My Brilliant Laundry Solution

I can’t believe we’ve been living on the road this long and I’m just now implementing this idea. I first saw it in action in the Everglades two winters ago, when I talked to a guy in our campground who was swinging an onion bag in wide circles, with water flying out. Spin cycle!

He explained that he puts his laundry in a big bucket, washes it by using a plunger, and dries it by putting it in that onion bag and spinning it like crazy. At the time I thought, ”What a good idea,” but it’s taken me two years of using laundromats to realize, “This is a brilliant idea.”

Laundromats Are a Special Level of Hell

The only places I’ve been satisfied with laundry facilities are Florida state parks that sometimes have just one lone washer and dryer outside the campground bathroom. It’s Florida, so all you need is one washer (or several trips to that one washer) because you’ve got nothing but bathing suits and sundresses to wash.

Everywhere else, though, I’ve got something like five loads of laundry ready to go every few weeks. I prioritize sheets and shower towels and dog towels and kayak towels, all our clothes, Banjo’s bed, our jackets, hiking socks, all of it, on a list according to what got washed last, and I take only a few loads to the laundromat each time. Why?

Almost every laundromat I go to is new to me. So I never know how many machines will be working, how crowded it will be, if there’s a change machine, if anyone inside will be wearing masks, how modern the machines are, if the talkative guy next to me seems even remotely dangerous, etc.. It’s always a crap shoot.

And the people. I have:

  • had the last dryer claimed by someone else while I was just about to put wet laundry in it,
  • been told to move all my laundry so the worker could use the area I was using,
  • been crowded into small spaces by maskless, talkative European tourists,
  • been mocked for wearing a mask by a local,
  • been mildly stalked by a neighbor on Mars,
  • used the wrong coins and lost them (Canada is tricky!),
  • washed several loads only to discover they were far from clean back at the trailer, and on and on.

Now, voila! I hope to cut my laundromat ventures in half (maybe) with the new bucket/plunger method. Just this morning I did a small load of clothes, and it took me an hour—from the start of soaking to when I hung them on the laundry line. Here is my genius method; I’ll report the results below.

The Bucket Essentials

In Manitoba, I bought a 5-gallon bucket (or, the metric equivalent) and the cheapest plunger they had, since I don’t want this one to have strong suction.

Tracy drilled a hole in the bucket lid for the plunger (so I can keep the lid on and won’t splash water on myself during the agitation cycle), and he drilled small holes in the plunger itself so water will flow through and the plunger won’t get stuck on the bottom of the bucket.

In Jasper, Jess gave us one of her adjustable laundry lines. There you go!

  • Bucket
  • Plunger
  • A little detergent
  • Water
  • An environmentally safe place to dump the soapy water
  • Laundry line

You may have noticed the glitch here. Sometimes we have no access to water other than what we carry to the site in the trailer tank and our two external tanks. More than sometimes, we don’t have access to a place to dump soapy water, since I certainly don’t want to fill our waste tanks unnecessarily. So, um, water is the tricky point to washing. As you might have guessed.

For this trial run, we’re at a good middle-ground spot (another provincial park campground in Manitoba). We don’t have water at the campsite, but we can haul the external tanks to and from a water spigot fairly easily (says she whose husband did it for her this morning). We don’t have a sewer connection (when do we?) but there’s a dump station just down the road.

Let the trial begin!

Soak & Agitate

With the fresh water Tracy provided, I filled my lovely new clean bucket and added about two tablespoons of powder detergent (note to self: add more next time). I then added a small tester load (my underwear always gets priority because, lo and behold, I wear a different pair every day!).

I swooshed it around a bit then let it soak for 20 minutes. My very smart friend Heather recommended that time. I’ll blame her if the laundry doesn’t come out clean.

For the agitation cycle, I plunged the hell out of those clothes for a good five minutes as I watched the water get gross and grosser. I was going to go with Heather’s recommendation of 10 minutes, but I realized the trip to the dump station would also be like an agitation cycle, so yay to the end of plunging!


Why not dump the soapy water in the woods? It’s bad for the aquatic ecosystem, is why. Plus, Tracy used to do volunteer monitoring of the health of local streams in Maryland, and he wouldn’t let me. So, off to the trailer dump station I went.

This is our handy beach wagon, which we have indeed used for the beach, but really it’s good for all kinds of things. The tires are hard plastic, so it bumps along the gravel road and added a good ten minutes to the agitation cycle.

Once at the sewer outlet, I very carefully dumped out the soapy water while trying to keep the clothes in the bucket. Note for next time: bring a mesh laundry bag for this.

The handy thing about a dump station is that there’s water there, too, so I filled the bucket with clean water, plunged some, dumped the water out, repeat repeat repeat until the drained water was fully clear. We live outside, you know. Our clothes are dirty. It took a while.


Next step: haul the bucket of wet laundry back to the campsite where I can wring out my underwear in relative privacy. I am not going with the onion bag spin plan, mostly because I don’t happen to have an onion bag, but also because it’s actually warm and sunny here today, so I’m drying on Jess’s line. Plus the hammock line.

For rainy days, I have on order (to be delivered to a friend in Wisconsin) a large microfiber towel that I can lay wet clothes on and roll up, then wring all the water from the clothes to the towel. Of course, then I have a wet towel to deal with, but I’ll have clean clothes!


Okay, this test load is not sparkling clean and the clothes don’t smell like detergent (which indicates clean to me), but they also don’t smell dirty either—and I went kayaking in one set several times, so I know they used to smell like pond water and sweat. They don’t anymore, so I definitely will wear them as is.

Next time: More detergent. I am an American. I need evidence of product to give me proof!

P.S.: After having done this load, I googled “bucket and plunger washing” to find out how much detergent other people use, and it turns out this method is quite popular, at least on YouTube. Turns out Scouts use it as well as campers and folks living on the street/otherwise houseless. I am so sold. It’s supposed to storm here tomorrow, but the next sunny day, I’m going to be plunging!

2 thoughts to “My Brilliant Laundry Solution”

  1. Cool. I remember someone who put a 5 gallon covered bucket with laundry in it on bungee cords in a closet in their camper to agitate while driving. Happy travels!