How to Make a Manual Washing Machine


Although many Americans are dependent on electric washing machines, there are times when a manual machine is handy. Whether you are camping, living in a home without laundry facilities or conserving electricity, you can still clean your clothes without scrubbing by hand. The spin cycle of an electric machine is high-powered, so a manual or hand-operated machine requires wringing out the water once the clothes are clean. Invest in a collapsible drying rack to dry your clothes indoors or out without a clothesline.

Things You'll Need

  • 18-gallon plastic storage tub with lid
  • Spool of thread or small, circular object
  • Marker
  • Rotary tool with all-purpose bit
  • Rubber-bottom household plunger
  • Utility knife
  • Small rubber sink or bathtub drain stopper

Building the Machine

  • Fasten the lid on an 18-gallon storage tub. Mark a spot close to the center of the lid with a marker.

  • Set a small circular object, such as a spool of thread, on the lid and center it over the mark. Trace around the circle with a marker.

  • Switch on the rotary tool’s power, then plunge the cutting tip of the tool through the center of the circle. Push the cutting bit through the plastic toward the edge of the circle, then cut around the circle outline. If you do not have a rotary tool, cut out the circle carefully with a utility knife.

  • Trim off plastic shavings that remain around the edges of the hole with a utility knife.

  • Turn the tub on its side. It doesn’t matter which side faces up. Place the bottom of the drain stopper against the side of the tub, approximately 1/2 inch above the bottom edge, and trace around it with a marker.

  • Cut around the traced outline with the rotary tool or utility knife, and trim off the shavings.

  • Remove the lid, and push the drain stopper into the hole near the bottom of the tub from the inside.

  • Punch or drill several holes through the rubber portion of the plunger with the rotary tool. The number, spacing and size of the holes are your choice. Holes prevent the plunger from sticking to the bottom of the tub with suction.

  • Stand the plunger upright in the center of the tub. Fit the hole in the lid over the plunger’s handle, then snap the lid in place on the tub.

Using the Machine

  • Remove the lid.

  • Add water, detergent and clothes around the plunger, then replace the lid.

  • Raise and lower the plunger inside the tub quickly, as if you were plunging a drain, to agitate the water and clothes.

  • Remove the lid and pull out the stopper to drain the water once the clothes are clean.

  • Replace the stopper, refill the tub with clean water and repeat the plunging cycle to rinse out the detergent.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use approximately one-fourth the amount of laundry detergent as you would with a full-size, electric machine.
  • Inserting the stopper from the inside prevents it from being pushed out while you operate the washing machine.
  • Make a mini washing machine using the same techniques and supplies with an unused or cleaned 5-gallon paint bucket and lid.
  • The tub is very heavy when filled with clothing and water. Set up the machine outdoors near a water supply, or in an area such as a bathtub where you can drain and refill it in one place.

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  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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