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Monday, September 13, 2010

How do you wash clothes in space?

This question didn't come via e-mail, but popped up in a phone conversation with a friend: How do you wash clothes in space?

Traditional washers and dryers depend on gravity and centrifugal force to move clothes through the water or air. Newer washer/dryer combos use condensing dryers that... get complicated. The basic idea is the air is recycled and there is less energy used to heat or cool the clothes.

It's a nifty idea, but it still relies on gravity for the tumbling and tossing.

So how do clothes get washed in space?

All we have to go on is the International Space Station (at least until the new spaceport in Arizona opens up). A quick trip through the land of Google and the answer is... You Don't Wash Clothes in Space!

Oh my!

Astronauts pack several sets of clothes for their trip, and bring back to the dirty laundry to get washed. Just like some college students I know...

But that doesn't help a sci-fi writer at all!

How are our characters going to get clean? If the Space Defense Force goes flying off on a three year mission, well, let's just say showers are crucial to human-alien relations. The answer combines ship design, water procurement, and artificial gravity. Watch this space, I'll have the research done soon!


  1. Hmm, interesting question! Can't wait to hear the answer.

  2. The various sci-fi series that I read either don't mention it, recycle them, or use a subharmonic frequency to clean clothes.

    Personally, I like the idea of placing clothes into a slot and having them returned clean and folded. Easier than doing it the long way. However, I do wonder how the clothes are cleaned and folded.

  3. Awesome question. I would never have thought of that. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

  4. I had been wondering about that, especially on a show when they mention only senior officers get real water showers.