Now, don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of reasons why our ancestors enthusiastically embraced these technologies. But from time to time, it is helpful to step back in time either because of our lifestyle choices or because some sort of disaster has befallen us.
Washing clothes once was a tedious affair involving heating water on the stove, and using all sorts of manually operated devices. The advent of electric-powered washers was a God-send, and quite frankly I’m hard-pressed to imagine living without access to them. However, as I write this I am now using a manually operated washer for most of my regular laundry tasks, and will review it and a couple of others.
All these off-grid washers have two things in common: 1) they use muscle power and, 2) rely on the fact that a small load of clothes with quality laundry soap can be cleaned fairly well and reasonably fast when done in a small container. Basically, we are taking the agitating movement of a modern washer and shrinking it down and doing it ourselves.
Laundry Alternative Wonderwash
This  is the one I’m using. I can wash a few shirts or my week’s worth of socks and undergarments in about 15 minutes or so. The Wonderwash is a simple device that works exceedingly well. Add detergent, clothes, and hot or cold water as you wish, close it up, crank it for about two minutes, drain, add water again to rinse, drain off, and you have clean clothes! You’ll need to let them drip dry, wring them by hand, run them through a wringer dryer or a spin dryer, because these come out soaking wet. However, if I wash an outfit in the evening and hang it up to dry inside near a heat source, it is ready to go when I leave home in the morning.
Breathing Mobile Washer
While it looks like a fancified plunger, it  is really a slick off-grid solution to doing laundry. Muscle power and clever design provide the deep-cleaning agitation needed to clean clothes. However, you can only do small loads with this, but considering you can wash a couple items of clothing in just a minute or two, it is hard to argue against it. This is ideal if you are short on space (you can wash clothes in your sink with it) or want a good spare clothes washer to keep on hand. If you have kids, a couple of these Breathing Mobile Washers and buckets could really cut down on the laundry workload and teach personal responsibility.
The old standby, this is the simplest washing tool and the one that requires the most work. Basically, it’s a ribbed piece of metal or glass set in a frame; you place the washboard in a container of soapy water and rub your clothing up and down to work out dirt and stains and agitate the fabric. These are ideal for delicates and hand-wash items, or where space for storing washing supplies is at a premium. I think they may be superior for really stubborn stains, as well. Far from my first choice for an off-grid clothes washer, I may still pick one up anyway for specialized work.
Personally, I think washing machines are one of the great tools of modern industrialization, but also recognize that being dependent on them ties you to a grid you may not control. If you can make your own electricity, that’s great. If not, well, humans washed clothes by hand for thousands of years. One of the biggest shortcomings I’ve found to any sort of manual washing is the difficulty in getting animal hair out of my clothing. It’s possible longer agitation time will help, but I don’t think most manual washers are ideal for getting animal hair from clothing. This will require manual removal with a brush, sticky tape or other such method.
If you switch to the manual method, expect either to wash an outfit every day, or do one or two massive pushes in a week to get household washing done. Still, switching to an off-grid method of clothes washing is largely positive. You use less water, are free of being tied to a source of power generation, get a bit of a workout, and wind up with clothes as clean or cleaner than a traditional wash, without the wear and tear an electric machine can apply.
How do you wash clothes off-grid? Share your thoughts in the section below: