By September 12, 2013 Read More →

How To Wash Laundry With No Running Water

I realize that this might seem a bit basic, but washing clothes by hand is no joke!  I do it every year for two weeks, and every year, I’m glad I did a lot of research on the initial end!  I’m also very glad when I can come home and use the washing machine again too!

Supplies needed

Here’s my set up.  I’ve got the following things in order to make it all work;

Laundry washing supplies

Washing Supplies Needed

  • A portable, folding clothes line
  • A breathing washer
  • A metal wash tub


  • A commercial salad spinner
  • A basket


  • A bucket
  • Clothes pins

 Wash Laundry

Please note that in the pictures, I was lucky enough to have a hose this last year, though it was very low pressure and would periodically turn off on its own…In past years I’ve had to do this with the bucket and expect that will be the case in future! Here’s how you put it all together.

  •  Fill your wash tub, using the bucket for transporting water
  • Put in the soap
  • Use the plunger to make bubbles.  If you do not do this step, the soap never mixes well with the water and you end up with cakes in the bottom of the tub.  Not so hot if you really want clean clothing.


  • Sort your laundry – do your whites first, with the exception of stinky socks!  If you do the dirty, stinky clothing in the beginning, everything that follows will be dirty and stinky.  Progress thru the clothing, light to dark, to the exceptionally dirty and stinky.


  • Put half of what you think will fit into the wash tub.
Wash Laundry with mobile washer

Wash Laundry with Mobile Washer

  • Plunge – the idea is to use the plunger like an agitator, and it can’t work if there are too many clothes.  My child model is six, and able to easily do this, though her stamina gave out after 2-3 minutes of plunging.


  • When you feel its clean enough, put into basket of commercial salad.
  • If you have very dirty or stinky clothes, put them off to the side for scrubbing on the wash board at the very end. (A great job for kids to do, as they love playing with water!)


  • Let the clothing drain.
  • Spin the spinner to get as much soapy water out as possible.
  • Use the bucket to pour water on top of the clothing in the basket.  Pour slowly and gently – don’t soak it all at once.  The idea is to do like a washing machine would and force the clean water thru the clothing so that the soapy water and dirt moves out.


  • Spin.  Even the two year old can do this – it’s a fabulous time to get kids involved!


  • Rinse and repeat as necessary.
  • Make a final spin and remove the clothing out to the laundry basket.
  • Finish the load of wash.
  • Hang to dry.



This typically takes longer to dry than a load washed in a home machine because machines are much more efficient at removing the water from the load.  It will drip.  But, this method has the advantage of using a mechanical advantage (the salad spinner) to do the work that would otherwise need doing by hand, (wringing) and which is very hard work!

About the Author:

Re-enactor, canner, sci-fi geek, mom, she who loves car seats!

18 Comments on "How To Wash Laundry With No Running Water"

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  1. kim says:

    hi, we have a commercial mop bucket and wringer to squeeze the water out of the clothes. new runs about 45.00 or so at sams, but you can find them at yard sales,too! thanks for the tip on disolving the soap first :-)

  2. Elise says:

    I never considered they’d take longer to dry than a washing machine load, but it makes sense. Such hard work, but very useful information indeed!

  3. junipers says:

    Thank you for your research! I didn’t know that there was an industrial size salad spinner! Great idea & great instructions! Appreciated Kim’s comment on the mop bucket..another great idea. Always eager to glean information from those who have tested different methods for all kinds of things. Very much appreciated.

  4. No problems – this is a practical issue for me, as I don’t have access to a washer/dryer for those weeks.

    There is indeed an industrial size salad spinner – it cost me approximatly $125 at my resteraunt supply place, it was the priciest thing in the whole lot. I’ve seen them on ebay for cheaper, but didn’t want to bid on one, local pick-up was much easier.

    I considered the mop bucket method, but two things kept me from it. 1) I’ve got a bad shoulder and can’t squeeze it enough to get out the water. 2) Capacity. It’s got a much smaller capability than the salad spinner does. I’ve 6 people in my family, and this was of big concern. Even as such, I feel as if I’m just squeeking by with the spinner! If you had fewer family members, and a working arm, I’d wholeheartedly endorse the mop bucket method.

    Yes, it does take much longer to dry. There’s no way one can get out the amount of moisture that a modern washer does by hand. It’s simply not realistic. Washers spin at very fast RPMs to make that happen, and we just don’t have the arm power to make it work. Best plan is to use a mechanism to get as much water out as possible, and hang to drip, then dry – there is honest to god real reason that we have that term, “drip – dry”! :-)

  5. DianeMargaret Miller says:

    And here I’ve been trying to squeeze them out by arthritic hand!!! I MUST get an industrial salad spinner!!! THANK YOU!!! I have been gathering everything else here & there but that would be the part I’ve always dreaded…you just made it much easier!!! :)

  6. Vic says:

    I would like to know where you got the (Red rinse washer bucket)???? and how much was it. Please email me the answer.


  7. Ken says:

    Wow, that is very helpful. I have been using a five gallon bucket for years (no washer nor dryer here). This is going to save time and trouble. Thanks for posting it.

  8. faultroy says:

    Wow, this seems like a lot of work. I’m building a house and have not had running water for over two years. I use a five gallon bucket. For the really filthy clothes (underwear, socks and pants)I pre-treat and do a little scrubbing. For average cloths, I leave them alone. I let them sit in a detergent concoction (detergent, Borax, baking soda).

    I leave them in for a couple of days agitating them around every now and then (about three times a day for a few minutes just to make sure the detergent has an opportunity to contact every part of the clothing–I use a stick). For underwear and whites, of course I put in bleach. For the rinse, I take the bucket grab another bucket to my water source (a small farm hydrant) and wring out a few of the clothes and put them in a half way filled bucket of clean water, swirl and agitate until the water is relatively clean. You will need to do this a number of times throwing out the water until the water runs clean. Then I hang this up to dry on the cloths line. (If you want to get soft cloths, put vinager in the last rinse.)

    This method will give you far cleaner cloths than doing them in any laundry machine because you can never get your cloths rinsed out enough of detergent with only two exchanges of water.

    Because you are filling a bucket (I use 5 gallon buckets) up only about one third of the way between water exchanges, you really aren’t using more water than you would with a regular washing machine thru the spin cycle.

    For me, this system has been so efficient, that I will be using it even when I have a washing machine/dryer installed in the house. It is more efficient and it really doesn’t take up much time. Really a few minutes at the beginning and maybe fifteen minutes for the rinsing cycle.

    I wasted hours at the Laundromat when you consider the drives and money. For one person this is a great cheap and efficient system. At least it works for me.

    I suggest that everyone-even if you have a washing machine–try this system just to see what you think of it. It saves energy–since you are using the sun to dry your clothes–and it gives you some idea as to what a washer and dryer does to your clothes. I was surprised on how much detergent and dirt residue machine washing actually left in my clothes when I started to fill buckets and watched how many times I had to actually change the water to make it run clear. That tells me that many people that have skin conditions are having them because of detergent residue in their clothes.

  9. Edie says:

    I purchased a Wonder Wash for camping and emergencies. It works really well… but you have to ring out the clothes by hand which I agree is hard work. The industrial salad spinner is a swell idea and would make a great addition to any off the grid wash days! The Wonder Wash does a good job but since it is plastic and has a plastic frame, I am not sure how it will hold up under heavy use. I wish it was metal or at least had a sturdier frame. Anyway, Thanks for this info…very helpful.

  10. Faultroy- I’m very glad that you’ve found something that works for you! That’s excellent. I have 6 in my immediate family, so need something that works bulk, this is the best compromise.

    Edie- I’ve had a Wonder Wash. It’s good for very small loads and I found that mens pants, in particular, don’t fit into it. I also ended up with very many more loads than I ever wanted with it, due to it’s small capacity.

    Again, for me, it comes down to ease of use at larger capacities. I have 3 sets of clothing for each member of my family at our 2 week long event, and still end up washing every day for clean clothing. This gets around the need for clean or dry clothing when it rains, or when someone dirties something prematurely. I have a 9 year old boy, aka the dirt magnet… 😉

  11. Roger Reese says:

    have you ever thought of using a industrial mop squeezer. Two would work good 1 for soapy water & 1 for clean or rinse water.