How to Wash Laundry with a Plunger

Yes, you read that right. How to wash laundry with a plunger. And a bucket, to be accurate. On September 14th, I tweeted this:

I did laundry earlier that day, and the damn washing machine leaked water all over the floor. Part of me was wishing it would be a quick, cheap fix; and another part of me was thinking, “High efficiency frontloader, here I come!”
Alas, it was not meant to be. As soon as the husband touched it, it would no longer leak water. And it hasn’t leaked since.
But while the machine was torn apart, I did get to put a little-known skill to work again. Washing your laundry with a bucket and a plunger.
So if your washing machine looks like this, (and pardon the quality of these photos, they were taken at night) read on!

The plunger technique is not new. It’s just about as vintage as it gets, actually. People have been beating/trampling/whacking laundry with sticks since the Middle Ages. This is just a version of the ‘whacking with sticks’ method. It’s mostly based on the Rapid Washer. The Rapid Washer was first made in the 1800s and looks like a metal plunger with baffles. You can still buy them today.

So. While my washer was torn apart, I still needed to do laundry. And laundromats (or doing laundry at someone else’s house) involve heavy lifting and driving, which interferes with my ability to wear pajamas. Enter the plunger method.

First, get your dirty clothes. Exhibit A: My husband’s nasty dirty work clothes. And yes, my bathroom is painted green. Don’t judge.

Pre-treat as usual.
Fill a 5 gallon bucket about 2/3 full with water. Add detergent and the dirty clothes.
The plunger. Please, please note that this is not a used plunger, but a brand-spanky new one, purchased specifically for this purpose.
We (and by ‘we’ I mean my husband) drilled a couple holes all the way through the plunger. This way, when you agitate the clothes, the water goes through the holes in the plunger. There’s less resistance, and that combined with the up-and-down movement means that the soapy water gets shoved through the fabric. If the holes weren’t there, you’d just be swishing the clothes around in the water. And in that case, you may as well be using a stick.
Slap a lid on your bucket. There’s a hole drilled through the lid on ours, so the plunger fits right in. And now… get agitatin’. I usually spend several minutes plunging the clothes.
When you’ve agitated until your arm falls off, grab another bucket. Wring your clothes out, and put them in the new bucket for round 2.
Drain your first bucket. That water….was disgusting.
Repeat the process (but don’t use any more detergent) until the water runs clear. I usually have to do 1 wash and 2 rinses.
And that’s that, folks. Of course I forgot to take a picture of how clean the clothes were when I finished. But they were clean. In some cases, the plunger method works better than a washing machine. There’s more direct contact between the agitator and the clothes, and the soap really gets worked into the fabric.
While I generally just use the washing machine to clean our laundry, I tend to use the plunger method in the early summer if we haven’t gotten much rain. I’ll do the laundry outside, and use the rinse water to water my garden.
I also clean my husband’s cutting pants this way. The wash machine barely cuts through the grime on them, while the plunger gets them completely clean. If you’re wondering what in the crispy crap ‘cutting pants’ are, check this out. They’re worn for logging, with safety pads inserted into the legs. When one wears them all winter long cutting balsam…well let’s just say they’re a mite unpleasant come spring.

I can hear the crickets chirping. But trust me, it’s quick, fairly simple, and a heck of a lot cheaper than lugging all your clothes to a laundromat.

6 thoughts on “How to Wash Laundry with a Plunger

  1. Sounds as though your "better half?" is something like mine – particularly if he comes near a computer! I will not allow him near this one, as I could not operate without it these days! with memories of washing along the lines you post about, I do hope your problems get solved soon – as that is one modern item I do approve of!Am going to follow you, as suggested in the latest list under the Etsy Success forum, and hope you'll find the time – between washes – to read mine! It can be found at http://www.ColdhamCuddliescalling.blogspot.com and tells folks about how I make, mend and otherwise create stuff animals, which I then TRY to sell via my Etsy shop at http://www.coldhamcuddlies.etsy.com. Hope to see you at either or both sites soon? Meanwhile, all the best. Isobel

  2. Look forward to seeing you – but how do I follow you, please? Cannot seem to do it the same way that I've done for others! Maybe, it's just me!

  3. oh my gosh, you are brave for resorting to that! in my case my husband would have thought he could fix it but wouldn't be able to and i'd have a lovely new washer…lol

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