How to Wash Your Clothes Off the Grid

Living a nomadic life and on the road opens a lot of possibilities and excitement. But it can also bring a lot of limitations, such as water and electricity, for your everyday needs.

But living off the grid doesn’t mean not having access to water or electricity completely. If you have a solar power system in your RV, you can generate enough electricity to run a regular washing machine or dryer. However, electric washing machines and (most especially) dryers consume a lot of power. Of course, you also need water to wash and rinse your clothes, but washing machines use a lot of water. Some clothes are really dirty that they require prolonged soaking to soften all the muck, hardened grease, grime, etc., so you also need a lot of water to do that.

If you’re running short of electricity and/or water, do not worry! You have to find new – or quite old – ways to get your laundry clean.

Traditional methods:

  • Hand washing with a tub and/or bucket – Washing machines have brought a lot of convenience to most American households. But before the advent of washing machines, our ancestors would use a galvanized bucket or tub which they would fill with hot sudsy water, dunk all the dirty clothes up and down, and wash them with their bare hands. Then they would transfer all the washed clothes into another bucket of clean water to rinse them, and finally, wring them thoroughly to get all the water out after rinsing. Then they would hang the clothes in the clothesline to dry. Surely, if you were used to dumping all the dirty laundry into the washing machine in the past, it will take some time for you to get used to washing clothes manually. But you will eventually get the hang of it as you have adjusted to the off-the-grid way of life. You may actually find that washing clothes in this manner is way more effective as it allows you to get rid of the dirt more thoroughly.
  • Using the brush and washboard You’d think that washboards are now passe? Nope, they’re still available, and you can even buy them online. It’s expected that the washboard is subject to being doused with water and soap suds, so it’s better to purchase a galvanized washboard to prevent rusting for longer-lasting use.  Manual brushing is still an effective way to get all the stubborn dirt out of your clothes, but it depends on how dirty the clothes are, and the type and quality of brush you’re using.
  • Squeezing out excess soap and rinsing with a mechanical wringer – Instead of wringing all the wet clothes by your bare hands, you’d be better off with a non-electric mechanical clothes wringer.  It frees your hands and wrists from the painful manual wringing, plus it also saves you time. Manual wringing can also warp the clothes and damage them, but a mechanical clothes wringer won’t. It can squeeze water out from all types of fabric without using the damaging heat. With just a few cranks, your clothes are now ready to be rinsed and hung in the clothesline to dry.

Essential items for traditional clothes washing:

1. Behrens 2GS 15 Gallon Round Galvanized Steel Tub

Got a monstrous pile of laundry to wash? This galvanized 15-gallon steel tub from Behrens will fill all your clothes and water for washing and rinsing. It is rust- and rodent-proof, as well as recyclable. Its offset bottom keeps the tub from touching the ground as you wash away by the river banks.

2. The Laundress New York Stain Brush

Some brushes are efficient in getting rid of dirt, but they can damage your clothes. Not this brush from the Laundress – it has soft bristles, which means it won’t ruin all types of fabrics while effectively getting rid of stains at the same time. With its length, this brush can also clean hard-to-reach areas.

3. Behrens Galvanized Washboard

Not only Behren’s Galvanized Washboard is functional and efficient, it also comes with beautiful scripting to add a vintage flair to your bathroom, kitchen or laundry area. The scrubbing surface is galvanized to prevent it from rust, and the rest of the frame is made of solid wood pine.

4. Calliger Hand Crank Clothes Wringer

This clothes wringer from Calliger features a couple of durable 14-inch rollers, which is larger than most brands. The hardware in the construction is sturdy, as it is made with a zinc-plated metal with a powder-coated finish. This clothes wringer also features a versatile angled clamping system so that you can attach it between two round or square washtubs or basins, for a more convenient and hassle-free washing-to-rinsing sequence.

Newer methods:

If you want a faster way to get your laundry done without worrying about using electricity, too much water and soap, non-electric washing machines will save the day! They do not require electricity at all and use less water and detergent than traditional washing machines and even regular hand washing. That’s why manual washing machines are eco-friendly. Check out a few great options and brands:

1. The Laundry Alternative Wonderwash Non-electric Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine

Perfect for the off-the-grid lifestyle, this manual washing machine does not require electricity nor fuel. It just requires your hand power to bust all the dirt and grime out of your clothes. With only a number of cranks, your clothes will come out clean within a couple of minutes. It can hold up to five pounds of  laundry of any fabric and saves you a lot of water, too. Its small and compact size allows for easy storage when not in use.

2. Best Choice Products Pedal Powered Washing Machine and Dryer

This mini-washing machine features a pedal that you step on to initiate washing, rinsing, and drying cycles. This non-electric washing machine is perfect, especially for cleaning one outfit or several pieces of underwear, socks or other “delicates.” You can even sit on this machine while your foot does the pedaling, washing and cleaning your clothes along the way. It is also easy to store when not in use.

3. Breathing Mobile Washer Portable Handheld Washing Machine

You can use this easy-to-store and portable handheld washing device to wash and clean your clothes straight from the tub or bucket, without having to stick to regular hand washing. It allows you to wash clothes with as little water and detergent as possible, which makes it an eco-friendly alternative to traditional hand and machine clothes washing.

If you have run out of commercial detergent and soaps, you can make your own soaps as it is part of future skills that you have to learn when life throws you a curveball.