How to Make a $5 Bucket Washing Machine

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Like most spoiled kids from my generation, I grew up with my mom doing my wash.

So, it was a big shock for me to start washing my own clothes when I moved out – especially since that first apartment didn’t have a washing machine.

I remember one day that I was feeling too lazy to walk with my dirty clothes to the laundromat. I figured, “Everyone used to wash their clothes by hand without electricity. How hard can it be.”

What proceeded was a huge mess, lots of wasted water, and even more wasted energy. I put my dirty clothes in the bathtub and filled it with soapy water. Using my hands, I started to slosh the clothes around in the water.

Soon, there was water all over the bathroom floor. My clothes were in a tub full of dirty water, and I had to drain and refill and refill the tub a bunch of times until all of the soapy water finally got out.

Luckily, there is a much simpler system for washing clothes without a washing machine and without any electricity.

The bucket washing machine costs about $5 and will take you just a few minutes to make.

Step 1: Get Your Supplies

You will need:

*It helps to have a bucket openertoo. Opening bucket lids can be hell on your hands!

Step 2: Drill Your Holes

The first thing you’ll need to do is drill a hole in the middle of the bucket’s lid. This is where you will put the plunger through.

Drill a hole in the bucket lid
Drill a hole in the bucket lid

Then you will need to drill some holes in your plunger. These holes allow water to go through the plunger as you move it up/down.

Drilling holes in plunger
Drill lots of holes in the plunger. You’ll want at least 15 holes.

Step 3: Use Your Bucket Washing Machine

  • Put some clothes into the bucket washing machine. Then put some water and detergent into the bucket. You’ll want the waterline so the bucket is about ¾ full.
  • Insert the plunger handle through the hole and then put the lid on tightly.
  • Move the plunger up/down to move the clothes around in the bucket. Yes, this requires some work but you’ll have some awesome-looking biceps soon. 😉
  • When you think your clothes are clean enough, remove the lid and drain the water.
  • Now fill the bucket with clean water, put the lid on, and plunge again.Drain this water. Do one final rinse if necessary.


plunging clothes
Just move the plunger up and down to clean your clothes!

Full video below:

Variation of the Bucket Washing Machine

Some people like to make their off-grid washing machines using TWO BUCKETS.

With this method, you drill holes around the bottom and sides of one bucket.
Drilling holes in bucket

The bucket with holes gets set inside the other bucket without holes.

Put the holed bucket in the other bucket to wash

You wash the clothes using the plunging method. When done, you lift up the interior bucket. Water will come out of the holes, saving you the trouble of draining the bucket.

When done, lift out the bucket to drain the water.

Another benefit of this method is that you can “dry” the clothes. When you are finished washing, you remove the bucket with the holes and let water drain out.

Then put the bucket without holes into it to push out excess water.

Put the bucket into the holed bucket to push water out of the clothes

Finally, you spin the bucket, just like with a spin cycle to get water out.

Finally, spin the bucket for its “spin cycle” drying

Full video below:

I do NOT like this version of the bucket washing machine!

The reason I don’t like it is because water gets everywhere when you wash the clothes. As you plunge the clothes, the water will come out of the holes and leak out from the space where the two buckets are inserted together.

When you lift the bucket with holes out, the water also sloshes everywhere. It is really hard to capture, especially if you plan on reusing the greywater.

The same goes with the “spin cycle” — water goes all over the place!

While this might not matter if you are washing clothes outdoors during the summer, anyone who has ever washed clothes by hand in the freezing cold winter knows how much it sucks to get all wet!

Drying Your Clothes

In summertime, you can just take your soaking wet clothes and hang them on the line. They will dry fairly quickly in the sun.

In wintertime, this doesn’t work so well.

If you don’t wring out most of the water before hanging them to dry, it can take DAYS before your clothes dry! I don’t have enough clothes to wait 5 days for my laundry to dry!!!

It is not possible to wring clothes out by hand. Your hands will start to cramp up really quickly (And I pride myself on being pretty fit and strong. I can’t imagine how someone with arthritis could do this.). Even with all that painful squeezing, you still won’t be getting that much water out with just your hands.

It is really worth it to get a clothes wringer. You can find them online or might even be able to find an old one at a flea market. The wringer gets out a lot of water so your clothes dry faster.

An easy alternative is to use a mop bucket for wringing out your clothes. Just put the wet clothes in the squeeze area and press to get the water out. The great thing is that the bucket catches the water so you can reuse it.

The Higher-Tech Solution

Bucket washing machines work great and are cheap, but maybe you’d rather buy a readymade solution?

If so, you can check out one that works with a foot pedal. You can just sit down and pump your foot to clean your clothes.

Portable Non Electric Washing Machine

Have you ever washed your clothes by hand? Any tips to share?

For More DIY Projects : DIY Projects

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  1. What if you take that holed bucket full of clothes that are ready to do the final spin dry, set it on a strong branch above your garden (or a strong beam in the middle of your greenhouse) by hanging it on a rope, twist the rope until it can’t twist any more, and then run out? You get to water your garden AND get the clothes part of the way dry. That way you don’t waste any water. I hope that’s a good idea that you can use since you didn’t like the idea of wasting all of that rinsing water.

  2. Thanks for the plunger idea, I will definitely try it, which will be easier than trying to find a sturdy version of the versions I have seen online.

    Most people washing by hand start out using way too much soap, which means using multiple rinses to get the clothes soap-free. If you leave the clothes with soap residue, the soap will attract dirt and you’ll be doing laundry more often. I start with 1 teaspoon for a 4 gallon bucket. And remember, lots of natural soaps don’t contain chemical foaming agents so you may not get a ton of suds.

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