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Human-powered Laundry: the Wonder Wash Pressure Washer

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

Being green and clean is no fun when a quarter-sucking laundromat is involved. For more frequent small loads in the household, the Wonder Wash, the human-powered rotary pressure washer from The Laundry Alternative, Inc can wash up to five pounds of dirty clothes in a few minutes of hand cranking.

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    I spent a decade living by myself in a travel trailer near the Georgia-Florida line. A regular part of my routine was saving up my laundry for the once-weekly trip to the laundromat. There I'd stake out some machines, change about five dollars into quarters, and then feed the machines for the next couple of hours. Being clean was far from economical.

    A couple I knew in the RV park bought a used washer and dryer and set them up outside their trailer. I considered doing the same (or borrowing theirs), but then one day while browsing the web, I stumbled upon the Laundry Alternative website and beheld the humble Wonder Wash.

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    The Wonder Wash

    Wonder Wash 

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    This diminutive machine, I read, could wash up to five pounds of clothes and was perfect for students, RVers, those who are single, and the frugal. At that time, all those phrases described me. Soon I was pulling out the credit card.

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    The Wonder Wash arrived about a week later. The frame snapped together, and it could be set up for left-handed or right-handed operation. I had ordered the deluxe model; it came with a push-and-click lower drain spout for dumping the wash water. (The standard version required tilting the unit and dumping the wash water in the sink.)

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    How the Wonder Wash Works

    The design and theory of operation of the Wonder Wash are pretty simple. The main barrel has a smooth inside surface and a pressure cap. When hot water, clothes needing washing, and a small amount of detergent are placed inside and the pressure cap tightened, the air inside the machine expands causing a rise of pressure. This increase of pressure helps to push the water and detergent through the clothing items in order to clean them. Rotating the drum simply causes the water inside to rush first one way, and then the other.

    Actually using a Wonder Wash can be fun. I soon got the hang of it and then worked on polishing my technique. What technique, you may wonder. There's actually only one consideration involved: how fast should I turn the crank?

    When the Wonder Wash is turned at just the right rate, the pressure inside and the clothes moving to the opposite end creates a powerful thump that rocks the frame. Think of boom, boom, boom, boom, and you'll be close to the concept. (It helps if you have a childlike fascination for things that go boom. It also helps if you are easily amused.)

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    Here's a Wonder Wash in its element, near the kitchen sink.

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    Laundry in the Kitchen 

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    It's actually reversed in the image above in order to show the device's logo. And here's a close up of the Wonder Wash with the drain spout snapped on. You can also see a small amount of detergent I spilled while measuring it.

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    Drain Spout 

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    Soon after getting my Wonder Wash, I tried several different detergents. Regular laundry powder tended to clump and remain in heavy garments. Liquid detergent would remain in creases and was very difficult to rinse out. What worked best, and what Alternative Laundry suggested, was dishwasher detergent.

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    Positive attributes of dishwashing detergent include a fine grain (smaller particles dissolve faster and pass through the fabric better) and a low level of sudsability. It's also cheap, and a big box lasts for a couple of years.

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    Next: Using the Wonder Wash, Specifications, and our Conclusion

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    Continuing our review of the Wonder Wash by The Laundry Alternative, Inc. we practice using the Wonder Wash to wash a pair of blue jeans. This only requires three liters of water and three tablespoons of dishwasher detergent. The results were good as the clothes became clean with only about two minutes of washing. We conclude by looking at who might benefit from having a Wonder Wash and then list the specifications of the Wonder Wash along with some common load sizes.
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    Using the Wonder Wash

    Let's step through actually using the Wonder Wash. First, we needed a very dirty pair of jeans. Fortunately, I live in the middle of a lot of Georgia red clay, so dirty clothes are usually no problem for me. Please note the reddish mud at the bottom hem.

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    Dirty Clothes 

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    Into the Wonder Wash, I poured three liters of hot water and three tablespoons of dishwasher detergent. Then I placed the jeans inside. After replacing and tightening the pressure cap, I attached the crank and turned it for about two minutes. Then I attached the spout and dumped the wash water into the sink.

    At this point, I had two options. I could dump the jeans into the sink and agitate them manually to rinse, or I could rinse them inside the Wonder Wash. I usually elect to rinse inside the Wonder Wash. This is done with cold water, and it doesn't produce as nearly an exciting thump as it does with hot water, but then again it only takes about half as much cranking to rinse the clothes.

    How well did it work? See for yourself. Here's a shot of the pants cuff after washing and rinsing.

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    Clean Clothes 

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    So, would I recommend a Wonder Wash? If you're single, have space for a clothesline, and prefer to keep your quarters to yourself, sure!

    Another facet that's fun is the secretive nature of having a Wonder Wash. While I was living in the RV and hanging my clothes outside, several people asked me if I had a washing machine "in there." Nope. Just a little human-powered, hand-cranked plastic machine sitting by the galley sink was all I had. I used it for several years, and I'm glad to see that the old thing still works great.

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    The Wonder Wash from the The Laundry Alternative, Inc. $42.95

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    Wonder Wash Specifications

    Dimensions: 12" x 12" x 16" (L x W x H)

    Maximum Loading: 5 pounds

    Maximum Water: 6 liters

    Typical single loads:

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