DIY Washing Machine for Sailing

There are some things that (nearly) all Sailing Channels on YouTube have in common. One is the significant costs in time, money and hassle of maintaining Diesel Engines. Another is the pain of laundry, that is one I want to look at again.

I’m going to group the approaches to laundry into three categories: Electric Washing Machine; Laundromat; Handwashing.

All these have problems.

Electric Washing machines:

  • Purchase cost
  • High power requirements (almost certainly going to require a generator)
  • High water requirements (almost certainly going t require a watermaker)
  • Large space required
  • Not designed for a marine environment so don’t last very well
  • Potential to fit a filter to catch microplastics

Laundromat:

Well summed up in this video from Ryan and Sophie:

  • Quite expensive
  • Very time-consuming
  • Requires access to large enough town (in much of Europe now only common in marinas)
  • Unlikely to have filters to catch microplastics

Handwashing

  • Available everywhere (but not attractive in a cold/wet climates)
  • Drying laundry is a real challenge anywhere apart from the tropics
  • Unlikely to have anyway to filter out microplastics

Our approach

In the past we have considered a WonderWash, but at the moment getting one in the UK seems almost impossible (most sellers specifically not exporting to the UK, others might but shipping would double the cost).

There are a number of washing machines being marketed at campers, however, they look very flimsy.

So we plan to build our own, very simple and very robust washing machine. We will start with a watertight plastic key such as this from Solent Plastics

If we make a frame so that it can be rotated with a handle then it is just a matter of putting in the washing, some water and some form of reef safe detergent, then rotating it. We would need a keg large enough for the largest thing we need to wash (our duvet cover). We can use it to store our dirty clothes when we are not doing the washing. When clothes have been washed, all we need is a large funnel into a microplastic filter and we can pour the water away without dumping microplastics directly into the sea.

A side benefit is that we can easily use the same system to wash plastics before shredding them as part of our plastic recycling.

Drying. We think we need the combination of 3 things to be able to dry washing whatever the climate.

Spin dryer: However, you end up getting laundry to fully dry it is much faster if you first use a spin dryer. We haven’t seen a really effective human powered spin dryer. So we think a mains electric spin dryer is the best option. There are not very large and they spin out most of the water (which is easy to collect to pour through the microplastic filter).

Obviously in a suitable climate the simplest option is to hang laundry outside dry. That is not possible all year round in the UK and many places. So to allow drying inside we plan the combination of heating and dehumidifying.

We will have a dehumidifier in the motor room. We wrote about this in Sustaining Electrics and are still planning for something like an Ecor Pro Dryboat 12. Running this should help ensure that laundry dries quickly and without causing damp throughout the boat.

When we need heating it will be via a Refleks diesel heater that will not just provide direct heat but also distribute hot water through radiators. This is a dry heat which is important, we don’t want to introduce more damp into the air. We will have a radiator in our forward head with the shower drip tray and plenty of hanging space for our washing so that it can dry reasonably quickly. The water from the shower (like all our grey water) will go through a microplastic filter before leaving the boat. Obviously having a shower won’t be possible while laundry is drying and access to the forecabin will be inconvenient. However, while there are just the two of us we can use the en-suite heads in the aft cabin and so it won’t be a problem.

Summary:

We think the combination of a diy manual washing “machine”, a mains electric spin dryer, a dehumidifier and radiator heating will

  • be cheap to buy, install and maintain.
  • be good for collecting microplastic
  • be a good combination of low hassle and low cost laundry
  • take little space and not use much electricity or water
  • provide a good basis for washing plastic for recycling
  • work in a wide variety of climates and weathers
  • allow us to be off-grid for long periods of time

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