Four Ways to Hand Wash Your Laundry: Build a Washer for $3

Homemade washing machine. Build a similar system for under $5! (Complete with spin cycle!)

This week I've been participating in the Flats and Handwashing Challenge by Dirty Diaper Laundry. For one week, I've put away my fancy cloth diaper supplies and adopted the use of simple flats (think your Grandma's cloth diapers) with covers. I took it a step further and decided to come up with a cloth diapering stash and washing system for under $20 that is perfect for people who have a tight budget or want an emergency preparedness option for diapering! Click here to find out more.

In addition to only using flats, all participants are forgoing the use of their washer and dryer and must come up with a handwashing routine.

Even if you aren't interested in cloth diapering, today's post is still for you if you are interested in coming up with a low budget (under $5) hand washing routine for emergency preparedness, homesteading, traveling, camping, etc. 

I tried four different washing routines so far this week to fill you in on the good, the bad, and the ugly of each. The good news is I found a winner!

Before I begin, I am assuming that before washing you have disposed of any solids from your diapers into your toilet before washing. If your child is not yet eating solids, you can toss your soiled diapers right into the wash. This is because it infant poop is water soluble.

Your routine, detergent, etc. may be different based on your water, allergies, etc. That being said most cloth diaper routines look something like this.

Basic Cloth Diaper Washing Routine:
  1. Rinse warm
  2. Hot wash w/ detergent (heavy duty)
  3. Rinse warm/cold
  4. Extra rinse until bubbles are out.
  5. Spin cycle to remove excess water. 
I tried my best to follow this same washing routine for all of my methods.

The four methods I tried were:
  1. Hand washing in a sink
  2. Washing in sink or bathtub with plunger
  3. Plunger and bucket system
  4. Plunger and two bucket system w/ spin cycle (WINNER!) 


Hand washing in Sink

On day one, I decided to try the most basic option of hand washing all my diapers in my small bathroom sink through the day as I went along.  I washed two diapers at a time and covers when they got soiled.

I wanted to try this because I know it may be someone's only option if you are traveling, road tripping, or your power goes out and you have no other option. This can be done in any sink, anywhere, as long as you have access to water.

  1. Rinse warm.
  2. Put in rubber stopper.
  3. Fill sink with hot water and detergent. (Only about half way or you'll splash water everywhere).
  4. Add your flats. (You can't fit very many)
  5. Agitate the water and diapers with hands. 
  6. Rub fabric together.
  7. Let the water out of the sink.
  8. Rinse, wring, and rinse until there are no more bubbles.
  9. Wring out and hang dry.

  • Realistic option if you only if you absolutely have to clean diapers this way.
  • Does the job and the diapers do get clean. 
  • Good for spot cleaning. 
  • My preferred method for cleaning covers.
  • I couldn't clean very many at one time.
  • Water spills around quite a bit everywhere.
  • You get very up close and personal with the diapers. 
  • It takes time.
  • If you have sensitive skin, your hands could get raw. 
  • You are constantly washing through the entire day to stay up on it.  
  • Hard to wring out all water by hand. 
Because it was hard to wring out water by hand I tried laying my flats on a towel and then rolling the towel.


Washing in Kitchen Sink/Tub with Plunger and Sprayer:

Everything was very similar to my routine with handwashing in a sink, but this time I used a plunger to aggitate the water and the sprayer was very helpful during my rinse. It even worked well on a couple prefolds I had in the laundry from  before I started the challenge.

  1. Rinse warm.
  2. Put in rubber stopper.
  3. Fill sink or tub with hot water and detergent. (Less than half way or you'll splash water everywhere).
  4. Add diapers. (You can add more in a larger sink and a bunch in a bathtub).
  5. Agitate the water and diapers with the plunger till flats are clean.
  6. Let the water out of the sink. 
  7. Rinse (using your attachment sprayer until there are no more bubbles... no need to wring). 
  8. Wring out and hang dry.

The good:
  • The plunger did a decent job of agitating the water.
  • I didn't have to use my hands.
  • I got more diapers clean in less time than just hand washing. 
  • It even worked well on some pre-folds I had that needed to be washed from before the challenge!
  • The sprayer was an AMAZING tool. Rinsing was much faster and easier and I didn't have to wring the fabric during the ring to get the soap out. 

The Bad:
  • I couldn't agitate it as heavily or quickly without water splashing everywhere. 
  • I wanted to sanitize everything in sight right after.
  • The plunger would get suctioned to the bottom of the sink/ tub or clothes, slowing down the process.


Plunger and Bucket System: Great System!

This is a very popular system by moms taking this challenge. You use a 5 gallon bucket, plunger, and a lid with a hole slightly bigger than the plunger handle. Drill holes into your plunger for a better system. (It agitates better!)

  1. Place clothes into bucket. 
  2. Rinse warm
  3. Pour out water
  4. Add hot water and detergent
  5. Put plunger into bucket and guide the plunger handle through the lid. 
  6. Secure lid.
  7. Agitate for 10+ minutes
  8. Pour out water
  9. Wring and Rinse
  10. Pour out water
  11. Wring and Rinse (Repeat rinse till all bubbles are gone.)
  12. Wring out
  13. Hang dry.

The Good:
  • Plunger with holes works much better than plunger without!
  • You don't have to use your hands.
  • Faster than the other methods.
  • You can agitate the water very heavily without water splashing around. 
  • Very similar to washing machine.  
  • Can be used anywhere (bathtub, backyard, camping, etc). 

The Bad:
  • Arms get tired. But it is a good workout. 
  • Because there is no drain in the bucket, you have to lift and pour to get the water out. 
  • Difficult to get all the water and soap out of the bucket just by pouring, so it requires more rinses.    
  • Wringing out fabric gets very tiring. 


Plunger and Two Bucket System With Spin Cycle: WINNER!

I found this system on a YouTube video when I was researching different washing options. It is very similar to the one bucket system, but has a few fantastic additions that make it the winner in my book. The secret is that one bucket has holes drilled into it, which makes it the most like a regular washing machine, reduces need to pour out water, and need for several rinses. My favorite part, is it has a spin cycle! No need to wring out by hand. We made it for just $3! (Edit: Looking back, I would invest in a nicer plunger. The generic dollar store ones aren't durable enough for heavy duty use like this. The rubber wore out and started breaking at towards the bottom after only three washes.)

To create this system you need:
  • Two 5 gallon buckets (we picked ours up from the local bakery for less than $1 each!)
  • One lid
  • A plunger
  • A drill
  • Strong piece of thin line/rope. (Optional: For the spin cycle.)

Instructions to create washer:
  1. Drill several holes into the sides and bottom of one of your 5 gallon bucket. 
  2. Space holes at least an inch apart to maintain integrity of the bucket.
  3. Cut/drill a hole into the lid that is slightly larger than your plunger handle.
  4. Drill several holes into the plunger.

 Washing Routine:
  1. Place clothes into bucket with holes. 
  2. Rinse warm
  3. Place bucket into other bucket. 
  4. Add hot water and detergent.
  5. Put plunger into bucket and guide the plunger handle through the lid. 
  6. Secure lid.
  7. Agitate for 10+ minutes.
  8. Lift top bucket out of bottom bucket. Dump out dirty water from bottom bucket.
  9. Rinse until all bubbles are gone. (Instead of wringing out by hand you can place bucket without holes into bucket with holes to help push the water out, etc).
  10. Attach piece of rope to the handle of the top bucket and hang over a tree, etc.
  11. Spin bucket in a circle for SPIN CYCLE!

The Good:
  • Plunger with holes works much better than plunger without!
  • You don't have to use your hands to wash/wring.
  • Faster than the other methods.
  • You can agitate the water very heavily without water splashing around. 
  • Can be used anywhere (bathtub, backyard, camping, etc).  
  • Two bucket system helps you drain and rinse easier than one bucket system.
  • No need for wringing out by hand.

The Bad:
  • Arms get tired. But it is a good work out.

I will be posting a complete video with instructions and the wash routine sometime in the next few days! For now here are some clips.


Spin Cycle:

A few others tips I learned along the way:

Instead of using a plunger, you can invest in a mobile washer (hand powered) from Emergency Essentials. It's a very well designed, durable, high quality device that looks like a fancy plunger. It is currently on sale for $15. I have heard great things about it. I plan to purchase one.


Roll wet flats in a towel and squeeze or walk on it to effectively wring the water out.

Try "sunning" stains out. The sun works wonders on stains. Here is a picture of before and after an hour in the sun!

Do you have a hand washing routine you swear by? Any other DIY laundry tips? Share it in the comments below.


Mr. and Mrs. Hillarious said...

Wow that wringer washer is awesome! I may have to try it next year!

Princessnorm said...

I love that you tried all these different washing methods! My fave is that last one too! Way to go :D

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