Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wonder Clean: Product Review

I ordered the Wonder Clean Pressure Handwasher from Lehman's, thinking it would be handy to have in the event of an extended electrical outage. This handwasher requires no electricity to operate, but does require hot HOT water to clean efficiently. It operates by forming an airtight seal, which combines with the hot water to create pressure, forcing water and detergent through the clothes and blowing the dirt/stains out.

Here are the features that enticed me to purchase the Wonder Clean:
  • Requires no electricity
  • Cheap compared to other washing options ($45)
  • Requires only small amounts of water and detergent
  • Takes only 2 minutes to clean laundry
  • Supposedly cleans very well (we'll see!)
  • It's small, so it's portable for camping, road trips, evacuations, dorms, etc.

On the downside:

  • Only holds 5 shirts, or 1 pair of jeans, or about 5 lbs of laundry at one time. This would definitely not serve to clean the laundry of a large family.
  • Requires hand cranking of the drum
  • The Wonder Clean (WC) does not wring out the laundry
  • The Wonder Clean requires water at temps of 190 degrees F to wash white cotton, 130 F for colored cotton, or about 110 F for delicates/synthetics

The washer arrived in good order, but I had to call the company to send me operating instructions. My first impression was that it was a little rickety, and not that easy to turn the drum. It's completely made of plastic, and the handle does not attach all that well.

I decided to do a full test run using no electricity to heat the water, wash the laundry, or dry the laundry. If you have no electricity, it might be hard to get hot water at the high temperatures required to clean the laundry. My thoughts on how to get the hot water without electricity were: natural gas or propane hot water, boiling water over a propane campstove or wood stove, heating water in the Sun Oven, or heating water in a solar shower. I decided to try the Sun Oven and the solar shower.

It was a sunny day and the Global Sun Oven was registering temperatures of 250+. The GSO quickly heated 1 1/2 quarts of water up to 190 degrees F, as measured by a candy thermometer, which was the perfect temperature for washing the cotton whites that I wanted to wash. When I measured the solar shower, I was disappointed - only 105 degrees F after sitting on a brick patio from 8 am to 11 am.

This was the first bottleneck - heating the water. The pot that fits in my GSO will only hold 2 quarts of water, which according to the Wonder Clean will wash about 2 lbs of laundry.

I set the Wonder Clean up by my sink, put in the micro-load of laundry (fairly dirty cotton whites), and put in the hot water and 1 Tablespoon of liquid detergent. Then I tightened the airlock and started turning. Oops! Lesson number 1: Must tighten airlock all the way down, which takes about 2 minutes to do. Otherwise water will spill out when the barrel is turned upside down.

As I suspected, the WC was not very stable. It rocks about and needs to be held down with one hand while the other hand turns the handle. The handle tends to scrape against the base (very annoying) unless careful attention is paid to keeping the edge of the handle out. I've read a review that stated that it was easier just to push the barrel around, but I didn't try that. However, 2 minutes was not very long to put up with this kind of annoyance.

After 2 minutes, I moved the WC over the sink and turned it upside down, dumping out the cloths. I sprayed down the cloths with the sink sprayer, wrung them out by hand, sprayed them down again, and wrung them out again. Since it was a very small load this part was not difficult.

I have to say the laundry did appear to be very clean, as clean as it would have been from an electric washing machine. Except for the cloth that somehow dropped into the sink drain and had eggplant parmesan remains rinsed all over it - I'm not sure that will ever get clean again. (If you look closely in the picture above you can see what I didn't notice until the next morning.)

Then I hung the laundry up on our inside wooden dryer. Done! I would estimate that the whole process took this amount of time:
  1. Setting up the Sun Oven with water to heat: 2 minutes
  2. Waiting for water to heat: 1 hour
  3. Putting in laundry, hot water and detergent: 2 minutes
  4. Turning Wonder Clean: 2 minutes
  5. Rinsing and wringing laundry: 5 minutes (would take longer for a bigger load)
  6. Hanging laundry: 5 minutes

Total working time: about 20 minutes. So to extrapolate - to do a "full sized" load of laundry with this method would probably require repeating this process 3 times, taking about 1 hour of work and 3 hours of waiting for water to heat (on a sunny day in the Sun Oven).

If I had to use the Wonder Clean to clean a larger amount of laundry, I would set it up outside and use the hose to rinse out the clothes. This would put it closer to the Sun Oven, decrease going in and out of the house, decrease mess and make it convenient to an outside clothesline. I wouldn't leave it outside though - the plastic would soon start to photo-degrade.

So: caveat: I haven't field tested this product extensively. I have just cleaned one very small load of whites. So, noting that, and considering the limitations of the Wonder Clean, AND if you have a reliable way to get hot water, you might consider it for these situations:

  • For use during electrical blackouts or if you expect intermittent electricity
  • If you frequently want to wash small loads of laundry without a washing machine
  • If you want a portable way to launder clothes (evacuations, road trips, camping, missionary work)
  • If you want a cheap way to launder small amounts of clothes and you can't yet get a washing machine or can't fit one in your home. (student, apartment dweller, etc). This would probably pay you back fairly quickly vs. the cost of a laundromat.

Otherwise, there are obviously other ways to do laundry without electricity - I'm picturing an old bathtub with a plunger and a wringer set up outside right by your hose and your clothesline. Maybe that will be my next product review :).

Update: See comments below from Anonymous who, after 10 uses, found that the top would not screw on properly.


Matriarchy said...

Thanks for posting this review. I have seen this and wondered how well it worked. I think it might work for someone like my mother, who lives alone and does small amounts of laundry.

anajz said...

I second the thank you. I have been considering this for sometime now, but have just been putting it off. After reading your review, I am thinking that a 5 gallon bucket with a plunger sticking out through a hole cut in the lid will be a great way for me to wash clothes without electricity. We generally wash with cold water, but if I remember correctly the hot water is needed for the portable washer to create pressure inside the drum. The secret to its ability to get clothes clean.
I look forward to your future reviews.
Thanks again!

d.a. said...

Nice to see a review of this product; was wondering whether it'd be worth the price!

Hausfrau said...

Matriarchy - it does work well for small loads, but make sure your mother has the coordination and strength to be able to tighten the lid and turn the barrel. I didn't think it took TOO much of either, but then again I'm young still!

Hi anajz - good to hear from you! According to the manual, you do need very hot water, at least for cotton whites, a lot less hot for cotton colors and synthetics.

Chile said...

I have washed laundry by, rather by foot for a whole lot cheaper and less work. Materials needed:

Two 5 gallon buckets, preferably with flat bottoms on the inside
Dirty laundry
Water - hot if you want to clean faster
Laundry soap
Dryer rack

Put dirty laundry in bucket. Add soap. Add water. Agitate slightly. Leave to soak. (In the summer, this will heat up a bit outside. I'm thinking painting a bucket black would solar heat the water.)

After soaking 30 minutes - 2 hours (depending on whether you forget about it), start stomping on the laundry with your bare feet. Depending on the interior size of the bucket, you may only be able to use one foot. (A shallow washtub might be worth the investment.) Do this for 5-10 minutes until clothes look clean.

Remove items, squeezing out some of the water, and transfer to second bucket. Add clean water and stomp a few minutes to work out the soap. Squeeze out water and hang on rack to dry.

Using your legs and feet for the agitation is easy and is good exercise. For bigger loads, our long-range plan is a pedal-powered washing machine and spinner. (Links here for design.)

Alison said...

It's interesting to read about a product such as this. Kudos to you for giving it a try and for the detailed review!

Hand-washing works pretty well for most things, with just hand-temp water. You don't even need a plunger or washboard if you are familiar with how to squeeze and rub the laundry. It's amazing what you learn 'at your mother's knee'. If I lived by myself I'd probably just hand-wash the laundry - I used to do that when camping too. You can even wring out a good amount of water by hand.

Of course with a family of 4 and jeans and sheets to wash, any kind of non-machine method is going to consume a fair bit of time and effort.

Anonymous said...

Re spinning water out of washed clothes: If the load isn't something really heavy like a pair of jeans, why not dump everything into a pump-style salad spinner?

I bet this would work fine for underwear and diapers and cotton shirts. And of course you wouldn't have to spin the whole load all at once.

Or you could just use an old-fashioned wringer.

Just some thoughts...

Anonymous said...

I've had my wonder clean for a semester now (I'm a grad student and figured this would save me money and time)... You're right about it being flimsily made. First my handle started falling off, so I got into the habit of rolling the barrel with my hand (which is fine), but now, only after about 10 uses (at most), the plastic screw on the cap has become stripped and will no longer tighten the lid down. Not only can I no longer create the pressure required to clean the clothes, but the top is loose enough for water to pour out as I turn it. It's a great idea, poorly executed.

桥谅 (Joel Ponder) said...

on's cool tools I read about a special plunger for cleaning clothes ( ) . It seems that the plunger should work better than the wonder cleaner. The theory that the wonder cleaner works through pressure is BS. All it does is tumble clean the clothes like a front loading automatic washer would. It does not blast water or soap through the cloth because you would have to have a high pressure zone and a low pressure zone in order for the movement to happen. Water moves through the cloth only because of the tumbling motion, not any pressure from hot water. The clothing plunger on the other hand would blast the soap water through the cloth, however there would be a bit more wear on the clothes, just as a top loading washer with an agitator would. Wringers seem like they would save a lot of time and effort.

Chile said...

Joel, skip the plastic and get something more durable. After reading Princess of Pink's post about washing laundry by hand, I ordered the "Rapid Washer" from Lehman's. It works just fine, although I still need to get washtubs.

I also got a spin dryer. Yes, it uses electricity but less than a full washing machine. It's also more efficient at extracting the water (it uses no heat). Pics and details coming soon at my blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm single and use this for laundry. I can fit 6 plus sized shirts in it at a time, which is about half of my weeks laundry so it works for me. (It's sure faster and easier and less rough on clothes than the washboard I was using before.

The only real negative I've found is that the screw in the lid is plastic, and under regular use lasted me 4 months before it stripped. Mine now doesn't close all the way and leaks and throws water when I spin it.

Az said...

i have the "rapid washer" (picture a metal plunger looking thing with a wooden handle and ya got it) i have 2- 5 gallon bucket from tractor supply company. having 2 makes it easier. use that bad doesn't take long, the trick is the inside of the plunger area is shaped almost like the agitater in a washer, as you use it (up and down like your plunging a toilet) it works fairly quickly, by design it forces soap & water through the clothes. you would need a wringer for this because wringing out jeans? KILLS your hands!! hurts alot if you've arthritis. anyway, the wringer and the rapid washer are aces. i have read somewhere of people using this pressure washer thing in the article here to churn butter.
another suggestion might be to get an industrial custodial bucket, toss the wet items one at a time into the wringer attached and put your weight behind the lever. i've yet to have the money to get one.
i'll stick with my rapid washer...:D it's my "oh crap the power's out again" washer.
so there you have it. :D

Stan Skaggs said...

Did you say that you had to get the manual from the vendor? Did you get it? I am curious to see what it says on it.. do you have a copy you can share?

Stan Skaggs said...

I have used this unit before, and found the most critical part is to use hot water like it says.. If it does not build the pressure inside it simply will not work... in fact, you will just be sloshing dirt all around on your clothes if you do not get the pressure aspect working for you.

Just sayin'