WASHING MACHINES: The Evolution Of An American Dependency


The piles of clothes are mounting up. The laundr-o-mat is too far, too expensive, and just never know what kind of machines you’ll get. Will it steal your money? Or even wash the clothes? Why did the washer at home break down? It seems like the saying is true, good things aren’t missed until they’re gone.

Without their faithful appliances, people sometimes feel like a piece is missing from them. The convenience of the washing machine has really helped improve productivity in the home. What use to take a whole days work, before our modern technology, now can take only a couple hours or less. As a culture, us Americans have become dependent on many technologies, the washer being one of them.


The first washer ever used was the scrub board, used in the 17th century. We have come a long way since the days of hand washing and hanging clothes.  In the mid 18th century the modern washer begun to evolve into what we know today. An American named James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum, it was hand-powered. In 1858, Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine. It would be 50 years until the first automatic washer was invented. Over time washers begun having more features and technologies evolving into them.



These days, nearly all machines being sold nationwide are microchip controlled. The moving parts have also evolved. Although many machines look the same, the truth is there are many designs and patents out in the market. Sometimes different brands may look very similar, that’s because most likely they are the same patent. Companies around the world buy and sell patents to each other to increase revenues and market share. That can be an advantage for appliance techs. Gaining knowledge on one machine can gain you knowledge on hundreds. Appliances are like cars, there is the “Kia” and “Cadillac” of manufacturers.

The best thing to know as a consumer is that most machines will function the same if they are similar designs. What makes appliances more or less valuable are the functions, features, and sizes available. The interior functional parts will be nearly, if not identical, all to each other. From the cabinet (housing), to the motor. Parts may even be interchangeable in many cases. It is wise to research before attempting to use interchangeable parts. Although they may be almost perfect matches, parts sometimes differ in design by only small measurements physically and internally.  Electronic resistance, pressures, and temperatures can affect a washers performance. Higher end machines may be designed for higher temperatures or heavier loads. Newer machines may be built more efficient so internal parts may be designed to operate different. Valves may have sensors programmed for only certain machines.

Common problems faced by technicians are broken belts, inlet valves, pressure switches, lid switches and locks, transmission couplings and clutches, broken or clogged drain pumps, and in worst case scenarios, motors, transmissions, timers, and control boards. In recent years newer machines are becoming more costly to service due to the high cost of electronic parts, training, expertise, and in most cases travel required to diagnose and repair the machine properly.

beltBelts usually break from normal wear and tear or in some cases locked pulley systems. Many Whirlpool built machines do not use belts. An automatic direct drive system controls all cycles. A motor is connected to a transmission by a part called a coupling. When the motor rotates in one direction, the gears in the transmission rotate to make the transmission shaft agitate in the wash cycle. When it is time to spin the motor rotates the opposite way, making the transmission shaft rotate with the clutch in the opposite direction. The direct drive with transmission system has been one of the most desirable designs to work on by techs, but it’s becoming obsolete. Tougher regulations on energy efficiency have made manufacturers engineer more efficient appliances knocking old designs out of the market. Newer washers have a more modern direct drive system which doesn’t use a transmission, making them more efficient.valve

All modern washers have an inlet valves. This is the part where the washer hooks up hoses to supply water to the machine. These valves are controlled by a solenoid that opens it with a 110 volt electric current. Inlet valves sometimes fail due to being clogged by dirt and mineral deposits, and also due to other user related and design problems. Previous encounters here at CSA Appliance Sales & Service include broken valves due to cold freezing weather and during moves.

pressure-switchPressure switches are the components that control the water level on the machine. All washing machines must have a functional pressure switch to prevent it from overflowing. The pressure switch senses the water level by pushing air up through a very thin rubber hose as the water level rises. Once it gets to the selected temperature, it closes the electric circuit to the inlet valve and sends electric current to the main controller (timer or control board). This part is less likely to fail.lid-switch

Sometimes when a washer will not engage, lock, or begin its’ cycle, it can be the result of a
broken lid switch, latch, or lock. Older lid switches are more simple to diagnose than newer latches and locks in most cases. If the machine is not engaging, it could be because of a bad lid switch, latch, or lock. Proper diagnosis should be performed before replacing.

With advancement in technologies also comes advancement in problems, and a demand for qualified people to correct the problems. As old technologies are being replaced by new ones, the repairman is also having to take up new approaches to solve problems. Old issues are becoming more rare. Today’s technicians must not only be mechanically inclined, but also technologically inclined as well. What use to take a short amount of time can now take hours. Diagnostics of machines are becoming more complicated. Although most modern washers have on-board diagnostic computers, sometimes they cannot pinpoint specific problems.


The washing machine is certainly becoming a modern marvel. One day they will probably be remotely controlled like many other appliances these days. Keeping up with good maintenance practices can extend the life of machines, especially newer ones. For instance, front loading washers should be left open when not being used. Avoid spills on the electronics, and clean out pump filters if they have one. Following installation instructions is also important. Dryers should be properly vented and installed. Short vent hoses, and leaving at least a 6″-8″ space from rear wall will allow your machine to operate more efficiently. There is no way to really know how long any machine will last. The best thing to do is to purchase one that will fit your needs and budget. Doing a little investigating will certainly help in the process. If you ever need assistance with any appliance issue make sure to comment, subscribe, call, or e-mail CSA Appliance Sales & Services to help you out. Happy washing!

Keep calm, the laundry will get done.smiley

Reference: Mary Bellis. History of Washing Machines. About Money- About.com(2016, September 3). Retrieved from http://inventors.about.com/od/wstartinventions/a/washingmachines.htm

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