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How Do Washing Machines Work?

July 14, 2023

Imagine hand washing your clothes manually – it’d be incredibly tedious and time-consuming.

Fortunately, washing machines are a thing so we don’t have to do that. Just throw in your clothes, add some detergent, and it’ll automatically work its magic. That way, you’ll have time to do more important things, like spending time with your family.

But have you ever wondered how a washing machine works? How they’re able to wash the dirt and grime out of your clothes?

Because that’s what we’ll be going over in detail below. Keep reading to learn more!

History of Washing Machines

The first washing machine was invented in the 1850s – that’s more than 150 years ago! Unlike the ones we’re used to today, it was powered by a hand crank. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the first electrically powered washer came out.

Fast forward to 2023, and washing machines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For example, there are front load washers and top load washers. There are also stackable washer and dryer combinations, which are essentially two appliances in one, that help save space in the laundry room.

Now, let’s get to the main question – just how does a washing machine work? How do they wash your clothes? Keep reading to find out all about it!

The Different Parts of a Washing Machine

Different washing machines have different features. They do, however, have the same basic components, which are responsible for washing your clothes.

The Drum

how do washing machines work drumThe inner drum is the part of the washing machine that holds your clothes during a wash cycle. They’re typically made of stainless steel, porcelain, or plastic and are perforated with holes so that water and laundry detergent can go in and out.

There is also a second outer tub outside of the main washer tub that contains the inner drum. Not only does it support the inner drum but it also prevent the remaining water from leaking into other parts of the machine.

The Agitator or Impeller

The agitator is located at the center of the drum; its main purpose is to move the clothes around so that water and detergent can clean the clothes during the wash cycle.

That’s not all, the agitator rotates and helps break down dirt particles by spinning and rubbing the clothes against each other.

Impellers, on the other hand, use a small disc or cone that rotates to move and clean clothes. Because of this, they tend to be more gentle on your garments.

While they’re both effective for getting your clothes clean, agitators tend to be better at removing stubborn stains.

A top load washer can have an agitator or impeller while a front load washing machine typically has an impeller.

Drain Pump

The drain pump allows dirty water to be removed from the washing machine after a wash cycle. It’s usually located at the bottom of the washer.

Water Pump

The water pump isn’t visible as it’s located inside the washer. Its main function is to circulate water during the rinse cycle and to drain the dirty water once the final spin cycle is complete.

Water Control Valves

The water inlet control valves can be found near the water inlet point. The way they’re designed, they will open and close depending on how much water is needed and the size of the load.

Circuit Board

The circuit board is the “brain” of the washing machine and is responsible for all the washing functions carried out by the washer.

For example, it controls the water levels when you wash clothes. Not only that but they’re also responsible for performing tasks such as spinning, rinsing, and washing clothes.

Heating Element

The heating element is responsible for heating up the water when running a warm or hot water cycle.

How Do Front Load Washers Work?

Front load washers are gentler on your clothes since they don’t use an agitator. Rather, they rely on gravity to move the clothes around, which also reduces the amount of water and detergent that you need to use.

how do front load washers workDuring a wash cycle, the bottom of the inner tub fills with a small amount of water. The clothes are then moved through the water and cleaned.

There are also paddles on the inside of the drum that move them in and out of the solution; this helps remove soil and dirt.

Because this type of movement doesn’t require the garments to be immersed in water all the time, they use much less water compared to top-load models. More specifically, they reduce water use by 50 percent.

The water level is also the same no matter how full the washer is. Even if you’re washing a larger load, it will maintain the pre-set water level.

After the wash cycle, the washing machine drains the water and your clothes are good to go.

How Does a Washing Machine Work – Top Load Washers

Top load washers, also known as top loaders, are different from front load machines in that they have a propeller-like agitator inside the drum that moves clothes through the water.

Ultimately, it’s this top-to-bottom movement that cleans the clothes by forcing water and detergent through the fabric.

Some to-loading machines also have a fabric softener dispenser at the top of the agitator.

How Do High Efficiency Washing Machines Work?

High efficiency washers are designed to use at least 50 percent less water compared to traditional washers.

how do high efficiency washing machinesNot only that but they also use less energy and are capable of washing more clothes (bigin one go (larger load size) than regular models. At the same time, they have just as much cleaning power as regular models.

Unlike standard top-loaders, they have an impeller at the bottom of the drum, which rotates on a horizontal axis.

Because they use less water, the clothes that move in and out of the soapy water create more suds compared to normal washing machines. That’s why they require the right detergent – ones that are specifically formulated for HE washers.

The way they’re formulated, they produce fewer suds so you won’t have to worry about them leaving residue on your clothes.

If you use regular detergent in a HE washing machine, it will produce too many soap suds and that can affect its performance. Not only that but the remaining detergent will also transfer onto your clothes. Not only that but it can also cause the washing machine to overflow.

That’s why it’s so important to use the right detergent if you have a high-efficiency model.

One benefit of top-load HE washing machines is that they don’t require a rubber seal like front-loading models. This means they’re less likely to trap moisture and develop odors.

Not only that but they also have a pair of bearings, rather than a single bearing on the side, which helps to reduce wear and tear.

How Do Impeller Clothes Washing Machines Work?

Impeller washing machines are a type of washer that uses an impeller- a low-profile, disc or cone-shaped device, to move clothes through the water.

This creates a gentle tumbling motion, which helps to remove dirt and soil from clothes without damaging the material.

The impeller’s gentle motion also helps circulate water and detergent throughout the drum, which makes it easier to remove stains. At the same time, it prevents the clothes rom getting twisted and tangled during the cycle.

How Do Portable Washing Machines Work?

how do portable washing machines workPortable washing machines are small and compact compared to traditional models. Despite their small size, they work just like traditional washers in that they also have an outer drum and motor.

The only difference is that they’re much smaller, which means that can only clean small loads of laundry.

Many models also come with built-in wheels and handles, which makes them easy to carry around. They also have faucet adapters so that you can easily hook them up to any faucet- whether it’s at home or outdoors.

Cleaning Your Front Load or Top Load Washer

Like all household appliances, your washing machine requires regular maintenance to keep it in tip-top condition.

This means cleaning it once a month with an appropriate cleaner. It doesn’t matter whether you have a front load or top load model either – you still want to clean it regularly.

The best way to do that is by using ACTIVE Washing Machine Cleaner tablets. Not only will they clean the washer tub but they will clean other parts too, including the filter.

All you have to do is add one tablet directly to the whole drum and run a normal wash cycle. The tablet will automatically break down (even if you’re using cold water) and clean the various surfaces. Plus, it’ll eliminate odors as well.

Knowing How a Washing Machine Works – FAQs

How do top load washers work?

how do impeller agitator washing machines workA top loading washing machine typically has an agitator at the center of the drum, which moves your clothes through the soapy water. In doing so, it’s able to remove dirt and grime from the fabric.

Does a front load washer have an impeller or agitator?

A front load washer will typically have an impeller, which makes them gentler on your clothes, compared to a top load washer.

What’s the difference between a rinse cycle and a spin cycle?

A rinse cycle draws fresh water and uses it to remove excess soap or leftover dirt from your clothes. A spin cycle, on the other hand, helps to remove excess water from your garments (you can choose the spin speed that you’d like)

Does the water temperature matter when you’re using a washing machine?

how do washing machines work which cycleYes, the wash temperature matters. Hot water is generally the better choice for heavily soiled items (e.g. cloth diapers) as it’s capable of sanitizing and killing germs.

Cold water, on the other hand, will keep your clothes clean without using extra energy. It’s also better for certain types of fabrics. For example, it’s best to use cold water for cotton as heat may cause it to shrink.

Are top load machines or front load washers better?

Both have an electric motor and are effective at cleaning clothes. However, the latter will be gentler on your items.

Which wash cycle should I use?

It depends on what you’re washing. For example, you can wash study fabrics with a normal cycle (e.g. permanent press) whereas more delicate items should be washed on a gentle setting.

How Do Washing Machines Work – Answered

We’ve covered how all kinds of washing machines function. As you can see, there are several different types from high efficiency washers to agitator washers.

While they each have their own components, they all work to give you clean clothes at the end of the day.

Just remember, the water temperature that you use matters. So does the laundry detergent.

For those who want to keep their clothes in tip-top shape, we recommend ACTIVE Detergent. It’s powered by enzymes and is guaranteed to make your clothes clean and fresh each time.

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Picture of Ethan Clarke

Ethan Clarke

Ethan Clarke is a seasoned expert in appliances and household waste systems. Referencing his extensive experience as an appliance repairman, Ethan shares his invaluable knowledge through detailed maintenance & troubleshooting manuals. Ethan’s insights help homeowners understand and maintain their appliances efficiently, ensuring longevity and optimal performance. He’s here to provide practical, easy-to-follow advice for all your appliance needs.

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