Solar powered clothes dryer

It’s funny how your perspectives change as you grow. When I was a kid, I used to be embarrassed because my mom hung our laundry out on the line to dry. I hated the smell of line dried clothes, sheets and towels, to me that meant we were poor, we couldn’t afford a dryer. All of my classmates had soft, fabric softener fresh smelling clothes, our clothes, towels and sheets were stiffer and to me were just second rate.


Now, 30 something years later, I relish the smell of line dried clothes, to me it means freedom, self sufficiency and the satisfaction of a job well done. I just brought in a set of sheets from the line, I couldn’t keep my face out of the sheets, the scent is heavenly, and no, my line dried clothes are not scratchy and stiff, fortunately there are better cleaners to use that do not leave fabric feeling so stiff like they did in the “old days”.

I have experimented with several recipes of homemade laundry soap, I still use them when I do laundry in a washing machine, but when I hand wash (which I prefer) I have found that no matter how finely I grate the bar soap, it just doesn’t dissolve well enough, I have even tried turning it into a liquid, I just don’t like how it turns out, I can’t seem to get it rinsed out well enough and it leaves whitish places on my laundry.

I turned to Dr Bronner’s liquid soaps, being a liquid it dissolves readily in the water, it is low sudsing which is good, suds aren’t what cleans your clothes anyhow. Because of all of this, rinsing is so much quicker and easier. One of the reasons that line dried clothes tend to be stiffer and scratchier is because typical laundry detergent isn’t completely rinsed out of your clothes, even if you wash in a washing machine. Just look at the rinse water after a few minutes of agitation, you will see soapy bubbles, at best you can do a second rinse to try to get the residual detergent out, but even then it’s just about impossible, these detergents are designed to leave behind residues that contain optical brighteners, fragrances and such.

Now to the rinsing, I have tried all of the methods I’ve read about on line to help get all the soap residue rinsed out and help make the fabric softer, I have tried adding vinegar to the rinse water, I’ve tried adding baking soda, I still had stiffy scratchy laundry at the end when I line dried them. So I fell back on good old fabric softener, I use an unscented one by Downy, I don’t want chemical scents saturating the things that closest to my body and where I sleep. The fabric softener is extra concentrated so I don’t have to use much, and it has made all the difference in the world. Now even my terry towels are a pleasure to feel.

I have family coming out for a visit this weekend, so today I’m hand washing the sheets, along with a load of t-shirts. The first set of sheets were dry by the time I got the second set of sheets and the t-shirts washed, after hanging the wet laundry, as I brought in the dry sheets, I couldn’t keep my face out of the sheets, they smell so fresh, so good and they are soft, not stiff at all.

Another trick I use, this is a real shortcut, my shirts, especially my t-shirts (which I live in) I hang them on a plastic hanger to dry, to keep the shoulders from getting that weird hump from the ends of the hangers, I pull the neck of the shirt up toward the hook part of the hanger, just until the shoulder transitions to the sleeve is even with the end of the hanger, I use a couple of clothes pins to keep the shirt in place on the hanger.


Click to see full size image


I also use clothes pins between the hung shirts on the line to keep them from being blown together, this means the dry quicker. Since they are already hung up, when it’s time to collect the shirts from the line, all I have to do is remove the clothes pins from the shoulders, take them in the house and put them on the clothes rack. Some of my shirts I take off of the hanger, fold and put up, mainly the ratty ones, the good ones I keep on the hanger.

I am going to be ordering some Sal Suds (also by Dr Bronner) for general cleaning and doing laundry, it’s cheaper and I have read good things about it, it’s really an all purpose cleaner, from floor to ceiling, from dishes to laundry, and it’s biodegradable. I really love Dr Bronner’s cleaners and have used them for years. If you can get this in a local store, great, unfortunately it’s not available to me locally, if you are in the same boat, you can get them online here: Dr. Bronner Sal-Suds Biodegradable Cleaner, 32 fl oz liquid or the Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds Liquid Cleanser 128 Ounces. As of the time of writing this, both had free shipping.

It doesn’t take all that much time either, I do a little at a time, mostly doing it in my sink, I separate out my clothes, doing the whites and lighter colors first, brights then darks and blacks last. Often I’ll do one or two sets a day, so the whites and lights I’ll tackle one day, the others I’ll do another day. I fill my vessel with water, add some soap, then add the clothes, I swish the clothes in the soapy water, concentrating on any stains or especially dirty spots. When I’m tired of doing that, I’ll go do something else, then come back, swish some more, then wring out the clothes, if the water isn’t too dirty, I’ll wash more clothes. When I have everything washed that I want washed, I drain the water then fill the vessel back up with water and rinse the clothes, I almost always do 2 rinses. The second rinse I add fabric softener and if I’m doing whites or lights, I’ll add some Mrs Smith Bluing. That helps make the whites whiter and even helps with the light colored clothes. Again, I stop between swishing the clothes to do other things, it really doesn’t matter how long the clothes sit there.

Oh I almost forgot, my newest laundry aide, if you remember reading my previous DIY laundry article (this one has the most comments on this site to date!), I was using a plunger with holes in it to wash clothes, it worked pretty well, but I wanted something better. I remembered when I was a teenager, I worked in a Mexican fast food restaurant, we used an industrial sized potato masher while cooking the meat, I thought that might work for laundry, and does it ever! It’s not the round kind, it’s a thick wire that runs back and forth, it’s mounted on a long handle. Since it’s stainless steel, no worries about rust. It works great. This is what it looks like:

Be sure to get the one with the longer handle, you’ll appreciate it much better, so will your back. The handle on this one is 24 inches long, and the head is a little better than 5 inches wide, it gets those clothes really clean and doesn’t make a lot of splashes or suds.

Once they are fully rinsed and wrung out, I put them in a laundry basket and head outside to hang them. Where I live, the laundry dries really fast, we have very low humidity. If I really want them to dry faster, I pull out my wringer, that thing is worth its weight in gold! I don’t use it every time because I don’t have a proper washing area yet, it will be used every time once I get set up with a proper wash station outside, it’s one of those “works in progress”. I just had a gust of wind blow through, I ran outside to see if any of the laundry hit the ground, and yes, one shirt did bite the dust, fortunately it was already dry and I was able to brush the shirt off. If you have winds where you live, and you want to hand your shirts on hangers to dry, you might want to use clothes pins to secure the hangers so your clothes do not come off in the event of a gust of wind.

Life is good when you have the fresh scent of line dried laundry that is soft and so wonderful!

Not saying that everyone needs to live like this, BUT it’s nice to have the skills to be able to do these things.

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34 Responses

  1. Oh, and as ecover doesn’t hurt plants I empty the machine directly into a bucket or watering can and use it on the garden. Beats the hosepipe ban any day.

  2. Great article. Can’t get Dr Bonners this side of the water but I find Ecover products to be brilliant. Also, as I can no longer hand wash (arthritis), although I agree it’s the best way, my husband found me a tiny caravan sized washer to use, it doesn’t spin but hey, clothes aren’t spun if hand washed either. It’s also really cheap to run and because it’s hand filled you can do as many rinses as needed (or washes in the case of filthy clothes) and you can see when the water is clear again. I can do the entire wash (slowly) in it, even down to heavy coats, although it wouldn’t take heavy wool blankets or duvets because it just isn’t big enough. Do you also notice how much quicker it is washing by hand (or with my little helper) than using an automatic, they seem to take hours and the clothes aren’t always clean and well rinsed at the end.

  3. Love this!!! I’m a Dr B fan too, for about 38 years. I use it for dish soap too with a little mix of essential oils. For laundry: adding some white, inexpensive vinegar to the rinse takes out soap residue & softens! You don’t smell the vinegar when the clothes are dry. Sometimes I add a little essential oils-peppermint or lemon or lavender-to the bottle of vinegar.

  4. Clothes and hangers falling off the line ? Here a very simple solution I’ve used for yrs.
    Put your hanger in the usual way…noting which direction the open “hook” part is……. now use a 2nd hanger …with the open “hook” in the opposite direction. There-by forming a closed hook at the top, it won’t matter which way the wind blows, your clothes will stay on the hangers.
    BTW: I love your clothespin idea, I’ll try it when spring gets here.

  5. Ingenious! I love your articles. I own an 18′ Sioux tipi that I have not lived in yet. I intend to live off the grid, sell the house, buy land, and grow what I eat; just haven’t done it yet. Keep up the good work. I have made my own soap, and laundry soap, but one thing I have used (and my laundry was not white) was oak tannin to clean clothes. I would leach the tannin off acorns (for acorn meal) and discovered that the tannin cleans clothing very well; at least it did for me. So, I canned it! It was free, and worked great. Now I know that canning it was a ridiculous notion, and I could have just evaporated the water off and made a powder, but at the time it seemed sensible. And you are right, simpler is better.

  6. I was showing my husband how you use the buckets to do your wash. I said you were going to get like a mop pail for ringing the clothes out. He laughed and said, “why doesn’t she get an old ringer washer and modify it so that she could use a pedal bicycle to make it aggitate and also make the rolls turn.” I thought what a good idea.

    1. Thanks Barb, I do get lots of great advice from people about how to rig different things up to clean and such, but for me, simple is best… I almost bought an old wringer washer but decided against it at the last minute. I did buy an old washer with a wringer, it’s not quite like the really old fashioned ones, this one is a bit newer, but still quite manual, I got it just a few days ago, I mainly got it for the wringer part, it’s made by Hoover and this one was marketed to and originally sold in Mexico.


  7. I do alot of my washing by hand. I wet a spot & rub on ZOTE soap-the blue bar works best. You can usually find Zote in the Mexican section of your super market. I use cold water & my whites are white!

  8. missjessy and wretha, thank you for your dialogue! I am an urbanite….trapped in a wannabe pioneer body….my son finishing secondary school is my key to working towards a lifestyle and freedom of a life that is productive and yet very satisfying….thank you for the info on something that is both. I have been solar drying in a postage stamp and really “get” the no pin mark, hanging in the armpit advice. I love the smell of my sheets when I pull them out months later during snow season. I just wonder how I can put my desire into action as a single female…..and really live to the fullest the whole lifestyle. I love the independence, the satisfaction!…..but I need to understand the tips, tricks and advice that make it possible for a single female to go it alone~

  9. Good idea. I’ll try that next time. I made a small batch with just shredded, so I’ll see how that works. We live in Alabama so it is very humid here and that could have done it. I’m getting ready to make my “washing machine” and I’m excited:) I’ll let ya know how it turns out.

  10. Thanks for replying:) It is good that Jeff and I are on the same page about what kind of life we want to live:) It was funny yesterday, he was at work and asked what I was doing. “Reading off-grid” – “Me too!” lol.
    I’m having an issue with grating the Ivory soap for the laundry detergent. I shredded it with a cheese grater first, worked great, then I put the shreds in my food processor. It almost turned it back into a solid bar. Is it ok to just leave it shredded?

    1. missjessy, sure you can leave the soap just shredded, especially if it works great for you that way. The only reason I ever took it the next step of putting it through the food processor was because I didn’t always have hot or warm water to do the laundry and the soap dissolved better that way. Is it pretty humid where you live? My area is very dry, I wonder if that’s why your shredded soap wanted to go back into bar form when you tried to grind it down further… Ivory soap is usually pretty dry. I made some laundry soap at a friend’s house (for this friend), we used Fels Naptha soap, that was the first time I used that one, we put it through a food processor using the shredding blade, it shredded into long yellow shreds, it looked just like cheddar cheese LOL, she didn’t have the chopping blade attachment so we put it in a blender, and because of the moisture level in the soap, it tried to turn back into a solid chunk, I eventually got it broken down sufficiently and added the washing soda, I omitted the borax because she uses her gray water on plants, borax kills plants, so I just used half and half grated soap and washing soda. I hope my friend likes it, I think she will. :)

      Oh, another thing you might try, if your shredded soap isn’t dissolving well enough in your wash water, you can try adding some of the dry powder (borax or washing soda) to the food processor with the shredded soap, see if that helps break down the shreds without turning it back into a bar/chunk.


  11. Howdy,
    My husband turned me on to your website. He has been preaching getting “off-grid” for sometime now and at first, all I heard was “blah, blah, blah.” But somewhere along the line it started registering:) Now, I have made some small changes that have made a big difference. One of the first was the “solar dryer”. That in combo with some other things (hand washing dishes, minimizing the A/C and heat, blah, blah, blah) has greatly reduced our utility bills. We just came back from the store with a plunger, a long handle, and all the stuff to make your laundry soap. We already have tons of 5 gallon buckets, so I’m gonna start with those. One of my biggest reasons for trying this, is the room I’ll save in our small house, not having a washer and dryer. Plus, I don’t like the stiff, feeling form the line dried clothes. I have been fluffing them in the dryer to combat that. Today, I tried a new solution. 1 tblsp. of fabric softener to 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. Not only do the clothes feel softer and smell better, it got the wrinkles out! Just spray it on and give a few tugs and they pop right out:) Thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences, and give everyone interested a wealth of info. I look forward to reading more, and everyday I’m finding new ways to be more self-sufficient. I also believe that in conjunction with cheaper living, it’s a great way to raise our kids. No matter what, they’ll always know how to take care of themselves:)

    1. Hi missjessy, thanks for writing, it sounds like you and your hubby are heading in a good direction, I’m glad to hear that you are hearing him now, I know that can be a problem for some couples, not being in the same boat on how to live can be a sticky problem, it’s good that things are working out in that area for both of you.

      I like your idea about the fabric softener, I will try that, I had purchased some of that wrinkle releaser spray, I’ll bet this would work just as well, and I can reuse the bottle. YES, teach your kids how to be more self sufficient, even if they don’t ever plan on using it, at least they will have the knowledge to fall back on if they ever need it. :)


  12. Hi Wretha, I’m a first time writer. I love these tidbits I read here. My grandmother never owned a washer or dryer. She washed clothes in the kitchen sink and agitated them with a 1″ dowel about 2 feet long. When I was a kid I loved playing with that wash dowel. It was bleached out as white as snow on both ends. I am new to the”off-grid” lifestyle. I have been studying everything I could find for a little over a year now. I plan to buy some cheap land, and yes you can find it if you look, and build a small 12′ x 36′ shotgun cabin and live totally of grid in the next twelve months. I am so excited to read your stuff about clothes washing. All this time I was thinking how many batteries solar panels and wind mills I needed to run a washer dryer. LOL Silly me. When the whole time the answer was right in my past. Thanks for jogging my memory. Chuck

    1. Chuck, sounds good to me, funny how we think sometimes LOL

      Charlie, I don’t know if Downy is biodegradable, you would need to contact the company for that answer, or do a test on an unsuspecting plant, or if you are really worried about it, just omit it all together. Let me know what you find out. :)


  13. Kelly, that sounds a lot like John Well’s setup on his off-grid place, while that looks cool I don’t want to get that complicated, if I really wanted to mechanize my life, I’d either take my laundry to my neighbor’s house, or I’d set up a generator and use the washer I already own, it’s sitting under a tarp outside. Glad you enjoy my stuff. :)

    Marueen, thanks for the great tip, does that still cause a line where the shirt hangs across the line? I’ll give it a try next time and see what happens.


  14. Just thought I’d let you know. I’ve been hanging my laundry out for 42 years. I have a dryer but don’t use it much.I have always preferred line drying. If you hang all you shirts with the clothes pins in the armpits, you won’t get those bumps.Just flop the top over the line and pin the armpits. Even if the wind blow,it will never be seen under there.

  15. What about a washing machine agitator connected to a bicycle in conjunction with some sort of generator for an off the grid trifecta? 1) Charge batteries for later use; 2) Clean clothes with human-only power; and 3) Get in or stay in shape. It would probably have to be smaller sized loads due to the water weight, but maybe with correct pulley/gear sizes it wouldn’t be too bad. Hmmm…one more thing on the “to-do” list. Now if I can only run my (LINK REMOVED BY MODERATOR) lab with human power off-grid…now you’re talking! Thanks for all the great ideas and practical applications, Wretha!

  16. Brad, LOL!

    aringofbrightwater, you are absolutely right!

    elnav, I don’t use the 5 gallon bucket as often as I used to, now I use a larger bucket, we were just trying to figure out its size, we estimated it to be about a 25 gallon plastic bucket with rope handles, it’s the kind they use for water and feed for horses and such, I can go a lot more wash per load and I can do larger items. Honestly I haven’t washed a large item like a blanket, I do wash sheets and smaller blankets in my big buckets. I have 2 of them, one for washing and one for rinsing. I also do smaller loads in my kitchen sink, that’s just for quickie loads though. As far as hanging laundry when it’s cold, that’s not a problem, it might freeze nearly every night, but as soon as the sun comes up, the temps warm up nicely, usually into the 50s (f) or higher.


  17. Wretha we use quilted covers to keep warm and they will not fit a 5 gallon bucket. What do you use for bulky items needing to be washed.
    It is possible to dry laundry outside even when its freezing. The process is called sublimation but sure takes a long time.

  18. Nice article -and how things mostly used to be done when I was young until we learned how to be totally lazy and huge consumers of power and resources.I have always line dried but must admit I detest hand washing so the best I have at the moment is a washing machine running via an inverter off solar/wind charged batteries.A very old -literally- friend of mine used an old hand powered cement mixer to wash his clothes till it broke, now he uses a large butter churning barrel but he ain’t no eco warrior just a skin flint….I have seen similar types of DIY washers using barrels that seem to do a reasonable job of cleaning the clothes and the direction I am heading when I find the right arrangement.I think as the article says its finding the right natural and effective soap product that’s really the main issue, as we really do not absolutely need a machine to wash, if we had no electricity at all we would still be doing it by hand.

  19. You got me. I was expecting some new newfangled solar gadget. I remember my mom hanging the clothes on the line and my job was to take them down. I remember that they did smell good!

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