How to Wash Clothes Without a Washing Machine

by Ragtimelil

How to make a homemade, hand operated washing machine that really gets clothes clean.

I’m living in a camper so I don’t have a standard washing machine. When you don’t have any spare change you don’t get to do laundry in a laundromat either. I’m lucky now. I have electricity. I also have a little tabletop washing machine that I bought some years ago with some birthday money. Before that, I washed my clothes with a simple, low-tech device.

Wonder Washer

My model is the Wonder Washer. It really gets clothes clean if the dirty water I drain out is any indication. It has a couple of drawbacks. First it’s small which means you don’t do more than a few items at a time. Second, it doesn’t come with a drain so you have to dump the water out. It does have holes in the lid so it holds the clothes in the tub.

Wonder Washer One

Before the Wonder Washer, I often did clothes with a manual washing machine. I had another model also called a Wonder Washer or sometimes just Wonderwash. It worked really well to but it was a pain to set up. It had a hand crank and the machine would move around unless it was really secured. There wasn’t clearance for my hand to crank so it had to be secured close to an edge of the counter. It did have a drain, but not a hose so it also had to be positioned over a sink or tub. I’m told, however, that people who do outdoor camping really like this machine.



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The Parts

I found it simpler to make and use my own Handmade Portable Washing Machine. This device consists of one or two 5-gallon buckets, with or without lid and a (new) plunger. I modified the plunger to make it easier to plunge by drilling holes in the rubber cup. I learned the hard way. Drill the holes facing horizontally unless you like water sprayed in your face. Another option is to drill a hole in a lid to accommodate the handle of the plunger. The lid will keep water from spraying out. I never got that elaborate though.


home made washing machinePlunger     Homemade washer

Directions for Use

I always soaked the clothes really well. You can even soak them overnight. That requires less detergent. Then I plunged away for as long as I could stand it. Five or ten minutes would do it. If I was using the two-bucket method, I would just transfer the washed clothes to a bucket of clean water for rinsing. I’d soak again, but not as long this time, plunge and squeeze.

With one bucket, I’d either use the lid with holes to strain out the clothes, or put them in the sink while I reloaded the bucket with clean rinse water.

The Finish

Now I hang my wet clothes in the shower to let them drip. I’d rather hang them outdoors but can’t do that in the park. Once the clothes are done dripping, I hang them on hangers about the camper. With the air conditioner and fan on, the clothes dry very fast. I’d love to have a hand cranked wringer, or a clothes spinner, but not sure just where I would put it.


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Updated: 07/14/2012, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 07/21/2012

So true. You have to think back before people even had washing machines. I think the plunger works better than a scrub board - easier on the hands at least.

katiem2 on 07/21/2012

What a handy thing to know. I will never worry about going without clean clothes again. It's so good to know how to get by without the many modern comforts we rely on, we lost power here in Ohio for over five days with bad storms producing high winds. You never know how long a loss of power may last. thanks :)K

Ragtimelil on 07/21/2012

Actually, a pair of jeans will, but not much else...

BrendaReeves on 07/21/2012

I don't think my jeans would fit in there, but that's a nifty little washer. I'd get one too if I lived in a camper.

Ragtimelil on 07/16/2012

I definitely think it gets clothes clean, if not fluffy. Like hand washing, you'd have to add softener and shake them out. I don't mind that myself. I'd think it would be a good stand-by too. Just remember you can't do much in these things. They're pretty small. You might be able to do more than one load a day, especially if you get a model that has a drain hose.

Tolovaj on 07/16/2012

I am looking at tabletop washing machines for some time now. I know how painful can be to a family with small kids if their washing machine for some reason stops working. Even if it is still under warranty, there can be 30 days and maybe more to wait until it is repaired. Do you think this kind of tabletop washer can help to survive through a month until they get 'the real thing' back? Is quality of washing good enough for small kids?

Ragtimelil on 07/15/2012

It really does work much better. And cheap too!

AngelaJohnson on 07/15/2012

What a great idea! Much better than washing clothes by hand in a bathtub or washtub.

Ragtimelil on 07/15/2012

I'm amazed at how well the plunger works and doesn't leave your hands like prunes!

sheilamarie on 07/15/2012

There's something appealing about low tech. Hard work if you've got kids or a lot of dirty work clothes, though. I can remember my Mom trying to wash clothes, including diapers, without a washing machine. At least we could use the solar dryer you mentioned above.

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