Environment

Pedal-powered washer could make a big difference in developing nations

The machine is operated by a foot pedal (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
The machine is operated by a foot pedal (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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GiraDora - the pedal-powered washing machine (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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GiraDora - the pedal-powered washing machine (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
GiraDora is designed for portability (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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GiraDora is designed for portability (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
The machine is operated by a foot pedal (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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The machine is operated by a foot pedal (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
GIraDora costs US$40 to build (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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GIraDora costs US$40 to build (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
Interior of GiraDora (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
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Interior of GiraDora (Photo: Alex Cabunoc)
Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)
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Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)
Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)
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Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)

In the developed world, we forget that there was once a time when washday meant “day” rather than “toss it in the machine and come back in 20 minutes.” In many parts of the world without access to electricity and clean water, that time is still now. Design students Alex Cabunoc and Ji A You of the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles visited the the slums of Cerro Verde, Peru. There they saw women spending days on end hauling water and washing clothes by hand and they came up with a solution. They created the GiraDora, a foot-pedal washing machine that’s inexpensive and portable.

Cabunoc and You were in Cerra Verde as part of the Safe Agua Peru program. The purpose of the visit was to come up with ways to help locals deal with water-related problems. There, women had to trek miles to collect water and haul it home by the bucket load before washing their clothes one piece of a time. This can take up to six hours and needs to be done as many as five times a week, outside and in all weather with hands constantly plunged in basins of cold, soapy water. Clothes can take as long as three weeks to dry in the winter and often end up rotting and mildewed.

GiraDora is Cabunoc and You’s solution.

Human-powered washing machines are not a new idea, but the challenge here was to design a one that's cheap, portable and easy to use, yet gets the clothes clean and relatively dry. After working with models based on sink plungers, salad spinners and the like, the pair came up with what looks like a picnic cooler crossed with a top-loading washing machine. Mechanically, it’s really very simple, which isn’t surprising because the final design was developed on the spot back in Cerro Verde.

GiraDora is a plastic tub tall enough to sit on. In fact, it’s designed to be operated while sitting on it to keep it stable. Inside, there’s a second tub like that in a conventional washer mounted on a center post. The post is connected to a pedal on the base of the tub. The machine is filled with clothes, water and soap and the lid put back. The operator then sits on the tub and repeatedly presses down on the pedal with her foot. This works the mechanism that agitates, cleans and rinses the clothes. When the clothes are clean, a stopcock in the base is opened and the pedal worked again. Now the washer becomes a spin drier and the clothes can be hung up to complete drying in a reasonable time. The cost of the machine is about US$40.

Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)
Details of GiraDora design and benefits (Image: Alex Cabunoc)

The benefits of the GiraDora go beyond turning laundry from a ghastly ordeal into a simple chore. The GiraDora is self-contained and requires no electricity. Not only is the GiraDora much more efficient than hand washing and saves many hours of time, it’s more comfortable to use and less wearing on the back, arms and hands. The foot pedal also leaves the operator’s hands free for other activities. Whole loads can be washed at once and it can be carried to the water source or used indoors in bad weather. The spin dry function improves the health of the family, especially children, by reducing exposure to mold and mildew. In addition, the machine is a chance for women to make money because the time saved doing the family’s clothes means that they can take in other people’s washing.

Cabunoc and You have presented the device at several conferences and were awarded an NCIIA E-Team grant of $19,500 to help in bringing it to market. They hope to complete field testing in Peru in a year with 50 machines and begin selling them in South America within three years before moving on to India. Their final goal is to have one million users of the machines.

The video below shows GiraDora in action in Peru.

Sources: Dell Social Innovation Challenge,Fast Company

GiraDora Information Video

27 comments
Slowburn
Would not a front loader make more sense they use less water and detergent than top loaders.
bergamot69
"This can take up to six hours and needs to be done as many as five times a week, outside and in all weather with hands constantly plunged in basins of cold, soapy water. Clothes can take as long as three weeks to dry "... So these people must have incredibly vast wardrobes and washing lines that stretch for miles if they wash their clothes five times a week and in winter it takes three weeks for them to dry! Not to mention massive herds of alpaca to supply wool to make all those clothes in the first place... On the other hand, the washing machine itself seems like a good idea, although it would need to be constantly re-filled with rinse water. And if it was to be taken to the water source to be used, then there is also the issue of how to get rid of the dirty water without polluting the water course.
rik.warren
Perhaps adding simple filtration to the outflow might allow reuse of the water
DrPepper59
Having lived in Colombia for a couple of years and seeing first hand the poverty there and how a large portion of the people there live, this isn't far fetched. Although most people don't do their own laundry, those that do the laundry do it 6 to 7 days a week all day long, usualy in the river or a a commons area specific for washing. This is a needed product for these ladies that do this to eek out a living, although $40.00 to them may as well be $1000.00. I must say it was a bit disconcerting to walk by the river and see all your clothes and underwear drying on the bushes and tree branches. (I never saw them washing in the rain either)
Rich Brumpton
bergamot, you assume that everyone wears clean clothes each day. This is certainly not universally true. My great grandparents in Minnesota would have a wash day, and the laundry would freeze solid at night for 3-5 days before it could be worn or put away. 2 sets of clothes for the kids plus their Sunday Best was considered sufficient, but my grandfather had some boyhood pals that would have to wear their older sisters clothes on wash day or other ways to make do. It's not that long ago really, even in the US.
Bruce H. Anderson
I say BRAVO
Nitrozzy Seven
It's brilliant. Something my grandma would definitely use if she didn't had an electric one.
bergamot69
@ Rich Brumpton, I don't assume that they all wear clean clothes every day- but I think that in saying that clothes need to be washed 'up to five times a week' the author suggests that there is one hell of a lot of washing to be done- indicating that people do change their clothes at least almost every day. It seemed unlikely to me hence my comments. If there are those, as Dr Pepper59 says, who wash clothes professionally, then that would make a lot more sense, ie that the women washing the clothes were not soley washing them for their own families only.
socalboomer
I can see a problem with one leg getting significantly larger than the other! Just kidding. This looks like a great idea. @Bergamot - you don't need a vast wardrobe to be doing laundry constantly. In fact, if you have a limited wardrobe, you're stuck with doing MORE laundry because you don't have clean or passable clothes available. For the longest time, I had a couple of pairs of work-passable pants and only about 5 shirts - I was a load of laundry (really, about all I had) about 2-3 times per week, and I was on my own. Now, with wife and two teenage kids. . . we could do a load a day and not keep up. . .
Aaron Patterson
Would be great for any disaster such as hurricanes, blizzards, and floods. Homes going without power for two weeks or more and people are working to literally dig themselves out of their situation leads to very stinky clothes.
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