Non-Electric Clothes Washing

Despite the common method of washing clothing being tossing them into a machine, setting the dials, and letting it do its thing, it is definitely not the only possible method. In fact, there are still people even in the United States who choose not to use electricity – such as the Amish – that still wash their clothing regularly using manual methods. Knowing some of their methods could come in handy in the case of a power outage or emergency situation in which electricity becomes unavailable.

Today, people tend to have a lot more clothing than their grandparents and great-grandparents did. This may be partially due to the ease of washing. Previous generations found it much more difficult to launder clothing and having fewer articles of clothing was an advantage.

Even though electrical machines are the most common now, manual washing machines and items are still available for those who need them – or want them. Consider some of the options; it may be a good idea to invest in a manual method of cleaning clothes just in case it becomes a requirement.

The Basics

There are three things required to get clothing clean: water, soap, and movement. In electric washing machines, the water can be hot, warm, or cold; the soap can be almost anything; and the movement is usually agitation in a top-loader or rotation in a front-loader.

When washing by hand, or in a manual washing machine of whatever type, it is best to use very hot water – as hot as reasonable. Obviously, if one is washing with hands in the water, it needs to be cooler than if a machine of some type is being used.

Soap can be storebought or homemade. Homemade soap is often a combination of washing soda and borax or similar. While most soaps will work for cleaning clothes, some soaps are more effective and some soaps will rinse out more easily, so testing your desired soap on one item of less important clothing may be a good idea.

Agitation is the part that can be most off-putting in the hand-washing scenario. Those who are not used to it are likely to get tired very easily unless they put together one of the less intensive machines below.



Obviously the most labor-intensive, using an old-fashioned washboard is still a valid way to get clothes clean.

  1. Start by filling the basin with water – hot water works best, but even cold water can get things clean – and a bit of soap.
  2. Once the soap is dissolved, drop in the clothes. Remember to leave room for movement.
  3. Let the clothes soak for five to ten minutes.
  4. Move them around to get the soap and water through well. Rub the clothes against the washboard to scrub out stubborn dirt or stains.
  5. Rinse with clear water and wring or spin out excess water.

Bucket and Plunger


This one requires a little bit of preparation. A hole must be drilled in the lid for the handle of the plunger (which, as you can see, is not exactly a plunger, but is the same basic shape) so it can be used without splashing water everywhere. The first three steps are the same as with a washboard, but at step 4, instead of moving and scrubbing, one just raises and lowers the plunger firmly for around three minutes. After this, rinse and wring or spin.

Hand-cranked Washer


Many have found the Wonderwash machine useful for manual clothes cleaning. This unit can clean up to five pounds of laundry super clean in mere minutes. The hand crank has metal parts for durability and the whole unit is easy to fit into a countertop or corner for easy use.

Foot-cranked Washer

This portable washer uses no electricity, takes up little space, and will wash about 5 pounds of laundry in about 10 minutes. Agitation is powered by a foot pedal, and it also has a spin cycle to help remove excess water from the cleaned clothing. Its carrying handle makes it easy to take along anywhere for those who travel a lot.

Industrial Mop Bucket

This may not be one’s first thought for clothing, but it makes sense. The bucket has plenty of room for water and agitation, and it has a built-in wringer! Because it is made for industrial use, it is sturdy and likely to last through many, many washes.

Where to Buy
Behrens Manufacturing Behrens BWBG12 Galvanized Washboard, Large, Silver
Behrens 1-OV Hot Dipped Galvanized Steel Oval PlanterTub, 7-1/2 Gallon
5-GALLON WHITE ALL PURPOSE Durable Commercial Food Grade Bucket With LID
Breathing Mobile Washer (Aluminum Handle)
The Laundry Alternative Wonderwash Non-electric Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine
Yirego Drumi Portable Washing Machine | 10mins Quick Wash & Spin Dry | Eco-Friendly, Use 0 Electricity | Mini Portable Washer for Apartments and Travel | Gentle Wash | Removable Stainless Steel Drum
AmazonBasics Side Press Wringer Combo Commercial Mop Bucket on Wheels, 35 Quart, Yellow
2 Pack Silicone Laundry Brush Scrub Multi-use Household Cloth Washing Brush Dual-use Scrubbing Brush for Clothes Underwear Shoes, Plastic Soft Cleaning Tool
Wisemen Trading Hand Wringer Black and Stainless Steel (Black) Proudly 100% Made in USA
AmazonBasics Foldable Clothes Drying Laundry Rack - White
HAWATOUR Portable Travel Elastic Clothesline Adjustable Clothesline with 12pcs Clothespins for Outdoor and Indoor Use (Blue)

Bicycle-powered Washer

Probably the simplest to use, but the most complicated to put together, the bicycle-powered washer is good exercise as well as good for cleaning clothes. Some wood, PVC pipe, a barrel, a bicycle, and a few other pieces are arranged into a washer that is likely the closest to automatic of any of these. Clothes, soap, and water are added to the barrel, which is then agitated by pedaling the bicycle. The clothes will be clean after about ten minutes, then just rinse, wring, and hang.

Other Washing Accessories

Laundry Scrub Brush

These soft silicone brushes are meant to aid in getting clothing and shoes clean. These are effective at cleaning all types of clothing, including collars and underclothing.


One way to get extra water out of clothes so they will dry quickly is to use a hand-crank wringer like great-grandmothers used to do. This wringer will clamp to the side of the bucket so water that is wrung out will fall back into the bucket so it can be used indoors as well as outside. Made in the USA.


Once the clothes are washed and wrung out or spun out, they need to be allowed to dry. Air drying in the sunshine is the best option.

Folding Laundry Rack

This rack can be used inside or outside. It is durable and made of steel but is lightweight and folds for easy storage. It can easily hold a load of clothes from one of the manual machines.

Elastic Clothesline

This portable clothesline includes clothespins to hold up to 12 items. The hooks on each end make it easy to hook up. Moveable clips between clothespins support the pins to keep them from sliding.