How to Build a Non-Electric Washing Machine out of a Barrel

By Ruth deJauregui , last updated March 13, 2012
Reducing your energy consumption, as well as your carbon footprint, can be a difficult proposition. Whether you are on or off the grid, limiting the use of large appliances, such as your washing machine, saves a significant amount of energy. However, the commercially-available, hand-powered washers are not practical for doing a typical family's laundry. Instead, you can build your own non-electric washing machine with sawhorse brackets, 2-by-4 boards and a 55-gallon plastic barrel.

Building the Washing Machine

  1. Pull off the lid from a 55-gallon plastic barrel. Apply PVC cement along the barrel's rim and the inner edge of the lid. Place the lid onto the barrel. Tap around the edge with a hammer to tightly bond the lid to the barrel. Allow the adhesive to dry completely before continuing.
  2. Mark the center point of the lid. Drill a 1-inch-diameter hole through the lid. Turn the barrel over and drill a second 1-inch-diameter hole centered at the bottom.
  3. Turn the barrel on its side. Mark a 15-by-24 inch rectangle on the barrel. Drill a 1/2-inch hole just inside of the rectangle. Insert the blade of a jigsaw and carefully cut out the rectangle to make a horizontal door opening. Remove the rectangle, or door, and set it aside.
  4. Wrap a strip of gasket tape over the cut edge of the opening and press it firmly in place. Wrap a second strip of gasket tape around the edges of the door.
  5. Install a pair of hinges onto the upper edge of the door with bolts and nuts. Have an assistant hold the door in place as you pre-drill then install the hinges onto the barrel with bolts and nuts.
  6. Attach a surface mount draw latch onto the lower edge of the door. Mark and pre-drill the holes for the lever then attach it with bolts and nuts to the door. Align and attach the latching lever to the barrel so the door can be tightly closed.
  7. Install a cabinet or garage door handle 4 inches below the door. Mark and pre-drill the handle's mounting holes then bolt the handle to the barrel.
  8. Turn the barrel over so the hinges are on the bottom. Drill two 1 1/2-inch holes through the side of the barrel, 6 inches from each end.
  9. Flip the barrel on end and open the door. Insert a garden hose connector through the hole and attach the interior fitting from the inside of the barrel. Repeat with the second garden hose connector.
  10. Turn the barrel onto its side so the drain holes are on the bottom. Insert four 3-foot long, 2-by-2 boards. Arrange two boards along the length of the barrel, 4 inches on each side of the drain holes. Pre-drill three holes through each board and the bottom of the barrel, with one hole at each end and the third in the middle of the boards. Insert the bolts and nuts through the holes and attach the boards to the barrel.
  11. Add the second pair of 2-by-2 boards, 6 inches from the first pair of boards. Pre-drill and bolt the boards to the barrel.
  12. Insert a 1-inch diameter, 5-foot-long threaded pipe through the holes at the top and bottom of the barrel.

Building the Washer Base

  1. Cut a 4-by-4 post into two 36-inch sections. Mark the center point of each post and drill a 1-inch hole completely through the wood. The 1-inch pipe on the washer will be mounted horizontally through the holes.
  2. Screw a sawhorse bracket onto each end of the 4-by-4 per the bracket manufacturer's instructions. Repeat with the second 4-by-4 post.
  3. Cut two 2-by-4 boards into four 40-inch legs. Insert the legs into the sawhorse brackets then secure them in place, according to the manufacturer's directions.
  4. Space the sawhorses 4-1/2 feet apart. Lift the washer and insert the pipe through the first sawhorse hole. While a helper holds the washer steady, push the second sawhorse in place so the washer is suspended between the two sawhorses.
  5. Screw a pipe end cap onto each end of the threaded pipe.
  6. Measure and cut two additional 2-by-4 boards to fit across the space between the two sawhorses. Screw the boards to the bottom sides of the sawhorse legs the attach the two sawhorses together to secure the base.

Using the Washing Machine

  1. Fill the washer one-third full with dirty clothes. Add biodegradable detergent and enough water to cover the clothes. Close and latch the door.
  2. Soak the clothes for 10 minutes. Then gently rock the washer back and forth on the pipe with the handle. Once the rocking motion has started, the wave action inside the washer will agitate the clothes. Rock the washer forward and backward for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Attach a garden hose to the drain connectors on the bottom of the washer. Open the valve and drain the water out.
  4. Close the drain valve and add clean water. Rock the washer to rinse the clothes.
  5. Place a bucket under the drain valve, open it and allow the rinse water to flow out of the washer. Save the rinse water for your next load of clothes. Close the drain valve.
  6. Hang the wet clothing on a sturdy clothesline to dry.
  7. Add the next load of clothes to the washer then pour in the reserved rinse water. Add more detergent and water as needed then wash another load of clothes.
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