Friday, August 10, 2012

the most cost-effective, space-efficient washing machine ever

I've mentioned that the new apartment is awesome, right? You're sure? Ok, good: glad we've got that straight.

As awesome as it is, though, it does lack something that we haven't gone without for the past four homes, not since 2005: ensuite laundry. In 2005, popping downstairs to the coinwash in our little walk-up was no big deal. That was pre-baby, pre-cloth-diaper. And now here we are, two children, one still cloth diapered, and not only do we not have laundry in our unit we don't even have laundry in the building. What's a cloth diaper devotee to do?

Well, until we're in a position to get an apartment sized washer for the kitchen, we're going extremely low-tech. I mean really, really low. Cheap, too: the whole thing cost us $4.99.

Yes: $4.99.

What are we using? 

A 5 gallon bucket and a rubber plunger.

Sure, it isn't fancy, but it's very effective. I mean, shockingly effective. And did I mention it was cheap?

It's a washing machine! almost...

First, assemble your supplies. I was very fortunate in that The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe in Ottawa routinely has empty 5 gallon buckets sitting around looking for a good home, and had one right when I happened to contact the shop. Free bucket: score! Even if you buy the bucket, it will run you a little over $10, which is still pretty affordable for a washing machine. You will also need a simple rubber plunger. I opted for one with a clear plastic handle because it a) had a more rounded end than the wooden handle which seemed like it would be more comfortable and b) seemed less likely to absorb diaper-water. Ew.

a hole for the plunger

Unscrew the handle from the rubber plunger. Take the lid of your bucket, the handle and a pen or marker (I ended up using a fine-tip Sharpie rather than the ballpoint pen pictured) and...

trace your plunger handle

...trace around the handle for your plunger.

cut around the tracing

Now cut out the hole using a utility knife. You'll want to cut just outside the circle you drew so that there is sufficient space for the handle to move easily but not so much extra space that a great deal of water comes sloshing out the hole when you are washing laundry. Be sure to test the handle in the hole as you go, trimming a little extra if necessary. (You can see my make-shift cutting surface is just the underside of some unfinished wood utility shelves from Ikea. A little déclassé, perhaps, but I'm making a washing machine out of a bucket: if the shoe fits...).

perforate the plunger

You will also need to perforate your plunger to allow the water to circulate freely. Using a large drill bit (I used a 1/4" bit because it was handy: larger would work well, too, but I'd hesitate to go any smaller than this) drill holes in your plunger. I drilled at least two dozen holes through the plunger.

don't forget the inner layer

Be sure to drill through the inner layer as well. You may find it easier to fold out the inner lip of the plunger to drill through it. Err on the side of too many holes: you  really can't have too many here.

get plunging!

You're done! Put the handle of the plunger through the lid of the bucket, screw the rubber plunger back on and you're ready to wash. Add some laundry to the bucket (smaller loads wash more easily, though I'm surprised that I can get a full two days worth of diapers, liners, wipes, doublers and covers washed in one load), a tiny drizzle of detergent and fill the bucket half-way with water. Snap the lid on and get plunging!

I generally wash for 5-10 minutes before draining the water, refilling and plunging again for 3-5 minutes, draining the water again, refilling and plunging for another 3-5 minutes, draining the water, refilling and - if the last drain was nearly clear - adding about 1/4 cup of vinegar and letting it soak for at least 10 minutes before draining a final time. If the draining water hadn't already started to run clear, however, I'll keep refilling, plunging and draining until it does. Even the diaper loads don't take more than 5 rinses, though. Then it's just a matter of wringing out the laundry and hanging it up to dry. I also generally add some baking soda to the wash cycle: I figure if we're washing by hand we can use all the help we can get.

Huge thanks go to The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe for first posting about this washing machine idea, to Donna who got me the bucket, and to Peanut for amusing me at the hardware store where I bought the plunger. 


  1. Aunty Ess8:41 PM

    And the added bonus: Free Upper Body Workout! Saves you hundreds of dollars in gym membership fees. Although, so does lifting, carrying and chasing after two kids all day.

    Bravo for the exceptionally space-efficient addition to your household appliances.

  2. Anonymous11:04 PM

    I just made this tonight and used it for my cloth diapers with a homemade detergent recipe I found online that is ok to use with cloth diapers. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED it!! My diapers came out by far way cleaner than they have before in my extremely expensive he front loader. So needless to say expensive is definitely not better and I'm so thankful my husband said no to be getting the wonder wash. I read in several forums and blogs that they aren't to well made. Thank you so much for posting this!



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