Off-grid laundry solutions can be tricky, as washing clothes by hand the old fashioned way is backbreaking work. A simple foot pedal-powered washing machine makes quick work of dirty clothes and its downright fun to use!
You never really appreciate how luxurious a modern washing machine truly is…until you try doing the laundry by hand. It is incredibly uncomfortable, back-breaking labor in the best of cases. There’s a good reason modern washing machines were quickly adopted as soon as they become available.
We have a normal full-sized washing machine in our off-grid setup, it broke the week my daughter was born.
Here I was at home with a cloth diapered newborn, and I spent just about every waking minute either nursing or washing clothes in the sink.
The part had to be shipped from outside the country (more common than you’d think) and it took a full month to get our washer functioning again. During that time, I had plenty of time to research off-grid laundry options (or just backup options for when the washer breaks).
There are a few options, including a bucket setup with a plunger-like agitator that works pretty well. Believe it or not, ringing the clothes out is a bigger problem than washing them. Modern detergents are really efficient, and they do a lot of the work, but wringing clothes out with just your hands is tricky.
Sure, once or twice is fine, but try doing it for a week or more and see how you hold up. It’s really hard on your finger joints.
Getting the water out of the clothes is tricky though, and old-fashioned ringers are darned expensive. A well-made clothes wringer is just under $200. Add in even the most inexpensive washing options, like this washboard or this bucket washer and you’d have been better off just investing in something that will do it all with minimal effort.
I ended up going with a Yirego Pedal-Powered Washer and it’s been a lifesaver.
We still often find ourselves using this tiny off-grid washing machine. Why?
Washers break, power goes out, or I just need to wash a small load of super nasty laundry (diapers, shop rags, paint drop clothes, etc).
Honestly, with two young kids in the house, this little magic machine comes out on hot sunny days for fun. They love watching the suds twirl in the drum, and I’m more than happy to let them “playhouse” by doing the laundry for real.
A load only takes about 8-10 minutes from start to finish, including a spin-dry that dramatically cuts down line drying time.
The thing is, as more people move into “alternative” living situations, a full-sized washing machine may not be an option. Full-time RVers, Off-Grid households, yurt-dwelling nomads, or just people with fickle connections to the grid.
I’d definitely take it car camping if we were going to be out for more than a few days, and I’m sure they’re spectacular if you’re living full time in an RV.
How does a Pedal Powered Washing Machine Work?
A pedal-powered machine works more or less the same way as a normal washing machine does. There’s a drum that agitates the clothes in the detergent, a drain to release the soapy water, and then it all happens again for the rinse cycle.
Start by removing the outer lid. That lid is used to measure the total amount of water needed by the machine (with a fill line). It actually takes surprisingly little water to run, and there are only a few inches in the bottom of the machine while it’s running.
They recommend 5 liters (1.3 gallons) for the wash, and the same amount for rinsing.
After that, a small cover comes off the drum and allows you to add in your clothes. It’s a small machine, but it can still hold quite a bit.
Pedal Powered Washing Machine Capacity
The capacity is roughly 5 shirts or 8 pairs of underwear or 15 pairs of socks. You can also wash 1 pair of jeans, or 1 full-sized towel at a time, but since those need to be washed less often than intimates that’s not a big deal.
A whole load takes just 5ml of detergent or about a teaspoon.
How Long Does it Take to Wash?
The wash cycle takes just 3-5 minutes, depending on how dirty your clothes are. Pedal slowly, and springs inside the machine accelerate the drum to some pretty shocking speeds.
(They’re actually careful to warn you to never run it without the outer cover on, which is smart, that thing really gets moving.)
A slow pace of one petal, every 3 seconds or so, keeps the drum spinning at a fast clip. My both my 3 and 5-year-old can easily manage it, as it’s not particularly challenging to get the pedal down.
Other Ways to Wash Clothes without Electricity
If you’re on a tight budget, or only infrequently washing clothes by hand, then I’d suggest using a tub and wash plunger. It’s basically just like a clean plunger with holes to allow the water to flow through. It’ll agitate the clothes and is a lot easier on the knuckles than a washboard.
There’s actually a whole chapter on setting up a low-cost off-grid laundry set up in the book “The Doable Off-Grid Homestead,” which I’d highly recommend. It covers how to do just about everything for a really rustic off-grid homestead, and it’s written by a couple that’s been homesteading on the cheap for many years (with young kids too).
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