The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Choosing a washing machine for a tiny home

Wringer washerWhen you live in an average American home, you don't bat an eyelash at filling space with a conventional washing machine. But in a tiny house, the math is considerably different. Once you factor in room to open up the door, a 4.2-cubic-foot, front-load washer uses up nearly ten square feet, which would be almost 2% of the floor space in our small home!

Given that data, you'll be unsurprised to learn that we've spent the last ten years washing with alternative devices. My favorite for a long time was the ancient wringer washer that Mark's grandmother gave us...which has the massive benefit of being able to live outside. I've really enjoyed open-air washing, too, but have to admit that since I've been sick, I've wished certain things around here were a little easier. Specifically, exterior wringer washers have the disadvantage of freezing your fingers off in the winter and taking about three times as many active minutes as a traditional washer.

So why can't you just put a traditional washing machine outside? We learned the hard way during our early years on the farm that conventional washing machines never drain fully. The pump that moves water out of the wash chamber keeps a bit of liquid in it even after being done, and that leftover water freezes and busts the surrounding machine in the winter months. Please don't repeat our mistake --- it's wasteful and it just won't work.

Portable washing machineEnter a new class of washing machine that I'd never seen before --- the portable, semi-automatic washer. These little cuties are meant to be filled and emptied with hoses and are light enough to easily move outside after use. Best of all, the model shown here gravity drains, which means it shouldn't have a freezing issue if we opt to store it on the porch between loads. Even if you keep the washer inside at all times, it uses a mere quarter of the floor space of the average front-load washer, so it's a great choice for apartment dwellers as well.

Of course, there are always downsides. You'll note I called this little device "semi-automatic" --- that's because you have to manually move your clothes into a different compartment for the spin cycle and must run separate wash and rinse cycles. I have a feeling this will be a good compromise between space constraints and time use and will also suit our tendency to accumulate dirty clothes slowly, allowing us to run several small loads per month rather than saving up for one big laundry day. Stay tuned and I'll report back in once we've given it a spin!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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10 square feet?

My washing machine has a footprint of 60 cm x 60 cm (let's say 4 square feet) and is 80 cm high (2 ft 7.5 in). As far as I can tell, this is a more or less a standard size for washing machines here in the Netherlands and possibly in Europe. It is meant for maximally 5 kg (say 10 lb) of clothes.

It fits nicely under my kitchen work surface where it lives because my kitchen has a drain connection. (It's uncommon for houses here to have a separate room for laundry. Washing machines here are usually found in the kitchen or bathroom.)

The space for opening the door is not an issue, because it opens in the walking space of the kitchen and I only use it once every week or so.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Oct 8 09:37:52 2016
Anna, I have a machine just like that and I love it. It's not big enough for blankets but will wash bedsheets and small throws just fine. The only drawback is it doesn't trap lint and hair. They will stay on your clothes. I have a dog that sheds like crazy. To solve this problem I bought an aquarium type fishnet from the dollar store and hold it in the water during the wash and rinse cycle. As the water flows threw the net the hair, fur & lint are trapped. Use a net with the finest mesh you can find. The force of the water will eventually tear the net from the frame. You can repair it with hand sewing or buy a new one. I have thought of using the frame with some pantyhose but haven't tried it yet. I use buckets to fill the machine with water. The plastic tubing that came with it to connect to a water source is too narrow to be useful. Just my 2 cents.
Comment by Anonymous Sat Oct 8 10:43:05 2016
We have lived in a shed without power for 18 months. I bought one similar to this (we live in Australia and ours looks very similar to this one but different colour). We ran it off a generator. I found it a bit too plastic and not sturdy enough for our heavy duty work clothes and it did not last long before the wash tub stopped working. We went back to hand washing and just using the wring side. I am considering getting the Drummi foot pedal powered washing pod.
Comment by Kellie steele Sat Oct 8 19:46:52 2016
I have that exact washer in my 20 ft. camper, and I absolutely love it! Super light weight and small enough to move around easily but it does a good size load of laundry, everything except the comforter fits. The spin dryer works very well and most stuff line dries in an hour or so. Mine has a small lint filter that works pretty good, but there is still some pet hair on the clothing that would probably not be there if I had a conventional dryer.
Comment by Night*sky Sat Oct 8 20:18:13 2016

Thanks to everyone for chiming in with your experiences! Sounds like these little machines are more widespread than I'd thought, and that I should be careful not to overload. (Our wringer washer doesn't remove lint either, so I'm used to that. :-) )

And it sounds like similar units might be much more common in Europe. I'm not surprised. I remember when I visited England in 2000, I was surprised to find that families only had what I'd consider a large version of a dorm fridge rather than a normal American fridge. The huge American house market must have similarly selected for oversized washing machines compared to our European counterparts.

Comment by anna Sun Oct 9 14:50:39 2016

My washing machine is a front loader which is more or less standard here. Compared to your small top loader, it has a stainless steel tub and drum, so the mechanics are basically indestructible. It is a 20 years old Zanussi (an Italian brand, don't think you have them in the US?), so it has an electro-mechanical controller instead of a computer. It cost me around $500 back then. New ones are approximately the same price. It uses around 16 gallons for a complete wash cycle which is wash + 2x rinse. New ones use a gallon less.

Using it is a lot less work then a top loader with separate spinner. We used to have one of those when I was a kid. Lots of fun if you like playing with water but otherwise huge, clunky, wet and loud.

You can buy a European style compact washing machine in the USA, but only from the top brands like Miele or Bosch, so they're not cheap. ($1999 for a Miele W3038, $1049 for a Bosch WAP24200UC). Miele and Bosch have always been top brands here. I would expect such a machine to last for at least 20 years.

W.r.t. fridges, the huge two-door style is rare here. Few people here have the space or the need for such a huge thing. For me a two-door fridge would not fit into my kitchen and the supermarket is a three-minute walk. So it's not like I have to store weeks worth of fresh food. :-) People who have vegetable gardens or farm tend to have a separate freezer, though.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Oct 9 17:05:27 2016

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