My post-electric washing machine: The Deindustrial 2020

hand washing machine

The Deindustrial 2020 washing system. Click image to enlarge.

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 high-tech elements, a black plastic tub (which I salvaged from the side of the road), and an old crutch (which I purchased for $2). 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 for your own version 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 homemade 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 ten minutes 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 five 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 minimize 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.

Samuel Alexander, PhD, is with the Simplicity Institute / Simplicity Collective. Slide show photo by Bella_189.

Samuel Alexander, Transition Voice

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  1. W. R. Flynn says

    When I was working on a farm in Cuba in the mid-80s we used a similar clothes washing technique and it worked very well, too. The primary difference was skipping the laundry detergent. Plus, we hand-squeezed the clothes quite vigorously prior to the final rinse and they came out just fine. The used water was dumped near some fruit trees. In the tropical sun the clothes dried in no time, but even on the wettest days here in Oregon they dry in a day.

  2. CPL says

    A washing machine is build to “swish” water around the clothes. So think of a basket in the drum. You can even repurpose an old washing machine if the motor barings are good. It just needs energy to swish .

    You could mount a 20 foot tower with a wind turbine acting as the draft shaft and it could enable an “off” switch.

    See the motor in the picture? Replace that and you’ve got a washing machine. Not much to washing machines. Lots of energy to move a 80 gallons of water back and forth. A good wind can do that.

    Incidentally you can reuse the motor in the washing machine to make electricity. With a little tweaking of course. You mount the wind tower to act as the drive shaft to the motor and you can produce a DC current to fill a battery array.

    There are more than eighty ways to skin the cat. The common theme is where does the energy come from.? In your presented case, the main power source is you. I’m sure you have better things to do than wash clothes.

    Not sure how rinse cycles would work with it. I suppose the wind tower could also pump water into the washing drum and cycle the water. Could even build a settling pool to recycle the water but that would be more of a construction project than a fun weekend thing.

    However, cool bucket and stick action you’ve got there. I used to have to wash my clothes in the sink as a student because I couldn’t afford the laundry mat all the time. Paychecks were pretty thin in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

    • CPL says

      Just realized their is a water pump built into the washing machine. (duh!) And looking at the design of 80% of them. You can reuse that as well. It’s belt driven as well. Translation. You can run a full cycle…I think…it would require a bit of tweaking, maybe a little power to the computer in the washing machine that could be captured from wind tower.

      Any case…options are fairly broad, and damn you for getting an interesting problem stuck in an engineer’s head. lol

      How do you reinvent washing machines…more to the point, how would it change social dynamics? Where would it be placed? Engineering isn’t about just building something, it’s about how it’ll fit in peoples lives. It has to make sense.

      Maybe the reinvention of the laundry mat? Build a facity specifically just for washing clothes with wind towers. Throw in a bit of power generation at the same time. Repair costs would be high as there isn’t a qualification for a wind turbine washing machines tech (yet…lol). The building would have to be away from residential because fan blades break and the last place you want one flying off into is someone’s house (or someone).

      90% of what you would need is available for no or low cost today. craigslist is full of people dumping old appliances for free. The tower would be expensive, couple of grand to make sure it doesn’t fall over….

      Yeah…the idea is stuck in my head now…crap.

  3. RayS says

    If the winters are cold enough, freezing temperature will actually remove some of the water.
    We left ours hanging until they were frozen solid,, then hung them indoors- they were dampish but dried in a few hours.

  4. Krisrtina says

    Great writing and lots of thought swirling about with your washing in the process! Two things I have to say: the first is my opinion: most people have too many clothes. One of the main benefits of a washing machine is that you can have lots of clothes. Less clothes, less washing. Wear them longer, I say. Most people I know wear garments for one day then change. I live on a boat with my family, no washing machine here, and I wear my clothes for sometimes up to a week. I swim often and often swim in my clothes! Other point is, you either work to buy the clothes and power the machine, or you accept hand-me-downs, make your own threads and only buy 2nd hand and wash the stuff yourself.

    Other method I want to add. A 20 L bucket with a hole cut for a long handled plunger in the lid works extremely well for small amounts of washing, even really dirty stuff. Being both lazy and busy myself, I like to sit down and plunge my washing along with my coffee, in the sun of course, and here in the Marlborough Sounds, only a squeeze is needed – clothes are dry in no time hanging from the lifelines. I also saw years ago a great invention based on the plunger idea: 2 wringer washing machine basins set up in a purpose-built metal frame with taps welded onto them down low (for drainage). Above them hung a swinging mechanism operated by a bar that you pulled down that had big plungers attached to it. These ‘agitated’ the clothes. One was for washing, the other for rinsing. You could even set it up so that the waste water ran off down irrigation pipes to water trees and gardens. It was calibrated so that it took minimum effort to raise and lower the bar. Always wanted to build one but I have to get off the boat first!
    Excellent article! Happy washing, KJ

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