Sunday, November 15, 2009

Laundry in Survival Conditions

I recently saw a commercial by Tide, the laundry soap people. Apparently, the company operates an 18-wheeler that goes around the country to disaster sites. The trailer is loaded with clothes washers and driers, offering free laundry service to survivors. A nice thing to do, to restore a bit of decent living conditions when the world has been turned upside-down. People like to be clean, and this certainly helps.

There is another option, in case you happen to be an a region where the Tide truck doesn't show up, or you don't want to sit around waiting and hoping it will come. The option is to have your own emergency laundry system.

Wonder Wash ($42.95 from is a compact, lightweight, portable laundry unit that requires no electricity and is capable of washing 5 pounds of laundry with very little manual labor. The process is easy. 

  • Depending on the size of the load, you need from 1.5 to 6 quarts of hot (not boiling) water and from 1 to 4 tablespoons of laundry detergent. 
  • Put the water and detergent into the drum first and then add clothing. 
  • Total wash time ranges from 1 minute to 2 minutes, during which you rotate a handle at a rate of 1 revolution per second to turn the washer drum. 
  • After the wash cycle, drain the wash water. 
  • Pour in cold rinse water and rotate the handle again for about 30 seconds. 
  • Drain the water.
  • Wring out the clothes and hang them to dry.

In theory the Wonder Wash operates a little bit like a pressure cooker. After putting the water, detergent and clothes inside, you screw on a pressure-sealing lid. As the hot water expands the air inside the drum, the pressure forces the water and detergent into and through the fabric. After the wash cycle, let the machine to cool down before removing the pressure lid, to allow the pressure to equalize, just like with a pressure cooker.

I tested the Wonder Wash by laundering a load consisting of a pair of pants, several pairs of socks and a shirt. Calculating it to be a full load, I poured in 6 quarts of hot water and 4 tablespoons of low-suds liquid laundry detergent. Then I went to cranking. Rotating the drum was easy, even with a full load of clothes and water inside. Two minutes later, I attached the drain tube at the bottom of the drum and released the wash water. Then I removed the tube and added the cold rinse water. I cranked for 30 seconds, then reattached the tube and drained the drum.

The results? Clean clothes. Was I impressed? Actually, I was more than impressed — I was surprised. The clothes smelled clean, they looked clean, and I had spent only a couple minutes doing the load. Naturally, there was a learning curve. For my first load, I used water that was too hot, and it over-pressurized the system and a little water spewed out around the lid seal as I turned the drum. I also concluded that it’s better to rinse twice, to eliminate all the soap.

But I had no washboard knuckles from scrubbing by hand. Yes, I did have to wring the sodden clothes by hand, but in general washing the clothes was cheap and easy. In a disaster situation, this unit is a viable option so you don't have to live in dirty clothes. 

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