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).
More Off Grid Tutorials
Want to learn more about living off the grid?
- How to Make a Full-Time Living Off-Grid
- How to Find Off Grid Homes for Sale
- Off-Grid Appliances
- Maintaining Off-Grid Systems in Winter
So glad to read your review of this! It’s not big enough for my family of seven (with four athletes), BUT I have wanted a review from someone I could trust. I’ve been looking at the Lehman’s washer which is insanely expensive but the only thing I can find that’s big enough. I already have a wringer from a several month stint doing laundry in my tub in buckets with a plunger (can we say bursitis and aching back?!). I’m still trying to decide – I think they put less research into the space shuttle, honestly.
Always love your perspective!
I would recommend getting the rinse tubs set and the wringer from Lehman’s. If you want to get the small foot pedal operated washer for small loads, I would agree. However, you mentioned 4 athletes. I would put them on the wash tubs with the plunger (again, Lehman’s) and let them do their own laundry, including the jeans and sports clothes. Watch how fast they buy you the Lehman’s washer and an extra wringer. 🙂
Does it have a spin-dry or press-dry feature?
It spins dry, which is pretty much the best part. The clothes come out just damp, and dry quite quickly on a line after that.
Is it large enough to wash a queen sized sheet?
Good question…I haven’t tried it, but I imagine they’d fit in one at a time just fine.
I have one of the Lehman washers but hadn’t seen this one. BTW, you WRING your clothes. Your phone rings.
Thanks for catching that. We’re in the process of going through all of the posts to edit them for spelling errors.
This product was labled wrong…It is a thigh master!
Lol. That’s an added benefit I guess.
I do my laundry by hand on scrub boards. I do it outside (in the summer) in a movable deep unplumbed utility sink. I use rain water that I’ve harvested in my rain barrels. I lather the items in old fashioned Fels-Naptha and scrub them on my boards. I have various sizes of scrub boards for the different types of items. After a good rinse (also in rain water) I wring them by hand and line dry. I love doing this!!! I’ve done it for over forty years. In the winter (since I, too, live in Vermont) I do this process in the greenhouse. Your featured pedal power tub looks interesting. It might be something in which I could interest my husband. He has Parkinson’s and washing on a scrub board is hard for him.
I love that you still do all of your wash by hand with rain water. The pedal power tub could definitely be helpful for your husband. Let us know if you decide to try it.
Just a heads up your link isn’t connected to an available option because they upgraded the machine itself! Im not purchasing one yet, but if I were too I would be bummed to not do it through an affiliate link. 🙂 Im sure you have your hands full, but just wanted to give you a heads up.
Thank you so much for that. We are working our way through the blog now and making sure that all of the links are updated.
I am int in the manual washing machine can you plz tell wether it can be available in India if yes then what’s the price
The company is Canada based, and I have no idea where they ship to…probably? Contact them directly, I don’t sell the machines.
Clayton Emery Tharp
Right on! But where to buy?
All of the words in the post that are in red are actually clickable links. If you click on the name of the washing machine, it should take you directly to the website to purchase. https://amzn.to/3eshdiZ