Washing Laundry Without Electricity

Preparedness Skill: Washing Laundry Without Electricity

I’m researching the skills I need to learn to wash my laundry without electricity. I have a hard time imagining that I will ever be without power for an extended period of time – so long that I go through all my clean clothes and need o do a load of wash.  But you never know when you might find yourself in a jam.

How hard can washing your laundry without electricity be, don’t you just scrub them in the sink and hang them to dry? 

washing laundry without electricity

Are you prepared to do your laundry without electricity?

The modern, high tech washing machine not only saves us time, but it saves us water. We put the clothes in, press start and don’t give it another thought until the buzzer goes off.

It seems that washing clothes by hand is fast becoming a lost art. A skill we think we will never have to master in our time. Even if you never try washing your clothes by hand, if you are in a no power situation, this is a skill you need to understand.

Back-in-the-day Laundry

Your grandmother did not have the laundry luxuries we have today.  Laundry day was an all day, backbreaking adventure up until about 70 years ago.

Back in the old days, before all our modern detergents and soaps and powders, when it was common to make your own laundry soap, housewives and their children battled the wash with two things. Soda crystals and bluing.

Soda crystals (now known as washing soda) are white, sodium carbonate crystals used as a washing detergent on clothes. We still use them today as an ingredient in DIY Laundry Soap. It is effective on stains, grease and oil, but can be rough on your clothes. To say nothing of being hard on the skin of your hands, and in grandma’s day, washing was a very hands-on process.

washing laundry without electricity

Mrs. Stewart looks like she understands the hard work of washing laundry without electricity!

Bluing was another product used in washing clothes back in the old days. I actually have a jar of Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing in my laundry room, but I’ve never taken the time to learn to use it. Bluing is used to wash linen such as napkins, towels and bed sheets. It is a dye that is added to the wash-water. It works by tinting the whites a very light blue to counteract any graying that appears in bed sheets, white shirts and linen. This cleans them and returns them to their original bright, white condition.

There are many uses for Mrs. Stewart’s, including making a magic salt crystal garden, whitening hair, and detecting plumbing leaks (just to name a few!) Check out her stain removal guide  if you really want to get into laundry mode. 

A back-in-the-day laundry process went like this:

Washtub and dollystick | PreparednessMama

Washtub and dolly sticks. Photo courtesy of www.oldandinteresting.com

Heat your wash water, fill your washtub, add the washing soda crystals and agitate using a dollystick. Maybe you would rub the clothes together, maybe you would use your  washboard for heavy stains on work clothes. Use bluing when needed. Wring as much water out as you can – by hand – or put them through a wringer. Phew!

“You didn’t have to watch your diet then — you exercised over the washboard and you kept a good figure.” Emma B., 78, Scott County

Washing and Sanitizing Your Laundry Without Electricity

We all want to stop the spread of disease in our family. Washing and sanitizing our laundry -the right way – while hand washing will help do this. Our underclothes, diapers, dishcloths and dish towels contain the most germs. Plus, any towels, washcloths and bedding used by a person who is sick must also be sanitized.

Wash in soap and water, then sanitize. Sanitizing requires an additional step of hot water and a your chosen form of sanitizer. This is most often bleach used at the rate of 1.5 teaspoons to 1 gallon, but you can also use essential oils with anti-bacterial properties. Consider tea tree, eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon and peppermint. If you don’t have access to bleach or essential oils, dry the clothes in bright sunlight.

Consider a rinse of inexpensive white distilled vinegar, which can be used to whiten, brighten, reduce odor and remove mildew.

You might want to set up a cool outdoor laundry station, like these ladies and really master the skill.

Make Your Own Hand-Powered Washing Machine

laundry without electricityYou can make a washing machine from a rubber toilet plunger (new please! and set aside for that purpose)  and a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Any bucket will work though, it just needs to be about twice as big around as the cup on the plunger to aid suction.  Make a hole in the bucket lid big enough to put the handle of the plunger through.

To Use:

  • –Fill the bucket 1/2 full with warm water and add your laundry soap.
  • –Stir or agitate with the plunger until the soap is dissolved.
  • –Add the clothes items, don’t overfill.
  • –Insert the plunger into the lid and secure it on the bucket. 
  • –Raise the plunger above the water line in the pail and lower it with quick up-an-down strokes
  • –The plunger should come above the level of the water on the upward stroke but should not hit the bottom of the pail.
  • –Wait a few seconds between strokes. I found it helpful to put the bucket between my feet to steady it.
  • –Continue agitating your load until the clothes are clean, the number of strokes you need will depend on how many articles you have in the bucket and how dirty the clothes are.
  • –Rinse your items in clean water in a separate bucket. Add sanitizer at this stage.

Resources for Laundry Without Electricity

Washing Machines that Need No Electricity – Laundry.About.com 1800’s laundry with other links to current laundry ideas – Make a Laundry Wringer

I have one of these at home too  and if i ever get serious about hand washing laundry I will get one of these

Have you ever tried washing your laundry without electricity? Tell us all about it in the comments below.




About Shelle

Preparedness enthusiast Shelle Wells shares her passion to provide women with reliable, realistic and practical information about preparedness, self reliance, gardening, food storage and everyday life – without the hype. Come ask an expert how you can prepare your family for the big and small disasters in life.
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3 Responses to Washing Laundry Without Electricity

  1. Lynne says:

    I went through this thought process too. See what I wrote on my blog lol.http://tynansoakwise.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/five-loads-in-two-and-half-hours.html Good for you for thinking ahead.

    http://tynansoakwise.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/great-excitement-in-oaks-here.html This is my vintage ,green, clean, washing machine and I love it! Mangle is separate but there used to be one on the machine itself.

  2. Dude, Sustainable! says:

    What a great idea, although I’m not sure I have the time/energy to take this up quite yet. Thanks for posting to Green Living Thursdays!

  3. Bippy says:

    I wash a couple loads each week with a bucket and one of those blue plastic washers- I love mine to death, let me look up the name of it- The “Breathing” Mobile Washer. If you google that you’ll find it. I use it for delicates, the kids stuffed animals, bras (I haven’t had a bent or broken underwire since using it), and I’ll use it in the bathtub on the home made quilts. It really gets a lot of dirt out and it’s a lot more gentle on clothes than the washing machine. Plus, since I use it somewhat often, I keep in practice- sort of like hanging a load or two of laundry every week even though my dryer works just fine.

    Doing a whole tub load of clothes is a good workout, I’ll admit, but you can do 2-3 washer loads at the same time in a bathtub- which we need for black clothes, whites, and jeans.

    It’s nice to have it as a backup, but like I said, I mostly use it on delicates. I think I paid $20 or so with shipping for it.

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