Simple Washing Machines
PLUNGER TYPE CLOTHES WASHER
This hand-operated washer, which is simple for a tinsmith to
build, makes washing
clothes easier. It has been used successfully in
Tools and Materials
Heavy galvanized sheet metal:
140cm x 70cm (55
100cm x 50cm (39
for lid and
36cm x 18cm (14
7 1/16") for
Wooden handle 140cm (55
1/8") long, about 4cm (1 1/2")
Making the Washer
Figures 1 to 4 show how this washing machine
is made. The tub, lid, and agitator are made
of heavy galvanized sheet metal.
Using the Washer
To operate the washing machine, 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.
Dale Fritz, VITA Volunteer, Schenectady, New York
HAND-OPERATED WASHING MACHINE
This easily-operated washing machine can be built by a good
materials easily found in most countries. It is easy on
clothes, effective, and
sanitary. The machine, which can take 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. Under test conditions, a comparison with standard
washers was very favorable. If the cost of the machine is
too much for one
family, it can be used by several. However, if there are too
many users, competition
for times of use will become keen and the machine will wear
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
the clothes 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
the tub bottom help the churning action of the water caused
by the plungers (see
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
United States. The same principle may be used for a larger
or smaller machine
provided the basic proportions are maintained. The tub
should be slightly less
than half as wide as it is long 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
well into the water and the clothes, and then come
completely out of the water
at the highest position.
Tools and Materials
Tub Construction - Moderately firm soft-wood free from large
2.5 x 45.7 x 96.5cm (1" x 18" x 38")
2.5 x 30.5 x 40.6cm (1" x 12" x 16")
2.5 x 15.2 x 40.6cm (1" x 6" 16")
2.5 x 40.6 x 66.0cm (1" x 16" x 26")
2.5 x 10.2 x 76.2cm (1" x 4" x 30")
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
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:
2.5 x 7.6 x 122cm long (1" x 3" x 48")
pieces, 2.9cm square 38.1cm long (1 1/8" square 15"
2 pieces-2.9 x
7.6 x 61.0cm long (1 1/8" x 3" x 24")
Pivot and Handle
2 pieces, 3.2cm
diameter x 45.7cm long (1 1/4" diameter x 18")
4 pieces iron or
brass plate, .64 x 3.8 x 15.2cm long (1/4" x 1 1/2" x
10 rods, 3.6 or
.79cm diameter (1.4" or 5/16") 45.7cm (18") long with
threads and nuts
on each end--iron or brass
20 washers about
2.5cm (1") diameter with hole to fit rods
1 rod, .64 x
15.2cm long (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
metal with turned edge, 6.4cm wide, 152.4cm long (2 1/2"
Small quantity of loose cotton or soft vegetable fiber for
Minimum Tools Needed
Tape measure or ruler
Wood chisel 1.3 or 1.9cm wide
(1/2" or 3/4")
.64cm (1/4") drill, gimlet or similar tool
Draw knife or plane and coping saw
Making the Washing Machine
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 member to length.
Bevel ends and bottom pieces to fit into groove in side
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
Make plungers and install (see Figures 2, 3 and 4).
Using the Washing Machine
Here are several suggestions for using this washing machine:
Fill the washer with
approximately 55 liters (15 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 the areas of garments like cuffs and collars
that 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 3kg
load of clothes is
the right size load for best cleaning. Wash at a moderate
speed, about 50 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 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
that you will have 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. Two rinses are
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
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
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 to dry. Warm the
rinse water with
boiling water and and 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 (1") of water in the washer when it is not in
Petit, V.C. and Holtzclaw, Dr. K. How to Make a Washing
D.C.: U.S. Agency for International Development.