1. Timeline Factors

Design & Prototyping:

According to Lee Maxwell, the author of Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines, no one really knows who invented the first washing machine. He says there is not enough information to prove who invented the first machine due to vague patent descriptions and late openings of patent offices in America but he says most development of the washing machine has taken place in North America (Maxwell,  2003). Some of the first machines may have been hand powered, animal powered and then gas engine powered. It wasn’t until electricity became common in urban centers in the early 1900’s that companies started mass producing washing machines. The first machines were often made with wooden washing tubs, an electric motor, and steel gears that made the washing tub turn. The gears were generally on the outside of the machine and quite dangerous, but with hundreds of washing machine companies in the United States, the machines continued to evolve and became much safer and more attractive. Today companies are still aiming to evolve the washing machine to meet the needs of the population to whom they are marketing (Maxwell, n.d.).

1907 electric washing machine.

1907 electric washing machine.

Today machines are primarily made out of such things as aluminum, iron, plastic, stainless steel and zinc coated steel. Since the 1960’s most machines in America have been fully automatic.  There are two main options in larger washing machines, either top loading or front loading. Both types typically consist of an inner tub that holds the clothes, a water hose and drain pump that allows water to come and go out of the tub, a motor that makes the tub rotate and powers the drain pump, a control board that acts like the brain of the machine, and an outer case that keeps everything contained. Modern washing machines allow the user to choose the temperature of water and cycle type then the machine does the rest of the work for you. The machine automatically locks the door and decides how much water to use to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Some new machines even have ways for you to connect to them from your phone, so you can start a load of laundry or advance it into the next cycle while you are not even home. The only thing they can’t do for you is load and unload your clothes!

Anatomy of a Washing Machine.

Anatomy of a Washing Machine.

When front loading machines first came out they were said to be gentler on your clothes and better for the environment than top loading machines. They were able to use less water and electricity, and their motors were typically smaller so they required less electricity to make them run.  In a front loading machine the clothes do not have to be covered with water. Instead the clothes are plunged through the water and detergent while rubbing against each other at the same time, turning in one direction and then the opposite direction (How It Works, 2012). Today many companies are making top loading machines that use less water and less electricity as well. These newer top loading machines use powerful water jets to soak the clothes both when washing and rinsing. They then use strong propellers to move the clothes around with a small amount of water and no agitator. Both types of machines spin faster than older machines so that the clothes come out drier. Prices and performance of new top loading machines and front loading machines are very similar, so it is just a matter of preference (Experience LG, 2013).

In other countries, especially developing countries, many washing machine manufacturers  are aiming to develop affordable products that meet the needs of the nationals (Esfahani, 2005). The mini-washing machines are popular in many developing countries. They are not fully automatic but they are more affordable and require less water and electricity. In China, the popular company Haier made changes in the filters in their machines when they found out people were using the machines to wash sweet potatoes as well as clothes (Liao, 1998).

Samsung mini-washing machine with separate containers for washing and spinning clothes.

Samsung mini-washing machine with separate containers for washing and spinning clothes.


Today the four leading washing machine manufacturers worldwide are GE, Kenmore (Sears), Maytag, and Whirlpool.  Companies such as Asko and Miele are popular European brands, Fisher & Paykel is a well-known brand imported from New Zealand, both LG and Samsung  from Korea are growing quickly, and Haier is the biggest company in China (Chatterjee, n.d.). The General Electric Company (G.E.) has factories based in America, mostly in the Mid-West, as well as in many countries overseas.  In 2011 they were said to have 219 factories in the U.S. and 230 overseas (Uchitelle, 2011). Similarly, most major companies have factories in the countries they are marketing to.

LG Factory in Europe.

LG Factory in Europe. © 2011 LG

In most washing machine factories production is done by a large staff of operators as well as machines. Machines will typically do the cutting and shaping of the metal parts of the washing machine as well as the welding. The operators will do such things as assembling the inner tub; attaching the motor, hinges, weights, pumps and tubes; connecting the control board; and putting it all together in the outer casing. They check it for stability and balance and may even do a test load of laundry before the machine can leave the factory (How It’s Made, 2008).


In the early 1900’s numerous American women were attending universities and pursuing careers outside the home. This era saw a 225 percent increase in the amount of women graduating from universities (Corbett, n.d.). It was then that washing machines started being mass produced. A popular phrase printed on many of the early washing machines, “SAVES WOMENS LIVES,” (Maxwell, n.d.) clearly shows to whom the companies were marketing. Today women are still being marketed by washing machine companies. Women no longer feel like the washing machine is needed in order to save them, but they are still the primary person who does the family laundry. Women are also responsible for roughly 70 percent of all household purchases and washing machine manufacturers know it (Silverstein,2009). The following washing machine TV ads all have woman as the central character of the commercial.

GE Washing Machine TV Ad    (©2013 GE).


Maytag Washing Machine TV Ad – Mom decides how laundry is done. (©2013 Maytag).


LG Washing Machine TV Ad  (©2013 LG).


The number one reason people replace household appliances in America is because their old one died, the second most common reason is to simply upgrade to a more energy-efficient appliance (Snyder, 2007). Washing machine manufacturers are competing to convince people that they should upgrade to a more energy-efficient machine. Many companies like LG, GE and Whirlpool are also starting to market high-end appliances, selling premium kitchen packages for $6,000 to $12,000. The following chart shows that wealthier families are more likely to own a washing machine than families with lower incomes, it is also assumed that wealthier families will have more to spend on high-end appliances.

Household incomes of families that own washing machines.

Household incomes of families that own washing machines.

LG fashionable washing machine.

LG fashionable washing machine.


More than eighty percent of washing machine sales are made from the leading four brands in America — GE, Maytag, Kenmore (Sears), and Whirlpool  (Consumer Reports, 2004). Roughly six years ago sales of major-appliances were said to be up 15 percent since 2003. Sales slowed during the economic crisis of 2008 but were said to have slightly increased at the end of June 2012. Some think the divide between top-loading machines and front-loading machines will lead to competitive prices and will lead to higher sales because many people are looking for a good deal on a washing machine. However, there are also many who prefer high-end washing machines and because of this, sales on high-end appliances are increasing at a much faster rate than lower-priced machines. (Snyder, 2007).

User Support:

When it comes to user support most companies you buy your machine from will offer you easy access to support needed to get your washing machine working again. You can call the companies support line if you are trying to troubleshoot the problem by yourself or you can call and schedule for a qualified technician to do it for you. The company staff will either help fix the problem or point you in the right direction. Local home appliance technicians may get training from specific companies so that they can be considered authorized technicians for that company. There are also numerous online companies like Repair Clinic that can help identify the problem and tell you what you need to fix it. They also have short videos to help make fixing your machine easy.


In considering a front loading machine or a top loading machine many warn that there is more maintenance needed for a front loading machine. Due to the door on the front of the machine the rubber gasket around the door gets wet and soapy every time you wash. It’s recommended that you clean the gasket after each wash or at least every six to eight weeks.  All energy efficient machines use less water than older machines so it’s important that you use laundry detergent that has a H.E. symbol on it, this kind of soap creates fewer soap spuds. With other soaps a great deal of residue will build up on the rubber gasket around the door of front loading machines and could ruin the gasket. It is also recommended that you use special products to clean the inside of your washing machine once a month (Lopez, 2011). Most washing machines also have a trap by the pump that catches debris and coins, it should be cleaned periodically (How It Works, 2012).


Piles of old appliances before getting recycled.

Piles of old appliances before getting recycled.

The average life expectancy of most washing machines today is roughly ten to fourteen years for most families. That is an estimated 5600 loads of clothes or 400 to 560 loads of laundry a year (Consumer Reports, 2009). When the motor of the machine dies, or another part of the machine stops functioning correctly, most people in America will upgrade to a better machine for just a little more money than fixing the problem. Most washing machines are 65% percent steel, which is recyclable along with other metals and some other parts. Most people will choose to let the store they buy their new washing machine from recycle their old one. If that is not an option people can look into Municipal pick-up of appliances and you may be able to get a rebate for recycling your used appliances in some states. Another option is to find a local scrap metal recycler (Energy  Star, n.d.). According to Energy Star “some items, like mercury switches that may be found in some pre-1972 models, need special handling by a qualified recycler” (Energy  Star, n.d.).

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