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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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.