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.

Building the Machine

A manual washing machine can handle both heavy towels and delicate clothing.

Step 01

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

Step 11

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.

Step 21

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.

Step 31

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

Step 41

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.

Step 51

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

Step 61

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

Step 71

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.

Step 81

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

Step 01

Remove the lid.

Step 11

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

Step 21

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

Step 31

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

Step 41

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


  • 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.