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                         HAND OPERATED CLOTHES WASHER
Two simple clothes washers are outlined in this Technical Bulletin.
The first, designed by VITA Volunteer Dale Fritz, consists of a covered
galvanized metal tub, in which a long-handled agitator is plunged vigorously
through the clothes.  It was used successfully in Afghanistan.
The other washer is a more complicated wooden washing machine made and
tested by the United States Department of Agriculture's Home Economics Laboratory
in Beltsville, Maryland.
Both washers are easy to construct with readily available materials, and
should help simplify washday chores.
Please send testing results, comments, suggestions and requests for further
information to:
                       1600 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 500
                        Arlington, Virginia 22209 USA
                     Tel: 703/276-1800 . Fax: 703/243-1865
                                                         ISBN 0-86619-093-7
                     VITA Technical Bulletins offer
                     do-it-yourself technology information
                     on a wide variety of subjects.
                     The Bulletins are idea generators
                     intended not so much to provide a definitive
                     answer as to guide the user's
                     thinking and planning.  Premises are
                     sound and testing results are provided,
                     if available.
                     Evaluations and comments based on each
                     user's experience are requested.  Results
                      are incorporated into subsequent editions,
                     thus providing additional guidelines
                     for adaptation and use in a
                     greater variety of conditions.
Tools and Materials
Soldering Equipment
Heavy galvanized sheet metal:
  140cm x 70cm (55 1/8" x 27 9/16") for tub
  100cm x 50cm (39 3/8" x 19 11/16" for lid
    and bottom
  36cm x 18cm (14 3/16" x 7 1/16") for agitator
Wooden handle 140cm (55 1/8") long, about
  4cm (1 1/2") in diameter
Making the Washer
Figures 1 to 4 show how this washer is made.   The tub, lid and agitator are

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made of heavy galvanized sheet metal.
Using the Washer
To operate the washer, work the agitator up and down with a quick motion but
with a slight pause between strokes.   The movement of the water caused by the
agitator will continue for a few seconds before additional agitation is needed.
On the upward stroke the agitator should come completely out of the water.  The
agitator should not hit the bottom of the tub on the downward stroke because
this would damage both the tub and the clothes.
This easily operated washing machine can be built by a good carpenter from
materials readily available in most countries.   It is easy on clothes, effective
and sanitary.  The machine, which can take a 3-kilogram (6-pound) load
of clothes, can be shared by several families.
Clothes will last much longer if they are washed in this washing machine rather
than beaten or scrubbed on rocks.   Washing with the machine is also much less
work.  A pilot model of the machine was made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and tested in the USDA Home Economics Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland.
Under test conditions, a comparison with standard electric commercial washers
was very favorable.  If the cost of the machine is too much for one family, it
can be shared by several.  However, if there are too many users, competition
for times of use will become keen and the machine will wear faster.
Tools and Materials
Wood Parts:
Tub Construction - Moderately firm softwood
(such as cedro of Latin America)
free from large heartwood growth.
Sides - 2 pieces - 2.5 x 45.7 x 96.5cm
                    1" x 18" x 38"
Ends - 2 pieces - 2.5 x 30.5 x 40.6cm
                    1" x 12" x 16"
Bottom - 2 pieces - 2.5 x 15.2 x 40.6cm
                    1" x 6" x 16"
Bottom - 1 piece - 2.5 x 40.6 x 66.0cm
                    1" x 16" x 26"
Legs - 4 pieces - 2.5 x 10.2 x 76.2cm
                    1" x 4" x 30"
Round Plungers -
   2 pieces - 2.5 x 25.4cm diameter
               1" x 10" diameter
   2 pieces - 3.8 x 12.7cm diameter
               1.5" x 5" diameter
Cover (may be omitted)
  2 pieces - 2.5 x 20.3 x 91.4cm
              1" x 8" x 36"
  6 pieces - 2.5 x 7.6 x 20.3cm
              1" x 3" x 8"
Operating parts - Moderately firm hardwood
such as Caoba of South America.
  1 piece - 2.5 x 7.6 x 122cm long
             1" x 3" x 48"
Plunger stems
  2 pieces - 2.9cm square 38.1cm long
             1 1/8" square 15" long
  2 pieces - 2.9 x 7.6 x 61.0cm long
             1 1/8" x 3" x 24" long
Pivot and Handle
  2 pieces - 3.2cm diameter x 45.7 cm long
             1 1/4" diameter x 18" long
Metal Parts
Plunger connections -
  4 pieces iron or brass plate -
     .64 x 3.8 x 15.2cm long
     1/4" x 1 1/2" x 6" long
  10 rods - 3.6 or .79cm diameter
            1.4" or 5/16" diameter
    45.7cm (18") long with threads
    and nuts on each end - iron or
20 washers about 2.5cm (1") diameter
with hole to fit rods.
1 rod - .64 x 15.2cm (1/4" x 6") with
loop end for retaining pivot.
6 bolts - .64 x 5.1cm long (1/4" x
2" long)
24 screws - 4.4cm x #10 = flat head
(1 3/4" x #10)
50 nails - 6.35cm (2 1/2")
Strip Sheet Metal with turned edge -
6.4cm wide, 152.4cm long (2 1/2" wide,
72" long)
Loose cotton or soft vegetable fiber
for caulking seams.
Minimum Tools Needed
Tape measure or ruler
Screw Driver
Adjustable Wrench
Draw knife or plane and coping saw
Wood chisel 1.3 or 1.9cm wide
            1/2" or 3/4"
0.64cm (1/4") drill, gimlet or
  similar tool
The machine reverses the principle used in the usual commercial washer, in which
the clothes are swished through the water for various degrees of a circle until
the water is moving, and then reversed.   In this machine, the clothes stay more
or less stationary while water is forced back and forth through them by the piston
action of the plungers.  One plunger creates suction as it rises and the
other plunger creates pressure as it moves downward.   The slopes at the ends of
of the tub bottom help the churning action of the water caused by the plungers
(see Figure 1).
A rectangular tub is best for this method of operation.   This is fortunate since
the rectangular box is easy to build.   In general, any moderately strong wood that
will not warp excessively (such as cedro in Latin America) will be satisfactory.
The sides should be grooved for the ends and bottom of the tub as indicated in
Figure 1 and bolted with threaded rods extending through both sides with washers
to draw them tight.  The bolting is necessary to prevent leaks.
The size described in the drawings is large enough for an average family in the
U.S.  The same principle may be used for a larger or smaller machine provided
the basic proportions are maintained.   Width of the tub should be slightly less
than half its length to get a proper surge of water.   The pistons should be wide
enough to move within a couple of inches of each side of the tub.  The lever
pivot should be high enough to permit the plungers to move up and down several
inches without the edge of the lever hitting the edge of the tub.  Likewise, the
length of the rods on the plungers must be such that the plungers go well into the
water and the clothes come completely out of the water at the highest position.
Mark and groove sides for end and bottom members (See Figures 1 and 4).
Drill holes for cross bolts.
Cut off corners and trim ends of side members to length.
Bevel ends and bottom pieces to fit into groove in side members.
Miter bottom and end members together.
Assemble and bolt.
Cut and install legs.
Caulk seams between ends and bottom members with loose cotton or other vegetable
fiber to make seams water-tight.   If joints to side members are carefully
made, they may not need caulking.
Bore hole and make plug for draining tub.   NOTE: This is shown on side in
drawing but it is better in bottom of tub.
Make and install upright pivot members.
Make and install plunger lever.   NOTE: The cross pivot member (round) should
be shouldered or notched at each pivot to prevent side movement.
Make plungers and install (see Figures 2, 3 and 4).
Here are several suggestions for using this washing machine: fill the water
with fifteen gallons of warm or hot water depending on what is available.
Try to remove stains in clothing before putting it in the wash water.  Rub
soap into areas like cuffs and collars which come in close contact with the
body.  Soak very dirty clothes before putting them in the washer.   Soap can be
dissolved by shaving it into strips and then heating it in a small quantity of
water before adding it to the wash water.   A three kilogram load of clothes is
the right size load for best cleaning.   Wash at a moderate speed, about fifty
strokes a minute, for ten minutes--longer if it seems necessary.
If more than one load of clothes is to be washed, some basic procedures will help
to simplify the job and conserve water.   (Water used for washing and rinsing can
help to irrigate a garden plot.)
First divide the clothes so that whites and light colors are separate from dark
clothes.  Try to keep small items together so they won't get lost.  Heavily
soiled or greasy clothes should be washed alone.
Wash the white or light-colored things first in the hottest possible water (remember
you will have to be able to handle the wet clothes--don't get the water too
hot!), then move on through darker clothes.   The water will become discolored.
Much of the color is dirt, of course, but some is excess dye.  The lightest clothes
are washed in the cleanest water; dark clothes won't be as noticeably affected by
the coloring matter in the water.
After each load, the wash water can be warmed if necessary by adding some boiling
water.  A bit more soap may also be needed.  Probably at least three loads of
clothes--depending on how dirty they are--can be washed before the water becomes
too murky to be used again.
The clothes, of course, will have to be rinsed thoroughly.  Soap or detergent
residues can damage fabrics and may cause allergic reactions.  A minimum of two
rinses is usually necessary.
Probably the easiest (but most expensive) procedure is to have separate tubs for
rinsing.  Tubs can be of either wood or galvanized metal, and may be used for
other purposes provided they are cleaned thoroughly on wash day.
When clothes are clean, squeeze out as much excess water as possible and put
them into the rinse water.  The next load of wash can be soaking while the
first is rinsed and put to dry.   Then the clothes in the machine are washed
and the process repeated.
If no separate rinse tubs are available, wash up to three loads (if the water
stays clean enough that long) and set each aside.   Be sure to keep loads separate,
as dyes from wet clothes may stain lighter colored fabrics.  Then drain
and rinse the washing machine and refill it with clean water.  Rinse the clothes,
again starting with the lightest colored load, and put out to dry.  Repeat the
whole wash-rinse process as often as necessary.
Another method is to wash the first load of clothes and squeeze out excess
water.  Drain the wash water and refill the machine with clean warm water.
Rinse the clothes, squeeze out excess water, and put out to dry.  Warm the
rinse water with boiling water and add some soap.   Then wash the next load.
Repeat the procedure as often as necessary.
After washing and rinsing the clothes, rinse the washer clean and then replace
the stopper.  To keep the wood from drying out and causing the tub to leak, put
about 3cm of water in the washer when it is not in use.
                                      IN TECHNICAL
                                  ABOUT VITA
                Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) is
                a private, nonprofit, international development
                organization.  Started in 1959 by a
                group of concerned scientists and engineers,
                VITA maintains an extensive documentation
                center and worldwide roster of volunteer
                technical experts.  VITA makes available to
                individuals and groups in developing countries
                a variety of information and technical
                resources aimed at fostering self-sufficiency--needs
                assessment and program development
                support; by-mail and on-site consulting
                services; information systems training.  It
                also publishes a quarterly newsletter and a
                variety of technical manuals and bulletins.
                       1600 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 500
                         Arlington, Virginia 22209 USA
                    Tel: 703/276-1800 . Fax: 703/243-1865