The Fifty Cent Washing Machine

Neither of us owned a washing machine when we moved into our new house. I considered a twin tub, because they’re easier to manage greywater for reuse and they also wash your clothes better. I had one when my son was in cloth nappies, and was sorely disappointed when I ‘upgraded’ to a front loader as it washed my clothes so poorly that sometimes there was dry pockets of laundry in there at the end of the entire cycle. (Ok, I probably packed them in too tightly, but that’s what I could do with the twin tub.) It also had no ‘cold water’ option, so it used way more electricity because it always heated the water.

However, my household now includes an adult with physical limitations on reach, so a front loading washing machine was the only option. Serendipity saw a verge-side hard rubbish collection in the weeks before we moved in, and I obtained permission from the current owners of the house to store some finds in the unlocked garden shed before settlement went through. As well as collecting furniture, I started scouting for washing machines.

We found a suitable front loader close by. I tried to put it in my car with the help of a friend, but it was HEAVY! There was no way I could manoeuver it into the back seat or boot of my car. We talked to the people who had put the washing machine on the verge, and they told us that the water pump didn’t work. So that was helpful to know why it had been discarded.

It took me a few days to organise a trailer and some extra help. By the time I returned to that suburb to collect the washing machine, the rubbish trucks had been through and were collecting and crushing all the items on the verge. I turned down the road the washing machine had been on, and to my dismay the rubbish trucks were just leaving.

All the verges were blank and empty. I drove to the place where the washing machine had been, just in case, and lo and behold, it was still there! I don’t know if the previous owners had stopped the rubbish truck driver from collecting it (that would have been annoying for them if I didn’t come back!), or if there was some other reason that it wasn’t collected. I just loaded it quicksmart.

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With my friend’s help, we unloaded the washing machine onto the back veranda where it wouldn’t get rained on. And there it stayed, until we moved in and it became covered with boxes and planks of bed frame. After several weeks, we got around to setting up all the beds and shifting all the furniture into place inside.

During this time, we took loads of washing to friend’s houses or used bathwater to tread the dirt out of our clothes before wringing them by hand.

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We also had a small benchtop manual washing machine, which was fun for my child to use but had a pretty limited capacity for household-size loads.

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Our plan was to Google the problem and search for a home fix. We had no manual or instructions. My housemate did some online research, carefully pulled out the drain, and discovered a long stick. It had been pressing on the drain and stopping the pump from working. She extracted it, and the other gunk. Now to test it. We heaved the washing machine inside.

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We happily filled the empty place on the back veranda with a comfortable couch that I bartered with my friend for a large chunk of pumpkin. The two rugs were picked up secondhand for free. It’s the perfect place to sit and watch the kids play in the backyard, eat meals outside or dream about the garden.

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Now I needed to connect it to the water supply. The water hoses were missing, but I’d seen some at our local tip shop. So I did a trip to the tip and picked up two, in case one wasn’t the right diameter. They fit fine. Total cost: fifty cents.

We connected the water. It worked perfectly! We have a modern, efficient washing machine with almost no financial outlay. And unlike my earlier model, this one has an option to wash in cold water only so it uses less power. The water rating is quite good on it.

Appleseed Permaculture talks about the Eight Forms of Capital. We used Social Capital (friends), Intellectual Capital (other people’s knowledge online) and Experiential Capital (experimenting with fixing it ourselves) to get this machine functioning, rather than Financial Capital (well, ok, fifty cents!). We also kept a large, heavy item out of landfill. When it does break and can’t be fixed, I’ll disassemble it and repurpose the parts. Washing machine drums make great planters, and I’ve seen interesting uses for the thick, tough glass fronts too. Produce No Waste!

Where could you apply other forms of capital to your life?

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3 responses to “The Fifty Cent Washing Machine

  1. We pulled our last washing machine apart when it stopped working, only to discover that the broken part could not be replaced. It then took on a new life as a brazier. The stainless steel interior is perfect for this job as the holes pressed into the sides lets in just enough air to fuel the flames. It looks a bit like weird space junk but I love it!

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  2. It is hard to find a good quality twin tub isn’t it? We have used a twin tub for over ten years (not the same one unfortunately) we usually find them second hand at the Tender Centre or in the Classified section of the newspaper. I have plans to build a hand operated (or exercise bike powered) washing machine one day as I am sick of having my machines break down. Old, dead machines become vegetable beds and reptile habitat at my house.

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  3. Pingback: A Year in a Suburban Backyard | Shoestring Sustainability·

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