Buckminster Fuller’s fog gun

Remaining materials towards one day building and trying out a real fog gun
experiments
2009-02-132015-08-12 notes certainty: 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.

  • Jonas Gör­gen’s 6-noz­zle mist show­er/­fog gun shower con­ver­sion kit


  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↩︎