Washing machine (laundry machine, clothes washer, or washer) is a machine designed to wash laundry, such as clothing, towels and sheets. The term is mostly applied only to machines that use water as the primary cleaning solution, as opposed to dry cleaning (which uses alternative cleaning fluids, and is performed by specialist businesses) or even ultrasonic cleaners.
To clean clothing it is necessary to rub and flex the cloth to break apart solids and help the soap penetrate. At first this was done by pounding or rubbing the clothing with rocks in a river, and later developed into the corrugated wash board. In Roman times a person would whiten clothing by rubbing it against a rock while letting soap lie on it. The soap was made of animal fat.
Clothes washer technology developed as a way to reduce the drudgery of this scrubbing and rubbing process by providing an open basin or sealed container with paddles or fingers to automatically agitate the clothing. The earliest machines were often hand-operated. As electricity was not commonly available until at least 1930, these early machines were often operated by a low-speed single-cylinder hit and miss gasoline engine.
Because water usually had to be heated on a fire for washing, the warm soapy water was precious and would be reused over and over, first to wash the least soiled clothing, then to wash progressively dirtier clothing. While the earliest machines were constructed from wood, later machines made of metal permitted a fire to burn below the washtub, to keep the water warm throughout the day's washing.
Removal of soap and water from the clothing after washing was originally a separate process. The soaking wet clothing would be formed into a roll and twisted by hand to extract water. To help reduce this labour, the wringer/mangle was developed, which uses two rollers under spring tension to squeeze water out of the clothing. Each piece of clothing would be fed through the wringer separately. The first wringers were hand-operated, but were eventually included as a powered attachment above the washer tub. The wringer would be swung over the wash tub so that extracted wash water would fall back into the tub to be reused for the next wash load.
The modern process of water removal by spinning did not come into use until electric motors were developed. Spinning requires a constant high-speed power source, and was originally done in a separate device known as an extractor. A load of washed clothing would be transferred from the wash tub to the extractor basket, and the water spun out. These early extractors were often dangerous to use since unevenly distributed loads would cause the machine to shake violently. Many efforts have been made to counteract the shaking of unstable loads, first by mounting the spinning basket on a free-floating shock-absorbing frame to absorb minor imbalances, and a bump switch to detect severe movement and stop the machine so that the load can be manually redistributed. Many modern machines are equipped with a sealed ring of liquid that works to counteract any imbalances.
What is now referred to as an automatic washer was at one time referred to as a washer/extractor, which combines the features of these two devices into a single machine, plus the ability to fill and drain water by itself. It is possible to take this a step further, to also merge the automatic washing machine and clothes dryer into a single device, but this is generally uncommon because the drying process tends to use much more energy than using two separate devices; a combined washer/dryer not only must dry the clothing, but also need to dry out the wash chamber itself.Alliance Laundry (Speed Queen)
Antonio Merloni under the brand names Asko, Ardo, Philco and Servis
Arçelik - including the brand names Beko, Blomberg, Altus and Arctic
Bosch - including the brand names Siemens, Neff, Balay, Profilo and Constructa
Candy - including the brand names Hoover and Zerowatt
Dyson (no longer produced)
Electrolux - including the brand names AEG, Frigidaire, John Lewis, Rex, Tricity Bendix, Zanussi and Zoppas
Fagor - including the brand names Brandt, Thompson, Ocean and SanGiorgio
Fisher & Paykel
GE - including (in the United States) the brand name Hotpoint
Indesit - including the brand names Hotpoint-Ariston, Creda and Scholtes
Mabe - including the brand names Easy, Centrales, Dako, Moffat
Schulthess - including the brand name Merker
V-Zug - including the brand names Sibir and Gehrig
Whirlpool - including the brand names Admiral, Amana, Inglis, Kenmore, Maytag, Magic Chef, Estate, Kirkland and Roper
Role in women's liberation
The historically laborious process of washing clothes has at times been labelled "woman's work" and women from all classes tried to find ways to get relief from doing laundry.
In 2009, L'Osservatore Romano published an article entitled "The Washing Machine and the Liberation of Women" that was controversially meant to demonstrate that the washing machine had done more for the liberation of woman than the contraceptive pill and abortion rights, which are often associated to Women's Day. The article shocked Italian feminists and provoked criticism from Opposition MP Paola Concia. A study from Université de Montréal also presented a similar point of view to that of L'Osservatore.