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When Was the Washing Machine Invented?

Updated on August 22, 2009

Before any kind of mechanical washers were invented, home washing was done in a wooden or galvanized tub. The clothes were rubbed on a corrugated washboard to force the water through and the dirt out. Then the wash was put through a wringer to squeeze out the excess water, and finally it was hung out on a line to dry.

One of the first home washing machines was made in 1858 by Hamilton Smith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This home washer was operated by turning a crank at the side that rotated paddles that were inside the tub. There was another early washing machine that imitated the scrubbing action of a washboard.

But these first machines were not successful. The clothes often became tangled, knotted, or torn. It wasn't until 1907 that a practical washing machine was developed that operated by motor. By 1912 nearly all makers of home washing machines were making them to be driven by electric power.

The tubs of the first washing machines were made of wood. Gradually, the manufacturers turned to metal: copper, galvanized steel, aluminum, and zinc. By 1961 practically all tubs were made of porcelain enamel, because such machines could resist the strong washing powders and all temperatures of water.

The agitator was developed in 1922. Most agitators consist of a cone with several fins at its lower end. The agitator moves the wash up and down and side to side. The fully automatic washing machine first appeared in 1937.

Most washing machines hold between three to four kilos of wash. They generally use about one hundred and fifty liters of water per wash, and the water temperature is usually kept between 55 and 70 degrees Centigrade.

The first successful home dryer was built in 1930. A combination washer-dryer was first put on the market in 1953.

A washing machine is a device for washing clothes and household linen. A modern washing machine is run by an electric motor. It contains a tub in which the washing takes place. The tub is loaded with the items to be washed, and detergent and water are added. The machine either agitates or tumbles the wash to clean it. The agitator type of washer, which is commonly used in the home, is loaded from the top. Its tub has a central vertical post with fins. This post, called the agitator, turns, alternating its direction, or moves up and down rapidly. The agitation churns the water, producing a scrubbing action on the dirty clothes.

The tumbler washer, the type used primarily in laundromats, is loaded through a door in the front. Its tub is cylindrical, with a horizontal axis of rotation. The interior of the tub has several fins that carry the clothes almost to the top of the tub as it turns, before the clothes drop or tumble back to the bottom. Most tumbler washers rotate in only one direction, but some alternate directions.

After the wash is agitated or tumbled for a period, the dirty water is removed and the machine is filled with fresh water for rinsing. The tub may be filled and emptied two or three times during the rinse cycle. The water is extracted from the load of wash by the centrifugal force created by a vigorous spinning of the tub. After the final rinse the tub spins for a considerable time, partially drying the clothes. With older washers the wet clothes have to be removed from the tub and put through a wringer in order to squeeze out the rinse water.

Most modern washing machines are automatic. They take the clothes through the wash, rinse, and water-extraction cycles automatically, after the clothes and cleansing agents have been put into the machine and the controls have been initially set. Semiautomatic washers go through essentially the same cycles but require a manual setting of the controls for one or more of the cycles. Nonautomatic washers require some handling of the clothes between cycles, and the operator must drain off the water and refill the tub with fresh water.

Some washing machines have special settings for different kinds of fabrics. These settings control the speed, water temperature, and length of cycle. Linens are cleaned best by very hot water. Woolens can tolerate only warm water and a short cycle to withstand damage, and synthetics can be washed easily in a short time. Some washers also incorporate a presoak cycle and a drying cycle.

The capacities of washing machines vary, but the most common washers hold from 8 to 12 pounds of dry clothing. Some commercial washers hold 25 pounds, and special rug washers have an even greater capacity. Most washers use from 35 to 45 gallons of water for each complete wash.

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      diane skurjunis 7 years ago

      I have a wooden hand agitated washer with a galvanized tub and a wooden frame. No ringer, but it has a drain hole at bottom. The writing on it only says LEADER on one end and moveable bottom on the other. Do you know anything about this washer?

    • Foz profile image

      Foz 7 years ago from Lichfield, Staffordshire

      Thanks this helped my daughter with some homework she had to do - great info. Foz

    • profile image

      steave  7 years ago

      when was this page posted ?

    • profile image

      young jeezy 6 years ago

      Can you tell me more about Hamilton Smith?

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      Lelo Parkes 5 years ago

      Hi there... thanks for the info... i need to find a picture of Hamilton Smith for a school project. Know where i can look?

    • profile image

      jamie 5 years ago

      i like this page it is well written and easy to understand and interpret

    • profile image

      sunny 5 years ago

      does anyone know when the washing machine was invented

      plz answer i have a project due in 2 weeks

    • profile image

      GDSDFGHJKJHGFDSDFG 5 years ago

      THANK FOR THE INFORMATION

    • profile image

      Bob 5 years ago

      awsome stuff! It helped me a ton. Who the $%$^%$^#$% is this nerd Hamilton Smith. He sounds like a total idiot. Right

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      zebra 5 years ago

      Im glad it was invented because we would stink and we would be washing our clothes in dirty pond or river water because PEOPLE LIKE TO LITTER AND IT IS NASTY AND MEAN TO THE EARTH. THERE IS A THING CALLED TRASH CANS YA KNOW

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