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My Post-Electric Washing Machine: The Deindustrial 2020

by Dr Samuel Alexander, co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne.

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!

Samuel Alexander

Dr Samuel Alexander is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Melbourne, Australia, teaching a course called ‘Consumerism and the Growth Economy: Critical Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ as part of the Master of Environment.

17 Comments

  1. Great, but a “technological advance” would be a “Yukon Plunger” — essentially a re-purposed toilet plunger with a few holes drilled in it. It creates just enough suction to agitate the clothes as you pump it up and down in a tub of water and detergent. There are some commercial ones on the market as well, under various names, which are slightly more nuanced in design. I’ve seen one that’s even made of metal. And, hey, like the crutch which can also be used for support when you break your leg washing your clothes, a plunger with a quick-and-dirty patch or two can be used to quietly free a stopped-up flush toilet which, of course, no true Permaculturist would admit to having.

  2. Well done. I’ve read about this system, except they had the bucket next to the door and whomever entered or left the building gave the washing a prod (agitation).

    For drying, I recommend an old school washing horse. You can move them inside and outside depending on the weather and over winter you can move them to in front of the fire box (or heater).

    If you want to really accelerate the drying over winter, chuck a sheet over the top of the washing horse to concentrate the heat.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clotheshorse

    Regards

    Chris

  3. Interesting that this article should appear just now. I was thinking only last week that my current washing machine, now almost 10 years old (not a bad innings for a modern electro-mechanical device), would at some stage soon (and I am tempting fate here) pass on to wherever old washing machines go. I resolved when that time comes, that I would endeavour to find an alternative process instead of just buying another resource guzzler.

    My mind went back to what my mother used for the family wash in my younger days, namely a washing dolly and galvanised wash tub just like the one pictured here: https://victorians.swgfl.org.uk/themes/personal_health/washdollyobj.htm

    Nowadays we could get away with using a strong plastic bin of some sort as long as plastic bins are available (barrel-making – what’s the word for that? – may need to make a comeback) but I think the dolly would be a stronger and more endurable agitation device than a walking crutch. Wet clothes, towels and bed linen are pretty hard to move around. I suspect it would have to be a DIY project to build one of these now. Nevertheless, it is one of those many plans that I have for use in a post-electric future. Just hope the need doesn’t arise before the solution is in place, otherwise I may find myself hand washing for a while.

  4. that’s wonderful. my late mum (about 30 years ago) had a little non-electric washing machine that people used to use for camping. it was a barrel suspended on a frame that used to allow it to be turned. you put some water and detergent in with your clothes, sealed the barrel shut and rotated it… then did the same for the rinse.. the rotation did the scrubbing for you and it seemed to develop a bit of pressure inside. we used to use warm or hot water… the barrels were about 40 or 50 cm long…

  5. Alas the wet winters here in north west Spain don’t do such a good job of drying clothes outdoors, and it’s surprising how long wet clothes take to dry infront of a wood stove when it’s cold and humid weather. We’ve taken to just having permanently dirty clothes during the winter, which means that when it is time to wash them, the odd poke with the end of a crutch isn’t going to do a great deal. On the contrary, we’re looking forward to buying an old washing machine and rigging it up for bicycle power!

  6. I loved the days when I could just wash my clothes by hand in a bucket. It produces instant greywater with the gardeners choice of where to apply. Simplicity is underrated! Thanks for this!

  7. I know of someone who used to put his clothes, water and detergent into a sealed cream can and carry it around on the back of his ute as he conducted his business till the clothes were sufficiently agitated! I’ve heard agitation, rather than detergent, is the prime mover of dirt.

  8. I love the concept however singing and dancing to GANGNAM Style is clearly unsustainable. This earth has finite resources and swapping from using fossil powered fuels to using “lame” to power your washing is merely shifting the problem. George w bush used up 70% of the worlds “lame”resources whilst in power and we need to think about conserving what stocks we have left and carefully husbanding them. Such profligate waste of lameness by dancing and singing to GANGNAM style is the equivalent of driving a car with twin v8’s (if you mounted them on top and upside down relative to each other would that make it an x16?)

    In short hang your head in lame wasting shame ;)

    Have a great x(16)mas

  9. I used to have a proper old dolly pudder! Beautiful brass thing
    The ‘truckers wash’ is even simpler, a bucket in the passenger footwell, with water and detergent agitation provided just by movement of truck. a days drive got clothes clean (exept big grease patches) then another day to dry hung up above the bunk. You right biggest effort is wringing the clothes, very nessecart in our cold climate. Its also the point of major wear for the fabric. Alternative is twice as many clothes and an undercover line not in house permanently full

  10. Oops should have read comments first suzi beat me to it!
    On drying – its not good for lungs or furnishings to have damp clothes in living space, unless you have wood burner going constantly sucking out damp air i start mine off in shed and poly sometimes for days and only bring in when nearly dry to finish off

  11. I enjoyed reading the article and I’ve washed clothes without a machine at various times in my life but I’m afraid that an automatic washing machine is one of the last things I’d want to let go of! I think it’s mainly the weight of the wet washing, especially big things like sheets, and all the rinsing. The easiest method I found (for a family of 4) was to fill the bath with hot soapy water and stomp on the clothes and stir them round a bit. Then rinse by draining and refilling the bath a few times. (we get our water from a stream so water useage isn’t an issue) The hard work was hauling everything out, wringing and hanging out to dry. Maybe the weight isn’t such an issue for a man.
    We do have the highest energy rating washing machine we could get though and don’t have a tumble dryer.

  12. Buy a sputnik. Uses very little water. To dry. Lay clothes flat on sheet. Tie one end to something sturdy. Start twisting manually on other side. Gets about 80% of moisture out.

  13. All good advice ! But the bottom line is that our energy companies and our pollys not pulling them into line need a kick up the arse ! Greed is destroying this world …I’m heading off grid soon …cheers thanks for

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