The best portable washing machine
Many new homeowners or renters look forward to buying their first washer and dryer, but these appliances can take up a lot of real estate, especially in smaller apartments or laundry rooms. One solution has become more popular in recent years: a portable washing machine. A portable washing machine performs the same basic duties as a standard model, from agitating dirty clothes to rinsing and spinning the finished load. The difference is that a portable machine can be connected to a kitchen sink or a bathtub, then rolled out of the way when not in use.
Some models even take the concept a step further, eliminating the need for electricity or a water supply line. Campers and RVers commonly carry these foot-powered or hand-cranked washers on trips to wash small batches of laundry as needed. While capacity is always a concern with portable washing machines, the savings in water usage, electricity and space make the idea more tempting.
If you are in the market for a portable washing machine, read our helpful buying guide. Some models are smaller versions of standard washers, while others use a completely different approach. At the top of our list is the Panda 1.34-Cubic-Foot Portable Machine, a compact electric model that duplicates many of the wash cycles offered on standard household washing machines.
Considerations when choosing portable washing machines
By design, a portable washing machine will have a much lower load capacity than standard-size models. However, there are also some noticeable differences in load size among portable machines themselves. The most advanced electric portable washing machines may hold up to 12.5 pounds of clothing per load, which could equal a batch of delicates or several pairs of pants. Smaller manually powered machines typically hold a few pounds of clothing, which is why many people use them for small daily batches, not a typical family-size load.
Electric vs. manual
An electric portable washing machine has the advantage of a powerful motorized agitator and drum. Many electric models offer a number of wash cycle options, such as delicate or heavy or permanent press. They will also have the power needed to spin out most of the water after a rinse cycle. However, an electric machine does require a source of electricity, and is not as compact or water-conservative as a manual machine.
Some consumers prefer a manually powered washing machine, which relies on a hand crank or a foot pedal to operate. The advantage is that a manual machine can be used almost anywhere with a clean water supply, but the load size is much smaller and the components are not as durable as an electric model.
All washing machines work on the principle of removing dirt from clothing through agitation. A standard machine will often have a central agitator inside one or two watertight drums. These drums help force the water and detergent through the clothing as well as contain the load during a spin cycle. Some portable electric machines also have two drums and an agitator, but there could also be a single drum and a separate chamber for spinning. Manual models often have a single drum that agitates clothes as it spins, then rinses them as a separate function. The clothes may not spin out as dry as they would in a standard machine, but the spinning process can be repeated several times.
A basic manually powered washing machine can cost as little as $89, while a few electric models are available at the $150 price point. Higher-end electric models with multiple wash cycles and controls will run between $260 and $450 on average, while some advanced models with electronic controls can cost as much as $800.
Q. Will my apartment complex allow me to use a portable washing machine?
A. Rules concerning the use of portable washing machines vary from landlord to landlord. One common reason for banning their use is potential flooding. If the machine's drain connections fail, the floor could be flooded with gallons of water. If you are renting a property, be sure to check the lease for any restrictions on personal appliances.
Q. Will using a portable washing machine actually save me money in the long run?
A. The cost of using a public laundromat can add up to several hundred dollars a year. The upfront cost of a portable washing machine will eventually be offset by the savings in time, transportation expenses and supplies. You may still need to visit a laundromat for larger items, but you won't be spending hours of unproductive time away from home.
Portable washing machines we recommend
Best of the best: Panda's 1.34-Cubic-Foot Portable Machine
Our take: The Panda portable machine is ideal for those who seek the functionality and durability of a standard washing machine, including an array of wash cycle choices.
What we like: Features 10 different washing cycles and an 11-pound capacity. Connects directly to faucet and drain. 110-volt unit only draws 300 watts of power.
What we dislike: Some leaks and other minor defects reported on arrival.
Best bang for your buck: The Laundry Alternative's Wonderwash Nonelectric Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine
Our take: Ideal for campers with access to clean water, and those who prefer to wash delicate items by hand.
What we like: Hand-cranked operation, no electricity required. Works well on delicate fabrics. Efficient operation, fast wash cycle.
What we dislike: Limited 5-pound capacity per load. Requires some physical effort and stamina to wash several loads.
Our take: Think Gizmos' portable washing machine features a larger capacity and a quieter operation than other models. We like its independent and powerful spin compartment.
What we like: Holds up to 12.5 pounds of clothing per load. 20-minute wash and rinse cycle. Very powerful spin cycle removes a lot of water, saves on drying time.
What we dislike: Short drainage hose limits placement. Some reports of components wearing out prematurely.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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