60% of globe hand-washes laundry, and women bear the burden. A new hand-crank washing machine helps them reclaim 15 hours/week

A woman's hands wring out clothes in soapy water in a red bucket.

Millions of people around the world spend 20 hours a week bent over a bucket of water, handwashing their laundry. 

Divya used to be among them. She’s the woman who inspired the creation of a new, hand-crankable washing machine that works without electricity.  

The story traces back to 2019, when Navjot Sawhney moved from London to South India to make stoves with Engineers Without Borders

While living there, he befriended a new neighbor: Divya. Sawhney was blown away by how much time she spent washing and wringing out clothes each week. 

To help, he built Divya a manual washing machine, a prototype that he would later perfect and mass produce through a grassroots movement called The Washing Machine Project, which Sawhney still serves as CEO. 

Every machine that is delivered to a family in need is named Divya, in honor of his neighbor. 

a silver, metal grill-sized washing machine with a crank, a handle, and the label "The Washing Machine Project" on it's front exterior.
A close-up of a Divya washer. Image via The Washing Machine Project.

“The Washing Machine Project has now distributed Divya washing machines to families and communities in India, Iraq, Lebanon, United States, Mexico and Uganda — impacting almost 30,000 people,” reads a mission statement on the organization’s website.  

“Implementation is tailored to meet the partnering regions' specific cultural, economic, and environmental conditions, ensuring the solution is effective and relevant in local contexts.”

Through disaster, displacement, and economic hardship, many households live without electricity and power. 

An estimated 60% of the global population relies on hand washing, and 70% of those households place the burden of water collection and household chores on women and young girls. 

Handwashing steals away precious time that could be spent working, learning in a classroom, tending to family members, or simply taking care of themselves. 

The Divya washers, which require a few minutes of hand cranking for a thirty minute cycle, cut that time down by 76%. 

“When I put clothes into the machine and wash them, it means I can multitask,” said Kyifuko Ramla, a Divya user living in Uganda. “I can leave the clothes in the machine and prepare a meal for my son, or fix him something to drink, and come back to it afterward.” 

Ramla also mentioned the physical relief of using her Divya washer, which eliminates back-bending aches and tired, cracked hands. 

“I no longer bend while washing,” she told The Washing Machine Project. “I don’t strain my body.” 

Not only does the Divya washer save time and physical energy, it also cuts water usage in half — sometimes more — which is vital for families who live in regions where clean water is scarce. 

“With this we can wash our clothes much easier, even if we don’t get ample amount of water. We can wash our clothes in this with minimal water consumption,” said Anjali, who lives in Kuilapalayam, India.

“Maximum, we need 10 buckets of water to wash 10 clothes in hand,” she continued, patting the drum of the washer. “In this washing machine two buckets of water will be more than enough.” 

A woman (Anjali, who is quoted in this article) sits beside her own Divya washer.
Anjali sits beside her Divya washer. Image via The Washing Machine Project.

Recently, The Washing Machine Project partnered with the Whirlpool Foundation, an organization that has been working to provide communities with sustainable washing solutions since 1952. 

The joint organizations have a new goal: impact 150,000 people over the next 5 years.

“We’ve learned together, worked together, listened together, washed together,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Together, we’re engineering solutions to reclaim time and change lives.”

Header image courtesy of The Washing Machine Project

Article Details

May 17, 2024 2:53 PM
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