5-Gallon Bucket Washing Machine

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by Adobestock/Evelien

Learn how to make a 5-gallon bucket washing machine for a portable manual washing machine to save money and help to conserve energy.

Eventually, we all need clean clothes. But few people enjoy laundry day. That’s why washing machines are such a wonderful modern convenience. Just throw a load (or, in many cases, less than a load) into the unit, turn it on, and presto — clean clothes. The downside is that these magnificent machines are energy and water hogs. Depending on how new and what type your washing machine is, it can use between 15 and 45 gallons of water per load!

Ironically, these machines use amazingly sophisticated technology to perform a rudimentary process that hasn’t changed much in centuries. The basic principle of that process involves agitating dirty clothes in soapy water for a prescribed period of time. Use warm water for colorfast clothing and white textiles, and cold or warm water for garments with colors that might bleed. Rinse in the same temperature. Basically, that’s all there is to it.

Truth is, that process is so simple that it can easily be done with a manual washing machine. The one described here will be highly effective at getting clothes clean without a power source. It’s an ideal convenience in the event that your home loses power for a significant period of time, or if you go on a lengthy RV camping trip. Whether you’re staying in a cabin, a camper, or a tent, or just want to simplify your homestead, having a manual washing machine at your disposal means you don’t have to have quite as many clothes.

The other benefit is exercise. So many people pay for a gym when you can get a decent workout just by saving electricity and water. Even the least fit person in the household will be quite capable of washing a small load of clothes, while burning a tidy sum of calories. You can even operate the washer described here while sitting down if need be, or it can be used on a table or other raised surface so that someone with back problems doesn’t have to bend over.

Whatever the case, because the whole idea is environmental friendliness, it’s best if you use biodegradable soap to maintain the green cred of this appliance. That way, you can reuse the water in a nonedible part of your garden.

Manual Washing Machine Tips

This is a very simple device, but one that needs to be used correctly if you’re going to get your clothes clean with a minimum of effort. The following guidelines will help you do that.

  • Use only biodegradable laundry detergent. The whole point of this “machine” is to save electricity and water, and it should be used as a green water source.
  • You only need a little detergent; many people use too much laundry detergent. Keep in mind that the capacity of this washing machine is much less than a standard household unit. A tablespoon of detergent should be plenty. Coupled with vigorous agitation, your clothes will be as clean as ever.
  • Disassemble the machine and let the parts dry between laundry days. If you leave the lid on while the machine is wet, mold can grow in the bucket.

Make a 5-Gallon Bucket Washing Machine

Tools and Materials:

  • Cordless drill and bits, including 1-1/2-inch spade bit
  • 5-gallon bucket with lid
  • Cup plunger with 6-inch or larger head
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Plastic water dispenser replacement spigot
  • Silicone sealant (optional)


  1. With the lid secured on the bucket, use the spade bit to drill a hole in the center of the lid. Check to see that the plunger handle will slide through the hole with a fair amount of play, allowing it to be moved around inside the bucket. Sand the edges of the hole smooth so that they don’t abrade the plunger handle.
  2. Drill a 7/16-inch hole (or use the appropriate bit size for the spigot you’re using) in the side of the bucket, as close to the bottom as possible. Fasten the water dispenser replacement spigot in the hole, tightening it enough to ensure a good seal.
  3. Drill 6 to 8 holes 3/8-inch in diameter in a random pattern on the rubber cup of the plunger. Test the washer by adding a small load of clothes, filling with water and a small amount of detergent, and plunging the load. Move the plunger around to ensure complete agitation. After 10 to 15 minutes, drain the water through the spigot and refill with clean water. Agitate again and drain. Repeat as necessary. If the spigot leaks, empty the bucket, let it dry, and lay a bead of silicone sealant around the outside rim of the spigot. Let the sealant dry, then fill the bucket with water and check that it no longer leaks before using.

For more projects from The 5-Gallon Bucket Book, try these:

Build a Bucket Sawhorse
Build a Homemade Camping Toilet
DIY Pig Trough

Reprinted with permission from The 5-Gallon Bucket Book by Chris Peterson and published by Voyageur Press, 2015.

  • Updated on Aug 17, 2022
  • Originally Published on Apr 19, 2016
Tagged with: 5-gallon bucket, laundry
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