A dark kitchen with a faint blue light illuminating a silver fridge, black oven, and gray countertops.

Historically speaking, electricity is a relatively new invention. Less than one hundred years ago, back in 1925, only half of all American homes even had electricity.

Because that was before our time, we often forget that long before luxuries like refrigerators and washing machines were commonplace, people met those same needs and accomplished those same tasks electricity-free.

That means when a natural disaster or another emergency leaves you without power, you can look back on simpler times for solutions.

Here are the everyday appliances we consider essential in emergencies. Keep reading to learn how to make them accessible without electricity and discover tried-and-true traditional alternatives.

Refrigerator

Losing perfectly good food in the refrigerator is a frustrating possibility when your area is struck by a power outage. If you have no way to keep the refrigerator powered up and running, all that milk will turn sour and meat will host illness-causing bacteria. It only takes a few hours!

Before electric power was available in American homes, people kept food cold in ice houses and ice boxes. While those are welcome options, here are some easier alternatives to refrigeration and cooling:

Root Cellar

A root cellar incorporates the Earth’s natural cooling, insulation, and humidification processes in order to keep produce, meat, and other foods and drinks cold.

Some homes include a root cellar—or space that could become one—in the basement. If you have room in the basement, choose a corner where two foundation walls meet. Build two additional walls from wood, then insulate them to keep the heat out. To prevent mold and mildew growth, be sure to add a ventilation system. Don’t forget to hang a thermometer!

No basement? No problem. You can create a root cellar outside. Dig deep into the ground, around ten feet, and drop your goods. A hillside is best for convenient access. You can also bury an old refrigerator or freezer.

However, there are some limitations to root cellars. They are typically ineffective in warm climates, cannot be built where the water table is high, and cannot be placed near septic systems.

Check out this guide for more about root cellars.

Desert Refrigerator

In warmer areas, the desert refrigerator is a simple cooling solution. You just need two large planting pots, one able to fit inside the other.

Fill the space between the two pots—which should be at least one inch wide—with sand, then add water to the sand to keep the inner pot cool. Place your food inside the inner pot, then cover with a wet cloth.

A clear blender bottle with ice, preparing for blending. A cup with berries is behind it.

Blender

When planning your emergency preparedness picks, a blender is unlikely to top your list. But before you disqualify this device, consider the unique perks a blender could bring to your stockpile:

  • Make your own butter. All you need is heavy cream and ice water! Check out the directions here.
  • Blend freeze-dried fruits and vegetables into powders. Use these powders to add an extra boost of nutrition to soups, sauces, smoothies, and more. You can also use them to create instant purées to feed babies and the sick.
  • If you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, such as from your own garden, you can use a blender to mix nutritious drinks, smoothies, salsas, and even prepare ingredients for jams and fruit leathers!

Replicating the convenience of a blender—without any source of power—would be a difficult undertaking. Instead, we recommend investing in a rechargeable blender. This portable blender from Dash or this cordless blender from Ninja are excellent choices.

To keep it charged, be sure to keep a wireless, solar-powered charger in stock at home.

Stove

The ability to boil water is crucial in a crisis. Not only do you need to boil water to prepare most emergency meals, but boiling water makes it clean enough to drink, bathe in, wash dishes and wounds with, and more. 

Keeping a portable, off-grid stove in storage will quickly prove useful in an emergency. Their designs can be simple, like our Folding Camp Stove. This stove is a compact and collapsible option, and just needs canned heat to get the job done. The more advanced Inferno Pro Outdoor Biomass Stove can take on larger dishes, burns hotter, and runs on easy-to-source materials like sticks, leaves, and pinecones.

Two hands opening a black and silver oven.

Oven

Access to an oven in an emergency opens up a whole new world of meal preparation possibilities. Depending on the type of oven you have in your home, it might still function in certain emergency situations. But in other cases, your oven could be useless.

Outdoor Convection Oven

The closest you can get to your at-home oven? An outdoor convection oven, like the Ember Oven. It’s the ideal oven solution for indoor use, or to take along on emergency evacuations or escape campouts.

This oven is self-powered, meaning it doesn’t require power to operate. Instead, it uses fuel like canned heat, charcoal, and InstaFire Fire Starter. You can even toss in sticks, leaves, and pinecones from the trail to keep the fire burning!

Once the oven is good to go, just use the air-control knob and thermometer to control the heat. If you can use a standard oven, you can use this one just as easily. Don’t forget the 3-Pack of Pans, specially designed to fit inside the Ember Oven, for endless baking solutions.

With handles and a light weight, this oven is plenty portable. Pack it inside the Ember Oven Carrying Case to take it just about anywhere!

Solar Oven

A solar oven utilizes the sun’s rays to cook your meal in a way similar to a standard oven. What makes it especially useful in an emergency is how easily it can be made from items you likely already have around the house.

You can make a simple solar oven from a cardboard box, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or a plastic bag, black paper, and newspaper or other insulation material. Just cut a square flap from the top of the box, wrap it with aluminum foil and plastic wrap, then line the bottom of the box with black paper and newspaper. For more detailed step-by-step instructions, check out this guide.

Earth Oven

The concept of the Earth oven has existed across ages of time. There’s a reason this old-school oven is still a reliable backup plan today!

To make an Earth oven—also known as a pit oven—dig a hole in the ground and line the bottom and sides with rocks, bricks, or cement blocks. Then, place twigs, leaves, and other kindling inside. Add a layer of logs across the top, then another running the opposite direction. Place rocks between the logs. Light the kindling, then let the fire burn and logs collapse into the pit.

Once the fire dies down, dig out some of the hot rocks and embers. Spread the remaining hot rocks and embers evenly in the oven, place your prepared food on top of them, then place the removed hot rocks and embers on top to cook.

You can also build another kind of Earth oven above the ground. It takes more time and resources, but it can be used over and over again. Watch this video for instructions.

RELATED READ: 4 Emergency Bread Recipes to Get You Through Tough Times

A black Dutch oven with hot coals on top.

Cooking Tools

The morale of your survival circle can quickly drop as circumstances worsen, resources become scarce, or hope feels out of reach.

Having a variety of options for meal preparation when disaster strikes will provide a sense of normalcy and prevent food boredom, keeping spirits high.

Be sure to invest in a Dutch oven, cast iron pots and pans, grill grates, and other heavy-duty cooking tools to ensure those options remain open.

If you decide to invest in the Inferno Pro Outdoor Biomass Stove mentioned earlier, the Chimney Grill attachment can help expand your offering. You can grill fish and game, black bean burgers, kebobs, breakfast foods, and so much more!

Heating

Heat is a lifeline in an emergency, especially during the winter season, torrential rain storms, and cold nights. Keeping warm is crucial to your survival.

When the power loss or cut gas lines that often follow these disasters render your heating system useless, bundling up with blankets won’t be enough. You need reliable heat that can be used indoors, where you’re most protected from the elements.

The VESTA Space Heater & Stove offers that and more, requiring only canned heat to operate. It heats up a space up to 200 square feet in size, keeping you warm and protected from the dangers of frigid conditions without smoke or toxic fumes. In addition, this space heater doubles as a stove! It makes another excellent emergency substitution for your standard stove.

When you’re stuck surviving the great outdoors, a fast and efficient fire-starting solution is non-negotiable. You can stick with the good, old-fashioned flint and steel, or you could stock up on quicker, more convenient alternatives. InstaFire offers their popular Fire Starter solution, Fire Ropes, Fire Pucks, Waterproof Matches, and even more. For instant heat that can be achieved when weather is extreme, these options are the ultimate choice!

RELATED READ: When Power Fails: How to Stay Warm in Emergencies

A hand holding a wet, green cloth washing dishes in two buckets.

Washing Machine

Plain and simple: clean clothing, linens, and rags cannot be compromised in crisis situations. Wearing dirty clothing causes odor and discomfort, while cleaning and wiping things down with dirty linens and rags spreads germs that can cause serious illness.

The good news is that washing clothes without a washing machine isn’t all that bad. It demands more time and some elbow grease, but it certainly isn’t a challenge!

Washboard and Basin

A simple, age-old washing solution is the washboard and basin combination. Fill the basin with hot water, position the washboard at an angle inside the basin, then place a bar of soap at the top of the washboard.

Just wet the fabric, rub it against the soap, then scrub it against the washboard repeatedly. Rinse, then hang or lay flat to dry. See? Simple! You can purchase classic washboards or washboard-and-basin combinations made from plastic.

Bucket Washing Machine

To simulate the effects of a washing machine, give the bucket washing machine a try. You can either buy one or make your own.

If you want to make your own, you only need two things: a lidded bucket and a plunger. Just cut a hole in the lid, wide enough for the plunger handle to fit through. Done!

To use it, fill the bucket with water, add a small load, then top off with some soap. Center the plunger inside the bucket, then slide the lid down and seal it shut. Move the plunger up, down, and around to wash.

If you use biodegradable soap, pour that excess water over your garden!

The Grid Doctor 300 generator on gravel, plugged into a solar panel.

Generator

When you’re juggling limitations—such as not having the space to craft a root cellar—or “roughin’ it” just isn’t cutting it, consider investing in a backup generator. Having a generator on hand for crisis scenarios will allow you to continue living life as normally as possible.

With the Grid Doctor 2200, you can keep your refrigerator running, as well as washing machines, water pumps, and so much more. With multiple Grid Doctor 2200XP expansion batteries connected to the main, you can run even more appliances and equipment for longer periods.

No need to store resources like propane and other fuels to keep this generator operational. All it needs is the sun! While it can be charged through wall outlets, car adapters, and USB-C connections, solar power is your best bet in a crumbling world.

For emergency evacuations, outdoor expeditions, and smaller power needs, the Grid Doctor 300 will come in handy.

RELATED READ: Store More Emergency Fuel for Less Money and Time. Here’s How.

You Don’t Have to Go Without

With the right knowledge, resources, and planning, you can continue to meet your needs and accomplish standard, day-to-day tasks in crisis conditions. You may have to adapt your methods and adopt simpler, more traditional ways, but you won’t have to go without the necessities.

Which appliances are crucial to your everyday routine? How would you improvise their functions in an emergency? Tell us in a comment below!

Alternative cookingElectricityEmergency cookingEmergency powerEmergency preparednessPower outage

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