Laundry + Bicycle = Bicilavadora

Washing laundry is a difficult time-consuming task in the developing world, and doing laundry in open streams or lakes can add to water pollution. The task also falls solely on women – 8 hours a week is typically spent washing each piece of the family’s clothing and then wringing them out by hand. Washing machines that use electricity are impractical in many rural areas, due to either the expense or unavailability of electricity. But a pedal-powered washing machine, the Bicilavadora, is helping to change all of that.

Students at MIT, in conjunction with MayaPedal in Guatemala, have developed the low-tech, low-cost machine using plastic or metal barrels and bicycle parts. The Bicilavadora does not use any electricity and is easy to operate – just like riding a bike! Because the parts can be sourced locally, the machines can be produced and maintained by the community, instead of relying on imported parts and expertise.

The Bicilavadora is built with an oil drum, a couple of pieces of plastic, and a bicycle frame. Changing gears takes it from washing to spin cycle. The idea began as a project of graduate student Radu Raduta, which took first place in MIT’s 2005 IDEAS competition. Instructor Gwyndaf Jones from MIT’s D-Lab then brought a team to the slums of Peru to introduce the prototype of Raduta’s Bicilavadora concept, and the response from the people there was a desire for more machines, which would greatly lessen the work involved in washing clothes.

The outer housing of the machine is made from a standard oil drum which is cut apart and welded back together to make a much shorter barrel, because “a full 55-gallon barrel is more laundry than any human can pedal,” said Gwyndaf Jones. The inner barrel, which rotates, is created from plastic pieces bolted together, and the machine uses standard mountain bike gears, with the highest gear being the spin cycle, and the lowest gear the wash cycle.

MayaPedal is an NGO from Chimaltenango, Guatemala, that builds pedal powered machines (“Bicimaquinas”) and sells them locally, helping to make life in the developing world a little easier. Plans for a number of these machines are available on their site.

Written by Derek Markham


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  1. i think i need this bike (don’t think they’d like to see it on public transit on my way to work, though!) i’m really loving all the new products that are coming out using recycled products that combine fun activities with something useful. the soccer ball that gathers and stores energy from being kicked around and this bike are perfect examples!

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