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There are three things that you need to take into account when you are deciding how to wash clothes and other laundry at your off grid home. And these are; the available power, water use and how much time you have.
I’ve seen plenty of ideas for bucket and plunger clothes washer devices and hand cranked washers. I’ve used both kinds too. Both methods work, but in the long run they didn’t work out for me doing laundry for six people.
My first experiments were with an old plastic toy tote to hold the water and a plunger made from a broom handle with a plastic plate screwed on the end.
You can get a better plunger as pictured to the right: It is called the Rapid Washer – DIY Manual Hand Washing Machine.
While this method did get the clothes clean, it was hard work. Not so much plunging the laundry in the tub, but hand wringing the clothes was a pain in the behind. Smaller items were easy enough to wring out, but heavier clothing like jeans and bed linens were hard. It doesn’t take long to get blisters between your thumb and first finger when you’re doing a load of washing this way.
Another issue I had with this method was the amount of water used. Our sole source of water when we first moved here was rain water, so using 20 gallons each time I did the laundry was too much.
I persevered for a year like this and then I had had enough!
Wonder Washer Off Grid Washing Machine
The second laundry method I tried was a hand cranked washer called the Wonderwash.
I have to admit that it worked well and the time spent cranking the handle was minimal at only about 2 to 3 minutes. But I ran into the same problem with regard to hand wringing the clothing and water consumption was still high.
In my opinion, the claims for the Wonder Washer being able to wash 5lb of laundry are greatly exaggerated – but that may be just me.
Plus for this washer to wash effectively it needs hot water so that it can build up pressure. Personally, I prefer to wash with cold water when ever possible to save on energy.
I gave up on the Wonderwash after 3 months.
So while both of these laundry methods got the clothes clean and are fine for emergency use or a camping trip they soon become really tedious.
Yes, you can run your sopping wet laundry through a centrifugal spin dryer or a mangle to save all of that hand wringing. But the fact is that there isn’t much you can do to cut down on the amount of water these methods need or the time you have to spend to get the laundry washed.
After spending some time researching high efficiency, front loader washers I decided to stop messing around with water and labor intensive methods and I am so glad that I did.
High Efficiency Washing Machine to the Rescue!
A high efficiency washer on a cold wash setting uses very little power, so can run off a modest solar set up. According to the technical specs, my washer uses 1 kw/h of electricity on it’s main cycle but that is if it heats the water.
I don’t know how much power it actually uses with the cold cycle that I run – but it is not much though, since 90% of the energy consumed by washing machines goes to heating the water.
Even better, a high efficiency washer uses minimal water to get the laundry clean. My machine uses 14 gallons start to finish with a 15 pound load.
And if I use wash balls or soap nuts I can cut out the rinse and only use half of the water.
The spin speeds on these machines are impressive too. Mine has variable settings all the way to 1300 rpm, meaning most of the water has been spun out. This is really useful, because in a off grid setting you just won’t be using a clothes dryer, you’ll be line drying or using a drying rack and the less water the laundry is holding onto the better. Makes for a lighter laundry basket to haul outside too.
If you’re going hard core off grid and plan on having no electrical power at all then your options for an off grid washing machine are a tub and plunger or a hand crank washing machine.
But if you’re planning to generate power, then my advice is save yourself the misery of trying to cope with alternative laundry methods and get a high efficiency washer.
You can just put the laundry in the machine, set the program and go and do something else. There are lots of tasks that are worthwhile doing manually in a bid to become more self reliant but washing clothes isn’t one of them. Not for this gal anyway.
Note: To run a washer like this off-grid, you will need to make sure that you have a pure sine wave inverter.
Author: This article was written for Self Sufficiency HQ by Caroline Taylor of Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Please share your recommendations, trials, tribulations and successes with doing your off-grid laundry below. We’d love to hear from you!