Buckminster Fuller's fog gun

Remaining materials towards one day building and trying out a real fog gun (experiments)
created: 13 Feb 2009; modified: 27 Sep 2017; status: notes; confidence: unlikely; importance: 3

The Fog Gun: The pneumatic means of cleaning human body, dishes, clothing, etc., without plumbing’s pipe-din water supply. Designed, 1927; prototyped, 1949.1

The amount of water needed by the fog gun is less than a pint per day per family.2

The other major user (and thus polluter) of household water is washing. While in the Navy, Bucky had noticed that wind-driven fog kept the topsides of his ship - and his face - remarkably clean. It even cut grease. The Fog Gun is a device that uses a jet of compressed air mixed with a small amount of finely atomized water to blast the dirt off dishes, laundry, and, yes, people. For most purposes, no soap is needed.

An (allegedly) satisfying shower takes approximately a cup of water. I say allegedly, because I’ve never met anyone who has tried a commercial air-blast shower and liked it. (I don’t either.) When confronted with this lack of enthusiasm, Bucky replied that his Fog Gun used a finer spray, and performed as claimed. In any case, the idea is certainly a good one, as it saves both water and energy3. A bit of research and development should settle the argument, and might produce a useful product.4

012: I gave you the circumstances of the Beech Aircraft house last night and then gave you my resolve after that experience to commit myself now to shells, because I saw that a great many were inherently preoccupied in the direction where some success would really develop in what we call the autonomous package of the equipment you need to keep yourself clean and so forth to take care of your processes. I showed you the picture of the bathroom, but I did not have the picture, I thought I had it there, but I recall now that we didn’t look at it. Following those bathroom pictures, I came to doing experimental work with an idea that I had had in 1927, at the time of the Dymaxion House, and what I undertook to do real experimental work with occurred in 1948 at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and 1950 at Yale University Architectural School, two separate operations. Where we discovered that instead of having to have a wet bathroom, where you fill the tub full of the water, and have showers and so forth, there is something to be really learned about cleansing of the skin. Because I had had the experience in the Navy back in 1917, of being in the engine room and getting very oily and greasy, and coming on deck, and a very short while later without having anything to actually clean myself up, finding my hands very, very clean, and my face clean, and it was from the great wind, and there was fog, and somehow this wind and fog had a cleansing effect. I was amazed by it, without any soap or anything to help it.

013: So I was getting into what I called the fog gun experiments and I want to point out to you coming back to our experience with hydraulics, we have been thinking about hydraulics and pneumatics. The hydraulics were non-compressible, very much more dense than are the gases. Therefore, when we get to trying to be economical with water and cleaning, you could get into a needle point shower, get where the kinetics of you get high pressure but very fine little droplets, and then because it is non-compressible it really is a little bullet, and you get to a point where the needle-point shower will break your skin, and that is as far as you can go. And still you’re not getting very much greater very much economy with your water.

014: What I found you could do would be to take compressed air, and atomizing water into the compressed air, that the air itself then, very much less weight than the water, then the air being also pneumatic and so forth, it could really penetrate your pores, and under great pressure without hurting you at all. You could have really very powerful pressure of air on your skin and it doesn’t hurt at all. And I found that it could get into the pores, being really finer molecules than the water molecules, so you get into the pores and if I atomized some water and went in with it there could be a scavenging out of the pores and bring just really float the dirt away. So we went in for such experiments and you’ve seen human beings cleaning buildings, a great operation going, and it looks like they’re using steam up there it isn’t. It’s highly very high compressed air with water atomized in it. And it is cleaning that building just beautifully, doing just what I said. And if you take one of their kind of guns, you might think it would really hurt, hurt your hand it doesn’t hurt you. It might make your arm go like that, but it does not break the skin. So that we got into experiments of that kind at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and we went in for all kinds of study of the different kinds of dirt that occurred around Chicago, and we finally arranged to, we took a lathe, a machine tool lathe, and organized a camera, microscope and camera lenses looking at your hand with a great deal of light, so that your hand would not jerk and so forth we were able to make very beautiful enlarged photographs of the pores of what your skin looks like with dirt on it. And you take a picture of your hand, just the dirty first, and it looks like one thing, but it is completely different when you see it enormously enlarged. There will be literally little hunks lodged out here on the mountain top and so forth, and you can really see how this thing could really work, so we got into studies, then, of all the types of dirt that were known in the total Chicago area, that you might get into there. There are many types you can really classify those.

015: And, incidentally, a team of the students at the Institute of Design in Chicago went out and interviewed dermatologists in Chicago. In the first place we went to some of the local hospitals, we got names of what were considered the best dermatologists in Chicago, and they called on them, and everyone of them said the worst thing you could have for your skin is soap. So that was worth paying some attention to, we felt, and so if you could get away of cleaning our skin without use of the soap, it could be very, very excellent, and we found we could.

016: This came then to problems of different types of guns that you would use, and your supply. In cleaning those buildings they have enormous big engines going and very big compressors and so forth. And what would be the minimum that really would work in your home? Where you could take a bath for an hour out there in a room where you don’t have any drainage because there isn’t anything to drain. How you could really give yourself a very beautiful massage because this also massages the skin very well.

017: So that we got to the point where we discovered between the Institute of Design, and then later on at the Yale project, that it did require quite a high pressure. The usual automobile filling station where they have air compressors and tanks and so forth go up only to about 200 pounds pressure, and this needs to be at greater than 200 pounds. It does not really work well until you get it over 200 pounds. So this isn’t just something you can do with any compressor at all, you really have to have some good apparatus, the right apparatus. We found that the Ford Motor Company had developed a special gun for their air compressor where they clean engines, a greasy dirty engine comes in and its cleaned at no time at all with the gun, so that is the same idea, the same air compressor with a little water atomized going into it.5

The fog gun was an invention Bucky developed as a water saving alternative to the wastefulness of showers. While Bucky was in the navy, he noted that, while standing on the deck of a ship, in the spray and mist of the sea, nothing seems to stay on your skin for very long. Not even grease. He reasoned that it must have something to do with the abrasive action of the tiny water droplets, so he developed a device that atomized the water (like a perfume bottle with the little bulb that you squeeze to get perfume mist) and ejected it at high speed. He dubbed this the fog gun and found that it worked very well for cleaning a person off without soap (I’m not sure how he did hair, though) and without wasting a lot of water. (The gun could clean a family of four with 1 PINT of water!) -Pat Salsbury

Possibly related work:

  • Water conservation and the mist experience (The problem is), by Alex Morse
  • Nebia: Kickstarter

    Nebia is a fully self-installed shower system with an adjustable bracket and a portable wand that showers you with water like you’ve never experienced before. Nebia atomizes water into millions of tiny droplets with 10 times more surface area than your regular shower. With Nebia, more water comes into contact with your body, leaving your skin clean and hydrated all while using less water than a typical household showerhead. In fact, Nebia uses 70% less water than a typical household showerhead. For the average U.S. home, Nebia pays for itself in less than two years…Atomizing nozzles use pressure and geometry to control the dispersion and break up of fluid streams. These nozzles have been developed over the last century for specific technical applications, such as injecting fuel, powderizing metal, and efficient agricultural irrigation. While regular shower nozzles, called plain orifice nozzles, produce a straight stream of water with large droplets, our atomizing nozzles produce 100s of droplets dispersed into precise patterns. Using computational fluid dynamics software (CFX by ANSYS)-the same software used to study jet engines- we modeled the fluid mechanics and thermal properties of the water as it flows from the wall outlet into and out of the nozzles of Nebia. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has allowed us to validate engineering breakthroughs and optimize the Nebia showering experience for temperature and rinse-ability…Nebia’s greater dispersion of droplets yields a larger volume of air surrounded by-and intermixed with-warm droplets of water. Therefore, the warm droplets heat a larger volume of air faster and more efficiently.

  1. a (fore)word to the wise, Grunch of Giants, R. Buckminster Fuller

  2. pg 149, Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller & Kiyoshi Kuromiya; ISBN 9780312174910

  3. One wonders how the Fog Gun might save energy. Perhaps the economized water takes enough energy to clean, transport, and heat that the compression & atomizer save energy despite their own consumption?

  4. pg 31, BuckyWorks, J. Baldwin. ISBN 9780471198123

  5. Session 11 of Everything I Know; a series of interviews with Fuller