Introduction: How to Do Your Laundry for Free.

Picture of How to Do Your Laundry for Free.

Sustainable and Legal Grey-water recycling.

Need a washing machine so that you don't have to go to the laundry mat and waste a bunch of money, time and water just so you can have some clean clothes?
The problem is that your place may not have the proper hookups, and you may not have the space available or the money for a washing machine.
The solution come very simply through a shift in perspective, by viewing the washing machine not a major appliance, but as a really heavy sprinkler.
You can do this in an apartment, a rental house, a duplex, any place.

You'll temporarily need:
a dolly (appliance dolly or hand truck)
a strap
a truck (or a friend with a truck)

And permanently need:
a garden hose
an extension cord
a washing machine (we'll cover how to get one for free in the next step)

I say this is for free, but you still have to pay for detergent, water and electricity. If you were going to water your yard anyways, then your basically getting free use of the water for your clothes. They sell the biodegradable detergent in most supermarkets, you just have to look extra hard for it.

Step 1: Finding a Washing Machine

Picture of Finding a Washing Machine

First you'll need to find a washing machine. People throw away perfectly good washing machines all the time. Ask your friends, check Craigslist, and keep an eye peeled while cruising around your neighborhood. Usually these washing machines are old and don't match their new appliances or there's a small leak that gets them kicked to the curb, but your putting this outside, so a small leak won't matter. Also, the most common thing to fail on a washing machine is the solenoid valve that lets water in, this is a really simple thing to replace and to salvage from dead washing machine. Washing machines fair really well outside. So, just because ones been sitting out for a while doesn't mean it no good. You'll just have to clean out leaves from the inside.

Anytime I've need a washing machine, my friends have come through with one they needed to get rid of. The one pictured here had a problem where it would leak a little while filling, which made it a perfect candidate, since it couldn't be used inside anymore. I have since moved and been given another machine. Also, I found three more in the back yard of my new place.

Step 2: Moving the Washing Machine.

Picture of Moving the Washing Machine.

When moving the washing machine, be careful because they're usually a lot heavier than they look. A lot of them, especially the old ones, have a big concrete or steel ballast in the bottom. You'll want an appliance dolly or a hand truck with a ratchet strap and a pick-up truck. The easiest way to get it in and out of the bed is to place it with the back facing the truck bed and just tilt it in by picking up the bottom. It's nice if you have a friend to help, but one person can move do it. I'm a bout 130 pounds, and I have no problem moving these with a dolly. Make sure the tires a full of air, if they're not solid, it makes a huge difference.
My buddy had a hand truck dolly and his girl had a small pick-up. We put cardboard on the tail gate and and bed to prevent scratches. You can also use blankets. This isn't an issue with work trucks.

Step 3: Installation.

Picture of Installation.

First off you'll want to pick a place around your home where it will be inconspicuous. This isn't illegal, but if your neighbors complain the city will consider it an eyesore and make you dump it. If you're a renter, you should probably ask you landlord as well. You'll also want it to be somewhere were you can get water and power to it, but that could be nearly anywhere with enough hose and extension cords. It's also nice if it's covered.

I chose the bamboo patch on the side of my apartment. The bamboo doesn't completely obscure it, but it makes in less in your face. The bamboo really thrives off the effluent, so they have a nice symbiosis happening.

The drain hose has to be hung up on something above the top of the water level in the washing machine. Otherwise, all the water will just pour out on the ground, and the machine will never fill up! I use this piece of plywood I found right here, which also helps hide the machine from my neighbors. I've seen people just leave the machine on the dolly, hang up the hose on the handle, and just walk to thing to wherever needs watering.

The machine has to be perfectly level, or as level as possible to work. If not it will tear itself apart on the spin cycle and the water might not stay in. You should use at least a little wood to shim it so as to dampen the vibration. If you only use rocks, it'll walk it's way off them. I found all the bricks and wood laying around my yard.

I stenciled my machine, for two reasons. First, if one of my nieghbors uses it, which I encourage, I don't want them poisoning my plants. Second, if the city does come by and claim I'm breaking the law by dumping detergent into the watershed, I can say "No, it says right here 'BIODEGRADABLE DETERGENT ONLY." I keep the detergent on the ground next to the machine too.

Step 4: Plumbing

Picture of Plumbing

You can just hook the thing up to the garden hose. The connectors on the back are male hose thread. Just hook up your garden hose the thone one marked "C" and your good to go.
My machine had the hot water solenoid stuck open so I put this "Y" on it to keep the cold water from coming out the hot water side. This is also handy on one that works just fine, because you can leave on "warm" and it'll fill up faster.
You don't really need hot water to wash your clothes. They come out clean with cold water and last a lot longer as well. Also, this is a lot more energy efficient. If you really want hot water (or if you don't have an outdoor water spigot handy) you can adapt a garden hose onto a sink faucet and run the hose out the window. If you can't thread something onto your sink's faucet, you can slide a piece of hose over the faucet's end, and hose-clamp it. Then hose clamp the other end to a male hose-threaded pipe or adapter. That's what we in the laser industry refer to as the "Universal Plumbing Adapter."

Step 5: Power

Picture of Power

You can just run an extension cord from an outlet anywhere around your house, but you might not want to have it there all the time. I went and bought (*gasp) the parts and added an outdoor outlet to the disconnect (breaker box) for my A/C unit. I think it cost about $10. Be sure you know what you're doing before you do something like this. If you're not familiar with electrical installation ask someone who is for help. Shut off the breakers at the main breaker box, and use and inductive voltage tester to be sure. Don't take any chance with getting shocked.
If you leave an ugly or dangerous looking power setup in place, someone (like your landlord or the fire marshal) is going to complain, and then, the party's over.
When using an extension cord, make sure the connection is off the ground, just in case it rains. Don't just hang it on the corner of the machine, because it will fall off when the machine vibrates. Keep the connection away from where the drain discharges. You don't want it shorting out.

Step 6: Laundry Time!

Picture of Laundry Time!

You want to make sure that the water is going to flow to somewhere where it will be absorbed by your plants. You can even adapt a hose on to the discharge and use it with a sprinkler. Just don't use a sprinkler that has small holes because the lint will eventually clog them. Only use biodegradable detergent. It IS illegal to pour non-biodegradable detergent into the yard/watershed/environment. For your whites, you can use oxygen bleach (such as oxy-clean), since it's biodegradable. If you're using powdered oxygen bleach, you may want to dissolve it in hot water to activate it before adding it to the wash. To dry, just use a clothes line.
Here's an exctellent instructable on that subject:

When not in use keep the thing covered. It'll be OK in the elements, but dead leaves have an incredible way of sneaking inside there an making mess, and you might not want everyone seeing it all the time.

It takes about as much time as a full trip to the Laudromat to go borrow a truck, pick up a washing machine and hook it up in your yard.

This has been my first inscrutable. I hope you found it enlightening. Let me know what you think. I may post another full of amazing uses for dead washing machines.


mary.beheler (author)2016-01-20

Once upon a time, when I had 2 kids in cloth diapers, I got a brand new washing machine. Before it was properly installed I was so eager to use it that I connected it to the kitchen faucet with a water hose. When the fill switch suddenly cut off the water, the hose busted! Mess, mess, mess! It seems that water hose just was not intended to take that much sudden pressure. Be careful!

shermanduke (author)2016-01-19

Hang it up in the rain.

heidigail (author)2016-01-19

This is a great idea. If it didn't freeze here in the winter, I would be doing this immediately as I live in a state with a nearly permanent drought. Thanks for the idea.

MarcioWilges (author)2015-01-05

Let me just add that it's important to check and double check that the washing machine has been drained properly before you attempt to tip it on its side and whatever. You don't want the water to leak all over the house while you're moving the heavy thing around!

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-09-21

Not totally free, but really cheap! I'm going to be building a solar dryer sometime soon, this would be the perfect addition for it.

PKM (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-09-22

Building a solar dryer? I have a solar powered dryer in my back garden, it's called a "clothes line". I can see it through the solar powered transparent wall lighting units or "windows", standing in the middle of the solar powered modular oxygen regeneration and water transpiration facility or "grass". :P I shouldn't mock, I was told off for reinventing wheels all the time as a student, but are you actually building a solar powered dryer?

LinuxH4x0r (author)PKM2008-09-22

Actually I want to build a solar powered dryer for the winter and so that the clothes come out tumbled and soft. If you use a dryer you doun't have to iron as much either. Right now we use a rope, but I think it would be nicer to have a dryer once we move out of here (a little over a week form now!)

LinuxH4, did you ever build that dryer? would love to hear more about it.

scafool (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-10-31

I likely live a lot farther north than you . I remember my mom hanging clothes out to dry when the thermometer was at 0 fahrenheit. The cloths still dried, trhen when they were dry the wind flopped them around. In winter you can tell when they are dry because they quit looking like plywood cutouts of clothing.

LinuxH4x0r (author)scafool2008-10-31

I used to live in Minnesota, Now I'm in New Mexico. We did the same thing sometimes

Grey_Wolfe (author)PKM2008-09-29

You beat me to it. lol Was thinking the same thing.

shancre (author)2012-08-14

Even more cheap than all this and no risk of complaints is......

1. old but clean paint bucket 5-10gallon
2. brand new toilet pluger
3. your choice of detergent, though I find soapnuts do the job well

1.cut a hole in the jar lid
2. put the water and detergent in
3. agitate a bit then put the clothes in
4. really agitate the clothes them with the plunger, remember the hole you made in the lid yo can use the plunger through it

rinse and repeat

hokti.66 (author)2011-02-12

This is so cool and I'm going to see if my boyfriend will consider trying it out. Thanks!

richarpo (author)2010-10-24

Isn't normal bleach biodegradable?

Faynilla (author)2010-07-11

i love the idea behind this however. it is an incredibly bad idea to hook it up to an extension cord. not to mention a fire hazard. i will try to persuade my husband to let me try this though and ill get my dad ot hook up an outdoor plug. thanks for sharing

Hair (author)2010-07-09

actually kinda nifty...

pechka (author)2009-04-23

A low-tech washer can be made by lashing a big tub/plastic trashcan w/perfectly-sealable lid to the back of your car, using the bumper as a partial floor/ lashing point. The agitation is provided by driving. Stop every so often (depending on what you're washing) to dump the water/start the rinse cycle. (I first heard of this in The People's Guide to Mexico, by Carl Franz.) I like your instructable, Robhybrid, but I hate to think of how many living creatures that I'd likely electrocute if I tried it....

blodefood (author)pechka2010-03-11

If cost is an issue, you might not have a car, nor the money for the gas to run it.  The tight fitting bucket could be agitated in other ways like dragging it on a bike trailer over a bumpy road, perhaps.

luluspice (author)2009-10-27

i love  your instructable washing machine idea. another great idea for a dead washing machine is to remove the tub/bucket then use it as a fire pit. the holes let oxygen in. remember to comply with local burn issues in your area.

DropScience (author)2009-10-26

this uses power and water from the house, how exactly is that free?  misleading title.

robhybrid (author)DropScience2009-10-26

When I lived at that apartment water and power included in the rent. So, it was free.

I wrote this instructable for people who live in apartments or can't have a laundry machine in their home. If you have to use the laundry-mat every time you wash your clothes it's a huge expense. Washing machine hookups are the main amenity that decides the rent value of an apartment. I just wanted to explain how you could make your own on the cheap.

Grey_Wolfe (author)2008-09-29

Does the brick keep your central air from blowing away? lol

robhybrid (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-09-29

Actually, it keeps the tarp from blowing away. (not pictured)

ronmaggi (author)robhybrid2009-09-09

The tarp is pictured just to the right of the plywood. :)

rodriguezalba (author)2009-07-17

awesome, thanks.

shooby (author)2008-09-21

I guess I'm not sure what the point of this is. It uses as much energy an resources as a washing machine inside, running on a cold cycle. Disposal of washing machine water doesn't cost anything, so how is this cheaper? The only way I can think of is if you consider that indoor space costs more than outdoor space to rent/buy, so you're trading approximately 4 sq feet of indoor space for the same area of outdoor space. Please explain. Well written instructable, whether or not I agree ultimately with what you did.

robhybrid (author)shooby2008-09-22

It's cheaper because I didn't pay for the washing machine. I don't pay higher rent for a place with washer dryer hookups. I also get free water for my garden. I DO have to pay for disposing the water because the city charges you sewage for every gallon you use regardless of how you use it. I save the energy used to heat water, and the energy used in a dryer, which is actually more energy than it takes to run the washer. If you reuse an abandoned machine your also conserve the energy and resources consumed in constructing and disposing of the machine.

shooby (author)robhybrid2008-09-22

Wow, charged for sewage? One thing I would caution you about, is that obviously washing machines aren't meant to be outside. While you're skipping out on sewage payments, you could be responsible for chemicals leaching into the ground, due the the washing machine's exposure to the elements.

sideways (author)shooby2009-07-06

My town is like robhybrid's. I get charged a sewage fee for every gallon that comes thru the tap, whether it actually goes down the drain or not. Very few people in my town water anything outdoors in the summer. Too expensive. Lots of dead brown yards during most of the summer. My washer is in the basement. I'd like to save the greywater for outdoors, but a pump is too expensive and messing around hauling buckets would take forever. I'll live with dead grass :-)

Grey_Wolfe (author)shooby2008-09-29

I agree that it needs to, at the very least, be under some sort of cover. But he isn't saving on sewage fees. They don't measure the amount of drainage, it actually is figured our by taking an average measurement of water usage (usually during winter), then they charge you according to that. I don't know of any place that figures out sewage each month, but I'm sure some places do.

sugarego (author)Grey_Wolfe2009-05-21

actually, they are saving costs of water *and* sewage charges. if they were to be letting the water go down the drain from the washer, then they'd have to use new water from the hose to water the garden. this way, there's no *additional* water usage for the garden (just whatever water they were already using for the laundry). and even if it weren't to save the user any money, it's the right thing to do! reducing the volume of material flowing into the sewers is a good thing. and if everyone did it, maybe costs for the city would even decrease?

Derin (author)Grey_Wolfe2009-01-17

I think you can build a small shed for it. Also,the sewage payment is probably the same number every time.

shooby (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-09-29

Yeah, that's what I thought. Obviously sewage isn't free, but can anyone who's reading this, even outside of the US, say that they have a monthly sewage charge?

nehmah (author)shooby2008-12-19

We've lived in 4 states and 6 cities over 40+ years; we paid sewage fees in all. Even renters pay a sewage fee. It has been as high as 50% of the water bill use. So, if you paid $50 for water your sewage was $25. That was the highest rate we ever paid.

Grey_Wolfe (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-09-29

Btw, almost everyone pays for sewage, though it's usually set as either a surcharge on your water bill or part of trash.

sugarego (author)shooby2009-05-21

it's actually not that weird if you think about it. the water that gets piped into your house is clean, yes? well, it costs money to clean it. much of the water you drink from the tap (depending of course, on where you live) is recycled from sewage. cleaning the water that the city collects from your drain pipes is more expensive than cleaning water obtained from the ground or from rivers and lakes. where i live (los angeles), it really only rains during the winter (and then it rains quite a bit). so people don't need to water the garden very often in winter. they measure your water usage in the winter to see how much of the water you use is likely going down the drain. if your water usage rises in summer to use for plants, they still charge you based on what you used the previous winter. on my water bill, i was amazed at how cheap the cost per HCF (hundred cubic feet) of water was (a few dollars). but then i saw this SSC charge on there that was at least 3x as high as my water bill. that's the sewer service charge.

robhybrid (author)shooby2008-09-28

Washing machines last really well outside. Their paint is super durable, and the switches are usually put in a way that the they won't get damaged by the rain. I've taken apart plenty of washing machines, and there's nothing inside that could leach into the ground. The motor used a heavy grease; there's no oil like in a refrigerator. The only problem, as I said, is that they fill up with dead leaves and mud. It's basically like a sink. Anything that lands on it will end up inside when it rains. You need to keep it covered with a tarp or something.

lalalaux (author)robhybrid2009-03-24

Also, if there's water in the parts and it freezes... you'll be looking for a "new" free washing machine. This has happened to me a few times in an outdoor laundry room sort of setup. Nice instructable though! :)

robhybrid (author)lalalaux2009-03-25

I live in Texas. Maybe this won't work up North. I didn't consider that.

mjarthur (author)shooby2008-12-10

i liked this instructable, it would be more accurate to say free yard watering while doing laundry rather than free clothes washing though...

Derin (author)2009-01-17

I think this should be renamed "Outside Laundry While Gardening Cleanly".Other than that,I liked the Instructable.

anthro (author)2008-11-16

I am so happy to see this! I am getting and idea right now to get a load together! :o)

Grey_Wolfe (author)2008-09-29

Shouldn't this be called "Free Irrigation While Doing Your Laundry with Your Free Washing Machine" ? lol

chuckr44 (author)2008-09-26

You don't need a voltage test. I been shocked many times and don't got no dain bramage.

chuckr44 (author)chuckr442008-09-26


Rishnai (author)2008-09-21

"A really heavy sprinkler" Well put.

razordu30 (author)2008-09-21

Things You'll Need Permanently: Hose Extension Cord Step 1: Get a Washing Machine?

robhybrid (author)razordu302008-09-21

Point taken. I added a washing machine to the things you're going to need. I just don't want that to be a stumbling block for people. There are so many usable ones that end up in the scrap yards and landfills. It is really easy get a free washing machine. I've found a least a six in the last year or so. You just need to keep an open mind.

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