SudsCycle: a Bicycle-Powered Washing Machine (Prototype 1.0)




Introduction: SudsCycle: a Bicycle-Powered Washing Machine (Prototype 1.0)

I made this as a final project for my Sustainable Design class as a way to empower sustainable decisions in an apartment or dormitory situation where many typical areas of environmental choices (such as thermostat settings) are outside of personal control.

While basic internet research quickly found several published bicycle-powered washing machines, most used a large tank and other parts re-purposed from an old washer, and all involved a bicycle dedicated to the machine. I wanted to make a system with minimal footprint to fit in a small living situation, using cheap materials, which would require only a temporary attachment to a fully-functional bicycle. I initially came up with about 6 technically feasible designs, which I iterated and refined to come up with a design with minimal footprint that was quick to set up and disassemble. This is a first prototype completed in approximately three weeks.

If you follow this Instructable to build a SudsCycle, that's awesome! Remember, safety first: be careful with power tools. They can seriously injure and kill you. Take the time to properly set up your workpiece before cutting/drilling/sawing/sanding! Always wear your safety glasses. And if you don't know how to use a tool, ask someone to teach you! (This is a great strategy even if you do mostly know how to use a tool: there's always more to learn!)


Many thanks to the invaluable advice of the Sustainable Design teaching team (especially Rosy's help with bicycle transmissions)! Also thanks to Peter and Bruce, two fantastic instructors of machining at my college, for helpful conversations pointing me to the right tools. And here are some great online resources (mostly really neat international development work) I built off of to design this machine:

Bhatawadekar, G, B. Salman, N. Chiplunkar, S. Devrukhakar, S. Akashdeep. "Design and Fabrication of a Pedal Powered Washing Machine." International Journal of Engineering & Technology 3.1 (2015): n. pag. P&R Solution. Planning and Review Engineering Consultancy. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Chandler, David L. "Spin Cycle: A New Kind of Washer." MIT News. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 09 Feb. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Fouch, Nick, and Esther Emery. "How We Do Laundry Off Grid With a Bike Powered Washing Machine." YouTube. YouTube, 27 July 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

McIntire-Strasburg, Jeff. "Homeless Dave's DIY Pedal-Powered Washing Machine." Sustainablog. N.p., 08 Dec. 2006. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

"Pedal Powered Water Pumps, Threshers, Blenders, Tile Makers and More."Maya Pedal: Guatemala. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2016.

Also be sure to check out these fantastic related Instructables for hand-powered or bicycle-powered washers:

Redneck Washing Machine by jessyratfink:

Off-Grid Washing Machine by jbillh:

Hand Washing Machine by Mage and the machine:

Portable HP Washing Machine by wbarrett:

20 gal Tabletop Washing Machine (4 Da Poor Man) by Blofish:

How to Make a Pedal-Powered Washing Machine - Mark 1 by Organikmechanic:

Pedal Powered Washing Machine - Mark 2 by Organikmechanic:

How to Make a Hand Crank Washing Machine or Compost Tumbler by LaMar Solarcabin:

And also, some great creative advice about how to stabilize your bicycle when pedaling stationary by placing the front wheel in an open phone book:

"Do I Need to Buy a Special Stand for My Front Wheel When Using My Turbo Trainer?" Training. StackExchange: Bicycles, 29 Nov. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Step 1: The Basic Design

To minimize footprint and enable a relatively quick change between the washing machine setup and a ride-ready commuter bicycle, this design drives from an additional Chain that slips over the largest Front Ring of the bicycle. This second Chain drives a Sprocket that is attached to the Bucket (the wash container) by five Bolts that run through a Spacer Block. The Bucket is supported by an Inner Pipe, through which a Shaft runs. Two Bearings fit between the Inner Pipe (which turns with the Bucket) and the Shaft (which is stationary). At one end, the Shaft attaches with a Pin to the Shaft Block (which, during operation, rests on a piece of furniture provided by the user). At the other end, the Shaft is constrained with a wooden Bicycle Attachment Plate, which attaches by Straps to the Bicycle Top Tube and Down Tube. On either side of the Bicycle Attachment Plate, the Shaft is axially constrained by two Pins; another Pin just in front of the Sprocket axially constrains the Bucket.

The SudsCycle can be easily stored in disassembled form, in space only a little larger than its bucket. To wash clothes: spin open the lid of the bucket, insert clothes, close lid. Attach bicycle attachment plate to bicycle. Insert shaft (with shaft block attached) into bucket's inner pipe, and slide in the pin to constrain the bucket. Loop the chain over the sprocket. Place the shaft block atop appropriately-sized sturdy furniture (such as a table or chair, possibly with your least-favorite textbook on top), and insert the shaft into the bicycle mounting plate. Secure the shaft with the pins on either side of the bicycle mounting plate. After ensuring that the SudsCycle is stable, attach the chain to the largest front ring of the bicycle by slowly turning the chain until it fully engages. Rotate the bucket so that the valve faces up, and pour water and a small amount of detergent through a funnel into the bucket. When clothes are immersed, remove the funnel and tightly close the valve. Carefully mount the bicycle, and, supporting yourself with a wall or sturdy piece of furniture with your left hand and holding the front brake with your right, pedal backwards for about 10 minutes. (Remember the goal is to wash your laundry--so don't pedal too evenly!) Next, drain the bucket by opening the valve (either on the lawn outside, or into a smaller bucket that you can pour down the sink). Refill the bucket with clean rinse water and repeat the cycle. Drain again; then cycle as fast as is safe to remove as much water from the clothes as possible. Drain a third time, and then carefully remove the lid from the bucket, squeeze out excess water from the clothes, and hang up to dry. (If it's easier, you can first remove the pins and shaft from the bicycle mounting plate, and place the bucket sprocket-down to remove clothes.) Disassemble the shaft and put away for the next use. Hooray, your laundry is done!

(Note: be sure to use detergent that is safe to dump outside!)

Step 2: Sketch Model

At this point, it's a great idea (and fun!) to make a quick cardboard mock-up of the system. This helps make sure you understand how the specifics of the design work for you and your bicycle, and gives you some key dimensions: specifically, the distance the sprocket needs to be from the bucket to provide clearance for your leg while pedaling (about 3" for me); the distance the sprocket needs to be from the frame of the bicycle to be in line with the largest front ring (about 0.5" for my bike).

(Don't worry about exact measurements--you'll adjust to alignment later--but it's helpful to get a rough idea here.)

At this point, I realized that I could balance reasonably well by holding onto a wall and placing the "bucket shaft" onto a table, so I didn't need a separate stand to support the shaft. Fewer parts = faster progress and less footprint. Awesome!

Step 3: Gather Materials

  • Bicycle with working pedals, standard frame (top tube at the top, not lowered: a "boys bicycle"), and at least one front ring
  • Bicycle chain (about 116 links--standard 6-8-speed bicycle length): discarded bicycle part (free)
  • Bicycle sprocket (about the same size as your largest front ring on your bicycle; mine is 48 teeth, about 8" across): discarded bicycle part (free)
  • Bucket (5-gallon): Home Depot, ~$3
  • Bucket lid (waterproof seal): I used a Gamma Seal bucket lid, Home Depot, ~$7
  • Wood for spacing bucket (about 6"x6"x3.5", based on my sketch model; can be several stacked pieces): shop scrap (free)
  • Bucket-mounting fasteners
    • 1/4-20 x 4" screws*, x5 (or however many holes are in your bucket-mounting sprocket): McMaster-Carr, ~$8/10
    • 1/4-20 flat washers, x10 (2 per screw): Home Depot, ~$3
    • 1/4-20 lock washers, x10 (2 per screw): Home Depot, ~$3
    • 1/4-20 hex nuts, x5 (1 per screw): Home Depot, ~$3
  • Interior tube to waterproof bucket
    • I used 1-1/4" diameter x 14" length PVC pipe: Home Depot, ~$2
  • 3/4" x 4' shaft
    • I used 3/4" electrical conduit pipe: Home Depot, ~$2
  • 2 bushings (3/4" ID, 7/8" OD): McMaster-Carr (, <$2 apiece
    • Note: you could probably get away without these, since the bucket is turning around a plastic pipe; but they do help stiffen the inner pipe and reduce wear on the parts
  • 4 pins to secure shaft
    • I used 1/4-20 x 2" partially threaded bolts + 4 hex nuts so I wouldn't lose the pins: shop scrap (free)
  • Slabs of wood for plate to fasten to bicycle: shop scrap (free)
  • 2 clamps (must open to about 3" wide)
  • Caulk (for waterproofing)
  • Valve (to easily drain bucket)
  • Chunk of wood for securing non-bicycle end of shaft (about 3" x 3" x 3": I fastened together two pieces of 2x4)
  • Optional: wood stain/paint

*I didn't find 1/4-20 screws longer than 3" at local hardware stores.

Step 4: Tools You Will Need

  • Safety glasses (Always wear these when cutting/drilling/hammering anything! Vision is great!)
  • Wood-cutting device (for the spacer block and bicycle mount: hand saw, saber saw, band saw, table saw...)
  • Metal-cutting device (for the shaft: hand saw, saber saw, band saw...)
  • Wood- and plastic-drilling device (for the spacer block and bicycle mount, and the bucket: hand drill, drill press if available)
  • Clamps and/or vice (for holding workpieces in the drill press or securing onto a table if working with handheld tools)
  • Drill bits: match the size of your shaft, inner pipe, bolts, valve, and clevis pins
    • 3/4" drill bit for 3/4" shaft (for wooden spacer blocks and shaft block, can be twist drill or spade drill)
    • 1-1/4" spade drill bit (for inner pipe holes and counterbore)
    • 17/64" twist drill bit (for 1/4-20 bolts)
    • x" drill bit (for valve)
    • x" drill bit (for pin)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Sanding device (for the wood pieces: sandpaper, handheld sander, belt sander)
  • Bicycle chain break/reattach tool
  • Mallet (or approximate equivalent)
  • Patience and enthusiasm!

Step 5: Spacer Block: Mark Size, Center, and Sprocket Holes

This piece fits between the bucket and sprocket, giving you space for your knee to pedal without hitting the bucket every stroke. You want a piece (or several pieces stacked together) that is thick enough for comfortable pedaling, based on your sketch model measurements.

Trace the holes and outline onto your wood to be sure it's appropriately sized to mount your sprocket to your bucket.

Draw some lines connecting everything to clearly identify the center.

Step 6: Spacer Block: Rough Cut & Smooth

If you're stacking pieces, cut several of the same size.

Get the splinters off now (I used a belt sander)--it only takes a minute or two and will save you a lot of annoyance later!

Step 7: Spacer Block: Drill Sprocket Fastener Holes

Drill the holes for the 1/4-20 screws which will attach your sprocket to your bucket.

If you have multiple spacer blocks to get the distance you need (as I did), stack them and clamp together and drill the holes all at once, to make sure the alignment is even. As soon as a hole is drilled, place a screw through it to keep the blocks aligned.

Step 8: Spacer Block: Drill Center Shaft Hole and Counterbore

Drill the large hole in the center for the inner pipe to fit into. (It should be the same size as the pipe's nominal outer diameter: I used 1-1/4" OD pipe, and drilled a 1-1/4" hole.) 1/4" deep supports the inner pipe well (about halfway through my top block).

Drill the smaller hole in the center for the shaft to extend all the way through all spacer blocks. Be sure to keep spacer blocks aligned here, by putting screws through the sprocket mounting holes.

Step 9: Spacer Block: Finish

Finish by removing any extra material (keeping the pieces clamped together--or at least aligned with scews in the holes). I used a bandsaw to chop off the corners, then sanded round with a belt sander. Mmm nice and smooth!

Step 10: Drill the Bucket: Shaft Hole

Mark the center of the bottom of the bucket. There may be a raised nub which makes drilling difficult; a razor blade works well to remove this and get a flat surface to drill.

Drill a hole large enough for the center tube to fit into on both the bottom of the bucket (mine was 1-1/4"). Brace yourself: the drill may require a lot of force to start the hole (as the plastic melts and stretches) and abruptly jerk downward as soon as it gets through.

Step 11: Drill the Bucket: Sprocket Mount Holes

Next, line up the spacer with the hole in the bottom of the bucket, by inserting the inner pipe into the center hole in the bucket (image 1) and placing the counterbored sprocket spacer on top of the bucket, such that the inner pipe rests on the bottom of the counterbore. Since the inner pipe is longer than the bucket, it is necessary to support the bucket on a flat surface with clearance in the center for the extra amount of inner pipe that extends past the bottom of the bucket (image 2). Drill through the first sprocket-attachment hole into the bucket (image 3). Insert a screw through the sprocket spacer and bucket to maintain alignment (image 4). Drill the remaining holes, inserting a screw to maintain alignment after finishing each hole. Now your holes line up! (image 5)

Step 12: Drill the Bucket: Drainage Valve Hole

While you're drilling the bucket, pick a spot on the side of the bucket for the drainage valve. Find a drill that matches the size of the drainage valve inlet, and drill through the bucket in your chosen location.

(Note: On the round surface, it's easier to start this hole with a centerpunch dimple, to constrain the drill so it won't skitter off of the part. On plastic, you can create this dimple by just pressing the drill bit into the part a bit before you start drilling.)

Step 13: Drill the Lid

Mark the center of the lid, and drill a hole large enough to fit the inner shaft. (Note: here it is important to have as close a fit as possible, because this part is not technically waterproofed.)

(Note: be sure to center the drill bit over the hole in the middle of the drill press--don't drill into the table! The Gamma Lid I used had enough clearance to stop drilling before I hit the table, but it may be necessary to clamp a piece of sacrificial wood below your lid to avoid damaging your drill and table.)

Step 14: Attach Lid to Bucket

It comes in two pieces. Disassemble the lid, then use a mallet (or chunk of wood) to press the bottom piece to the top of the bucket. Reassemble and marvel at your skills.

(I actually flipped the bucket over and knelt on top of it to start pressing the lid on, then worked it by hand, then finally hammered it all around the rim with the mallet.)

Step 15: Finish Lid and Bucket: Deburr Holes

A standard shop deburring tool can eat away at the soft plastic, so be gentle if you use one. A razor blade also works well to smooth the edges. You can also use a large countersink step drill (I chose one that just fit the 1-1/4" hole), which leaves a smooth, round finish.

Step 16: Attach the Inner Pipe

Measure and cut to size (2-6" longer than the bucket + lid). (I just bought a 14" length, which worked great.)

Press the tube into the bucket and lid, then press the flanged bearing into one end. (Note: these are not true press fits, but should be close fit: just push in by hand.)

Press the non-flanged bearing into the inner pipe around where the lid end of the bucket should be. The inner shaft works well to tap the bearing into place.

Step 17: Attach Sprocket to Bucket

Use the 1/4-20 bolts, washers, and nuts to attach the sprocket to the bucket.

Order of things on a bolt: head of bolt, lockwasher, flat washer, bucket, spacer block, sprocket, flat washer, lock washer, hex nut.

It's easiest to assemble this by putting the lockwasher and flat washer on each of the bolts, and stick them through the bucket. Then slide the spacer block (or stack of blocks) and sprocket on, and finally add the washers and nuts on the other end of the assembly. This assembly is first to check fit--you'll be disassembling to waterproof later--so don't worry about finding a wrench to tighten the hex nuts at this point.

(Note: if you put the head of the bolt on the inside of the bucket and attach the nut on the end that pokes out of the sprocket, it's relatively easy to remove the sprocket from the bucket and use it to drive something else!)

Step 18: Partially Assemble to Check Fit

Fit the main shaft inside the tube and bearings, support it on one end, slip it through the fork of your bicycle, and support the opposite end (I used a sofa and chair for the shaft, and supported myself on a table with my free hand). (Note: I recommend wearing a helmet and holding the front brake and a solid support surface, this is a fun test but a somewhat precarious position!)

Do you have enough room for your right leg to pedal backwards? (If not, just add another spacer block; drill through it lined up with the others to make sure the screws will go through all of the pieces.)

Hey look, it's starting to look like a washing machine!!

Step 19: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Cardboard Mock-up

This is a fun step and the easiest way to figure out measurements for your bicycle. For this design (as shown in the diagram), you attach the bucket to the bicycle by clamping a flat piece of wood around the top tube and down tube of the bike just behind the fork. This is held in place by front and top fabric straps, and generally located by a raised portion of wood on the interior of the plate.

There's a lot of freedom for interpretation in a mock-up, so experiment away! I started by tracing the basic shape of my bicycle frame onto cardboard, then cut this out and iteratively traced and sliced until I got a shape that reasonably fit my desired "simply speedy" aesthetic. I prototyped two different possible frame location methods, a two-part cutout and a solid triangular piece. The solid triangular piece was much easier to size and simpler to cut and build, so I continued with that design. I determined that a thickness of about 1/4" for the inner piece worked best for my bicycle. I've included my approximate measurements in the images above.

(Note: this is a great place to add your own style--the outer shape can be as stunningly simple or as ornate as you please! Really the only design constraint is room for your knees to pedal. After getting a spinning washer, it's fun to go back and experiment with this step!)

Step 20: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Rough Cut and Sanding

Trace the cardboard mock-up on wood (I used 3 ply, about 3/8" thick). Make one of each piece.

I used rough scrap wood that I got for free, and the finish was pretty bad. A few minutes with a belt sander cleaned up the edges, and many more minutes sanding the large, flat faces by hand turned this rough plywood into fairly smooth material!

(Note: images 2 and 3 show a few extra pieces because I had originally planned on using two plates for the bicycle attachment, but later realized this was unnecessary.)

Step 21: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Fine-tuning

Use hot glue as a temporary fixative to locate the inner piece on the outer piece on your bicycle first, then mark which regions to sand down and iteratively modify the inner shape until it fits perfectly in the fork.

Step 22: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Screwing Together

After finalizing the fit, clamp the pieces together, pilot drill and wood screw these two parts together. Countersinks are not technically necessary but make the piece nicer.

Note: Be sure to clamp securely in the right location first--and plan to leave room for your shaft and strap holes! Choose a pilot drill that's approximately the inner diameter of your wood screw, and a countersink that is equal to or larger in diameter than the screw head. (I used #12 screws and a 1/8" drill bit as pilot, 17/64" drill bit to countersink.)

(If you want to be super fancy, you can set the depth stop on the drill press so as not to drill through the other side, and make this joint invisible from the opposite side of the screw. If drilling a blind hole is annoying, you can alternatively clamp a piece of scrap wood underneath the bicycle attachment plates before drilling; this will limit splintering of the opposite side.)

Step 23: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Drilling

Using a 3/4" drill bit, drill a hole for your center shaft, based on where the bucket fits best on your bicycle from your sketch assembly in Step 18: Partial Assembly.

Drill holes for your attachment points (three holes: one around the front of the bike, one around the top tube and down tube). Match sizes whatever straps you have (I used some excellent hook-and-loop fasteners, but a couple of rubber bands or some old shoelaces will work fine too). The exact locations are not important, but be sure not to drill into the screws!

Step 24: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Finish Sanding

Take off the splinters and give it a shine!

Step 25: Bicycle Attachment Plate: Fasten

Insert straps (I used hook-and-loop straps, but old shoelaces or any sort of sturdy tieable fastener would work fine) into the holes in the bicycle attachment plate and tie to your bicycle. Test strap location: is the plate mount solid, or wiggly? If it's wiggly, add more straps to firmly secure the plate. (I initially planned for five straps, but one on each of the three main sides worked well for my bicycle.)

Step 26: Shaft Block: Rough Cut, Sand & Square

This piece provides a solid location for the opposite end of your shaft to rest on a flat piece of furniture, and prevents shaft rotation.

Find a wood block with all dimensions at least 0.5" larger than your shaft diameter. I cut a block approximately 1.5" x 3.5" x 2" from a scrap 2x4.

Belt sander makes this pretty easy. Iterate until a carpenter's square or ruler shows the six faces are parallel or perpendicular to each other.

Step 27: Shaft Block: Drill Shaft Hole and Pin Hole

Mark the center on two sides of the block.

On one of the center marks, drill a 3/4" diameter hole, all the way through, for the shaft.

The other center mark is for the pin, which constrains the shaft from axial movement. Find a drill bit that matches your pin diameter (I used a 1/4-20 bolt, so a 17/64" drill) and drill another through hole here.

Step 28: Shaft Block + Shaft Assembly: Drill and Pin

Firmly secure the shaft to a work table, then insert the shaft into the shaft block and drill through the pin hole again (with either a hand drill or drill press). If you have a center drill small enough to fit into the hole in the shaft block, start with this center drill! If not, well, it's going to be difficult to drill.

After drilling through both sides of the shaft, remove the shaft block and carefully deburr the edges of the shaft hole--they will be sharp. Finally, drop in the pin to secure the block and shaft together. Ta-Da!I

(Note: be sure to carefully constrain the shaft and block with at least two clamps to prevent movement during drilling. Drilling through the shaft may be horribly awful--but don't give up! You're stronger than the steel!)

Step 29: Assemble: Mark Shaft Length

Slide the shaft through the inner pipe inside the bucket (be careful not to bump the bearings). Insert the appropriate end of the shaft into the bicycle attachment plate.

Find a position where you and the bucket to spin comfortably (try not to fall over while doing this--again, recommend the helmet!), and mark the maximum length of shaft you want through the bucket. (I used about 30" of shaft.)

(After cutting the shaft, you'll return to assembly with a manageble-length shaft to mark pin holes.)

Step 30: Cut Shaft to Length

Cut the shaft where you marked it during assembly. I used a pipe cutter, but you could also use a band saw, sabre saw, or even hand saw. Be sure to deburr the hole so you don't cut yourself later--steel is sharp! (The pipe cutter I used has a nifty attachment for deburring, but any regular countersink or deburring tool will work fine.)

(Note: although electrical conduit pipe looks shiny, that's just the zinc coating, and it's actually steel underneath--you can tell because it's magnetic--so if you are using an adjustable-speed saw, be sure to set it slow for steel.)

Step 31: Reassemble: Size Chain and Locate Shaft Holes

Fit the chain around the bucket sprocket and the front ring of your bicycle. A regular bicycle chain + about 6 extra links fit my washer sprocket and bicycle combination well. (I'm a smallish person with a 17" frame.) The chain should be loose enough to attach to the sprocket and bicycle large ring, but not so loose that it rattles.

For more information about how to properly break and fix a bicycle chain, check out this great Instructable by dan! This is a pretty easy skill to learn: basically you're just pressing a die down into the chain to press a pin into or out of the links. (This is an unpowered hand tool, so it's pretty safe; but still a good idea to wear safety glasses, because you're applying a lot of force to that pin, and something could snap and throw metal shards at you.)

Once the chain is approximately the right size, slide the bicycle attachment plate backwards and forwards until the chain is tensioned appropriately. When the chain is properly sized, jump on the bike (carefully!) and pedal and marvel at how things actually move wow this is exciting!

Now mark the location of the three pins on the shaft: one on either side of the bicycle attachment plate, and one on the sprocket side of the bucket. Be sure to take into account the thickness of your pin when locating the holes.You're almost done!

Step 32: Shaft: Drilling Pin Holes

Firmly secure the shaft (ideally in a vice clamped to the table; at least with two clamps), on a drill press if available (though a handheld drill will work fine too). Start with a center drill to constrain your drill (if you start with a regular twist drill, it's likely to walk off center at best, and throw your part at you at worst). Like for the spacer block, choose a drill bit that matches your pin size (I used 17/64" for a 1/4-20 bolt as a pin). After drilling, deburr the hole with either a specialized deburring tool or simply a countersink. (Steel takes a while to deburr by hand, so I recommend operating the countersink under power if you can--as shown in the final image.) Be sure to deburr both sides--steel is sharp!

(Note: the electrical conduit I chose was really annoying to drill by hand; probably because it's coated steel and very round, so hard to keep from rotating during drilling. If you can get to a drill press, it's definitely worth it for this step.)

Step 33: Secure Shaft: Insert Pins

Place a pin on the opposite side of spacer block and fasten (I used a 1/4-20 bolt and hex nut).

Step 34: Waterproof Bucket: Inner Pipe and Sprocket Mount

Now that you're sure everything fits, it's time to make the bucket watertight!*

First, disassemble the bucket and spacer block: unscrew and remove the hex nuts, lock washers, washers, sprocket, spacer block/stack of blocks, and screws from the bucket. Prepare the caulk by cutting off the tip of the applicator.

Maintain the same order of things on each bolt: head of bolt, lockwasher, flat washer, bucket, spacer block, sprocket, flat washer, lock washer, hex nut.

It's easiest to assemble this by putting the lockwasher and flat washer on each of the bolts, sticking them through the bucket, and adding a dab of caulk on each. While you're at it, put a ring of caulk around where the inner pipe meets the bucket. (Be careful not to get caulk in the bearings here!) Then slide the spacer block and sprocket on, and finally add the washers and nuts on the other end of the assembly.

Note: check your caulk for specific watertight times--mine recommended 24 hours before contact with water. Also: be sure to caulk in a well-ventilated area! Some of these chemicals do not mix well with people. Always read the safety information before use! Some caulks are more environmentally-friendly than others (aquarium-safe caulk is generally better, although more expensive), so I recommend using one of these.

*The bucket may not be completely watertight, because the lid must be disassembled every time the washer is loaded and unloaded. The O-ring should prevent significant leakage, and if you want to wrap a sponge around the shaft that should catch any excess water; but it's probably still best not to operate this washer over your finest polished oak floorboards.

Step 35: Waterproof Bucket: Valve

Place the valve into the bucket and caulk around the hole. (Note: taping over the end of the valve will prevent caulk from leaking into the valve and permanently clogging it.)

Note: check your caulk for specific watertight times--mine recommended 24 hours before contact with water.

Step 36: Waterproof Bucket: Lid

Use caulk to secure an O-ring in a location that will clamp over the hole when the bucket lid is closed tightly. This probably won't be perfectly waterproof, but will help.

(Note: As a further precautionary measure, you could cut a hole in the center of the sponge and slide it over the shaft to catch any drips.)

Remember: no water yet! Check your caulk for specific watertight times--mine recommended 24 hours before contact with water. But after this dries, you're all done--you actually built your own washing machine! Nice!

Step 37: Try It Out!

Time to revel in your success! Put some clothes in the bucket, tightly close the lid, and add water and a little laundry detergent through the valve. Then close the valve, climb onto your bike, hold onto a wall/sturdy furniture piece and pedal backwards for...maybe about 15 minutes? I haven't done extensive testing yet. This washer will probably work best if you try to slosh the water around as much as possible, so try to pedal at varying speeds. (Be careful though, as this is a direct-drive system with no included brakes, so changing speeds too quickly could damage the chain.)

After you're satisfied with pedaling, spin the bucket valve-downwards and open to drain, and refill with fresh water to rinse the clothes (probably around 15 minutes again for this). Then drain the bucket again and spin as quickly as you can to remove excess water from the clothes. After a final drain, open the bucket and hang up your clothes to dry.

Have fun! :)

Step 38: Add Your Own Innovations!

For version 2.0, I'm hoping to add some sort of flaps on the inside of the bucket to further agitate the clothes for a more thorough cleaning cycle*. There are also ways to make this transmission mechanically change direction after one revolution, which would likely significantly help to clean clothes. In addition, I might file a slot into the bicycle attachment plate to support the pin here, which would further prevent shaft rotation.

Stay tuned for my next iteration--and post yours in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and I hope your creation went well!

*pun always intended

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    1 year ago

    How long would you say this took you to construct/build?


    Reply 5 years ago

    Sorry about that, Havlicek! Should be fixed now--I had accidentally added a period at the end of the url haha.


    5 years ago

    I KNEW this would win Grand Prize! Voted for you :) Great job!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Aww thanks so much, Meglymoo87!! I'm so excited the SudsCycle was popular--hope more people are inspired to work towards sustainable living!


    5 years ago

    Update: just did my second load of laundry with the SudsCycle! I filled up the bucket almost to the brim with clothes, so I used two small buckets worth of water this time (approx. 1.5 gallons each for wash and rinse). For normal lightly-dirty clothes (sports/office work clothes), they cleaned up well and smelled nice! Inspired by this instructable by Green Moms of Teller County, I used the biodegradable Kirk's "Original Coco" Castile soap for washing, so I watered the plants outside with the wash and rinse water. (Next time I'll try adding the other ingredients to make the detergent!) I had a little leakage from the lid, so I think I'll add some caulk around the seal to the bucket; but otherwise it seems to be working well! Balancing was a bit of a challenge at first, but after a few minutes I got the hang of pedaling backwards. Very exciting to make clothes clean without electricity!


    5 years ago

    This is a great concept! Congrats on being a finalist and good luck in the contest :)


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks! I hope you build one! :)


    5 years ago

    Awesome! You have to work out while washing your clothes-- That way your clothes will always be dirty! ;)

    If you have so many tools, Why not make them power a washing machine? Next Up: Bandsaw Powered Washing Machine!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Haha I think it's a pretty light workout (just ran for the first time today!) so you might get away with wearing those clothes again ;)

    As a student, I was very fortunate to have access to the fantastic array of tools in the Olin College machine shop--but the SudsCycle can actually be built with only a handheld power drill and hand saw. Designing for sustainability here I looked for an electricity-free washing solution, but a bandsaw-powered washing machine sounds like a neat design challenge, and I'd be excited to see you build one! :)


    5 years ago

    why not a rack to hold the bucket of laundry while you ride. the bucket doesn't have to spin to wash, agitation does the cleaning. a smooth rock hanging on a bungy cord and bouncing around in the bucket to agitate the clothes while you ride seems like it would be more efficient.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Hey that's a great idea too! I was thinking it might get pretty heavy cycling around with a big bucket of water, but it sounds like that would work well--I've heard of people doing something similar with cars. The rock sounds like a great method for agitation though, I think I'll try that soon!


    5 years ago

    very cool! i like it. way more practical than the bikes that are supposed to create electricity.

    one thing: it can be awkward to pedal backwards, but if you slip the main drive chain off of the front sprocket, you'll be able to pedal forwards without having to drive the main chain at all.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Great suggestion, isaac_alaska! That might have the added bonus of not wearing down the freewheel (though that probably isn't significant compared to the amount I ride haha).

    bhavik zure
    bhavik zure

    5 years ago

    this is multitasking bike, wash your clothes + exercise .

    nice explanation.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks, glad you liked it! :)


    5 years ago

    very cool! i like it. way more practical than the bikes that are supposed to create electricity.

    one thing: it can be awkward to pedal backwards, but if you slip the main drive chain off of the front sprocket, you'll be able to pedal forwards without having to drive the main chain at all.


    5 years ago

    This is such a cool project. I'd love to try it but I'm not sure I can get access to the power tools. How do you think you might construct flaps for the inside of the bucket?


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thanks for reading, HayleyD3: so glad you liked it! You don't really need fancy power tools for this, it would take a little bit longer but you can definitely build this with only a handheld drill and hand saw (sanding by hand).

    In terms of bucket flaps: I'm thinking of making an agitator bar from the leftover electrical conduit piping I have, just laying this lengthwise along the inside of the bucket and placing two bolts through the piping and bucket to attach these. (And caulking around the bolts of course to keep things waterproof!) I'd love to hear your ideas on this too!