The Breathing Mobile Washer

The “Breathing” Mobile Washer is a manual agitator that helps me do as good a job as a conventional washer machine, even better in my opinion. We do almost all our laundry at home in the tub, using the Breathing Mobile Washer and the previously-reviewed large spin dryer. The washer is sort of like a plunger, only made of rigid materials. The cone is articulated, so air is allowed to escape — unlike a plunger, you don’t get a build up of air pressure. Inside, near the bottom, there’s a plastic grate. When you push down, water is driven through whatever is under the grate. Unlike the agitator in a conventional washer does, this washer doesn’t just move the items around in the water. It literally forces water through the material. At the same time, though, it’s gentle on clothing. There’s lots of surface area, so there’s little chance of anything tearing from potential stress. And, of course, being manual, you decide how hard to go at something. A dirty pair of jeans is always going to get a more thorough plunging than a delicate sweater or blouse. Soaking and pretreating laundry does most of the hard work. We do find it’s important to still pre-treat stains, but we had to do that with our conventional washer, too.

Overall, using the mobile washer does not take too much work. I can throw the equivalent of 2-3 loads into the tub, agitate them for a minute or two to ensure everything is soaking well, then leave it for ten minutes or so, come back in, agitate it some more, leave it for another ten minutes, then give it a final agitation before loading it into the spin dryer in 2-3 batches. Since we usually use only one load of wash water and one load of rinse water for multiple loads of laundry, we’re essentially doing 3-6 loads of wash with the same amount of water, detergent, and softener as we’d normally use in a single load. (Note: we use white vinegar in the rinse water instead of fabric softener).

According to the manufacturer, the Breathing Mobile Washer is actually a revamp of an old patent from the late 1800′s. The old version was made of heavier metal that supposedly rusted. This one is lighter; the cone is made from plastic and the handle is wood.

-- Christine Mank  

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The “Breathing” Mobile Washer
$19
$45 (non-U.S.)
Available from The “Breathing” Mobile Washer



Spin Dryers

When we moved out to a farm, we decided to line dry whatever we could, but handwringing all our clothing, linens and towels is time and energy consuming. And the hand wringing was hard on my more delicate clothing. These electric-powered spin dryers do a fantastic job; the clothes come out just slightly damp and dry quickly. The dryers are also much gentler on stuff like sweaters, delicates and lingerie. Two years ago we bought a small counter-top dryer for the apartment we keep in the city (to avoid schlepping linens and towels). It worked so well and we were so impressed with it I then bought a larger one for the farm. The smaller one spins at 1600 RPM and the larger one at 3600 RPM, so they greatly reduce the time needed for line drying (probably only 1-2 minutes on average). They also help get much more water and detergent out of our laundry than a conventional washer does. There’s much less detergent smell. We are most definitely not into the fragrances put in many detergents. It usually smells like nasty chemicals to us, so the more we can get out of our clothes and linens, the better. And avoiding the dryer frees us from that “cooked” smell.

Both systems are completely contained and the water drains into a sink or bath tub. We put the mini one on the kitchen counter (on the dish drainer tray) so we can load wet stuff right from the sink into it. It has a flexible hose that comes out of the bottom in the back, and you just snake that over to the sink and the water goes right back in — makes it easy to use the same wash water and detergent several times, saving on water and detergent. The large one has a spout in the front at the bottom, which we position over the bath tub. My husband actually built a plywood triangle fitted with some rubber matting on the underside (so it wouldn’t mar the tub). The larger one is especially great for cleaning and freshening up bed pillows. They’re almost completely dry after only spinning a couple minutes! A couple caveats: you can’t turn them on and go off and leave them unattended. And you do have to ensure they’re balanced — if the big one ever got away on you, I’m sure it could do some damage. But after using it a couple times, you get onto how to load for balance.

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-- Christine Mank  

Spin Dryer
$145
Available from Laundry Alternative

Mini Countertop
(pic at top)
$70
Available from Laundry Alternative



IKEA Frost Drying Rack

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Drying clothing on a rack is cheaper and better for the environment than using a dryer, but the design of a lot of drying racks is far from ideal. IKEA’s Frost rack is a long series of bars that are horizontally parallel to one another, which maximizes the use for each bar. The closely-spaced bars allow me either to pack in small laundry or put sweaters and thicker laundry across two or more bars to let more air pass around it. On the other hand, many racks are situated with each bar immediately above or below another bar, so if you hang pants from the top bar, they hang down making all of the bars below them useless (i.e. wet). A few companies make potentially-good racks you hang from the ceiling, but they’re usually permanent, more expensive and not so nice to look at. The cheap Frost rack can easily fit an entire load of laundry, whether it’s socks or jeans, and it folds into a large, flat rectangle when not in use. A few racks can easily fit into the back of the closet.

I bought my first Frost rack when I lived in an apartment. But even when my wife and I moved into a house two years ago, we decided to get by without a dryer for a while, mainly to save money. To our surprise, it wasn’t difficult. It’s no problem at all in the summer, when we can supplement our drying with an outside clothesline on sunny days. During the winter, our two racks are in constant use (hint: put the rack beside or above heating vents or radiators to speed drying). We might eventually buy a dryer, but only to make it easier to catch up when we fall behind. I’ve been using one rack for about four years and bought the second about two years ago. I cannot tell which is the old one. They’ve held up quite well. Granted the rack is not perfect: it could be both wider and higher — tall people will have to stoop a little bit to use it. Still, it’s far better than any of the alternatives I’ve found.

One unexpected benefit: our clothing seems to last a lot longer. We’d never realized how rough the dryer can be on clothing. I have shirts that are a few years old I wear regularly and they still look new. I suppose all of the lint in the dryer trap has to come from somewhere.

-- Willie Beegle  

Ikea Frost Dying Rack
$20
Available from IKEA



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Sock Pro

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The Sock Pro is a little rubber disc perforated in the center to allow the toes of a pair of socks to be slipped through its center. The perforations hold the socks together through laundry and drying, and they keep socks paired in the dresser drawer. I’ve been using these thingies about a year and half and they really save me time and annoyance at the laundromat. For those with families, you can buy them in different colors and assign one color to each family member. It takes some effort to drag heavier socks through the hoops, but I have been able to use them with Thor-Lo maximum padding running socks and they work fine.

-- Rhea Jacobs  

Sock Pro
$5
(20 discs in one color)
Available from SOCKPro, Inc.



Sweater Stone

Tired of lint balls? This small pumice stone works much better than the electric fiber shavers I’ve used in the past. It’s also about 2×3 inches, so it works quicker than any lint comb for covering larger surface areas. Lightly brush the stone over any problem areas and the stone’s rough edges trim off the excess pilling and lint.

For me, after a couple months of use, the stone started crumbling around the edges leaving some small bits to clean up afterward. However, the amount of crumble is determined by how aggressive you are at de-linting — and actually, the soft, porous nature of the stone helps you avoid damaging your clothing. If you snag the fabric, the part of the stone that’s caught can give, instead of just continuing to tug on the garment. If you brush really fast you may also start to detect a sulfur-like smell, but it’s very subtle and you may never even notice it — especially if you aren’t too aggressive. This is great for people who want to keep their sweaters, scarves or any clothing with pilling looking nice longer, but also those who want to cut back on dry cleaning.

-- Adrienne Rodriguez  

Sweater Stone
$7
Manufactured by Sweater Stone, Inc.

Available from Amazon



Dropps

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I have been using a pretty cool detergent product that was launched recently. These are half ounce dissolvable packets of concentrated laundry detergent, so that you just throw one into the washer and you don’t have to carry, measure, pour or waste detergent. Very cool and convenient!

-- Kunal Bahl  

[The manufacturer also emphasizes that its products are environmentally benign. -- KK]

Dropps
$15 (three packs, each w/20 loads)
Manufactured by Cot’n Wash Inc.

Available from Amazon



Aloksaks

These are zip lock bags made from especially thick plastic with a special seal that guarantees waterproofness (and odor-proofness). They are good for separating clothing and food for camping and traveling. We keep everything from socks and underwear to cameras and passports in them. In monsoon season in Vietnam they held up quite well and kept our gear dry and tidy.

Aloksaks
$5+ (various sizes)
Manufactured by Watchful Eye Designs

Available from Amazon