NarrowBoats & Washing Machines! What to Do?

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Living on a narrowboat can be challenging at times, what with all the small chores you need to do. Filling the water tank, doing engine checks before a cruise, wiping off your solar panels… I could go one 🙂 Add to that washing your clothes, and you may be starting to wonder why you bothered living on a narrowboat in the first place 🙂 So today I hope to give you some advice I have picked up over the years about washing machines and narrowboats.

Please note: throughout this article, any products I highlight can be viewed over at Amazon by clicking on the image.

What Type of Washing Machine Should I Get?

Marina Dwellers

If you are permanently in a marina or on a mooring with an electric hookup, the world is your oyster pretty much! You can pretty much buy any normal household washing machine. I would just buy one that is compact and energy efficient as far as washing machines go.

Just be aware that any time you are away from your land based electric hook up you will not be able to use your washing machine.

Take, for example, the Bosch washing machine I found below. Yes, this is an A+++ rated washing machine for efficiency, but it is still operating at 2300watts. Another naughty appliance that some boaters have and use for a cheeky five minutes here or there is a microwave. A typical microwave is rated at around 800 to 1000 watts and is running much less time than a washing machine! This is why I would only recommend a traditional washing machine if you are in a permanent mooring with electric.

Continuous Cruisers

I have seen some ‘crazy’ continuous cruisers trying to use normal washing machines on their narrowboats, but I would never recommend it. It will quickly turn into a power guzzling nightmare in my opinion.

Instead, there are several options I would recommend for people who are often on the cut and have a more limited amount of power available!

Breathing Mobile Washer

I have been using this Breathing Mobile Washer for many years and absolutely love it. You may look at the thing and wonder how the hell it works, but it is actually pretty simple.

You fill a regular bucket with your clothes and add water and your washing liquid of choice. Then use the ‘wand’ to pump the contents up and down in the bucket maybe 10 times or so. Leave for a few minutes, rinse out your clothes and then refill with fresh water and a little fabric softener. Leave for a while, then drain and hang up your clothes to dry.

To give you an idea, I live in a household with two people and we usually have to do around three loads a week with our regular bucket size. Of course, you can buy a bigger bucket if you would prefer. A lot of people are skeptical about this way of washing clothes, but I think it is perfect for a narrowboat. No electricity needed, cheap cost and much easier than other methods of hand washing clothes.

The only downside is that you don’t have any way to dry your clothes, so you will need a good amount of space to hang them up to dry. If this is something you worry about, I would couple this method with a compact clothes dryer rather than buying a full on washing machine.

One example is this 1200 watt (about half the wattage of the regular washing machine above) mini tumble dryer. This is still going to be tough to run when cruising the canals, but more doable than a full on washing machine.

An even better drying solution to match with the Breathing Mobile Washer would be a gravity clothes spinner. The one below claims to only use 30 watts of power per spin cycle. You can buy hand cranked clothes spin dryers, but all the ones I found online had horrible reviews, so this seems to be a better alternative 🙂

Leisure Direct Mini Twin Tub

Another option for continuous cruisers other than the Breathing Mobile Washer is the portable washing machine. The one below has a load capacity of around 3.6KG for washing and 2.5KG for drying. Their compact nature means they are one of the more low power options for a narrowboat washing machine, although they will still require some careful power management to not leave you powerless at the side of the cut.

Personally, these appliances are too cheap and plasticky for my liking, but I do know some boaters that swear by them.

Think Gizmo Portable Washing Machine

This portable washing machine below is similar to the one above, but is just a little more expensive and seems a bit less cheap and plasticky.

Any More Tips About Narrowboating and Washing Clothes?

The most important thing is that your waste water (or grey water) is going to be put straight into the canal. Therefore, you MUST use an eco friendly washing liquid and fabric softener. Otherwise, you are contaminating the canal for everyone else every time you do a load of washing.

What About 12v Washing Machines?

Good luck finding a 12 volt washing machine, they are much harder to find than even a 12v fridge!! Of course, this would be perfect for continuous cruisers, as they wouldn’t have to waste even more energy on the conversion process. But I am yet to find a decent 12 volt compact clothes washing device readily available!!

What About Laundrettes?

Using a good laundrette would save you all the hassle of having any kind of washing machine or device on your boat. These can be good if you are staying in one location and know a laundrette nearby, something that is hard to do when you are continuous cruising. Also, you might be surprised how much a laundrette would end up costing you if you used it regularly.

How Would I Wash Clothes on a Narrowboat?

When all is said and done, for me personally I would stick with the Breathing Mobile Washer and a bucket! Uses much less space, no power, and washes clothes well. I personally don’t mind having to hang my clothes up to dry, it just takes a little planning. Granted, this can be somewhat annoying in Winter!!

I know that a lot of other people would want the convenience of some type of electric washer, this is why I have provided some viable options for that. If you have your own experience of washing machines and narrowboats, I would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “NarrowBoats & Washing Machines! What to Do?”

  1. Hi There.
    I thought I would share my experiences of laundry appliances that I have bought/used in the past 8 years of being a liveraboard narrowboater.
    I ruled out of having a full size washing machine due to high power drain & the excessive drain on the water tank.
    I purchased a mini electric all in one washing machine with a 8kg load capacity which cost approximately £100. It was ultra fiddly, not capable of washing any more than a couple of small items at a time & the spin cycle was poor & laundry items were still dripping wet when spin finished & so had to be repeated. The machine was extremely noisy & because it could only wash such a small amount at a time (2 t-shirts or a pair of pyjamas & a couple of pairs of socks) I gave up on it as it was quicker & easier to wash such items by hand. Forget the idea of buying one of these machines if you want to launder items like jeans, bedding & towels.
    I then purchased a slightly bigger twin tub machine that came recommended which was capable of washing slightly more small items & had a better spin but it was also noisy & mine kept breaking down & so it had to be returned which was a nuisance to do & I requested a refund because I didn’t like it enough to have a replacement.
    My third purchase was a Breathing Mobile Washer which works really well, it doe’s a good enough job of cleaning your clothes & large laundry items but obviously it is very time consuming & hard work!!. I would chose it over the mini electric ones though.
    I am now lucky enough to be moored up (long term bankside) on the outskirts of a small town that has a launderette & so I just pay it a quick visit when needed which is a god send.
    On the upside, with camping etc becoming more & more popular there seems to be an abundance of new types & models of ‘mini appliances’ on the market which is good. It’s always wise to shop around & especially important to read buyers comments.
    Happy hunting & best regards.


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