DIY Two-Bucket Hand-Crank Washing Machine

In many places across the world, people are thinking out of the box to make their own power-free washing machines. The majority of Africans wash their clothes by hand, either in buckets or in streams.

DIY washing machine in action using a plunger
DIY washing machine in action using a plunger

For those who use buckets, they prepare three buckets (although two will suffice). In the first bucket, they wash clothes using bars of soap to remove dirt and stains. The second bucket is to rinse the majority of the soap out, and the third is a final rinse.

DIY Washing machine from two buckets

Plumbing is a pipe-dream there. People walk for miles carrying their basins and dirty clothes to places where clean water is provided for drinking, bathing, and doing laundry.

Life is harsh, but these people thrive on the sense of community generated by gathering to do their chores. It is a social gathering for adults to laugh and chat, while children play.

I found a few creative ideas for DIY washing machines, and I even made one myself. This simple design is based on two buckets, one of which has some holes drilled in it.

DIY washing machine supplies
supplies needed for this project

DIY Washing Machine From 2 Buckets

This manual washing machine is only made from two buckets and doesn't need electricity!


  • two large buckets
  • 1 toilet plunger
  • drill
  • sandpaper
  • A strong rope with a carabiner attached (only if you have a strong tree you can hang the bucket from.


  • Drill holes down the sides and at the base of only one bucket.
    drilling holes in the first bucket
  • Use sandpaper to remove rough edges around each hole.
    using sandpaper to polish the holes
  • Drill a hole in the center of one of the lids.
    drilling hole in the center of the lid
  • Drill holes in the rubber of the plunger.
    drilling holes in plunger
  • Feed the plunger's hand through the hole in the lid.
    inserting plunger through the hole

How it Works

Place the bucket with the holes inside the undrilled bucket, and add water and detergent. You don’t need to fill the bucket to the top.

Add your dirty laundry.

Put the lid with the plunger on the bucket so that the plunger is inside the bucket.

Plunge the plunger up and down a few minutes.

The holes in the plunger will agitate the water, stirring it up to get to at all parts of your clothing, and releasing dirt.

clothes inside the two buckets half full of water

Drain the water by lifting the inner bucket out, and placing it on bricks to drain:

draining water through holes under the bucket

Use the outer bucket to drain clothes thoroughly by putting it inside the bucket with the holes, and pressing down until no more water comes out:

using the bucket without holes to drain water out

Rinse the wash buckets out, add clean water, and repeat the motion with the plunger to remove soap from your clothes.

You can rinse in this manner as many times as you feel necessary to remove all the soap. Use the whole bucket again to drain the water from your laundry in the bucket with the holes in it.

(This is the part where a tree would be great, but it is not essential to your chore.)

Hang the bucket from the tree using a rope attached to the handle of the bucket with the holes in it. Make sure the tree branch, the rope, and the buckets handle are all strong.

Turn the bucket on the rope to really wind the rope tightly. The effect you are going for is very much like twirling the seat of a swing set, and then releasing it to spin rapidly on its own.

Release the bucket and watch as it spins all the excess water from your clothing.

Now you are ready to dry your clothes in the sun. Use the empty washer as a laundry basket so everything dirty is ready to wash. This washer is perfect for apartments, camping, tiny houses, and homesteaders.

Other Designs

Here are some innovative ways to make your own electricity-free washing machine.

This design shows you how to make a hand-cranked washing machine.

This is a slightly more complex way to build a washing machine. It does take up floor space, though, so it is not ideal for apartments.

This last one takes a lot more skill than the washing machine I built as you need to be able to weld to build it.

The creators have found a way to get exercise, release stress, and do the laundry at the same time. This washing machine is pedal powered using a bicycle to generate the motion for the barrel to spin.


Have you made or are you using a similar off-the grid washing machine? Are you washing clothes by hand? Let me and the entire community in the comments below if you have any tips to make this easier or more effective.

hand-crank washing machine pin image

13 thoughts on “DIY Two-Bucket Hand-Crank Washing Machine”

      1. Any kind will do. I used clear ones to clearly show how they work, but a black outdoor refuse bin will work as well.

  1. OldCountryWoman

    I have horse feeding buckets (3) and I will reuse ALL of the water. I will flush toilets with the dirtiest water, bathe with the rinse water, and then use the bath water to flush toilets. Water conservation will be of utmost importance in a grid down situation. I practice it now so that I will be in step if the SHTF.

    1. I made this when my kids were little,I also used the water to flush the toilet,I reused the rinse water to wash more clothes and to water my flowers, lawn, ectra

    1. You can use any machine wash or hand washing soap. You can also use dishwashing liquid or liquid soap. I have even used fabric softener – we went camping and remembered the softener but not the soap – it worked perfectly.

  2. Sharyl Ellison

    Like the idea for off grid living, but not all people of Africa have to live like this. Some parts of Africa are more advanced in living than the rest of the west.

  3. Plumbing is NOT a pipe dream in Africa… Your article would have held its own without you needing to fabricate such condescending statements that are absolutely misleading

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