People use too much water. Showers and washing machines consume the most: 40 gallons for a 15-minute shower and 15 gallons or more for a load of laundry. Also, the large capacity of the average washer means families won't do laundry till they have a full load, making the machines less useful. "If coffee spills on your favorite T-shirt, you have to wait for the next cycle," says Ahmet Burak Aktas, one of the Washit's four student designers from Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Fusing a shower cabinet with a small washing machine and letting them share recycled water addresses both issues.
Rather than change the shower ritual, the design team decided simply to give dirty water somewhere to go besides down the drain. Thus Washit uses a closed plumbing system to collect gray water from the shower and recycle it to a small washing machine embedded in the structure. Water passes through a filtration system and a UV unit (to kill bacteria) before pumping into the storage unit, where it can be used again for showering or the laundry.
1. Rings of LED lights on the edge of the translucent shower cabinet signal when users should change the filters.
2. A heater brings water to the right temperature for both the shower and the washing machine.
3. The washing machine can hold about 3 pounds of laundry. On public units, users would load their clothes from inside the Washit.
4. Two water pumps help circulate clean and dirty water around the system.
5. A tank collects used water and holds newly cleaned water for reuse.
The Washit's water-cleaning technology, which includes carbon, organic, and chemical filters, proved effective during primary tests at removing filth and unwanted particles from the used water. Its relatively small washing machine—about 20% the size of the industry standard—is also quieter and proved more stable than average washers during tests.
- Drying clothes. Without a built-in dryer, Washit users must hang-dry their clothes or turn to a separate appliance. "We think an integrated dryer would be a perfect complement," Aktas says. "But in today's technology, drying clothes takes more time than desired."
- Design for public use. The Washit could be a boon to patrons of gyms, music festivals, and airports. To create a Washit suitable for such venues, the team is tackling small design problems such as finding a place for a towel rack and making the shower unit less transparent.
The team is exploring cutting-edge technologies such as Airwash, which uses pressurized steam to knock out bad odors in fabric, and experimental techniques such as using a vibrating drum instead of a rotating one to cut down on noise when washing clothes. Once the prototype is ready, the team will begin seeking manufacturers, with the goal of bringing the Washit to homes in 5 to 10 years.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.
Slideshow Credits: 01 / Illustration by Bluueye; 02 / Illustration by Bluueye; 03 / Illustration by Bluueye; 04 / Illustration by Bluueye;