1001 water-wise ways: testing, testing

 Hot pink cooler-box washing machine.

Hot pink cooler-box washing machine.

So I've had a chance to test-drive some of the water-sparing devices that have been whizzing around our screens in the last week. The Institute of Good Housekeeping this is not, but you might like to hear about my new cooler-box "washing machine"; and my new garden pressure sprayer "shower". It took me a bit of tweaking to use these with maximum efficiency, so here are my trials and errors for your delectation. 

Lots of chatter about the Sputnik, the nifty gadget that washes your clothes sans electricity, in very little water, every drop of which you can harvest. Alas, the online waiting list got so long, it's now listed as out of stock. So here we go with my cooler-box. I described the basic methodology in this post, but this is what happened in practice.

I got a 22 litre cooler-box, in a cheerful colour, for R129 from the camping section of my nearest big supermarket. I boiled 1.5 litres of clean but non-potable water and put it in with about another two litres of cold water. Then I made a nice soup with gentle biodegradable (and cheap!) package-free washing powder from Glencairn's Wild & Waste-free Market and, er, Vanish Liquid, and tossed in a spoonful of bicarb for good measure. (Herewith a PSA from Stalwart Sidekick Sister: when trying this at home, DON'T use your regular washing-machine detergent. Apparently rinsing a zillion red and blue Skip granules out of a white tutu is no fun, especially not with Day Zero on the horizon. Pick a soap/detergent that doesn't foam. Woolite or any hand-wash laundry soap would be good. And lose the fabric conditioners, which you shouldn't be using in any case.)

 Laundry powder in recycled jar from Zero Waste.

Laundry powder in recycled jar from Zero Waste.


I stirred my soup with a wooden spoon. Next, the clothes. I sorted as usual, pre-treated stains (this is NB, as I was to discover), and tossed them in, making a smallish load (see washing-line pic below), but I could have added more -- the box was only a third full. Don't fill to the top. I'd guess the temperature was about 50 degrees, considerably higher than my washing machine setting.

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Next I sealed the lid carefully (this is vital), lifted the box in my arms and danced an awkward jig. This shake, rattle and roll motion is a great cardio workout (Pollyanna way of saying I was shattered within 3 minutes). So, as I had errands to run, I put the whole lot in the footwell of my car and headed out. Nothing leaked, and there was a comforting slosh-slosh sound as I went round corners. Three hours later, I poured the water (which was still pretty warm) out into the grey-water tub-cache and added about 3 litres of well water back into the box. This time I HAD to do the cardio workout: I wasn't firing up my car just to rinse my clothes. A few sweaty minutes later, I drained the water out again; it was still pretty dark, so I rinsed one more time with another three litres of well water (taking total H2O usage to around 11 litres, all kept for flushing). Finally, I removed the "DECOMMISSIONED" sign from my washing machine, chucked all the wet clothes in, and hit the "Spin" button. 

Now for the proof of the pudding as I hung out the laundry: how clean were my clothes? I am a famously messy pup; always spilling down my front, and I can usually rely on a snack lodged in my cleavage at the end of the day. (In fact, given that I wear my outer garments until they take on a life of their own, I am seriously considering getting a wipe-clean bib.) I was pleasantly surprised to find the only glaring stain that had survived was a mayo splodge on my T-shirt I had forgotten to pre-treat. So that's good to know.*

 The white towel was already on the line, airing. Otherwise, this is what I managed in one load, which didn't even come close to filling the cooler box.

The white towel was already on the line, airing. Otherwise, this is what I managed in one load, which didn't even come close to filling the cooler box.

My assessment: I'd give this a C+ for cleaning power if you're not pre-treating stains first; if you do, I'd say B+. Withholding an A because this isn't suitable for those without upper-body strength or cars. If you're strong(ish) and have wheels, welcome to your new washing machine.

Additional laundry tip for knickers, via my clever friend Sally: once you've handwashed your undies at the same time as showering (see below), you can use a salad spinner to rid them of excess water. To which I will add super-bonus-hygiene tip, given to me by my friend Sue decades ago: if your knickers are PLAIN COTTON (no bits of synthetic lace and ribbon), you can put them in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. This will both dry them out and sterilise them. Watch carefully; you do not want smouldering knickers. Well, not literally.

And now for my Garden Pro Pressure Sprayer, a present from my Smart Sister. Available from most supermarkets, nurseries and no doubt hardware stores.

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Put this on your gift list pronto: I really liked it, although it came as a shock to have a HOT shower after all these months of bucket bathing. Put in a litre of hot water, then top up with cold water. I put in about 4 litres in total. Then I pumped that plunger goetjermachig on top vigorously a few times, then pressed the nozzle at the end of the pipe. Out came a stream of warm water. Ahhhh. You can wet yourself all over, soap away, then rinse lavishly, and it still uses almost no water: I had about 2 litres left over, plus if you stand in a cat-litter tray or basin, you get to save all the water. This does take time, and you have to keep pumping (this could be me being a klutz), but a little practice, and this will change bath night forever. I'd give this an A, and as I've said, it will be a boon for home nursing.

*OMG, am a radical feminist who researches and publishes on gender-based violence, and I am getting excited about STAIN REMOVAL. What amazing things Day Zero is teaching us, eh?

Helen Moffett