Van Life

Doing Laundry Without Electricity – Van RV Life

Doing laundry without electricity sounds a bit archaic.

It brings to mind a vision of Ma Ingalls (Little House On The Prairie) in her long, hot dress… accessorized with an apron and a sun bonnet… standing outside the little log cabin, slightly hunched over a wooden wash tub, scrubbing clothes on a squeaky wash board in the heat of the day.

Ma quickly brushes the sweat from her brow and continues to wash the family’s cloths while, in the background, hanging on a droopy cloths line tied from tree to tree, are Pa’s freshly handwashed long-johns 😮

That’s not exactly how I do my laundry. This IS the 21st century after all!

As you know, I live in a van. Most would say it’s a no-brainer to do laundry because there are laundro-mats everywhere. But, for someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, the no-brainer issue goes out the window.

When people ask how I do laundry and I tell them “the old fashioned way” they often exclaim “Pftt… just go to a laundromat!” as they roll their eyes at me.

There’s absolutely no way I can do my laundry in a laundromat or in someone else’s home.

I can’t even set foot in a laundromat. The fumes would do me in before I even got to the machines. Heck, even sitting in the parking lot can cause serious breathing problems.

Washing machines and clothes dryers that someone else used toxic-to-me products in are strictly off-limits. That stuff just doesn’t come out. It clings to the machines and it rubs off into my clothes (which is also why I can’t buy used clothing).

Additionally, if someone is doing laundry in the neighborhood… I have to leave. Period.

The fumes can cause serious breathing problems and, the longer I stay, the worse it gets. That’s when I hop in my cozy little home on wheels and hightail it outta there!

Being able to leave when the neighborhood becomes too toxic is a HUGE and MAJOR benefit of this lifestyle.

My Basic Setup For Doing Laundry Without Electricity

In my network of Nomadic friends we all have our ideas about how laundry should be done. I’m simply here to share how I do my laundry – without electricity.

My Non-Electric Washing Machine

I love when people ask about my van or want to see my van setup (and I love checking out other people’s set up).

Inquiring minds usually ask how I shower, how I go to the bathroom and how I do my laundry.

When I tell them I have a washer and dryer in my van their eye’s usually bug out and their jaw drops.

And then I explain…

My non-electric washer and dryer.

My non-electric washing machine is a small waste basket that is only used for washing clothes.

I have a second waste basket (same style) that I put my bottles of homemade cleaning products in just in case they leak. My basket of homemade cleaning products sits inside the washing machine when the washer is not in use and my washing machine takes up almost no extra space when it’s not in use.

The small sized waste basket works well for me. I usually open my back doors and do my laundry out back because my 2 six-gallon portable water tanks are located under the bed in the back of the van.

Why not use a 5 gallon bucket to wash clothes?

When I began the nomadic lifestyle one of my concerns was how to do laundry without electricity. I knew I couldn’t go to laundromats but I’d heard that many van-dwellers used a 5 gallon bucket to do their laundry.

So, that’s what I got.

I started out using a 5 gallon bucket to do my laundry. The bucket also served as storage for other items when it wasn’t being used for laundry.

The problem I had with the 5 gallon bucket is, I have some arthritis and tendinitis issues in my hands and it was difficult to manage that big of a bucket – even if I didn’t fill it very full.

A round container also takes up more space than a squared container so I got rid of the 5 gallon bucket, replaced it with a small waste basket and also created more room in the van.

I killed two birds with one stone!

My 2-stage Non-electric Dryer


Stage 1 is like the spin stage of an electric washing machine. It’s the stage where as much excess water as possible is removed from the garments.

I have a couple of white towels that I use to remove excess water from my clothing.

I only use one towel at a time but, if I’m doing a lot of laundry, the first towel will eventually get too soggy and I need to use a fresh one.

After I rinse my clothes I wring as much water as I can out by hand. Then, I roll my clothes in a towel and wring, twist or squeeze the excess water out.

It doesn’t take much effort to wring, twist or squeeze the towels and the excess water is contained in the towels – no water drips out.

By removing as much excess water as possible my clothes don’t drip during stage-2 and the clothes dry faster.


During stage-2 I hang my clothes on a clothes line, clothes hangers and/or magnets. I use any or all of these items to hang my clothes in the van to dry – depending on how many clothes I have to dry.

non electric clothes dryer

I’ve attached carabiner hooks to each end of my clothes line and I have a place in the van that I easily attach the carabiner hooks to. I don’t use my clothes line much but it comes in handy when I have a lot of laundry to dry and my magnets and clothes hangers are all in use.

I use magnets a LOT because I don’t have insulation in my cargo van. There’s bare metal everywhere!

Why Hang My Clothes In The Van To Dry?

Every Nomad has their own style and needs. Depending on where we’re at it isn’t always feasible to hang laundry outside.

I quit hanging my clothes outside long ago and got rid of the clothes rack (which made more room for other things).

For me, it’s easier to hang my clothes in the van. That way I don’t have to worry about the wind blowing them into the dirt or down the road nor do I have people wondering why I have my laundry outside (if I’m in a public place).

I often do my laundry just before hitting the road which means no time for letting them sit outside to dry.

Oh No! Now I Have Extra Towels To Dry!

When I share my drying method people inevitably say “but now you have to dry the towels!”.

My response is pretty simple.

As with anything we do in life… it’s a trade-off.

I’d rather have an extra towel or two to dry than to have my clothes dripping in the van.

Tricks For Drying Clothes In A Van

A Nomad’s life can change from day-to-day (or minute-by-minute) so I have a variety of methods for drying my clothes. It all depends on where I’m at and what I’m doing that day.

Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful when doing laundry in a van:

  • Do laundry just before hitting the road. I almost always have the windows open when I drive which helps dry the clothes as I’m headin’ on down the road.
  • Make use of bare metal with magnets. Hang clothes directly on the magnets or use clothes hangers on the magnets. I picked my magnets up at Menard’s, they hold up to 4 pounds. 
  • Hang clothes around the Fantastic fan roof vent and turn the fan on to help dry clothes faster. I do this a lot when I’m parked for the day. 
  • Lay the clothes across the dashboard so the sun dries them more quickly. I do this a lot with the towels. I don’t do this when I’m driving because the reflection of the clothes in the windshield makes driving difficult.
Damp towel across dashboard drying in the sun.

My Chemical-Free Laundry Products

I can’t use modern day laundry products so you’re probably wondering what products I use to do my laundry in a van.

The Wash Cycle

I use a product called KD Gold along with a couple scoops of baking soda.

I’ve used KD Gold for decades and it’s an absolutely awesome product!

I use KD Gold for most of my cleaning needs including laundry, shampoo and anything else that needs cleaning.

You can read more about this product in my KD Gold – Totally Worth It’s Weight In Gold! post.

The Rinse Cycle

When I rinse my clothes I simply add white vinegar to the rinse water. I don’t have an exact measurement – I just add what I think I need. I’ve been doing it this way for years so it’s like second nature – I just do it.

The vinegar acts as a fabric softener and the clothes do NOT smell like vinegar.

And that is how I do my laundry in a van using chemical-free products and no electricity!

Sort out life one load at a time.


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