Emergency Washing Machines

How To Make Emergency Washing Machines

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Today, I’m updating this post on how to make emergency washing machines. We need to get real right now, so many things are in short supply. Please check out thrift stores, garage sales, or wherever you can find some of the items discussed in this post. I have links below for some of them that I highly recommend.

We all want clean underwear for sure after a disaster, at the very least. I wrote this post using the Ball Clothes Mobile Washer (I’m sorry this one is no longer available), here is an updated model, Rapid Laundry Washer Plunger

You will use less water, electricity, and keep the planet a little greener by using just a bucket and a mobile washer. My design of the two five-gallon buckets with a Gamma Lid stores easily in your camping gear or RV. It’s easy to put together, as shown below.

While I’m at it, please stock up on the brand of laundry detergent you like to use. During a recent visit to some of my local stores, I found the shelves were bare. If you want to try making your own detergent as a backup plan, I have a good recipe for you. I have posted it below.

Ingredients Needed for Homemade Laundry Detergent

Just remember, there are zero fillers or fragrances in this homemade detergent, so if you like a particular one, use essential oils or use the bars of soap that are your favorite for washing clothes. You will not see bubbles because the fillers that generally provide that attribute to washing detergent don’t exist in this version. The bonus is you use so much less product per load. I have front-end loaders, so I use less than a teaspoon per load and I love it!

  • 1 Fels-Naptha Bar-grated either by hand, food processor, or salad shooter
  • 1 cup Borax Detergent Booster
  • 1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (not regular baking soda)

Emergency Washing Machines

How To Make Emergency Washing Machines

The picture above shows the two styles available, the Ball Mobile Washer with a straight handle and the one with the “T” handle. The one below was the original one which is currently unavailable.

Original Mobile Washer

They are back-ordered waiting for deliveries. Here’s the deal, people are beginning to realize how critical it is to be prepared, so products are getting harder and harder to find. It’s a fact, we all know it, or should.

Make Emergency Washing Machines

The handle stores easily inside the 5-gallon buckets with the Gamma Lid, (Mark drilled a 2-inch hole in the top lid).

Make Emergency Washing Machines

You tap the “ring” with the threads of the Gamma Lid on the top bucket with a mallet to secure it in place. This bucket will sit inside the other bucket. This Breathing Mobile Washer is hard to get now, but here is an alternative. Rapid Laundry Washer Plunger

Emergency Washing Machines

The units have four pieces that come together easily by screwing them together to make them ready to use.

Emergency Washing Machines

In the “top” bucket, Mark used a drill to make a few one-inch holes for the water to flow through when swishing the water. I have a “wash” bucket set and a “rinse” bucket set. I use a few paper towels between the buckets when storing them because sometimes they are hard to get apart, if you store them that way to save space.

Emergency Washing Machines

You can also use wash buckets such as these with the same mobile washers. Galvanized wash buckets. Or you may want a Columbus Washboard Family Size as well. You can find these, well, if you can find these, they may be available at some hardware stores.

Make Emergency Washing Machines

Emergency Washing Machines:

These are just a few of the things that you can wash by hand. I know heavy jeans would be a problem, but it could be done. I told Mark, “Please no jeans if we have a power outage for an extended period.”

  1. Hand towels
  2. Wash towels
  3. Wash rags
  4. Cloth diapers
  5. Underwear
  6. Socks
  7. Cloth Menstrual Pads
  8. Cloth towels from the kitchen
  9. Sheets and pillowcases
  10. Shirts
  11. Blouses
  12. Skirts
  13. Pants
Read More of My Articles  How To Have Clean Laundry When The Power Is Off

Homemade Laundry Detergent

5 from 1 vote
First Batch
DIY Laundry Detergent/Soap
Prep Time
35 mins
Cook Time
0 mins
Total Time
35 mins
Servings: 3 cups
Author: Linda Loosli
  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha Soap-grated either by hand, food processor, or salad shooter
  • 1 cup Borax Detergent Booster
  • 1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (not regular baking soda)
  1. Grate the bar of soap by hand, or use an electric vegetable grater. Put these 3 ingredients in a blender to blend. After doing this, it will look just like the store-purchased detergent, but will not include all the “fillers." You will use less product per load and will have fewer “soap bubbles." Remember, just having bubbles doesn’t mean clean. I use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per load, depending on the size of the load. I have a HE-High Efficiency washer, and it works great in regular washing machines as well. Store the finished product in an airtight container, preferably glass to keep it dry. I store some in 5-gallon buckets, but I don't live where it's humid. Just giving you the heads up.

Update: Lavario Emergency Washing Machine

I wrote this years ago, and of course, then people realized they better get prepared to wash clothes, including jeans and underwear, and also bedding sheets at home. Thankfully, Lavario came out with this gem. I bought one the minute I saw it on the internet. We just need options to stay clean when an unforeseen disaster happens.

Please, if you don’t have some method to wash your clothes, get something to wash at least your underwear. I don’t recommend the bathtub in case the sewers are backed up or the water is shut off. If you can’t drain the bathtub, just think about it, it would be a mess. This is now my favorite, Lavario Washing Machine (out of stock). It looks like they have come out with a Lavario Portable Lavario Folding Dryer (out of stock).

Get a Clothesline and Clothespins

  • Lehmans Folding Drying Rack (this is one of the washing products I have so I can totally recommend it)
  • Clothespins (Please buy good clothespins if you have a clothesline-I highly recommend these because I use them)
  • Clotheslines (I have this one because the sponsor shipped it to me, I looked for years to find this one)
Read More of My Articles  Personal Hygiene-How To Survive Without Power

Why Would I Want One of These Emergency Washing Machines?

Like the caption says, they are a handy item in emergency situations. Lately, there have been numerous news reports of families in a world of hurt because their homes, particularly their basements, have been either flooded due to a heavy storm, or their sewers backed up.

You see the families, with neighbors assisting, pumping, shoveling, doing whatever was needed to get the water, mud, and sometimes, sewer water out of their living space. In so many cases, they don’t have access to their washing machines because it was damaged during the emergency itself. Their clothes are a mess, as you can well imagine.

With one of these inexpensive but handy units, they now have a temporary solution to clean things. This is especially true if the whole neighborhood was affected, so no neighbor can offer theirs for use either.

Do They Work?

As I mentioned above, some items are more easily cleaned with these emergency washing machines than others. The toughest fabrics are jeans since they are stiffer, generally get dirtier, and you have limited room for multiple pairs in the washing tub.

At the very least, you’ll want to use the units for your underwear. That way you can feel somewhat “clean” as you go about your business following the emergency. The other items listed, like small hand towels, sheets, etc. should clean up well.

Can I Really Save Money Making My Own Washing Soap?

The first time my friend and I made the soap it became a real adventure. We had the ingredients scattered all over the countertop in my kitchen. Guess we didn’t have the top of the blender secured well enough. The second try was much better.

The soap works well and doesn’t require a large amount for each load of wash, whether in the homemade washing machine or my store-bought unit. The new “high efficiency” models usually have the capacity for larger loads, run very quietly, have cycles designed for each step, and use less detergent.

Mark and I have both noticed how well the clothes come out, how efficient the fabric softener is, and how short the cycles can be in most cases. Ours has a “fast wash” cycle that only takes 15 minutes. Boy that saves a lot of time on wash days, or evenings after a long workday.

Do You Actually Use a Clothesline When You Wash Your Clothes?

I can remember watching my mom hang our clothes on an outside clothesline when I was young. Of course, we lived in Las Vegas where the temperatures were pretty warm most of the year, so it made sense back then. The only time I’ve used one in years is when my dryer broke down and I needed to get some wash done. It wasn’t as efficient as throwing them in the gas dryer, but it did work out. I did notice that the clothes dried a little stiffer and maybe showed more wrinkles.

Final Word

These are just a few items to think about washing by hand. Thanks again for being prepared for the unexpected. Plan on seeing some surprised looks on your neighbors’ faces when you show up the morning after an emergency in clean clothes while everyone else looks a mess after you used one of these homemade units. You’ll be glad you have one of these, I promise. May God Bless this world, Linda

Copyright pictures: Children with hanging clothes, AdobeStock_73890537 by Alexandr Vasilyev

Similar Posts


  1. Great idea! Thank you. I have had to wash clothes in the bath tub. Using a plunger. It works, but it isn’t easy. When you have children and no washing machine, you do what you have to do. Especially when one is in diapers. LOL 

    1. Hi Deborah, I know we have to be prepared to wash diapers for sure! I wish more people would use cloth diapers, they would save so much money! Thank you, Linda

    2. Since we live off grid, we have to use a clothes line. We have a dryer but the propane usage is outrageous. We are on all solar and propane. I do use the washer though. We have a deep utility sink right next to it that could be used for washing clothes. The burning question: how do you keep line-fried towels soft and not crinkly, hard grandma towels!?? The soft, not-so-absorbent towels stay soft but the others, stiff and hard. I’ve tried fabric softener, salt, vinegar, beating them with a cane. I give up.

      1. Marianne, I have thrown the towels in the dryer for about 5 minutes before hanging. That does help some. I have shaken and shaken them and that helps, but not as much as the dryer.

        1. I could probably use the dryer with no heat, just on fluff to deal With it. I’m super stingy with propane lol. I made yeast rolls yesterday and was stressing the entire time haha!

          1. We have propane, too. For cooking and heating water. As well as propane fireplaces. If we lose electricity, we can still have heat and cook and have hot water. We fill up 2-3 times a year depending on how cold the winter is.

            I do love the smell of clothes hung on the line. Nothing smells fresher.

  2. Went on-line (Amazon) per your link for the wash tubs. It is interesting to say the least. Not very good reviews – most say that the tubs will not hold water. And, the pricing is totally weird: 11 gal round $24.99; 11 gal 2 pack with a cleaning cloth $136.00; 11 gal 3 pack with cleaning cloth $120.99; 17 gal round $28.26; 17 gal 2 pack $115.99 with cleaning cloth. What is the cleaning cloth made of? Gold? Just my thoughts. I can see using some silicon to seal the seams but the pricing is way weird.

    How do you wring out your clothing once washed? Small things, I can see hand wringing but larger things? Or do you just let them drip dry? Here in western Washington, drip dry would not be very effective much of the year due to the weather!

    1. I have an antique wringer for small things that works well. I have never had to wring things that wouldn’t fit in the wringer but read an article somewhere that suggested straddling a tree with the legs of jeans and then twisting the legs together to wring them. I thought this would work well for large items like sheets, as well. I would use my vertical clothesline pole rather than a tree, or maybe a corner deck rail – I could wipe those down before using.

      1. Hi Lilia, I love your thoughts on how to wring out clothes. When the time comes when we have to wring out clothes by hand, you’ll be ready with your antique wringer! I think my post makes people think about how to be ready to wash clothes, you won’t be able to use your bathtub if the sewer lines are backed up. It’s all about being prepared for the unexpected. Good job, Linda

    2. Hi Leanne, I bought my Behrens 17-gallon tubs at a store called Cal-Ranch for about $45.00 each. They do not leak. Interesting, I did not notice a cloth. I have my own cleaning cloths. I try to put the links to the ones I own because I get about 200-300 emails a day. I quote “Round Hot Dipped Steel Tub
      Behrens 11, 15 & 17 gallon round utility tub is perfect for pet grooming, using as a party tub/ice bucket or a classic planter. The tub is made of durable galvanized steel, sealed to hold liquids and features an offset bottom and has a wire reinforced top rim. Stronger than plastic, this pail won’t absorb odors and is recyclable.”
      I sometimes question reviews but people can say whatever they want. Maybe theirs leaked. Mine do not. I want a wringer for sure. Someone has sent me something to try to wring out clothes, I’ll keep you posted. Linda

    3. Leanne, I found the wash tubs on the sites for Home Depot, Lowes, and Tractor Supply Company for 20.00 each. I’m not sure where you are in Washington state, but there’s gotta be cheaper options locally.

    4. I have a industrial floor cleaner bucket with wringer, like schools use. I know it won’t handle jeans(I plan to order cotton used work clothes this week) but shirts and other items should be okay.

    5. Galvanized tubs are crazy money here. Just a regular one that is “ice tub” size, which I believe is what most use it for here, is $75. Insanity. Even the galv garbage pails are expensive. Looks like a plastic garbage pail for me. Or the sink.

      1. Hi Marianne, I looked at Ball White Lids (not for canning) for my wide-mouth jars, crazy prices right now. Everything is priced so high, and I doubt it’s going to get better. Linda

  3. No JEANS….is my idea too.
    I ordered a few used work pants for my Gene and when they arrived, they were waaay too small and gave them to Goodwill.

    Which reminds me to reorder a few this week; just a few sizes longer and wider in the waist.

  4. I remember my mother hanging Dad’s jeans on the line. She had metal rectangles that went inside the legs to keep them wrinkle -free. Anyone here old enough to remember those??? 🙂

    1. HI there,
      Yes, I remember them and I used them when we were children helping mom hang all the wash on the clothes line. I actually kept one pair of them, but think they’ve been lost to me in one of the many moves we’ve made. Would love to find another pair.

    2. JJ, I not only remember them–I still have (and use) them! The very same ones my mother had! Which proves they pretty much last forever. I know I’ve seen them still for sale–I’m guessing Lehman’s, though Vt. Country Store wouldn’t surprise me either.

  5. A few years ago we made our own washing system and put it to the test and it worked great. We just put a hole In the lid of a bucket big enough for the handle of a new plunger to fit through. Then we cut 3 or 4 holes in the top of the rubber of the plunger so the water could swish through. Put your soap, water and a couple of pieces of clothing in and plunge away. Make a second on for rinsing. Simple, cheap and portable for vacations, camping trips, hotel use or bugging out! We turned off our electricity for an entire rainy day once. Our family cooked on the grill, washed clothes by hand and collected rain water just to see what it would be like and we had a lot fun and it was a learning experience!

  6. To JJ.

    Lehmans sells tbose metal pants items. Pants stretchers . Lehmans is based in Ohio and sells nonelectric items, many are Amish made. They also sell clothes wring ers. They have a website.

  7. Got mine together bout 2 years ago. Stocked oxyclean in the bucket with it rather than making mine. It came down to time vs need.
    I’d put new clothesline up a few years ago so it’s ready. I like using it for my sleeping bags and hunting stuff anyway. Keeps the frufru scents down.

    1. Hi Matt, it’s great to be ready as we all know before we need the stuff to use! Sometimes we need a nudge to replace the old clothesline, you are always on top of stuff! Linda

  8. Another great article! I have been using your laundry detergent recipe for at least the last 3 years. Love it!
    Quite a few years ago, I bought a manual (non-electric) washer called “Laundry Alternatve / WonderWash”. On a 6 month long RV trip, my husband and I took care of laundry duties in our 26’ travel trailer. We can store it in the under the bed storage space. A few tension rods in the shower area, allows hang drying. I did find a small spinning machine (electric- smaller than a 5 gallon bucket) that helps to speed up drying. And of course, when we’re home, it’s handy if we need it!

  9. Linda,

    This is one area in which I am unprepared, though I do have a couple of galvanized buckets I could use–and a solar clothes dryer (clothesline). Have to remedy that. Lehman’s has this for doing small items like undies and socks. Looks decent. https://www.lehmans.com/product/the-laundry-pod-manual-compact-washer/

    But I’ll probably just get One of those plungers and use my galvanized buckets. Though come to think of it, using 5-gallon buckets with lids would make the process less splashy/messy.

    When I was much younger and took long backpacking trips I’d wash my clothes in ice cold streams or beaver ponds and hang them from tree limbs to dry. I always had a minimum of three pairs of wool socks. One pair to wear, one as a spare and one I could wash each day and hang on my pack to dry as I hiked. I also had silk sock liners I did the same thing with. Never once got a blister. Backpackers and soldiers live by the motto, take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you.

    1. Hi Ray, I got the giggles over the solar clothesline, best comment EVER! It really is solar! Love it! If you have the buckets they will work. One for wash, one for rinse. I love hearing about the ice-cold stream and beaver ponds washing your clothes!! And the wool socks! Oh my gosh, aren’t the memories wonderful!! And the skills you learned!! No blisters gotta love it! Linda

  10. If you want items to use that require no power go to Lehman’s. I got my plunger washer from them. The are in Amish country and so that is why they are a great source . For larger items I saw one listed at Walmart.com. Much better price, too.

  11. Linda, that laundry soap recipe is great–have used it for quite a few years (although I do prefer Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds) and keep the “makings” stocked. In a pinch, almost any bar soap will do, although Fels Naphtha is far and away the best. (Did you know that Fels Naphtha is said to be responsible for farmers no longer having to smell like farmers? LOL!)

    Clotheslines… I don’t even *have* a dryer any more. In winter, the clothes may have to hang more than one day, but even if they freeze, the will eventually dry (sublimation–when the water changes directly from solid to gaseous state–see, chemistry class was useful after all!) There are also lines strung back and forth across the attic from wooden pegs driven into the beams–been there for 62 years that I know of…

    I used to use the same clothespins as you–have now transitioned over to Grandma’s Pegs from Lehman’s. The old-fashioned push-on clothes peg, but made of recycled plastic, from the film used to wrap big round hay bales. The best thing is that they won’t stain the clothes like wood can after a few years (especially if they get soaked when forgotten outside…)

    Let me know when you arrange your field trip to Lehman’s, and somehow I’ll arrange to go with you!

    1. Hi Rhonda, I did not know that about Fels Naptha bars!!! Oh my gosh! In the chemistry class, I have the giggles just thinking about my class! Oh, wouldn’t;t that be fun to meet up there??? I would love it! Linda. P.S. I need to order some of that Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.

  12. Linda:

    I also have a solar dryer (clothes line) and we use it all the time. Don’t like dryers. I guess they would be good for socks and underwear but we love, love, love when our clothes and other things get rained out (although when you are about to go out and take down your dry clothes it ca be irritating when it starts to Rain. What we do then is wait until there is a lull in the rain and go out and get the clothes and hang them on clothes hangers over our tub. With the socks and underwear we clip them on the cloths hangers and hang them over the tub. We always have fresh smelling clothes which you don’t get with a clothes dryer.

  13. Thanks as always for such good info, Linda. Lehman’s also sells the plunger washer shown at the beginning of your article; I purchased one earlier this year, thinking I could use it in a galvanized tub; do you think the 5gallon bucket would be better? Thanks as always!

    1. Hi Gwen, thank you for your kind words. I would use what you have, it’s the “plunger” deal that’s awesome in any container. I’m glad you were able to get one from Lehman’s!! Linda

  14. If you do the diy bucket washer, you can actually use the solid wash bucket to push the water out of the wet clothes in the bucket with holes. If you drill holes in the side too, some people will hang the bucket from a rope and then spin it to get the water out.

  15. I couldn’t bring my husband around to a non electric washer just yet,, but I did get two new heavy-duty stainless steel plungers, one for the toilets, one for washing clothes. Anything “hangable ” goes on hangers in the laundry room. It may take two days, but eventually they dry. I can hang my aloe-infused socks fron three flying pigs hooks. We have a hung furnace in case we get water in the basement, and a clothesline near that. We double twisted the clothesline so clothespins aren’t needed, but I will look for some.

    Thank you for all the ideas

    1. Hi Chris, you do what keeps the family happy, it’s all good. Those two plungers will work great! I had to Google three flying pig hooks! LOL! We all learn something from each other! Linda

  16. 5 stars
    Thanks for the recipe for homemade laundry powder. My mother in law used to have a old fashioned washer you use man power to wash the clothes. I wonder if my Sister in law still has it. I know she would not think to use it and maybe we could get it. I don’t think she would even think of using something like that.

    1. Hi Jackie, thank you for the 5 stars, my sweet friend. That old-fashioned washer would be awesome. Maybe you can take it off her hands, to help her declutter. LOL! That would be the best thing ever to wash clothes!! Linda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating