What is the process of cleaning clothes in a washing machine?

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Stages of a Washing Machine

A washing machine provides a series of programs to choose from, commonly referred to as cycles, which are detailed in the owner’s manual. Each program consists of stages with adjustable times, speeds, and temperatures. Each stage is also known as a cycle. For this article, cycle refers to the individual stages, while program is a combination of those stages.

The following are some of the cycles available on most washing machines:

  • Wash: Add water to a specific level, dispense any detergents or chemicals, agitate the load for a set amount of time, and drain the water.
  • Rinse: Fill the machine to a certain water level, agitate the load for a set amount of time, and drain the water.
  • Spin: Spin the basket at high speeds for a set amount of time with the drain open, so that centrifugal force removes most of the remaining water.

These cycles make up some of the most commonly used programs, identified by their unique features:

  • Cotton, linen, or normal: Average cycle lengths and higher spin speeds
  • Permanent press, casual: Average or slightly slower spin speeds
  • Colors: Cold wash and rinse temperatures
  • Quick or speed wash: Hot water and shorter wash cycles
  • Delicates, hand-wash, wool: Cold water wash and rinse, slower spin speeds or no spin at all
  • Presoak: Pause during the wash cycle for a set amount of time between filling the machine with water and starting agitation
  • Bulky or heavy: Slower spin cycle
  • Sanitize: Hottest water available during the wash cycle

Certain program details, such as water level and temperature, may be adjusted manually on some washing machines. High-end models may also feature sensors that automatically adjust the water level, cycle length, and spin speed based on the load’s size and bulk. Review your owner’s manual to explore all of your program and cycle options.

Sanitizing Laundry

Even when washing machine-safe items are washed, they may not always come out clean. Remaining dirt or stains may be present, or detergent may be trapped in the fabric fibers. One significant concern when doing laundry is eradicating germs. A high-temperature wash and rinse may not be sufficient for killing all of the germs in your clothes and linens. You can eliminate most germs by using one of the following: a liquid chlorine bleach that contains at least 5.4 percent sodium hypochlorite (such as Clorox or Purex), a quaternary disinfectant (like Roccal or CO-OP Sanitizer), a phenolic disinfectant (such as Lysol or Pine-Sol), or a concentrated pine oil disinfectant that contains at least 80 percent pine oil. [source: Wright]

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In

  • Can You Save Money With Energy-Efficient Appliances?
  • How to Use Steam to Wash and Dry Clothes
  • The Inner Workings of Clothes Dryers
  • The Benefits of Energy Star Certification
  • What You Need to Know About Hybrid Appliances

Sources of Information

  • Campbell, Edward A. “How to Repair Washing Machines, Clothes Dryers, Refrigerators, Vacuum Cleaners, Fans, Mixers, Toasters and Other Home Appliances.” Fawcett Publications. New York, New York. 1957. pp. 59-121.
  • Consumer Energy Center. “Clothes Washers.” California Energy Commission. 2010. (Sept. 26, 2010)
  • Energy Star. “How a Product Earns the ENERGY STAR Label.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. (Sept. 26, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_how_earn
  • “Owner’s Manual, Washing Machine, WM2487H*M.” LG Electronics. pp. 13-19.
  • Van Name & Co. “Household blessings! … The Celebrated Patent Union Washing Machine. And Clothes Wringer Combined. …” Advertisement from 1863. American Antiquarian Society and NewsBank, Inc. 2005. (Sept. 26, 2010)https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/8145361
  • Webb, Pauline, and Suggit, Mark. “Gadgets and Necessities: An Encyclopedia of Household Innovations.” ABC-CLIO. 2000. pp. 306-310.
  • Whirlpool. “Cabrio, Automatic Washer, Use & Care Guide.” Whirlpool Corporation. 2006. pp. 11-18.
  • Whirlpool. “Why is HE High-Efficiency detergent the only type of detergent to use in my washer?” Whirlpool Corporation. 2007. (Sept. 26, 2010)
  • Wright, Susan. “Getting Clothes Clean.” College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University. 2001. (Sept. 26, 2010)http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_c/c-503.html


1. What is the basic principle behind washing machines?

Washing machines work on the principle of combining mechanical and chemical actions to remove dirt and stains from clothes. The mechanical action involves the movement of clothes around the drum, while the chemical action involves the use of detergents to break down the dirt and stains.

2. How does the drum of a washing machine rotate?

The drum of a washing machine rotates with the help of a motor. The motor drives a belt or a gear that turns the drum. Some washing machines also use magnets to rotate the drum.

3. What is the role of water in washing machines?

Water is the main carrier of the detergent and helps to distribute it evenly throughout the clothes. It also helps to rinse away the dirt and stains that have been loosened by the detergent.

4. How does the detergent work in washing machines?

The detergent contains a combination of chemicals that help to break down the dirt and stains on clothes. The surfactants in the detergent help to lift the dirt and suspend it in the water, while the enzymes break down the proteins and other complex molecules in the stains.

5. How does the washing machine control the water temperature?

The washing machine has a thermostat that controls the temperature of the water. It can either heat the water or cool it down, depending on the selected wash cycle. Some advanced washing machines also have a sensor that detects the temperature of the water and adjusts it accordingly.

6. How does the washing machine distribute the detergent evenly?

The washing machine has a dispenser that releases the detergent at the right time during the wash cycle. Some washing machines also have a pre-wash cycle that allows the detergent to soak into the clothes before the main wash cycle begins.

7. How does the washing machine remove water from the clothes?

The washing machine has a spin cycle that rapidly rotates the drum to remove excess water from the clothes. The centrifugal force created by the spinning drum pushes the water out of the clothes and into the drain.

8. How does the washing machine prevent clothes from tangling?

The washing machine has a mechanism called an agitator or an impeller that moves the clothes around the drum in a specific pattern. This helps to prevent clothes from tangling and ensures that they are thoroughly cleaned.

9. How does the washing machine prevent damage to delicate clothes?

The washing machine has a delicate cycle that uses a slower spin speed and gentler agitation to prevent damage to delicate clothes. Some washing machines also have a special drum design that reduces friction and wear on clothes.

10. How does the washing machine remove stubborn stains?

The washing machine has a stain-removal cycle that uses higher water temperatures and longer wash times to remove stubborn stains. Some washing machines also have a steam cycle that uses hot steam to penetrate and dissolve stains.

11. How does the washing machine save water?

The washing machine has a water level sensor that detects the amount of water needed for each wash cycle. It also has a load sensor that detects the weight of the clothes and adjusts the water level accordingly. Some washing machines also have a water-saving cycle that uses a lower water level and shorter wash time.

12. How does the washing machine save energy?

The washing machine has an energy-efficient motor and a programmable controller that optimizes the wash cycle for energy savings. It also has a spin cycle that removes more water from the clothes, reducing the drying time and energy consumption of the dryer.

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