A washboard will help with deep stains but wear your clothes out faster.

  3. Chuck

    August 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I almost forgot. You can get a bucket with a mop wringer mounted on it to wring out your clothes. I believe there are manual clothes wringers for sale from back to nature and other sites on line. A bucket with wringer is available from a janitorial supply house. A wringer will get more water out than you can get out by hand.

  4. LouLou

    August 2, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    two people wringing out towels or blue jeans, one holding at each end, does a great job as I have had to do a full months laundry for 5 people in the bathtub many times when finances dictated. 🙁

  5. Neal

    August 2, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    After hurricane Ivan we were without storebought electricity for 5 weeks and Mom was without for a couple of weeks. I had picked up an antique wood and galvanized tin washer at a farm auction and loaned it to a museum. I retrieved it after the storm. Cranking a handle, the action was just like an electric washer and the agitation was identical to your plastic cone device, except this one was galvanized.

    I took it to my 80 year old Mom’s house so she could do laundry. She dressed for the occasion in a Victorian outfit, complete with ridiculous hat. Somewhere I have a photo of her doing laundry like that in the carport, with astonished neighbors milling about, against a background of century-old fallen pine trees across her drive.

    The clothes came out great and we all had a lot of fun. Keep an eye out for functional non-electric antiques….even gasoline-powered Maytags.

  6. kdonat

    August 2, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    For emergency laundry, whether by hand or plunger, have some lighter weight towels available to use. The thinner cotton terry cloth or waffle weave towels are much easier to wring out and dry.

    Those heafty thirsty plush towels, that a lot of us enjoy, take a lot of water and energy to launder and dry whether by machine or by hand. We have swapped out all our plushy towels for the thinner/lighter weight ones.

    The waffle weave towels are usually found in the kitchen department for wiping dishes, but are great for drying your hair/face/hands. If you are a seamstress you can also find the cotton waffle weave fabric by the yard to make full sized bath towels.

  7. captain mike

    August 2, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    Using less soap normally is a great tip. Recommended amounts are usually 2 to three times what is necessary. Soap breaks down water tension and if you use too much it becomes LESS effective – also prolongs rinsing. What helps is high pH. Less soap with a little baking soda or better yet washing soda really does a fine job.

  8. James Rosin

    August 2, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    I find polyester clothes are easiest to wash in a survival situations. They are great with attractive bright colors now. I wear thin nylon socks as they are easy to wash and make great liners under wool socks.
    Crocs will prevent trench foot!

  9. Hipockets

    August 2, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    I never had a washer and 4 kids,2 in diapers all the time. I used a wash tub,and washboard ,hand wrung,and dried on a line. Did this for over 12 years. Finally got a Automatic washer (Halleulah’),then moved
    to a Reservation with no electricity or running water’ That’s life’
    Now,old,no kids (or diapers’),and have all the modern gadgets’Guess I’d
    know how to do a lot of things the “Old” way’

  10. Kate1031

    August 2, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    Good article, and you’re all amazing, intelligent and resourceful people and I admire the heck out of all of you. I try hard to keep in mind the wisdom of an article and comments such as these. In my book, you commenters are awesome, creative folks whom I would like to know.

  11. MotherLodeBeth

    August 2, 2013 at 10:05 PM

    Growing up in a camping, backpacking, island living, Sierra living family we have never wasted water and have always been frugal when doing laundry. When in the outdoors for weeks and weeks we used a wash board and river water. We had a front loading washer in the 50’s and 60’s and I still do.

    Do much of my wash by hand using a large wash tub over a hot fire, That is key for me. Hot hot water and allowing whites to soak in the water that has a small amount of homemade laundry soap is what gets white white, along with line drying in the sunshine.

    The rinse water(s) are also hot hot and the last rinse has vinegar in it to remove any and all soap residue. Soap residue and fabric softeners tend to attract and hold in dirt.

    Got a glass wash board, and the biggest wood drying rack sells in 2005. And the wringer set up from which attaches to the wash tub and allows me to wring dry the clean wash, and then line dry. And when I line dry, I turn dark items inside out so they don’t fade. And I snap shake all items to loosen the fibers so when they dry they don’t dry so stiff.

    Thing is a lot of my clothing and that of my late husbands, never needed a full wash but a refreshing. So I would load the washer or washtub with warm water, add two cuts of plain vinegar and allow to sit for an hour, then wring and dry.

    Spot washing areas that have food or other stains also is something I have always done. Why wash an entire item that doesn’t need washing?

    • Gie

      August 3, 2013 at 10:03 PM

      I love doing laundry this way. Sometimes I’ll save a load of clothes that need handwashing and do them on the wash board or by the Breathing washer. We had a huricane a few years back that kept us in the stone age for over a week. I prepared by washing every stitch of dirthy clothes in the house, stripped everyone and made them shower and washed the clothes they had on to ensure I only had “from now on” dirties (boy did they add up quick!)
      washed every dish and basically did a top to bottom clean of the house. Though it was hot after the hurricane, we are allowed clothes lines and laundry wasnt that bad though it was being done in 105+ weather. (pant pant)
      I try to do at least one load a week, usually whites or socks and it’s kept my whites sparkling and has seriously toned my arms, lol!
      I think we should all at least KNOW and have an option to maintain hygiene during tough times. This is a great article, glad it was posted.

  12. gena

    August 2, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    I have bought the product you tested and I have also purchased a hand operated washing machine, which it says can wash up to three shirts at a time, with a hand crank for rotating the machine. Have not yet tried either. Also purchased a bunch of clothes pins, and a drying line, which I have not tried yet, since where I currently live, outside clothes lines are not allowed. Am moving at the end of the month where in an emergency situation, I do not think that people would complain as much about seeing a clothes line in the yard. I have been stockpiling detergent, camp soap, vinegar and bleach for cleaning purposes should the need come.

  13. richard1941

    August 4, 2013 at 1:09 AM

    Use half the detergent and add borax (sodium borate) to the wash water. Also, let the laundry soak overnight, and it will come out really clean. A cap full of bleach in a bathroom sink full of water keeps bacteria and midew at bay. I did this recently because I was unable to leave the house for a couple weeks (broken leg). It worked OK. I survived to write this!

  14. Tessa

    August 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Need twisting help? Loop the towel around a metal pole, like the basketball stand or metal fence post and twist. You can tie a rope around the top board of your balcony rail or slip the rope around a wood fence post (4″x4″ only). Slip the towel through the rope and you can twist the water out by yourself. If you have physical limitations, stand on the clothes. Fold up the towels as small as you can. Find a thick, flat board like a cutting board and stand on it and use your own weight to squeeze out the water.
    Don’t overlook your garage! I hang my clothes on hangers to dry in my garage. The humidity is low unless it’s raining. I pre-dry my towels. We love those fluffy things but it takes two runs through the dryer to dry them and that is a big energy hog. I hang them overnight and then throw them in the dryer.
    Wick the water out! Scrub the garage floor clean near the opening, there is usually a very slight slope. Tie up a broomstick so it hangs horizontal to the floor at your desired height. Lay your towels and jeans over it so they just touch the floor. Gravity and the cement will wick the excess moisture out. You can transfer them in front of a fire, hang them in the sunshine or toss them in the dryer. This also works well for blankets.
    The garage method works well almost anywhere in California, Arizona and Nevada. Saves lots of money!
    Think about capturing heat that would normally be lost from your fireplace on the outside if you are building a retreat. Add on a mud room to store items you don’t want to freeze and incorporate a laundry area. There isn’t enough heat to make you comfortable, but if you insulate the mud room well it would be enough to dry or pre-dry your clothes.

  15. Griz

    August 5, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    Many of us rural Alaskan folks, still do laundry using a wash tub/bucket & plunger. And year around, we hang them out to dry.
    In the winter time, the clothes flash freeze dry.
    You can not get fresher smelling clothes, then those freeze dried!

    • Shannon

      June 25, 2018 at 5:20 PM

      I always wondered if clothes really dried doing freeze dry method. I live in north dakota and I hang all my clothes on a drying rack. I’d like to hang them outside, but the weather and wind make me wonder if this will be a bigger problem than is worth. I’m going to give it a try!

  16. Maenwyn Rati

    August 7, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    I have an old oval commercial mop bucket with wringer. The ringer is awesome for getting the water out of clothes. After rinsing the clothes, i run them through the ringer then use that water to wash the next load. We used the same method at our lake cabin when I was young. Works much better than hand wringing.

  17. TC

    August 11, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    Instead of wringing clothes out you could fabricate a excercycle to a broken washer and do a pedal powered spin cycle – dry your clothes and get a workout at the same time

  18. Ron Austin

    August 12, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    I read the same or a similar article about the amount of soap to use to wash clothes. The same article stated that the vendors tell you to use way to much soap in order for you to purchase more soap sooner than what you need to. I have since cut my washing soap bill down considerably.

  19. john west

    August 12, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    If water is not available or precious, there is another way you can ‘clean’ your clothes in a pinch. Spread them out on a rock or hand them from a tree limb in the sun. The sun’s rays will destroy all bacteria, which will kill odors. Of course this method will not remove stains but at least your clothes won’t stink.

  20. Echo

    August 23, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    you could also use a blue plastic 55gal drum. drill 4 holes, 2 in each end about 14 inches apart near the rim and run rope or wire would work better, thru the holes and wrap the ends of the wire around a post, cut a “door” close to the top then add a couple of hinges and a latch to the door. load the dirty laundry thu the door and two people can do a “tub of laundry simply by taking turns pushing and pulling. or strap a long broom handle and one person can do it.

  21. PaoloItaly

    October 31, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    I wonder how my Granny used to do it without all these contraptions……..for harder stains, boiling and a lot of elbow grease with the old soap. Maybe we should simply look back.

  22. Andy

    August 4, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    A Quickcrete mixing bucket works great as a washer. Water, soap, dirty clothes, screw the top on and have the kids roll it around the yard .

  23. Pingback: Mandy & Dave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *