handwash stand

Here is an idea whose time has come for refugee and IDP camps, as well as schools, homes and recreational uses. We  may later divide the page, to focus independently upon the bladder pump used, and upon its various uses. Other uses include shower, fresh water pump for boats, etc.

assembly instructions

variations on a theme: foot operated shower

Steve washing his hands


One of the problems that frequently present themselves, whether in schools, refugee or IDP camps, public places, field hospitals, or homes in emergencies, is how to provide suitable hand-washing facilities. In IDP camps housing the people driven from their homes by the 2010 earthquake in Port au Prince, one of the highest priorities for the NGO community, was to install suitable latrines, and most especially to equip them with hand wash stations, to prevent the spread of disease. Raised tanks with valves mounted in their sides presented their own problems; how to fill them, failure of the valves, reluctance of people to handle the valves, and very importantly, how to dispose of the enormous amount of waste water spilled from them. The following very efficient hand wash station appeared to be an idea whose time had come.

foot pump

A simple bladder pump is made with motorcycle inner tube, or for a tougher version, with 3″ lay-flat flexible hose. Water in a barrel or other convenient tank needs to be only slightly higher than the level of the bladder to inflate it by gravity.

complete unit

Intake and outlet valves, consisting of simple 1/2″ check valves, allow the bladder to pump water to an elevated sprinkler head. All the connections are made with simple 1/2″ or 5/8″ garden hose. The sprinkler head is a threaded PVC end cap perforated with a 1/16″ (approx. 1.5mm) drill. About seven holes are sufficient. A basin made from the spout end of a 5 gallon potable water bottle makes a very attractive receptacle to catch the waste water, and a 2″ pipe carries the waste water to a soakage pit. We have used various methods to build the stand, including welded steel easily built in street-side welding shops in most of the world, weighted plastic buckets with appropriate holes and clamps to support the sink and riser pipe, or even attaching the entire assembly to a wall or tree. This assembly has several advantages:

  • The water storage tank (commonly a barrel with outlet near the bottom) can rest on or near the ground, which makes it much stabler and allows it to be filled much more easily.
  • Installation is faster because there is no need for a platform to elevate the water storage tank.
  • The hand washing is more effective, as both hands are free to scrub.
  • The user does not need to handle the control. It is operated by foot pressure.
  • The flow of water stops as soon as the user raises his or her foot, including during soaping and scrubbing.
  • Children like to use it.
  • A great deal less water is needed to get a very good wash. An open faucet commonly uses two to four times as much water even when used responsibly, and many times more than that again when opened wide or left open due to reluctance to touch the control handled by other users.
  • Last but not least, far less drainage is needed. In a camp of 5,000 to 40,000 people, you might be amazed how significant this is. Wash water can absolutely swamp the sanitation site. Muddy ground and standing water are not only breeding grounds for mosquitos, but also allow pathogens from foecal contamination to survive and be spread.