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


August 2, 2012

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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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.

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

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Would not a front loader make more sense they use less water and detergent than top loaders.


"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.


Perhaps adding simple filtration to the outflow might allow reuse of the water


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)


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.

Rich Brumpton


Bruce H. Anderson

It's brilliant. Something my grandma would definitely use if she didn't had an electric one.

Nitrozzy Seven

@ 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.


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. . .


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.

Aaron Patterson

forty bux yes please looks like a handy gizmo for all sorts of mixing jobs


I find it hard to believe that this will cost only $40. If you look up the large salad spinners used in restaurants, those cost well over $100, and they're simpler than this.



That was $40 to produce, I think. Your local big-box would be adding some profit margin to that.

I'd like to see a larger capacity version that could be connected to different types of exercise machines.

C. Walker Walker

Just providing a good ringer would make a big difference.


Nice engineering job. But you know what would really help poor people out? Cheap electricity!!

Build a coal plant to produce electricity.

Jack Arnold

This looks incredibly useful, but how durable is it - especially in less-than-ideal conditions?

Bruce Rheinstein

Cheap electricity wouldn't help people who live on $100 monthly. That makes $400 washing machines out of the question. I live in El Salvador and here only 12% have washing machines. Almost all homes have a pila, a concrete sink with a big tank where clothes are washed by hand.

The reason for drying taking so long is that during the rainy season in these countries there is rain every day, so washing by hand as most do, leaves a lot of water still in the clothing so drying is difficult.

I think this is a great idea, I have several friends I would love to buy one for. As for wearing clean clothes daily, people take a lot of pride in their appearance. Gardeners and laborers will change clothes to work, and then change back for the bus ride home. Most people leave the house dressed as nicely as they can. They look at us gringos in amusement as we have the resources to dress nicely and we are always the sloppy ones.


This sounds like a great project to crowdsource and/or request grants from charitable funds like the famous Gates Foundation, and perhaps raise enough to lower the price to zero where needed most. I know I'd pitch in some money.

Make sure its as easy to carry as possible, being a bulky shape. I expect the user will carry it with clothes in it to the water most of the time, so wheels that can take a beating on unpaved road or trail, or a loop at the top to take some kind of harness for carrying, or better yet, mold one side to the shape of a packframe.

Do a few dozen units of a prototype, observe their real world use and then what you learn will make the production model much more effective.


Too easily warn-out, damaged, or stolen.

For the individual best would be some hand-cranked fast washboard they can use in their sinks or in the river.

For the community I would suggest an ox-powered (or another animal powered) machine that can hold 20-40 loads at a time. Could be made for perhaps $300. Animal circles the machine on the end of a shaft. I see the shaft as at the top of the machine and high enough to avoid hitting people in the head. It can be geared to agitate back and forth and spin at high speed just like a regular top load washer.


"Too easily warn-out, damaged, or stolen." DITTO. I want two with a plank across the top, for exercise in front of TV. Seriously, I see this for application in tiny apartments in dense urban areas. I'm moving to a place that I'll have my own regular washer & dryer and I still like these things, use them for skidmark undies or making paper or something.

Dave B13

Actually, this is a perfect design for developed nations: Lazy bums should do some exercise while washing clothes and conserve electricity. Should teach them better appreciation of effort needed for simple tasks in life.

It amazes me in how many ways "first" world designers miss the point:

1) Hand washing clothes! Isn't that the way most 3rd world countries wash clothes economically, without contraptions. More over one can hand wash one piece of clothing at a time instead of having to wait for a wash load. 2) A person can't afford electricity, but would invest in a contraption like this. 3) Ok suppose these were distributed free. Its more important to wash clothes than to eat or some other task?


I wouldn't mind spending $100 dollars on one of these, it looks like it could double as a laundry hamper. Just run a drain hose to the shower stall, and it saves an apartment dweller a trip to the laundromat.

Drying could be a problem, but it wouldn't be to hard to convert a closet to double as a drying cabinet.

also, I somewhat agree with other comments suggesting a community based solution, a free or cheap laundromat also enables entrepreneurs to start laundry services with low overhead. but that's turning a village into a commune. which you can't walk into a community and do. you can walk into a village and sell washing machines though.

Eric MacAfee

I would mount this on a cargo type bicycle frame with center stand. Ride it to the water with clothes in a attached hamper basket. put it up on it's stand , flip the lever on the handlebars from forward drive to wash tub drive, and peddle the bike until done. much more efficient I think. The bike frame and stand as well as the riders weight would keep it stable, easy access to water, loads could be done until the hamper was reloaded with the wet laundry for hanging when returned to the home. A wind mill could also supply power through a cam to the peddle mechanism, or to run a fan to aid in drying clothes. much like the flexible cable attachment for a drimel tool. Start up Costs would of course be higher, but women could pool their resources and work together.


This is a great design! I would love to buy a few to use in hotel/shelter programs where families have to pay $5-6 a load to wash and dry clothes or are living in small apartments and not allowed to have a washer/dryer in unit. This washer/dryer could be used in a bathtub or shower-easy to fill that way and to drain and spin dry. How many rpm does the spin usually achieve? I use a small apt size spin dryer that gets about 1200rpm-and clothes would certainly not need a ringer! This system is much better than a washer that would result in clothes needing a ringer.

Marian King

I would love to purchase one of these for my emergancy kit, does anyone know how I might do so? And kudos to the awesome students who designed the Gira Dora... Hope they continue to help others through innovation.


Nice idea...can be used by milk man to churn yogurt to produce Ghee!!

Bala Subramanian

As a westerner who has moved to Fiji, no matter what the detractors say, I could really use one of these! I have gone from a life of convenience to literally washing the family wash by hand daily. It honestly does take time, especially if you actually want to CLEAN the clothes. We also have no hot water here, so you really want to make sure that the clothes are as clean as possible. I spend literally hours and hours each week washing. Yes, as our wardrobe is limited here, you run out if you don't wash often. Plus, as it is a mammoth task, best done daily or it just becomes daunting. And I agree, here in Fiji, people take great pride in their appearance and labourers dress in nice clothes for the bus ride or walk to work, and then change for work, and then change back. Normally the work clothes are left at work for washing there but the travel clothes are washed often. Also, as the conditions are hot, humid, sticky, rainy and muddy, sometimes all at once, or alternating, you really do need to wash more often that I did back in my old home. I want one! Up to 53% of Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water, electricity or any other kind of utility, so comments of build a power plant are a bit silly, especially for island nations. Fiji is made up of over 300 islands. You want a power plant on each one? Anyway, send one right over!

Alice Tamani
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