Introduction: Hand-powered WASHING MACHINE

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

I have probably been washing clothes in this hand-powered washing machine for over 25 years. It has two funnels inside the tank that serve as plungers, agitating the water every time the handle is pumped. The inside dimensions of the tank are: 15" tall, 33" long, 14" wide.

The idea was originally for construction in wood. It came from a village technology handbook. I built mine out of iron and cement, and came up with the funnel plunger idea. The rectangular tank uses a special sheet metal with holes for plastering called Hi-rib. It is sealed with a cement-base sealer.

My method is to soak the clothes in detergent and water overnight, pump them for about 5 minutes in the morning, rinse them twice and hang them up on the clothesline.

It's good exercise, and it consumes no electricity.

Step 1: Inside the Washer

The funnels go up and down. Shape-wise, the funnel is streamlined and cuts the water as it moves upward. Coming down, it creates more churning action because of the less streamlined bottom.

The funnels can be easily replaced if they eventually break, but they hold up quite well. The bright red funnel was recently replaced.

Step 2: The Mechanism

One stands to the right of the machine and pumps the handle up and down. As the handle moves it raises and lowers the two red plastic funnels. That agitates the water and washes the clothes. The handle is of welded iron pipe. The cross bar in the middle acts like a hinge. The hinge pin which holds the handle to the washing machine body is a smaller diameter pipe. I used 3/4" EMT metal pipe for the handle and 1/2" EMT for the hinge pin.

The vertical pipes connecting the funnels and the handle are made of PVC pipe. They are heat formed at one end to conform to the funnel. A plug inside, made of wood or heat-formed PVC is secured by a sheet metal screw and holds the funnel in place.

The vertical PVC pipe is heat formed at the other end to conform to part of a hinge made of chain links. The chain links are welded to the handle and a stub of pipe that enters the vertical PVC pipes. See the diagrams.

Step 3: The Hinge

The outer pipe used in the hinge for the handle is 3/4" EMT metal tubing. The "hinge pin" that runs inside it is 1/2" EMT.

Step 4: The Plug

To make the drain hole I heated and flared out the end of the 1/2" PVC drain pipe. I did that by heating it over a gas stove to soften it and pressing it over a ball peen hammer. When the plastic cooled, the end had a tapering hole, ideal for receiving a rubber plug.

The plug is made of silicone rubber. As a mold for it, I used the actual drain pipe. I packed a wad of aluminum foil in the hole to form the bottom of the plug, and coated the foil and the pipe with a mold release agent, such as dish detergent, or Vaseline jelly.

I filled the space in the mold with clear silicone rubber from the hardware store. While it was fresh, I made a loop of nylon string, knotted it, and embedded the frayed ends of the strings in the silicone. The string is firmly held and can be used for pulling out the plug.

With that much silicone, it took about a day to harden up completely. It's a good plug and doesn't leak.

Step 5: The Lid

The original 2-part cover for the washing machine was made of plywood. It rotted away, and was replaced with PVC plastic.

To make the cover, flatten some pipe material by cutting a section of large-diameter PVC pipe lengthwise on one side. Heat it over a gas stove until it gets soft and leathery. Put it on the floor with a flat piece of plywood on top to stand on until it cools.

Sketch out your design. Make long folds by heating the line with a propane torch and folding the plastic with a piece of wood. Cut holes in one side for the vertical pipes that hold the funnels. Fold the outside rim down over the edge of the washer. Folds like that give the flattened PVC more rigidity.

In the previous photos, I showed the lid pieces unwashed. (I like the candid feel of weathered things.) For those who may like to see things cleaner in order to better visualize their manufacture, I cleaned the lid for these photos.



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    This is pretty simple/ingenious. Laundry is one of those tasks that must happen but we are very tied to power consumption to achieve that end.
    I visualize maybe salvaging a front loader and rigging a bike sprocket to drive the drum. Super clean clothes and low ecological impact.

    I would like to see you build a bicycle powered centrifuge to extract more water so the clothes will dry faster plus you could get some good aroebics. I got the idea for the centrifuge in Australia. The local laundromat was equipped with washers, centrifuges and dryers. The clothes could be run through the centrifuge extracting almost all of the water and then a brief stay in the dryer and they were ready to hang/fold and put away.
    I love your simple and inexpensive building techniques. However,I think most cities in the 'States' are now coding out such things as hanging laundry out to dry. The poles and lines are too 'ugly' and damage 'property values'.

    This says nothing of your structures that would send code enforcement officers on a citation writing binge.

    1 reply

    So, they are coding in obligatory energy consumption to dry clothes now? That does seem like the way of modern civilization. Sunshine and fresh air just ain't good enough any more.

    Great idea. I volunteer at a non-profit rabbit shelter and we usually spend about $60.00 a week doing laundry. If this is as easy as it looks to put together, I may have to scrounge the materials to make it. Our laundry is mostly bedsheets and towels. The only modification I can think of right now would be to hook it up to a stationary bicycle and build a rotating drum dryer as we have no ability to hook up a clothes line.

    The wooden disks might even agitate the water more. I chose to use funnels because on the upward movement stage they would not get weighted down with laundry. Being a more streamlined design, they would just push it to the side.

    A wringer wouldn't be a bad idea to try, but hand wringing and a good drying day still work.

    kenkou chou jumyou Thinkenstein
    (Thinkenstein wishes you good health and long life, also.)

    3 replies

    What about those funnel shaped laundry plungers (very reasonably priced at Lehman's) they work pretty well by themselves in a six gallon bucket with a lid (for long term camping)

    BTW what is the name of the book? I left mine with a carpenter in Cambodia and have been trying to find another for more than 10 years


    Village Technology Handbook. The above link takes you to an online copy.


    Download complete book Village Technology Handbook from CD3WD (14Mb pdf):

    I made it out of cement. The form was made out of "Hi-rib", an expanded sheet metal with holes in it for plastering. That was then plastered with cement. It weighs quite a bit.

    The pdf for this seems to be broken, unless it's my slow connection. Could someone check it? Also where's the wringer to get the cloths ready to hang on the line?

    3 replies

    I downloaded the PDF file OK. Being able to do so might be a perk for pro members, but I'm not sure.

    No wringer. I hand twist the clothes to get most of the water out and then just hang them up to dry. It ain't perfect, but it works.

    Thanks for replying, sorry I'm so slow in getting back. My connection which is somehow still legal for my phone company to provide is maxed out at 10-15kbps and wont seem to do the pdf. In the past, once I joined on better connections I had no problem getting them. The link may be good but it's not getting through :( Help! Out here in the 'affordable' land sticks, the internet superhighway is a super toll road that I can't afford, netzero's $10/month is my max. The link may be good, but net segregation isn't.

    Thanks for this instructable btw, seeing someone who's actually used the vita washing machine design gives it more credibility to me, even though I'd still like to see a wringer integrated I can certainly understand making do. :) Cool adaptation with the ferro-cement.

    We seem to make war collectively with massive amounts of our taxes, but we can't use them to give us all a decent free internet connection. Good communication will maybe be part of world peace someday, I hope.

    Please don't be too impressed. I just saw the similarity in what you said and your Instructables name, so I just repeated what you said and substituted mine. Besides sayanara, I know nothing of Japanese.

    Great setup and a good way of staying off the power grid. I was without a washing machine for six months or so and would wash things in the bathtub. It got a little tiresome and your rig looks much better. Quicker and easer. Have you tried rubber sink plungers instead of the funnels?

    1 reply

    No, I have only used funnels. The funnel plastic eventually ages and breaks, but they are easy to replace. The plungers might last longer.

    I really like this. But I just can't get over how algae-covered everything is. When I think of laundry, I think stark, clean, white, I guess. This would be a good alternative to the expensive James washer. Great job!

    1 reply

    Thanks.  The inside, what makes contact with the clothes, is relatively clean. 

    Great simple design. Will try and use one funnel and a 20 litre bucket for washing small loads.

    Smart idea, and it also looks very reliable, and very cheap to build. Thanks...