Off Grid Laundry.

It’s a daunting thing, I know. Doing your laundry by hand and totally off the grid is not easier, it is not more fun, and it is usually not more appreciated. That’s that. But, your clothes will generally get cleaner, you can have more control over what kind of soaps and conditioners go into your clothes, and you will have a much deeper sense of accomplishment when you bring in a basket of clean, folded laundry. You will use less water, no electricity and have no real need for anything that you can’t produce yourself. That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot to me.
Washing laundry without the help of machines is a hefty task. I know once I started doing all of my laundry by hauling buckets of water out of the cistern, vigorously scrubbing on the washboard, wringing, carrying and dumping tubs of water, I started to get stronger. And it makes sense. This lifestyle just plain makes women stronger. Not just mentally, but physically as well. I’d put an Amish girl up against any non-Amish boys I know. Seriously, shaking hands with those girls is almost a painful experience. I tease them about it a lot.
There is an assortment of neat little contraptions that you can find online or even in antique or junk stores that are designed to make off grid laundry easier, and I cannot possibly have seen them all. We have this one that we just use for socks. We refurbished it after finding it rusted and in need of a few patches. But it works well now and it is handy for soaking and agitation.
When I was talking about OGLaundry on the Christian Farm and Homestead Radio show with Scott Terry, someone mentioned those little plastic numbers that are oval shaped and have a little plastic stand. You can find them in the Lehman’s catalog and some other homestead supply stores. They spin all the way around, and you crank them with a tiny little plastic handle. We bought one of these when we first moved to the land, and they are just … just junk in my humble opinion. They are too light to stay put with a load of water and clothes, so we ended up screwing ours to a board to try to keep it from jumping around. Ours started leaking really quickly. You cannot wash more than a few light things in them, and you can forget about a pair of pants. Mrs. Bowman agreed with me on this assessment (that they are junky), and you should always take her word before you take mine.
I wash my laundry in metal tubs. Two of them – one for washing and one for rinsing. I haul the water out of our cistern – which isn’t too far from where I wash the laundry on the picnic table. I could pump it, but I just don’t have the patience. I don’t usually soak my laundry because I am bad at forward thinking and I don’t  have a ton of stains I’m worried about. I recommend soaking your laundry if you have young children or other reasons for set stains that could use some extra time in the water. Soaking socks is a great way to avoid scrubbing them – which can get tedious. In the summer, I suggest soaking your laundry in the sun or in a sunny place to warm the water, because soaking is more effective with warm water. You can add your soap to the water before or after soaking, I don’t think it makes much difference.
The old faithful washboard. I love ours. Ours is really big and it is glass. It’s great because it is double ribbed and it doesn’t rust or get weak like a metal one would. It stays cleaner than a metal one, too. I have seen plastic models, but have never used one. I suppose they would work just as well if you could keep them out of the sun and weather. I have a feeling we might need to replace the frame of our washboard before we have to replace the actual washboard. I highly recommend a glass washboard if you are looking to buy something that will last.
We also have this neat tool – we call it a Rapid Washer, because that is what it was called in the Lehman’s catalog when we bought it. We originally bought a metal Rapid Washer, but it quickly rusted and it really isn’t as effective as the plastic one we have now. I don’t know why, but I just like the plastic one better. It is basically just a glorified plunger, and is used for agitation. It works great, but it’s a workout to use. If you don’t want to buy a Rapid Washer just yet, you could always purchase a new, cheap toilet plunger. It won’t be as effective, but it will be better than nothing.

Just know if you have decided to do your laundry by hand that you will find yourself scrubbing Cinderella-style at a spot at some point. It’s just part of the job. There are a lot of tips and tricks to getting out stains and spots, but nothing really beats a good, rough scrubbing on the washboard. Elbow grease is always my first answer when people ask about how to get dirt, sweat, grease, and most anything out of clothes. Farm life will provide some pretty interesting spots and stains, so be prepared. Of course there are ways to make getting them out easier, but one day I will write all those things into my book.
If you want to make your own soap, you should check out this post. When I haven’t had time to make soap (which happens most of the time) I just use cheap, dollar store detergent in small amounts and vinegar in the rinse water. My mother knows how to make soap. She is the soap maker in the family. Someday I will have her teach me.
Then, just get after it! There are tons of different ways to actually wash your laundry, and no wrong way. As long as they come out clean, you are doing it right. Be sure to get all the soap out of them, and hang them out fast so they don’t wrinkle. Wringing your clothes out by hand will lend them a few more wrinkles than usual, but a really good wringer can be kind of pricey, so stress yourself out about it. We got our wringer as part of a pre-y2K barter deal. It’s a really nice one. I only use our wringer for towels, sheets, men’s pants, and things like sweaters and jackets. The rest I do by hand to save time. It’s up to you what you use your wringer for, just make sure it stays clean and that you aren’t in danger of smashing any buttons or other fastening devices. I’ve broken more buttons and smashed more snaps than I am willing to admit.
 Another tip – keep your clothespins in a bag and inside when they are not in use. If you leave them out on the line, be they metal or plastic, they will become weak and the metal parts of them will rust. Rust will get on your clothes and it will irritate you to no end. So keep them in a bucket or a box in the barn, or a shed, or in your kitchen where they are out of the sun and weather. A cute little bag works well, too. We hang our bag of clothespins in the outhouse when we aren’t using them. My mom also has this really neat apron with a huge, deep front pocket, and she uses it to store clothespins, only wearing it when she is hanging up laundry. It works well.

If you get your laundry hung out fast and let it snap in the breeze for a few hours, you really should not need to iron any freshly clean clothes, except maybe head coverings (for the creases and folds) and men’s shirts (if they are nice ones). Everything else should be okay. I don’t like ironing so I only do it when I have to. Sunday morning is usually the only time I find the need for an iron, or when I am sewing a new dress or apron.
For years my Mom taught me to hang my laundry inside out to save the outside from fading in the Texas sun, but I got so sick of turning clothes right side out to wash them, inside out to hang them, then right side out to put them away. So now I only hang my Sunday dresses and aprons inside out, and the rest are all right side out so that I can immediately put them on hangers. I’m lazy.
Speaking of me being lazy, I have to stress something. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with this whole laundry thing. Don’t think you have to be doing all of your laundry Laura Ingalls-style overnight or that you have to make the big switch all at once. Start doing your laundry in a bucket. Small things like socks, and underwear. Do your kitchen towels in the sink. This is a process, and don’t feel badly about having to run to the laundromat some weeks. Also – make your children do their own laundry if they are old enough! Once we started moving off-off grid, every one of us children was on our own for laundry, (except my baby sister) because there was no reason for my Mom to be doing six people’s laundry. They can do it, and they don’t have to be perfect, the clothes just have to be wearable. It’s a great task for little hands, and keeping children busy with something productive is a priceless thing on a busy homestead.
I hope I covered everything. Let me know if I missed anything or if there is anything you want me to talk about. I’ve wanted to do this post for a long time, I hope it is all I wanted it to be, and all that you expected. As always, feel free to ask questions, add suggestions, correct me, or share your own OGLaundry experience and advice in the comment section below.
Tracy M.


  1. I found a great spot remover, especially blood. Peroxide. Pour on, let set for 30 minutes and rub.
    I also used peroxide for an old spot, hemp oil, and it didn't remove the spot, but did lighten it to almost unnoticeable. I had old blood spots on an ivory pillow case(my husband has nose bleeds at night) and it removed these completely --amazing!!!
    Hope this helps someone.

  2. Thank you anonymous man for that information!

  3. Boy was I naive. I never put much thought in how to do laundry off grid. I figured it wouldn't be too hard, just slap some clothing in a bucket of soapy water, rinse and hange up. Thank you for writing this article and educating me on just how hard this is going to be. We do have one of those rapid washers but no washboard and definetly no wringer. After reading this article a wringer has to be on the wish list but it also sounds like it my be more a pain than a help if it's crushing buttons and such?

  4. Oh dear, I didn't mean to scare you away! You can wash laundry any way it works for you, there are no rules. This post merely is to tell you what I do and what works for me. The wringer breaks buttons because I don't adjust the pressure, which I should when I know that a garment has buttons. Wringers have been beloved by housewives for years and years, so I'm sure my wringer opinion is affected by my general inattention to the the task at hand. If you get a wringer, just be careful of buttons and snaps- you can adjust the pressure of the cylinders to not damage fasteners.

  5. Good article. Thank you for writing it.

  6. I've read where you can use a rolling pin to wring out clothes. Just drape a plastic tablecloth over an outside table, lay the rinsed clothes on it, and roll away!

  7. Love this post! I'm interest in hand-washing now, so I will definitely try it. Probably i is a normal task for you, but I had never thought about doing it by hand. Thank you for the inspiration!
    Best regards fron the Netherlands,

  8. Living in the pacific northwest, means rain all winter until about june/ july.... I haven't figured out how to dry clothes during the winter months. I have tried the, near the wood stove method with no luck, things takes days to dry and get musty. I think it may help to ring them out and get them as dry as possible before hanging, but hand wringing just doesn't do it. During the summer months, i love doing my laundry outside. If you or any of your followers have some tips for doing OG laundry in the PNW, i would love them.