Secrets of Doing Laundry Off-grid – Refugee Style

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 Written by J.G. Martinez D.                                                         

Knowing how to do laundry when there is no power is a big thing. After being at home a couple of times, with no clean clothes and no power, I felt awful. My superb laundry machine had become useless and was just taking up space.

Therefore, alternate measures have to be taken.

Once I became a refugee, the pressure to wash clothes off-grid was more intense. But I have to acknowledge this: the laundry business in Lima where I am staying, is immense. There are laundries all over the place, at every corner. Competition is huge. The reason is simple: power and water are extremely expensive, and not everyone can afford the use of a laundry machine. For the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, you can wash one kilogram of clothes. Two pounds, to be exact. And you don´t even have to be there to work the machines or anything. They will wash it, dry it, and fold it for you, wrapping it in a white plastic bag. Nice.

However, for those of us who prefer to use money for more urgent needs (like food), then we have to get creative. And trust me, this humble friend of yours has been so creative the last year to be able to survive, that the word “creativity” should have a picture of myself in the dictionary next to the definition: ”Jose´s ability to make money in a foreign country, penniless, jobless and in the middle of a world-wide pandemic”.

OK, just for the record: staying as clean as possible is a necessity to keep our morale high. We all know it.

This being said, there are a couple of techniques my son (aka “kiddo”) and I have applied successfully.

Wash underwear in the shower

The best you can do, to avoid washing tons of clothes, is, if your kids are old enough, ask them to wash their own underwear. Everyone in the family should wash their own. Don´t allow them to accumulate in the basket. This can be done even while they´re taking a shower. My kid takes my cellphone with him and listens to some music or something of his interest while he brushes his soapy underwear. He finishes the chore in five minutes, and this is good for his independence.

In the (shared) bathroom there are wash tubs for laundry, so it´s no big deal. After a few protests, he understood this had to be accomplished along with his other household chores. In the hallway in front of our bedroom, we also have a couple of cement washtubs. Sure, I have to supervise his labor afterwards, but that´s much better than having to wash 14 pairs of socks and boxers by hand.

Once we have accumulated a couple of dirty underwear sets (boxers and socks), we already know this has to be done during the next shower. Listening to some music or even watching some news or video makes the task more pleasant.

The plunger method

To wash larger clothing, I bought a brand new plunger for just a couple of dollars and altered it for washing clothes. I then heated an old nail in our gas stove until it was almost cherry red. (You must use heavy-duty gloves if you try this.) Using the heated nail, I made tiny holes in the rubber part of the plunger.

I could have make-shifted something as well with PVC piping, elbows, tees, and mosquito screen, but it was an overkill. I decided to try the plunger solution first, and it has been working.

You just use a large bucket of a certain size, fill it to half or one-third with water, add the soap and a batch of clothes, and start moving everything up and down with the (obviously brand new and clean) plunger. The more time you spend doing this, the cleaner your clothes will be.

If you have children, it´s can be fun to share this activity with them. I use a place in the upper floor, under construction, and take my phone to listen to music while plunging. It´s kind of fun to plunge at the rhythm of the music. Kiddo and I even compete to see who plunges more rhythmically according to the music we´re hearing. I hope those memories he´s going to have of these days are funny and warm. I can´t avoid feeling sometimes like the Jewish guy of “La vita e bella” (Life is Beautiful), that Italian movie of the WW2.

Laundry soap

For best results, I suggest to using liquid soap. It dilutes much better. Plunging by hand does not generate so much movement as an electric washing machine. If you use powdered detergent, some residues could remain undissolved, and that´s not good. The hard part is squeezing by hand, especially jeans or heavy, large pieces of fabric.

We hang the clothes outside in a clothesline. As long as the the sun is shining, a good, dry clothing is guaranteed.

My 40 liter bucket works as well as a water reservoir (in the summer, sometimes they cut the water for a few days)…so it´s always clean. We use it mostly for showering, sometimes cooking, dish-washing, and flushing.

Why this method is relatively comfortable? Because you only do it a couple of times a week with your larger pieces of clothing. Socks and boxers can be washed by hand without even thinking about it in the bathroom sink, if you need it. If you have time, instead of spending money at a laundromat, this is an alternative way that won´t waste energy, other than yours…and making your kids use their energy on a productive activity (and a very rewarding one) can even be an advantage at bed time.

Just make sure to make it fun for them.

Stay tuned!


About the Author: J.G. Martinez D

Jose is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He had a small 4-member family, plus two cats and a dog, an old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose could be considered a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela.

Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They were trying to continue with their lives in another country, until the SARSCov2 pandemic]s came to change the whole scenario. Decisions now will have to be made, and valuable lessons will be recorded in this journey. You may provide assistance and support to this writer to make a living with your sponsoring on or joining as a patreon at

We are an affiliate of, which means we received a small commission if you click through one of our Amazon links when you shop, at totally no cost to you. This helps keep the lights on at the blog. Thanks!

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