Off Grid Laundry

Here we are in the middle of red dirt country, and as we prepare to build our new home, we get very, very dirty (and stinky)!  Rather than drive almost forty-five minutes down the hill to the nearest town to do laundry, we chose to set up our own washing facilities right here on our homestead.

After reading about off grid laundry systems on the internet, I became completely intrigued by the 5 gallon bucket and plunger method.

Five Gallon Off Grid Washing Machine

This is one way to make an off-grid washing machine! Believe it or not, this works well in a pinch. The only power needed to run this washing machine is a little bit of elbow grease!

First, get a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid – preferably one that screws off.  Then purchase a toilet plunger – you know, the rubbery type with the (usually) wooden handle.  Now cut a hole in the lid of the bucket right in the center just big enough for the handle of the plunger to fit through.  Then, cut a few holes in the rubbery part of the plunger.  Your washing machine is now finished.  Just pour water in the bucket, add soap, or detergent, or soap nuts, etc., then add your laundry items, push the plunger in among your laundry items, place the lid on the bucket with the plunger handle going up and through the hole…

then plunge, plunge, plunge!  Once you think your laundry is clean, dump out the water, add rinse water, put the plunger back in and the lid back on and…

plunge, plunge, plunge!

Sounds simple, right!  It also sounds like a lot of work!  😉

Yeah – I want to be off-grid, but I never said I didn’t want some modern conveniences!

So, we set up a laundry room in our new metal shed…

Off Grid Laundry

My new laundry room. All the modern conveniences but off the power grid!

The washing machine is our old one from the house we sold down in the valley.  It is getting old, but still works just fine.  We found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for cheap, and set that up right next to the washer.  Do you like those shelves?  The shelves were once a waterbed headboard from years back.  Luckily, my ingenious pack-rat husband (“this may come in handy someday” is his favorite saying), found it was just the right size for our new laundry room.

We run the washing machine and dryer with our generator.  We found that it was easier and faster to fill up the washing machine directly with the hose.  We also heat water in a large bucket with a propane cook stove, and pour that directly into the washing machine. That way, we don’t have to turn on the generator until the tub is full of water and laundry.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Of course, we don’t use the dryer much right now because it’s summertime, so we use the solar dryer outside!  However, in the winter the propane dryer will come in very handy,

One concern of ours, however, was the use of harsh detergents and the disposal of the wash water.  What we did was set up a french drain system for the gray water (wash water) and this works very well.  But, what about the detergents that could potentially harm the trees and bushes in the vicinity of the drain, much less foul the soil?  The solution came last week in the mail!

How to do laundry off grid

All of this was sent to me in the mail a few weeks ago. Four wood dryer balls, five laundry nuts with bag, and six packets of organic laundry soap! I couldn’t wait to try them out!

Amanda Powell, from Econuts, was kind enough to send me a package of soapnuts, along with a package of wood dryer balls and several packets of organic laundry detergent. You may have seen this company when they were featured on “Shark Tank” on ABC.  Not only are their products eco-friendly, but so is their packaging – they use little to no plastic, which is great for our environment!  I had heard of soapnuts before and was very interested in trying them!

I tried several loads of wash with the soapnuts.  My honest opinion?  They work great on my undies, bath towels and sheets.  My blouses and slacks got clean with the soapnuts also.  However (I am being honest here), it did not work so well on our red-dirt-stained work clothing.  I had to rewash those with a mild detergent to get the ground in dirt and sweat stains (and smells) out.

I like the soap nuts.  Not only are they environmentally friendly and get most of my laundry clean, I also like the fact that I don’t have to live with harsh detergents and/or chemicals next to my body. I have fairly sensitive skin (especially in my armpits) and not using harsh detergents is  great.  However, I will still use detergents for our work clothes.

The wool dryer balls?  These are fantastic!  It’s funny –  I had purchased some wool yarn to make my own dryer balls a few months ago when the skeins were on sale.  But, because of our recent move, I just never got the time to make the balls!  I was so pleased to get these really nice wool felted balls (they won’t unravel) to use in my dryer.  As I have said before, right now we aren’t using the propane dryer much, but I did wash a load of permanent press blouses and slacks and hung them on the solar dryer.  Then, when they were just damp I threw them in the propane dryer with the wool dryer balls for about 5 minutes and the blouses and pants came out soft and wrinkle free!  Nice!

Look how big these wool dryer balls are!  Oh - and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background?  Umm-huh.

Look how big these wool dryer balls are! Oh – and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background? Umm-huh.

I am going to keep the dryer balls in a large glass jar with a lid so I can use just a few drops of lavender essential oil on them for a light scent.   The glass jar helps preserve the scent. Amanda promised me that the essential oil will not disintegrate the wood balls (just an urban myth, I guess), and by keeping them in the glass container they will stay clean and fresh, and the lavender oil won’t dissipate so quickly.

So, there you have it.  That’s how we are doing our laundry up here on our homestead.  It’s really not much different that doing laundry with the power grid, and with the Eco-Nuts I don’t have to worry about fouling up our soil or harming any trees with harsh detergents.

Of course, if the SHTF (which many believe will be happening soon) I can always use the bucket and plunger method!  🙂

Disclaimer:  Amanda, from Eco Nuts, generously sent me the contents of the package as described above.  My opinions expressed are honest, as you would expect from me, and told as truthfully and completely as possible.  0001







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25 thoughts on “Off Grid Laundry

  1. I’ve heard about the soap nuts before, but I don’t think I’ve ever known someone who personally used them (well, until now…kind of). :O) We’ve got that red dirt thing going here, too.

    • Thanks for your comment, LuAnn! So… how do you get the red dirt completely out of socks and t-shirts? Ugh – everything we work in seems to have a permanent orangy-pink color! I don’t want to use bleach because of the environmental thing and also because the smell can make me sick. 🙁 Any suggestions? BTW, the soap nuts are really cool. Have a great day!

  2. I found the wool balls didn’t help speed drying here but could be my dryer. I use a laundry soap from a natural products company, works great on all our clothes but not much of that red dirt here. I will have to ask my brother what he does – his house is smack in the middle of red clay country. Glad you all are doing well up there in the mountains! Happy 4th! M

    • Happy 4th to you and yours also! I would love to hear how your brother gets the red dirt out of his clothes! I have a lot to learn living up here. I plan to try making my own laundry soap soon, when I have time. I have pinned a ton of recipes and am anxious to see if they work. In the meantime the Eco Nuts do a good job and I can feel good about using them. Thanks, Millie! Hope to see you on Sunday for the Snickerdoodle blog party!

  3. I was thinking about you this week, wondering how the drought and fires are affecting you in themou rain home. Hopi g the best for you. Love the plunger washer. I will keep it in mind for emergency’s.

    • Isn’t that plunger washer ingenious? Looks like a lot of work, but from everything I have read, it works well in a pinch! We are doing fine so far. Our well seems to be slowing down, but at least it isn’t dry. We are keeping our water storage tanks full just in case. Thanks for stopping by, Sunny, and for your kind words!


    Hello Vickie,
    that’s a very interesting post.
    You can do so much yourself.
    The shelves are used perfectly.
    Well, that ye have lifted.
    We already use the soap nuts for about 3 years.
    We are thrilled and the laundry is very clean.
    Furthermore, Good Work, but in between breath sometimes.
    many Greetings

    • I am so glad to hear of someone else using soap nuts. Yes, sometimes we need to stop working so much and take a breath, but we have so much work to do! Soon we will start building our new home. Thank you for stopping by today, Uwe!

  5. Fun post – so glad to know more about soap nuts as I’ve thought of trying them a few times. We’ve been experimenting with off grid laundry options, too. We use that blue, plastic, plunger-like thingy on Amazon (to which we added a full sized mop handle) and a tub. It takes about 15-20 minutes of plunging and a few rinses. We might get faster as we do it more. We also bought a wringer, which is the coolest thing ever and makes the whole enterprise possible. Line drying in our climate is a breeze (no pun intended). So far, we’re enjoying it but we use the washer when we run out of time to do it by hand. We’re just glad to know we can use both for now!

    • I just looked up the blue plastic plunger-like thingy you referred to on Amazon – amazing! I would bet it works much better than my toilet plunger! Thanks for sharing this as I will have to get one for myself now. 🙂 Right now it takes about 1/2 hour for towels to dry on our line. It is so hot and dry here in California, I feel it’s even drying me up! Thanks for stopping by, Tessa. Have a wonderful day!

    • I never could figure out how a washboard works. Seems like it would just rub the life out of the clothes! I do believe this method is easier and less messy. Thanks for hosting the party, and have a wonderful week!

    • Thanks to YOU for co-hosting the cookie party! It’s always wise to teach children something that may come in handy some day!

  6. We built a (not off-grid) house in the mountains of New Mexico several years ago. We lived in a small trailer on the jobsite from March to October for two years. Going to town an hour away wasn’t an option for doing laundry. We went to the dump and salvaged several broken pallets, my husband took them apart and made a platform for outside the trailer. We bought a used washing machine for $200 (fancy toploader) and installed it on the pallets, outside. I strung a rope through three large trees nearby to use as a dryer. On laundry days I filled the washer using a cold-water hose hooked up to the washer intake and supplemented the inflow with warm water from a handheld outdoor shower on the side of the trailer. We rigged a tall-enough standpipe to drain the washer into the already-installed septic system. At the end of each laundry day I left the lid open for a few hours, which allowed the tub to get dry. I then wrapped a tarp around the washer and secured it with bungee cords. At the end of each season we “winterized” the washer by running a little RV antifreeze through it, then left it all winter under double tarps. After the construction was finished we gave the washer to one of the workmen who built the house, four years later it’s still running great at his place.

    • Wow, Dianne, it sounds like you and I think very much alike! We are also living in a trailer while we build our house and the trip into town to do laundry just doesn’t cut it! We also hooked up the shower from our trailer, but it takes so long to fill the washer that way. That’s why we heat our water on a high powered propane stove – it’s so much faster. How nice of you to give your washer to one of the guys building your house! We are just hoping our old one lasts long enough for us to finish building the house (it’s 22 years old), then we will purchase a new washer and dryer. Thank you so much for telling me your laundry story. Any more advise you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

  7. white vinegar gets ‘smelly ” clothes fresh smelling and removes soap residue..I also use Borax but some places thinks its not eco friendly

    • I have tried the white vinegar before and will have to start using it again! I got an e-mail from a friend who says that it also helps to get the red clay dirt out of clothes because it helps break down the body oils that hold the clay in the fabric. I will give it a try on my next wash day and see if it works! Thank you so much for commenting, Doris. Come back again soon!

  8. You both are so resourceful and able to think outside the box. When an off-the-grid challenge presents itself, you figure out a way to overcome it. Keep up the good work!

  9. This was such an informative post-thanks for sharing it at the #sundaysdownunder linky party. I’ll have to look into the Eco-nuts products!

    Best wishes,
    Natasha in Oz

  10. Wondering how your washer handles the rinse cycle… I know very little about how a washer works, but we have an older top loader and after the wash cycle new water runs through to rinse and spin. After filling the washer with the bucket, how does it handle the need for water on the rinse cycle? Doesn’t your washer drain the wash water before rinse time? If so, can you just refill the washer with a bucket again for rinse time? I’ve read mixed info online.

    • The washer works just fine, once we found the sweet spot for the drain! If the drain was too low, we lost water. If it was too high the tub didn’t completely spin out all the water. I have to stay near the washer to hear the need for more water at the rinse cycle, but that’s not a problem because I just read a book or something while I’m waiting. If I have a lot of time, I just let the water run in through the hose. If I’m in a hurry, I will fill the buckets while the washer is washing and fill the washer with fresh rinse water when the wash water has spun out. Does that make sense? Thanks for your question. Sorry it took so long to respond, computer and server issues are not much fun!

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