Category Archives: Portable washer and dryer

Living In A Small Space? You Can Still Do Laundry!

When I was searching for a house, I looked for specific features.  However, only after I moved in did I realize that one of the best additions was something I hadn’t even given much thought to.  What was that?  Having my own washer and dryer.  

I had lived in several apartments before buying a home and accepted the hassle of laundry day.  However, once I was freed from dealing with coin-operated machines, I realized how stressful doing laundry had been.  What were the points of my pain?

  1. The quarter hunt.  I was always looking around for quarters, and it always seemed I was one or two shy. Searching under my couch cushions became a regular part of my week. 
  2. I lived in apartments with only a single washer and dryer and others with a bank of them. With the single-machine apartments, it was common to go down and find the machine in use with several loads cued up. Once, I walked into the laundry room of a complex with a bank of machines, and someone had taken someone else’s clean wet laundry and thrown it on the dirty floor.  I’m not sure why, but that was creepy.
  3. Machines would be broken, and dryers wouldn’t heat, etc. 
  4. Who knew what was washed in a machine right before I used it?
  5. Although most of my apartments had laundry rooms, I occasionally used laundromats. This meant waiting in a too-hot, too-cold, and always-humid room for hours.  Laundromats never seemed to have chairs; when they did, they were usually those fiberglass molded ones that would often have a broken leg.

After decades of ownership, I take having my own laundry facilities for granted.  However, the pandemic brought a new level of awareness to this basic need. Millions of people live in apartments that don’t have in-apartment laundry.  What did they do? I researched the topic and found that laundry day was stressful for many of them.  I read reports of people doing all their laundry by hand to avoid public laundry facilities during the pandemic. What a massive hassle.  That got me thinking about the overall stress of using public laundry facilities, which led me to research alternative options. I was surprised that there were quite a few possibilities, some very reasonable.  I want to share that information with you. Hopefully, this post will reach a few apartment dwellers who may find it useful.

Washing clothes by hand works for a few items, but it can be a real drag for larger loads.

Manual washing

As old as time, the simplest way to get your clothes clean.  When I was a student, there were rare times when my schedule was so out-of-control that I needed to wash necessary items in the sink. It is possible to get a decent result, but such actions get tiring when doing anything more than a few pairs of socks and some underwear.  Some manual gadgets can lighten this load, but only by a bit.  I’ll list them in the photos below.

A simple scrubbing board adds friction and, with it, increased cleaning power.
This Scrubba makes hand washing small loads more efficient.
Another popular manual gadget is the Wonder Wash.
This washing plunger is used in conjunction with a large tub to effectively wash clothes. Some people use a clean toilet pluger for the same task.

Twin-tub machines

Sometimes called Asian washers, these machines are very lightweight and come in various sizes and capacities, from desktops to floor-standing machines.  They tend to be inexpensive, and they look like toys.  However, users of them say they are surprisingly good at washing clothes.  Further, I read several “one year later” reports that were quite favorable.  The larger capacity versions of these machines cost more.  Some drain only by gravity, so you must place them on the counter next to a sink or in a bathtub.  Others have an electric pump to discharge the water.  These can be placed on the floor next to a sink.  

Twin-tub machines are manual, but they eliminate the hand-wrenching jobs of physically washing, rinsing and wringing out wet clothes.  Their washing action is very strong, to the point of often knotting up clothes, and their separate spin dryers are so fast that clothes often dry within hours once hung up.  These machines are designed for cold water washes but can be used with warm water.  Hot water will damage them.

You need to fill these machines manually (using a hose connected to a faucet) and manually switch them to drain.  In addition, you need to place the wet clothes into the spinner basket and then return them for a rinse and then another spin.  The spinner baskets are smaller than the washer, so you must spin a wash batch in several loads.  However, spinning only takes a few minutes. Even the larger machines of this group have less capacity than a regular washer.  However, overall, people sing their praises often using statements like “Life changing” and “The best purchase I ever made.”  

As an aside, various users have their own techniques when using these machines.  Some spin and then rinse, others rinse and then spin.  Some fill the washer using a faucet connection and a little hose; others fill from a bucket.  Manual, in this case, means very flexible operations.

This is not a twin-tub machine, but it does provide automatic aggitation for small batches of clothes.
This small twin-tub may be all that you need if your needs are modest.
This larger machine is floor standing. It does not have a drain pump so you will likely need to place it in your bathtub or shower stall when operating.
This is a similarly sized machine from the same manufacturer, however for about $30 more it has a drain pump.

The Laundry-Alternative  Niagara washer, plus the Laundry-Alternative Nija spin dryer.

This one-of-a-kind setup offers almost full-size laundry capabilities in a much smaller and less expensive package.  These machines are more automatic than twin-tub machines, but they still require some work from the operator.  They are bulkier, with the Niagara washer weighing 35 pounds and the Nija spin dryer weighing almost 20 pounds.  However, they are built to last.  I saw one report of a man using a Laundry-Alternative spinner 15 years after he bought it.  

Although top loading, the Niagara operates more like a front loader.  Therefore, it is gentler and uses less water than a top-loading machine.  It fills and runs automatically, using a very simple mechanical dial. It has a drain pump so you can place it on the floor next to your sink. The Niagara can be used with hot water if desired.  It has dispensers for soap and rinse additives like fabric softeners. 

The Niagara will complete washing and rinsing independently, but it doesn’t spin dry.  Buying a separate spin dryer like the Ninja is important to make this system work efficiently. 

The Ninja spinner is larger than those on twin tub machines. It is reported to be the largest capacity spinner on the market and can handle 22 pounds of clothes.  In addition, the Nija spins at an incredible 3200 rpm, compared to a standard washing machine that spins at around 1200 rpm. Faster spinning means greater water extraction. Some synthetic clothing items could be dry after hanging in less than 30 minutes. 

The Niagara washer
The Ninja spin dryer
Watch my YouTube video on the Niagara washing machine and the Ninja spin-dryer.

Fully automatic portable washers.

These units are similar to a regular washer but smaller. A typical home top-loading washing machine’s capacity is between 3.5 and 5 cubic feet, with front loaders having a 4.2-4.5 cubic feet capacity. In contrast, these machines start at 0.9 cubic feet, with many around 1.7 cubic feet capacity.  I did find one portable washer at 2.4 cubic feet. Because of their complexity, they cost more and are heavier. Some of the larger models are more expensive than basic full-sized machines. I found the most reviews for the 0.9 cubic feet machines suggesting that these are the most popular. Some of these machines are for cold water wash only.

These machines are computerized, which is nice, but this also serves as a point of failure. Because these machines are all-in-one, they spin slower than those listed above. Many of these machines spin at 750 RPM compared to around 1200 RPM for a standard washer or 3500 RPM for the Ninja. Therefore, many people who buy these machines often buy little portable dryers instead of hanging their laundry. 

This mini-washing machine operates very similarly to a full-sized one.

Who are portable machines for?

Any of these machines is perfect for a single person or a couple.  Families can use them, but they are likely best utilized when a small load must be done between a full laundry day. However, I read reports of families using these machines for weekly laundry. The best strategy for these families would be to do their laundry multiple times a week in small batches. 

Using a laundry trolley

You can buy inexpensive laundry trolleys to move around those machines that are too heavy to lift from storage to the sink.  

Which type of washer is best?

That is a personal choice.  Many people buy twin-tub machines as they are lightweight and inexpensive.  However, they are the most manual of gadgets—some like the convenience of a fully automated machine.

Personally, I like the Laundry Alternative solution.  Their machines are durable and have simple controls, making them less likely to break down.  The Niagara’s top-loading/front-operating style is water efficient and can wash a surprisingly large load despite being around 1/3rd the size of a standard washer.  The Niagara automatically does most of the tedious work of washing.  You don’t have to return to refill, rinse, etc.  Spinning is the only manual operation, but the Nija spinner is large, fast, and super efficient.  I would say that the Niagra/Nija combination is close in convenience to using a regular washing machine.

Thoughts on hanging clothes

None of these machines dry your clothes, but spinning them gets out most of the water, making drying fast.  

The fully automatic washers spin slower, so expect clothing to take longer to dry after hanging.  There is also the chance of some water drippage when using these machines. 

The twin-tub and Niagra spinners are very fast, with most clothing nearly dry.  Therefore, it is practical to hang those close out to dry. I imagine the audience for these machines won’t have outdoor spaces, and they will hang their clothes in their apartments.

There are many creative ways to hang clothes on existing home objects.  However, investing in dedicated hanging systems is best if you have a lot of laundry. 

A classic laundry rack
Another rack style.
Yet, another portable hanging solution.
This retracting clothes line can work inside your apartment and can tuck away when not in use.

Different racks and gadgets make hanging clothes a fairly easy operation.  See the photos above for some common ones.

Another way to hang clothes indoors is to use a heated airer, a clothing rack enclosed in a little tent with a small electric heater on the bottom. These units are inexpensive and have greater capacity than a standard dryer while using less energy than a standard dryer.  However, they are slower to dry than a dryer. 

Lastly, you can purchase mini-clothes dryers that operate similarly to a regularly sized unit.  Here it is recommended that you vent your exhaust out a window less you put too much humidity into your living space.  However, I have seen a number of reports where people vent directly into their apartments.  If you do the latter, I might suggest that you do so in a large and well-ventilated room to avoid eventual mold issues.  

A tiny mini-clothes dryer.