Got Dirty Clothes? Then Build Your Own Campsite Washing Machine

What is a camper to do when they have dirty clothes?  If you are staying in a camp ground that has a laundry mat, then the solution is simple.  But how do you handle dirty clothes when you are camping out in the wild?

One solution is to take enough clothes so that you do not have to worry about dirty clothes.  But having a clean change of clothes for everyday can be a challenge when it comes to primitive camping.  There are more valuable items to fill your pack with than 20 plus pieces of clean clothing.  Plus the weight of the clothing can be detrimental.

Another solution is to just wear dirty clothes.  Who will know, you are out in the woods.  But sweaty clothes can cause a chafing problem and muddy clothes can become very inflexible.

Washing ones clothes in a stream or creek may pose another solution but in many areas this is not allowed.  The best solution to this problem is to create your own campsite washing machine.  Below are the directions for this easy clothes washer that can be adapted to the type of trip you are taking.

Campsite Washing Machine

When using this washing machine, make sure to use a phosphate-free, environmentally friendly laundry detergent and dispose of according to Leave No Trace principles.


1 five gallon bucket with lid, optional 2 five gallon buckets with lids if a short trip is planned

New plunger

Hole saw


  1. If you are limited on space or carrying capacity, then only use one bucket.  Regardless of how many buckets, snap on the lid and drill a hole in the top with the hole saw.  Make sure that the hole is large enough so that the handle of the plunger will fit down into the hole easily.
  2. Using the hole saw, drill three to four quarter-sized holes in the rubber part of the plunger.
  3. Place the plunger handle through the hole in the lid.

Using the Campsite Washing Machine

  1. Place clothes, laundry detergent and water in the bucket.
  2. Snap lid on with plunger attached and begin to move the plunger handle up and down.  This technique is just same as the one needed to churn butter.  Continue with this motion for three to five minutes.
  3. After the washing time has passed, you have two choices.  Choice one is to remove the clothes from the bucket and to dump out the used water.  Refill with clean water and repeat as in a rinse cycle.  The second choice requires a second bucket.  In this bucket, you fill with clean water and a little vinegar.  The vinegar will help get the soap out of the clothes.  Regardless of which approach you use, “churn” the clothes until the soap has been removed.
  4. Hang up to dry.

To transport your campsite washing machine, either leave the plunger and soap in the bucket and carry as one unit or take the plunger handle off, place the rubber plunger in backpack and strap the handle to the bag.  The soap can then be carried in the bucket along with other items.

Having clean clothes no longer has to be a luxury when you’re camping.  Instead it can be made into an ordinary item through a simple campsite washing machine.