Stonington firm develops portable washing machine
Stonington — When Howard Silagy was living in a small Manhattan apartment more than 30 years ago, he didn’t look forward to doing his laundry.
He didn’t have a washer and he hated the several-block walk to the laundromat. That sometimes left him washing his clothes by hand in the bathtub.
Over the past three decades, as the Stonington-based inventor has developed a number of products, including an athletic shoe lacing system and a hand exerciser widely used in physical and occupational therapy, he continued to think about developing a portable, non-electric washing machine.
“It annoyed me that nothing existed,” he said last week at his firm’s office and warehouse behind the police station where he employs a dozen people. “Being an inventor is recognizing that something you need does not exist or what does exist sucks. It’s like having an itch and needing to scratch it.”
That’s how he said he invented the hand trainer, because he needed to strengthen his hands to play the guitar.
Then, four years ago, the answer to his laundry dilemma came to him as he recalled a transatlantic sailboat trip in which he and his friends got their clothes “astonishingly clean” by dragging them behind the boat.
That gave him the idea for a piston/cylinder design that would generate the vigorous cleaning action needed for an effective portable washer. He said the portable washers already on the market lack the power to drive water through fabric, especially with jeans and sweatshirts.
“Once I had that principle, finalizing the design was rather easy,” he said. “Our goal was to create a truly excellent portable washing machine.”
The result is Lavario, a 15 discount and fee shipping, as well as on the Amazon, Walmart and Camping World websites.
Silagy has obtained or is in the process of obtaining patents on the device in the U.S. and 12 major foreign countries, such as China, India and Mexico, and will be exhibiting it again at the housewares show next month. Lavario is a combination of the Spanish words “to wash” and “river.”
The heavy-duty plastic washer consists of a handle attached to a basket with holes that is placed within a bucket, creating a piston within a cylinder. Water and soap are added to the bucket and clothes are placed loosely in the basket. The user then repeatedly pushes the handle down and pulls it back up, driving water through the clothes during both motions. A drain is opened to remove the dirty water and clean water is put in the bucket and the process is repeated for the rinse cycle. While not yet available, Silagy is working on an attachment that would squeeze the clean clothes for faster drying.
Silagy said there are a number of markets for the washer, such as people living in apartments, cabins and mobile homes that do not have a washer, those who are environmentally conscious and want to decrease their water and electricity usage, those who want a way to wash delicate fabrics, campers, those who live off the grid and people needing to wash clothes after a natural disaster.
He pointed out that one-third of people in the United States do not have a washer in their homes or apartments, and that figure is even greater overseas. In addition, he said, laundromats have become expensive and spending $20 a week to wash clothes is not uncommon.
Silagy said the product has surprisingly received interest from people planning for a doomsday event when there would be no electricity or other modern conveniences.
Silagy said he is donating a portion of the profits from washer sales and making units available to the nonprofit organization water.org, which works to provide safe water and sanitation to people around the world and was co-founded by actor Matt Damon.