A Sustainable Laundry Washer

Back in April, I’d published an article called Will this Detergent turn my Greywater a Lighter Shade of Gray? which, among other things, declared a commitment to traditional hand washing of laundry, as one means of extreme energy and water conservation. I’d also subsequently published Earth Day 2012: Mobilizing for Water Conservation for Building Moxie, which further elaborated a number of these ideas.

Well, Earth Day 2012 came and went, and my commitment to the manual laundry discipline never wavered, albeit it has a lagged a bit on the execution side of things. But nonetheless, my new “high performance/high efficiency” washer (or its various components, more precisely) did arrive last week. And let me tell you: No 1950s television housewife was ever more excited than I, as I hurriedly opened the shipping boxes on my deck and beheld my brand new, high-tech marvel:

Stainless Steel Washtubs and Hand Wringer

A "high performance washer" for the new century (same as it ever was).

Like all such appliances, of course, it does require some “setting up”. But before I get into that, let’s take a closer look at its major components, and the protocol (more or less) for using them to wash clothes:

Hand washer tools and washtubs

High performance washer "components": Round washtub, manual washer, washboard, eco friendly detergent, and two oval rinse tubs with hand wringer and a second manual washer.

The main “wash-cycle” items consist of a 35 gallon, round, galvanized steel tub, and what’s called a manual (or sometimes mobile) washing machine, or simply washer, which consists of a blue plastic cone at the end of a long wooden handle (note there actually are two of these in the photo above, one for washing and one for rinsing). The round tub is the primary washtub, and your wash water, eco friendly detergent, and dirty clothes all go in there:

Close-up of main washtub, hand washer, and traditional washboard

The main washtub, manual washer, traditional washboard, and eco friendly detergent.

One uses the manual washer to thoroughly clean clothes by agitating them with a vigorous up-and-down motion. A system of internal baffles in the blue plastic cone provides a certain amount of jetting action, as water pressure builds inside the cone:

Close-up of manual washing machine baffles

Close-up of the manual washer and the baffle system inside its plastic cone. The upper, smaller concentric cone forces high pressure water downward along the perimeter of the larger one.

And for really tough stains or embedded dirt that the manual washer just can’t get completely clean, you use a traditional wash board, just as your grandmother or great-grandmother (depending on how old you are) once did — hey, it worked for her; it can work equally well for you, too!

The “rinse-cycle” components, on the other hand, consist of two oval, 16 gallon tubs, a hand wringer, and a second manual washer. The reason for having two tubs is simply to facilitate primary and secondary rinse cycles to ensure you get most of the detergent-laden wash water out of your clothes. One tub is always used first, along with the other manual washer, to initially get clothes rinsed. Then, the second tub is used for a final rinsing by hand, after which the clothes are fed into the hand wringer for a good pressing, before going on to the clothesline.

16 gallon rinse tubs on deck

The 16 gallon rinse tubs fit comfortably on the flat "bench" of my backyard deck.

The only real problem with this configuration is where to mount the hand wringer. The hand wringer has two screw clamps for fastening it to a flat vertical surface. In the first photo above, I’d attached it to a flat section of the side of a rinse tub. Ideally, this is where you’d want it located, but the steel flexes too much to make this practical. So I’ll most likely construct a wooden transom of sorts to support the hand wringer on, or right against, the flat side of the tub.

As shown in the photo above, the rinse tubs also fit nicely on the long, flat “bench” that constitutes one side of my backyard deck. This is an ideal location, since it’s right near the garden terraces, making it fairly easy to transport greywater to the gardens.

Yet another possibility might be to re-purpose one of the test assemblies I’d constructed for my recent 18V cordless drill review, also on Building Moxie, as a rinse tub support. They fit well there, and constructing a transom for the wringer would be a simple matter of bolting a large board to the side of the assembly:

Rinse tubs on test assembly

The rinse tubs also fit nicely on the smoke test assembly I'd fabricated a while back for a power tool review.

Finally, one of the nicest features of my new high performance washer is that, at the end of the laundry day, it all stows nicely out of the way on an available cellar wall:

Wash and rinse tubs hung on the wall

The wash and rinse tubs can be hung out of the way anywhere there's some available wall space; in this case, right on the wall, near my cellar door.

Of course, any high performance washer also needs to be properly paired with a high efficiency dryer, and in this case, that dryer would be — yes, you guessed it — about 100′ of cotton clothesline, two pulleys, and a tensioner. Once I get that set up, along with a support for the hand wringer, this operation will be open for business. :-)

Green Patriots Hang Out Poster

(Image source: Green Patriot Posters, www.greenpatriotposters.org)


About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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10 Responses to A Sustainable Laundry Washer

  1. Colleen says:

    I honestly want pictures posted when you attempt to do your laundry… you need to walk the walk baby after talking the talk!!!

  2. Juliana Inman says:

    I love my solar clothes dryer!

    • John Poole says:

      And I can understand why you love your solar clothes dryer, Cousin Elinore! I love mine, too.

      BTW, my washer is also solar powered, of course: Solar energy makes food for the plants, which in turn make food for John, who in turn washes the clothes!

      ~ East Coast Cousin Elinore

  3. I got to say I admire your spirit John, but I got to ask – just how much water is required? A modern HE uses what 10 or 14 gallons now? Of course on the flip side, you don’t have to worry about diverting the water used for washing to the lawns, so…

    • John Poole says:

      That’s a good point, Sean. I really won’t know until I’ve done this enough times times, and have figured out the minimal amounts of water I can get by with for my own typical laundry loads. I can’t imagine it being as little as 10 or 14 gallons, but then, yes, grey water, and no use whatsoever of electricity. At some point, I’ll have numbers characterizing and comparing this against HP/HE appliances, and I’ll certainly post all of that here.

  4. Jan pierce says:

    I am 72 yrs old , may I ask if you set up the tubs right. Put the rinse tubs side by side and the wash tub at the top. Like two hotdogs with ahamberger at the top. Use a 1×4 between the tubs to help clamp on the wringer. I would like to build a swing arm for quicker use, washer to first rinse then swing it to work for first to second rinse. Marks eyes and back don’t so good but he helps as best he can.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Jan,

      Thanks very much for the note. Your suggested configuration sounds very useful, and I might be inclined to try arranging something like that next season. The notion of hanging the wringer on a swinging arm also sounds ideal. My main issue right now is simply finding enough time to do these things, so I’d decided to arrange the tubs using wooden platforms that I already had.

      But I can easily envision a simple platform elevating the wash tub above the rinse tubs, and then the wringer on a swinging arm, perhaps attached to that platform. I will give this some thought consider it for next spring.

      So thanks very much for the ideas, Jan. I really appreciate it!

      ~ John

  5. John Poole says:

    Apparently, you also weren’t paying attention in class on some other day! :-D

  6. John Poole says:

    And for beer parties. The melted ice becomes reasonably clean greywater.

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