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My Post-Electric Washing Machine: The Deindustrial 2020

Introducing my post-electric washing machine, which I call the Deindustrial 2020. It’s of the future, not the past – although it does look rather like the old-style, Medieval 1450. It was made for only $2.

As you should be able to see from the picture, the Deindustrial 2020 is made up of two hi-tech elements, a black plastic tub (which I salvaged from the side of the road), and an old crutch (which I purchased for $2 from the tip-shop). With these two pieces of technology I was able to construct a post-electric washing machine, which functions perfectly and doesn’t use any fossil fuels in operation. You could probably find appropriate materials around the house or in the shed.

Here’s how it works. I fill the tub half full with water and mix in half a cup of home made washing detergent. I then put in a load of washing and let it soak for 5 mins while I sit in the garden and have a cup of tea with breakfast. I then lightly agitate the washing for a few minutes with the upside-down crutch, while singing Gangnam Style to myself and sometimes breaking into the dance. The crutch is ergonomically friendly as it allows me to stand up while I work and dance, and the padded under-arm part of the crutch is gentle on the clothes. I then tip the water out and refill the tub to rinse the clothes, agitating for another minute or two. The rinse water (depending on the detergent) could potentially be used on the fruit trees.

With the clothes now clean and rinsed, I remove them from the tub and squeeze them lightly as I put them into a washing basket. I have found that on a sunny Melbourne day a light squeeze is all that is needed to remove excess water. A ‘spin’ cycle is totally unnecessary. To finish the process, I hang the clothes out on the line, and by mid-afternoon, my clothes are perfectly clean and dry.

A few points deserving of mention: First of all, there is nothing backbreaking about this method of cleaning, as it takes all of 10 mins to complete. And it is effective. Not only that, I get free exercise in the process, which never hurts, so overall the process has multiple levels of goodness. Best of all, of course, is that this process doesn’t require any electricity, and uses much less water than a conventional washing machine.

Given how little time I spend actually agitating my clothes – as I am lazy and busy – I feel this method is best used for those loads of washing that really just require removing body odour and minor stains. I find most clothes fall into that category. More serious stains or dirt may require either more time agitating, or some scrubbing. It may be that the washing machine is still used for those loads, but I find that in my family, about two-thirds of our clothes can be washed as outlined above (i.e. without scrubbing, just briefly agitating with a crutch).

Finally, I should say a word further on the absence of a ‘spin’ cycle. As noted above, on a sunny day in Melbourne, a spin cycle is totally unnecessary. I give my clothes a half-hearted squeeze, and this works perfectly well. Clothes are dry in around 5 hours. I suspect that in the winter, however – at least in Melbourne – I’ll need to think further about how to get the clothes ‘spun.’ In the old days, clothes wringers were used, so picking up one of those second-hand could be an option for those who are serious about reducing energy consumption. But wringing clothes takes time and effort, so I doubt we are going to see clothes wringers return to the mainstream any time soon. Another option would be to wash the clothes with the above method, but use the spin cycle in the colder months, as necessary. This, at least, would minimise use of electricity.

I wonder, however, whether there are other ways to get clothes relatively water free without spinning in a conventional machine? How hard would it be to create a spinner out of an old bike and a plastic barrel with holes in it? Would that be effective? Or perhaps there might be some way to create a manual spinner, somehow mimicking the technology of a ‘spinning top’? Or how effective would it be to put the wet clothes in a washing basket, and then simply put a board over the top and stand on it? Food for thought. If anyone has any ideas on how to ‘spin’ clothes dry without a conventional washing machine, do let me know. Is the old fashioned wringer the only alternative?

Whatever the case, the Deindustrial 2020 should be able to hugely reduce the amount of electricity required for washing in most parts of the world, at least during the warmer seasons. Get yours today!

For other alternative technologies, see my posts on the Solar Oven here and the Solar Shower Bag here.

25 Responses to “My Post-Electric Washing Machine: The Deindustrial 2020”

  1. Johnny Rutherford says:

    Where do I buy one? haha, awesome.

  2. mischa says:

    nice one, SC! although of course the best way to minimise energy use for laundry is to wear your clothes over and over again! remember this article? http://www.michaelbgreen.com.au/laundering

  3. Kade says:

    Excellent Samuel! I have been doing just this, minus the crutch, now I’m living on my little parcel of land off the grid in my 6×6 shack. I agitate then leave my clothes to soak all day, tip out the soapy water and add clean to rinse again agitate and leave over night agitate again then wring out in the morning. I have grimy work pants that come up a treat using the soak method. I have also found that using a narrow upright solid post and wrapping trousers or sheets or towels once around and then twisting to wring the water out works very well. You could even lay smaller items within the towel or sheet to wring all together. The high speed spin is not at all necessary if one washes on a sunny day.
    Latest post from Kade…64

  4. Mel T says:

    Nice one Sam!
    I wanted to see a photo of it in action with you demonstrating the most effective dance technique.
    Good laugh from kiwiland! xoxo

  5. Mark says:

    I was also disappointed about the lack of spin cycle. I was hoping to see a photo of you spinning on the crutch – maybe in the winter?? xx

  6. Gavin Webber says:

    I like it Samuel. Practical, cheap, and very energy efficient!

    Nice.

    Gavin
    Latest post from Gavin Webber…Limoncello Matured

  7. Bill says:

    Hi from Pennsyvania, in the 1950′s my Grandmother used a small hand held “plunger-washer”. A 20 inch wood handle with an 8 inch round heavy plastic “water pusher, aerator”. I’ve only seen one object like it. The aerator has a scalloped rim (like flower petals), underneath each scallop area is a plastic-rimmed area, maybe 1 1/2 inch tapering down, and an inch deep. On the top of the chamber are holes. With water and light clothes in a bucket, you push down the plunger and the holes allow water to be pushed forcefully through the clothing. That is one of the keys to cleaning – getting water pushed through the fabric. We could get a toilet plunger and make rounded holes on the top to use the same way. This is similar to the tall cylindrical butter churn which has a handle attached to a wood disk with holes that churns/agitates the cream. That would be easy to make at home. Simply drill holes in a disk, attach to handle, push on clothing in a bucket of water.

  8. Gold! The crutch idea is inspired. With the crutch under one arm you have another arm free for a wine glass.

  9. Johnnie Lawson says:

    Beautifully versed! Simplicity at it’s most effective.
    We as humans get so caught up in complicating everything.

    Johnnie
    Latest post from Johnnie Lawson…Snow Storm & the Sound of a Lone Robin Singing Through it-Be Mindful and Rise Above Your Challenges

  10. Veronika says:

    Great post, Samuel. I will start experimenting. One way to solve the towel problem – wringing and drying in winter – is to simply make your own towels out of thick cotton. Vintage cotton sheets are great for this because they are made of 100% cotton which is thick and sturdy. Second hand cotton flanelette sheets are also good. Ditto for face washers. Regarding sheets for the bed, the thinner the better – easier to wash and hand wring.

  11. rahim123 says:

    In 1874, William Blackstone of Indiana built a birthday present for his wife. It was a machine which uninvolved and washers away mud from clothes. The first washing machines projected for convenient use in the home.

  12. d'Arcy says:

    A great post and I totally will be using this in my Happy, Simply. lifestyle model…

    But it does remind me of one of my favourite Ted talks from Hans Rosling talking about development and the washing machine – http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html

    It kind of show the paradox we live in when we see Hans talk and your blog… most of the developing world wants washing machines as it means less struggle in the other list of tasks they have to do each day and someone like me it feels like freedom and meaningful work to hand wash my clothes… hmm not sure where the middle ground is on this one!
    Latest post from d’Arcy…This is how I travel… (in Delhi)

  13. Sol says:

    Love this I have something called a wonder wash that was saved from a friends caravan that went to the scrap yard in the sky. You crank the handle and it twirls around.

    Love the crutch idea, you could bolt some teeth on like a rake and twist like the old wash dollies. what about getting the kids to stamp on it all like grape crushing.

    how to get the water out, the normal twist one end under your foot. or how I saw it on a camp site in France a Dutch lady had a bamboo mat roll the clothes in it and it will squeeze the water out.

    one like this… maybe you could see one of these at the tip

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rush-Beach-Mat-27×72-inch/dp/B002SQ930W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1356638091&sr=8-1
    Latest post from Sol…St Stephen’s Day

  14. Lee Bones says:

    I really like your idea for low-tech human powered clothes washing. I purchased a wash board and have used it once, but it was winter and I had problems drying my clothes in my little house. I need to give it another try.

    Here’s a human powered washer and spinner in one. It’s a fabulous design, though it is made from new materials and would not be as low-cost as your tub method.
    http://www.notechmagazine.com/2012/08/human-powered-washer-spin-dryer.html

  15. [...] While this article is serious in nature, I  had no idea what I was about to read when I clicked over and after the initial surprise I found myself laughing.  For educational reading I enjoy the Simplicity Collective.  This particular post is informative, yet even I haven’t considered going this far in greening my home and reducing the amount of electricity I use. I won’t say never, because I always get in trouble, but this is definitely the cheapest way to purchase that new washing machine. [...]

  16. EcoCatLady says:

    Ha! Well, a few years back my 1968 Kenmore washer finally gave up the ghost and I decided to go “low tech.” I bought a laundry plunger for about $15 and used a tall round garbage can as the tub. Taller worked better because plunging made some splashes, but the thing really does a great job of moving the soapy water through the clothes and cleans MUCH better than simply stirring them around.

    All in all it worked well though a longer handle would have been more ergonomic. I finally gave in after about 6 months though and bought a new washer… When your kittens pee on the bed in the middle of a blizzard (think 7 layers of blankets to launder and WAY too much snow to get to a laundromat) a washer/dryer is kind of a nice thing to have.

    But I did pick up a few tips along the way. I think the most useful were:

    Soaking overnight will do wonders for heavily soiled clothing.

    A mop bucket with a wringer device helps the wringing – especially with heavier items like blue jeans. Or, you can drape them over the clothes line and then take the ends and twist.

    The best system for large items (like bedding) is to put it in the bathtub and use the Italian grape stomper system.

    Best of luck!
    Latest post from EcoCatLady…Anything Goes – The Cole Porter Song Decoded

  17. EcoCatLady says:

    Oh… and I almost forgot. Back when I was still committed to human powered laundry, I discovered an amazing product called the “Swirl.”

    It’s basically like a giant beach ball that you fill with dirty clothes, water and soap and then you kick it around for a while and it agitates everything and cleans your laundry for you!

    At the time it was only available in “developing countries” which I thought was a terrible shame because I really, REALLY wanted one. Anyhow, here’s more info in case anyone is curious:

    http://www.igreenspot.com/swirl-board-the-eco-friendly-washing-machine/
    Latest post from EcoCatLady…Anything Goes – The Cole Porter Song Decoded

  18. Leslie W. says:

    For a little while I was using recycled plastic 5 gallon buckets (held flowers for my wedding) and a toilet plunger with holes cut into it along with homemade detergent. I found it to be quite fun actually. (I really do NOT want to spend the money on a washer and dryer) Now,because I started nursing school I just use my parents machines since I stay with them part of the week for school. I plan to go back to that method when I’m out of school though. The only problem I had with the plunger was that the rubber was rather flimsy and would eventually break. I did much more agitating though. Also, I did the process in my bathtub for privacy and any water overflow could just go down the drain.

  19. Megan says:

    How do you make your homemade detergent? And I have heard that soap is actually better for the environment than detergents.

  20. Mr Simple says:

    This is fabulous! Love it brother.

  21. Julie says:

    Great to read this. I also don’t use a washing machine & I have 3 children. We collect some water while showering, wash the clothes with a small amount of plant based liquid – then water the garden with the left over water. We do a small load everyday….otherwise it would be a bit overwhelming if left too long. When you wash clothes by hand you become more aware of being conscious of what is really dirty and what could last a couple more days. I washed an item from a friend a while ago and the smell from their standard washing powder went through all the clothes…kinda scary.

  22. [...] blogs regularly at the Simplicity Institute and is the co-founder of the Simplicity Collective. My favourite post of his is when he decided to wash is clothes by hand by mimicking a washing machine. Its quite [...]

  23. JillN says:

    I can remember a spin dryer powered by a hose in the 1950s.

  24. MJ says:

    An easy way I have found to extract excess water requires two people and builds arm muscles. Lay as article of clothing lengthwise on a large bath towel and fold the towel. Each participant picks up an end and proceeds to twist the towel in opposite directions thus squeezing out the water. The same towel can be used for the entire load as the water gets squeezed out of it as well.

  25. Links we’ve loved. | The Fearse Family says:

    [...] This article made us chuckle, but it hides an issue worth considering. Not buying stuff we do not need is only one consideration in a journey towards responsible citizenship. We really need to consider where our world is headed, what we can do to help it and what we will do if it gets to that sad place.  [...]

  26. […] my experiments with other alternative technologies, see my deindustrial washing machine, my solar oven, and my solar […]

  27. MonkeyCousin says:

    Good stuff. Drying: wrap things in a dry towel, roll or fold together and you’re halfway there. F you go really hard at this you finish w pretty dry gear. Does crease stuff a bit tho.

  28. anonnymouse says:

    I used to wash my clothes in the bathtub and would hang them to drip-dry on a wooden rack, set in the tub after the water had drained. This way “ringing” the clothing wasn’t too much a problem. It sometimes took two days for them to dry, but I don’t bathe every day anyway, so I didn’t mind the tub being occupied.

    I would wash the clothes after my own shower (drained the bath water and re-filled with clean water for the clothing) and used my feet to agitate the clothing. I usually used a Woolite knock-off instead of regular detergent, which wasn’t too hard on my skin, but sometimes experimented with Dr. Bronner’s castille soap.

    As for personal clean-up on days when the shower was occupied, the directions on Dr. Bronner’s castille soap do okay for in-between days.

  29. Charlotte says:

    Don’t get an old fashioned wringer, or ‘mangle’. Many children suffered injury through getting their fingers trapped between the rollers.
    Since our Bosch washing machine died, I’ve done all the washing in the bathtub by hand, no wringing required, beyond what can be done manually. Even in England in the winter I’ be managed to get stuff dry: the down side is it takes a couple of days, and if it’s damp outside I need to hang clothes for a further day on hangers on the door frames in the house.

  30. […] see my posts on solar ovens (here), my solar shower bag (here) my post-electric washing machine (here), and my non-electric fridge […]

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