Thursday, April 7, 2011

Washer ... Woman

A good friend of mine posted the following TED talk on my Facebook wall. I love TED. They have some pretty amazing speakers, and Mr. Rosling was no exception.

In the talk, he makes a case for the "magic washing machine." Watch and enjoy ... but come back, because we gotta talk.

Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine | Video on

First, let me say that I don't disagree with anything he says. I have handwashed clothes before. A lot of times before. My life has been such that my income has ebbed and flowed like the tides, washing me up on the shore in times of prosperity and washing me out to sea in times of deprivation when I was sure I would drown. It was during those (too many) times of financial distress that I learned how difficult handwashing is, and how much I learned to appreciate my washing machine. Like Hans Rosling's grandmother, there were times when I sat in awe of how much easier the washing machine made my life.

The problem, as Mr. Rosling points out, is that we simply can not continue to have it all. Those of us in the US live in that "airplane zone." With very few exceptions ALL of us live up there with the one-seventh of the world's population that uses half of the world's resources. Something has to give, and really, it's us. We need to give some things up, because the world can not (and will soon be unwilling) to continue allowing us to monopolize the few remaining resources.

I've asked the question before. What would you be willing to give up?

For me, the question wasn't that difficult. I gave up my dryer and opted instead to line dry my clothes. I did some research and I discovered that the dryer uses a significant amount of energy for the job it does. According to information on this site a dryer constitutes 12% of the electricity usage in an average household. If the average household uses 900 kWh of electricity per month, discontinuing use of the dryer would cut the electric bill by 100 kWh/month. That's a lot. Really.

Like Mr. Rosling's grandmother, however, I have decided I want the washing machine. I wash all of my clothes in cold water. I make my own laundry soap. It costs, in electricity usage, about 300 watts - not kilowatts. If I hopped on my bicycle generator for one hour every day, seven days a week, I could generate enough power for two loads of laundry. By contrast, I would have to cycle three hours per day for five days to dry one load of laundry in my dryer. If I'm on a bicycle for three hours a day, I'd better be winning the Tour de France.

I've also given up many other electrical appliances/conveniences that are just not necessary: television, VCR, DVD player, incandescent bulbs, blender, coffee maker, electric can opener, furnace, AC, electric clocks, dishwasher, electric blankets, exotic pets (like fish with filters, lights and tank heaters), bread maker, microwave, blowdryer, and curling iron.

I have plans to toss the fridge and the vacuum cleaner, too.

But the washing machine. If I can find a way ... even if it means pedal-power ... I will keep my washing machine, because an hour a day on the bicycle is significantly less time consuming that spending an entire day with a washboard and a tub of wood-heated water.


  1. The internet is enormous and I wasn't familiar with TED, thanks for that.

    I LOVED the magic washing machine!!

    And as for in-house washers... I prefer to keep mine. Now that warmer weather is coming, it will be back to line-drying. The rack for drying by the woodstove collapsed over winter. Apparently no one makes a good product anymore, one more thing I will have to build myself.

  2. I've seen some great low-tech washing machines in my time that could be easily made at home with basic supplies. There was one in Make magazine about a year ago that was sort of a reinforced net bag that you dunked in a tub of water. Another one I've seen hacked a plastic trash can (on wheels) with plunger set through the lid for agitation. One guy did something similar with a five gallon bucket, but the plunger was attached to the back of a rocking lounge chair so that the agitation was done while pleasantly rocking away. IThe writer said there were major design flaws with that one, but maybe it could be tweaked. Personally I think I'd try for something in the vein of the trash can washer myself. It would certainly deliver advantages based on capacity. The downside would be the difficulty of using it in winter. But then, washing would probably be difficult in winter no matter which low tech solution one tried.

  3. I mention a few low-tech washing "machine" options in my book, too :). The difficulty, for me, is with the wringing out, and even with the wringer I have, which is actually a pretty high tech hand tool, it's still difficult.

    I'm not discounting low-tech clothes washing solutions, but just saying that if I have to choose, and I can keep one or two of my machines, the washing machine will be one of them that stays ;).