How do washing machines work

The arrival of washing machines into Indian homes made a huge difference in lifestyle. People found that they had so much more time to do their other chores. Household help also found it easier to manage other tasks when relieved from the backbreaking task of washing clothes by hand. From the time they arrived until now, washing machines have evolved and there have been many models. What was once a huge appliance with two parts, one for washing and the other for drying, we now have a single compact appliance that does it all most effectively. 

How does a washing machine work?

Washing machine trends

To understand the workings of washing machines, we need to understand the many components and the mechanism of these appliances. 

A washing machine passes the detergent through the clothes to loosen the dirt. Then, it scrubs the clothes through friction as the clothes rub against each other using the walls of the drum as a washing board. The washing machine uses soapy suds to remove dirt and stains with the help of an agitator inside the machine. The washing is followed by rinsing to remove all soapiness. After this comes the spinning that extracts the excess water and helps to dry the clothes to the maximum level possible.

In effect, the drum in the washing machine fills up with water and draws the soap from the dispenser during the wash cycle. Similarly, water is taken in for rinsing through the holes in the inner drum. Each of the steps taken by the machine involves different components.

What are the components of a washing machine?

Types Of Washing machine

Know the parts of a washing machine:

1. Inner drum:

There are two drums in the washing machine. The inner drum is where you put the clothes that need washing. This drum moves a little, i.e., rotates when you touch it. The drum also has a number of small holes on all sides. The water flows in through these holes. 

2. Outer drum:

There is an additional drum that is not visible. This holds the water when the inner drum is operating its washing function. This outer drum is also watertight so that there is no water flooding the area.

3. Agitator:

Top-loading washing machines have an agitator in the middle that turns in clockwise and anticlockwise movements, agitating the clothes around in the soap.

4. Paddles:

You will find these ridges that are located on the edge of the drum and help in moving the clothes during the wash. 

5. Thermostat:

The heating element, also known as a thermostat, controls the temperature of the water. The temperature is based on your requirements and the fabric of the clothes you are washing.   

6. Pump:

The pump helps to remove the water from the drum after each cycle.   

7. Programmer:

The programmer with preset functions depends on your choice. They control the washing machine through all the cycles.  

8. Pipes and values:

The pipes and valves draw the water from the outlet and help in the entire process.  

9. Programs:

With the variety of fabrics that we use in all types of clothes, we need specific programs for each type. Programs include pre-wash, pre-soak, delicate wash, etc. gives us the option to choose what and how we want to wash. Each of these programs is set for optimal washing conditions for all our laundry needs.  

Types Of Washing Machines

semi vs fully automatic washing machine

The different types of washing machines include semi-automatic and fully automatic. While they both fulfil the same purpose of washing our clothes, there are clear differences in their appearance and functionality. Moreover, they all differ in pricing. 

Semi-automatic washing machines generally have twin tubs. One is for washing and the other is for drying. After the wash cycle, you will have to move the clothes into the dryer manually. The semi-automatic washing machine is cheaper because of this step in the washing cycle. 

A fully automatic washing machine, on the other hand, requires little to no effort from us. You simply put the clothes in and add the soap into the soap dispenser. Select the program you want and press start. That’s all it takes. The program starts with washing, unless you choose to pre-soak, and moves on to the rinse cycle before the spinner begins the process of drying. The time taken for the process is dependent on the program you choose and the type of clothes you want to wash. 

Among the fully automatic washing machines, there are front-loading and top-loading machines. Both models have all the features and functionalities required for laundry. 

Installing the washing machine

Before buying the washing machine and installing it, you would need to decide where it will be placed. Plumbing work will be a big part of installing it. This is especially so in the case of fully automatic machines as they will need a continuous water supply. 

Once the electric and water supply is assured, you can install the washing machine in the most appropriate location. 

How do semi-automatic washing machines work?

Semi-automatic washing machines also work on washing and drying. But, they need the hose to be connected, add the water, and move the clothes to the drying tub after the washing cycle is over. You also need to drain the washing machine after each wash.

How do fully automatic washing machines work?

fully automatic washing machine working

Fully automatic washing machines make the entire washing and drying process a smooth operation with minimal manual intervention. The only task left for us is to add the clothes, add the soap, and start the program. We only have to remove the clothes from the washing machine after the spinning cycle. We must ensure that we don’t overload the machines so that the clothes can freely move around in the soap and water. 

How do top load washing machines work?

Top load washing machines have a vertical drum. They have a door that can be lifted up for the opening. Clothes are loaded from the top and clothes floating in the water once the drum is filled. The machine may have an agitator or an impeller. The mechanical energy works on agitating the fabric and the thermal energy are derived from the temperature of the water. The chemical reaction is from the soap that washes the clothes. 

How do front load washing machines work?

A front loading washing machine has a door in the front. The door opens outwards and the clothes are put into the machine. The soap dispenser is above the door. Once the door is shut properly, you can press the start button to run the washing machine. During the spin cycle, clothes are pushed up and fall down due to gravity. The dry air flows through the clothes as they fall and that is how the drying cycle works. 


1. Why do washing machines need so many programs?

Washing machines can be complex appliances. They come with many features that are programmable. These programs are set in the control panel. These programs allow the three main functions to work properly – agitation, temperature, and the length of the wash cycle.

The agitation is to be set according to the type of clothes – delicates, sturdier clothes, heavily stained garments, synthetics, etc. The temperature is set so we can wash clothes at different temperatures. It also helps us save energy even as it helps in removing stains and cleans the garments. There is a default degree beyond which the temperature cannot be set. 

The other features in a washing machine include a digital display, delayed timer, load detection, and child lock. These additional settings are for programs that make the washing operation seamless and efficient. 

2. How does an inverter washing machine work?

A girl using top load washing machine

An Inverter controls the frequency of the electrical current that passes into the motor. The frequency allows the washing machine to operate at variable speeds. The inverter can vary the speed to the most optimal level using the least amount of power.

Inverter technology works in the same way that a car’s accelerator does. Pressing the accelerator gives more fuel to the engine and increases the speed; and when you release the accelerator, there is less fuel and less speed.  Similarly, the inverter works optimally based on the wash load, thereby saving electricity.

Essentially, inverters have sensors that detect the amount of power needed for washing. 

3. How washing machine timer works?

The timer in the washing machine has small contact switches that are activated by a rotating cam assembly, making them open and close. The timer controls all the functions of the washer. The contacts in the timer control the timer motor with the control boards being computerized. 

4. Which washing machine gets clothes the cleanest?

The LG 8 Kg inverter fully automatic washing machine is on top for getting the cleanest clothes. The load capacity of 8 kg is suitable for a small family of 4 or 5 members.

5. How does a washing machine rinse clothes?

Once the clothes are finished with the wash cycle, the soapy water gets drained. When the last bit of soapy water is getting drained, more water gets pumped into the washing machine. This fresh water gets into the drum through the holes in the drum and starts the rinsing cycle.

The rinse cycle sprays and spins at intervals to remove the soap suds and detergent from the washer. The final rinse cycle ensures that all soap has left the clothes and it is completely ready for the spinning cycle that dries the clothes.

How washing machine motor works?

Most washing machine motors work using AC induction. The older washers had brushed motors. But, the modern washing machines are electronic with inverter motors.

They optimize electricity consumption based on washing needs. They are quieter, have fewer vibrations, and are steady. The components also have less wear and tear and can last longer. The inner drum is connected to the gearbox which is attached to a metal frame housing the motor.  

How do portable washing machines work?

Portable washers have an inlet hose connecting to the tap through which water flows into the machine and an outflow to drain the water after each cycle. The hose must be connected properly to the machine leaving little room for any leaks. The tap connector has a screw-on and quick-release nozzle. By depressing the quick-release valve to remove the screw-on nozzle. The threads of the nozzle must be aligned correctly with the threads on the tap. 

The drainage hose has to be placed into the sink securely so that the floor doesn’t get flooded. The tap can remain on through the entire washing cycle and can be set to either hot or cold water. Portable washing machines work easily with any nearby electrical outlet. Once you plug it into the socket, you can switch the machine on and it will start filling with water. 

Portable washers don’t have separate soap dispensers. So, the detergent must be added directly into the drum, when the water is running. The hose can be disconnected at the end of the cycle to let the last drops of water drain into the sink.
Portable machines extract as much water out of the clothes as possible during the spin cycle. But, the clothes will still need to be air-dried. 

Wrapping Up

Understanding how washing machines work helps to understand your washing needs. It also helps you become a discerning shopper when you go to buy a washing machine as you will know the right questions to ask. You can have your own checklist based on the usual load of clothes you wash daily and your budget.

The best fully automatic washing machine maybe a little more expensive, but it is worth it in the long term because it is energy efficient and will save you a lot of time and labor through the years. Advanced inverter technology, along with unique features provides more convenience and an easier lifestyle.

About the Author

Neha Pik

Neha Tiwari, Member at

Neha is the one who is aware of current trends and best practices in our desi community. She also helps and educates people looking for a solution to their problems via online. Her work has been published on countless blogs and notable magazines.