How to wash clothes without electricity


This article describes how to do laundry without an electric washing machine, while using modern work-saving methods and non-toxic detergents.  These methods can be used in the weekend cabin or year round.


Keywords:   how to, laundry, wash clothes, without electricity, no electricity, non-electric, washing, off grid, low EMF, electrical sensitivity, chemical sensitivity, MCS


Who needs to wash clothes without electricity?

Many kinds of people may need to wash clothes without using electricity.  This can be people who rent a rustic cabin, or someone who lives off-grid with little or no electricity available or no access to a washing machine.


The Amish live without electricity for religious reasons, and people who are hypersensitive to electricity sometimes do for health reasons.


The methods shown here are all used by people with chemical sensitivities (MCS) or electrical hypersensitivity (EHS) as their sole method of washing clothes.


The plunger method


The Amish invented the plunger method, where the wash is simply agitated by moving a plunger up and down in a tub.  A regular rubber plunger can be used, but a specially designed plastic washing-plunger is available from Lehman’s in the Amish town of Kidron, Ohio, USA.  They do mail order.


The person in the picture lives year-round in a camping trailer in remote areas of the Arizona desert.  He uses an 18-gallon (68 liter) galvanized washtub.  This holds about as many clothes as a regular washing machine.


He puts in the clothes, adds water and detergent, and then moves his washing-plunger up and down for five to seven minutes.  He moves the clothes around in the tub once, so the same clothes are not on top all the time.


He rinses the clothes twice by dumping out the water, adding new water, and using the plunger again.


If the clothes are really dirty, he uses extra detergent and rinses the clothes three times.  He never uses hot water, and the clothes get as clean as if he used an electric washing machine.


The bucket-plunger method

This method is developed by some people with environmental illness, who live year-round in a camper/caravan.  The basic idea is still using a plunger-like device to agitate the laundry load, but now using a closed bucket.


Two identical five-gallon (20 liter) buckets are needed.  One bucket has several small holes drilled into it on three “sides” of the bucket.  This bucket is then stacked on the other bucket.  Water, detergent and clothes are then added, together with the plunger (they use a regular rubber plunger).  A lid is placed on top, with the plunger handle going through a hole.  The hole is reinforced with some plastic pipe fittings.


The disassembled device.  Note the drainage holes on the left bucket.



When it is time to change the water, the inner bucket is lifted up.  The water will stay in the outer bucket, which is now easy to empty.


It is here it is handy to have drainage holes on just three “sides” (¾ of the circumference) as the part without the holes protects the operator from splashing.


The James Washer

The James Washer is another Amish invention.  It consists of a stainless steel trough with a paddle in the bottom.  The laundry is agitated by the paddle, which is operated by slowly moving a long lever back and forth.  An optional wringer is available, but it uses rubber rollers, which some people with MCS do not tolerate.  An alternative is to hand-wring the clothes.


The washer is made of stainless steel with sturdy wooden legs and is very durable.  The washer drains completely after each wash, so there is no leftover water that can get moldy like on a regular washing machine.


The James Washer, without the optional wringer


The washer has a volume of 15 gallons (57 liters) and can only handle what would be a small load for a regular washing machine.


A regular wash comprises of one load of water with detergent and two rinses.  For each of these three fillings, the operator will need to move the agitator paddle back and forth for five to eight minutes.


The owner of the pictured washer reports that it works well and her clothes get clean.  She occasionally washes very soiled clothes where she has to put in more detergent and do three rinses.


The James Washer is available by mail order from Lehman’s store in Kidron, Ohio, USA.


Breaking in new clothes

People with chemical sensitivities (MCS) are frequently unable to wear newer clothes because of the dyes, chemical treatments, cotton oils, etc.  They often have to wash new clothes many times before wearing them.  That is a lot of work when using these washing methods.  A much easier alternative is to soak the clothes for a couple of weeks.



A 30-gallon (110 liter) plastic or steel trash can works well.  Fill it with cold water and put a couple of pieces of new clothing in together with a detergent.  Let sit in the sun, so the water warms up.  It can be helpful to stir it once a day with a stick or washing-plunger.


Change the water every two days, and put in a new detergent.  Consider using a stronger detergent the first couple of times, even one that is not well tolerated.  After that, use a milder, well-tolerated detergent, which will remove residues of the stronger detergent.


Do this for a week or two, ending with two or three rounds with just water, to rinse the detergent out.


This method is only usable when the water can be heated up by the sun, which may be just six months of the year.  This method requires some planning to get the best use out of the warm season.


The author has used this method for six years to break in all sorts of clothing, including jeans and coats.


Some people simply hang their new clothes on the line for a long time and let the sun and wind do the break-in.  This method may only work in a dry climate, since mold would otherwise become a problem.


Drying clothes without electricity

The people mentioned in this article — including the author — use an outdoor clothesline to dry their laundry year round.  In the winter we have to do laundry on a sunny day and sometimes move the almost-dry clothes into the bathroom in the evening.


People have line-tried clothes for centuries before clothes dryers became available.  In northern Europe it was common to have a drying room in the basement of houses and apartment buildings.


Be aware that outdoor clothes drying is banned in some neighborhoods for aesthetic reasons.