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  How Washing Machines Work

How a washing machine really works in real world use is key to diagnosing any problems that you might have with your washing machine and in this article we will show you what your washing machine should be doing and when. 

This will allow you to understand many things about your washing machine and why it may not work correctly, stop during the cycle or program and so on.

This is the most basic information that all washing machine repairers default to when they diagnose any washing machine problem even although even they sometimes get blinded by the science in them.

Regardless of the program that you select or washing machine that you have these general principals will hold true. Of course, there are a myriad of different methods to execute this and countless variations on the mechanics of how it is done but, the basic principals are constant.

  User Controlled Elements

Loading a washing machineThe following get shifted about depending on the user themselves and their own habits. It really isn't all that important what order these tasks are carried out in but, it is important that they are carried out correctly.

Do keep in mind that even if you have used a washing machine for years that the technologies used in washing machines themselves for the new lower energy use washers and detergent technologies have not stood still, even if your habits have!

Think on it this way, even although you have a TV let's say, that works in roughly the same way as one from twenty years ago, how it works and what it receives are totally different to the old ones. The same applies to washing machines and other appliances. The principles may remain the same but the execution changes.

All of these elements are under your control completely, the washing machine cannot affect them but, what you put in your washing machine and what you tell it to do can affect the results massively. A huge number of so-called faults are user generated through simple failure to understand some of these basic principles and, you will usually find that problems generated by a failure in any of these areas will not be covered by your warranty if you have one.

Just remember this is the bit you control completely and, if you get it wrong right at the start, it probably won't end well.

Put In Powder Or Detergent

Obviously the first thing that anyone will do is select the correct detergent for the laundry that you want to clean, you've read our guide on detergent powder right?

This is a key element in getting the washing done correctly and with no damage so please make sure that you are using the right detergent dosed properly or it can lead to problems such as a smelly washing machine, drain errors and all manners of issues.

Load The Washing Machine

Most people will then often load the machine up with laundry and you know how to do that don't you?

If you're not sure then please read the guide on loading your washing machine correctly and make sure you do not overload or you will damage your washing machine as well as cause items to be forced into places that they should not go and cause problems.

Make sure that you only put clothes in, checking pockets for anything that could cause a problem like coins, toys, nails, hair grips and anything else that should not be in your washing machine. Or, they will quite likely find their way into the drain pump, block it and prevent your washing machine from draining.

Program Selection

Next up is the program selection.

Again this is entirely in the user's hands to ensure that the correct program is used for the type of clothing being cleaned. Get it wrong and you risk damage to the clothes and possible damage to your washing machine.

Look at the care labels on your clothing as they mean stuff and are there for a reason!

Components in use:

  • User
  • Detergent
  • Laundry

  Start Your Washing Machine

Start your washing machineWhen you start your washing machine it will first do the equivalent of a pre-flight check for safety.

What it does is check that the door of the washing machine is closed correctly and that the door lock is energised. If this fails most modern washing machines will come up with an error of some sort or, simply halt right there.

The reason is that if the door lock is not engaged then there is a clear safety risk not only from people ripping their arm off by putting their hands in there but also from flooding as, if the door isn't closed water would just keep on filling in the machine, flooding out and flooding your kitchen. That isn't good so manufacturers prevent it from ensuring that there is a healthy dose of safety at this stage.

Once that is all okay we move to the next stage.

Components in use:

  • Main controller
  • Door lock

  Washing Machine Water Filling Stage

Next, once your washing machine detects that it is safe to continue, it will send power to the water inlet valves allowing them to open and water to come into the washing machine.

This is delivered by way of a tube or two to the soap detergent tray which allows the powder or detergent to be carried into the drum along with the incoming water.

The tub or drum starts to fill with water.

On most modern washing machines the drum will turn during this process to get the clothes wet and allow them to soak up water in order for your washing machine to achieve its fill level. This level and fill time will vary depending on the model of washing machine that you have, water pressure, the load size, how absorbent that the load is and so on.

If there is a problem here some machines might keep on filling until the overfill level is reached, then it will usually drain down and halt. Or your washing machine might sense a problem and simply halt. In any event, any problem that is detected will result in an error of some sort or cause your washing machine to just stop dead.

If your washing machine doesn't fill with water it will halt, usually with an error code on most modern washing machines. This can also happen if the water pressure is too low and your washing machine doesn't fill fast enough.

Often any issues with the motor will show up here as well with the obligatory error code or the machine aborting the program.

Once the level is reached you move onto the heating and washing phases.

Components in use:

  Washing Machine Heating And Wash Phase

Once the required water level is reached in your washing machine the heating element in the tub will be energised to heat up the water to the temperature selected either by the program selection or manually.

During this (most often) the drum will turn to agitate the laundry and the wash action begins.

If there is a problem with the heater and, it only has two states either it works or it doesn't, then most washing machines will do one of two things, either continue until the end of the cycle without heating or more commonly on recent models, stop and display an error code of some sort.

Once the temperature is reached which will have a margin of error of up to 10% or even 15% in some cheap washing machine models, the machine will continue to agitate the laundry for the time and at the speed dictated by the program that you selected.

If the temperature is not reached or it is exceeded then there is probably an issue with the wash thermostat or thermistor. Again, in most modern washing machines any problem with that part will lead to the washing machine either halting or displaying an error code or, both.

Components in use:

  • Main controller
  • Wash heating element
  • Wash thermostat or thermistor
  • Motor

  Rinsing Phase

Washing machine during the rinsing phase of the programOnce the wash phase is complete your laundry needs to be rinsed to get all the detergent out of your clothes.

As soon as the wash phase is done the drain pump is energised to drain away the soapy water and then your washing machine will fill with cold clean water to rinse your laundry with. The laundry is agitated in the cold water to rinse it out for a set period depending on the parameters set by the manufacturer and your program selection.

Keep in mind here that quick wash programs do a lot less rinsing than a proper wash program does!

This process is repeated depending on what program you use and what washing machine you have but, most normal cotton programs as an example, will rinse three times at least to get as much detergent residue as possible out of your laundry. Some washing machines will rinse more but that is rare to happen by default although some also have the option to select extra rinsing which is good for people with sensitive skin.

All things considered though this is a relatively simple process with your washing machine merely filling, agitating and draining until complete. But, on the final rinse, water is diverted into the fabric softener compartment to fragrance and soften the laundry if you use it.

There isn't really a lot to go wrong here.

Components in use:

  Washing Machine Spin Phase

After the final rinse is completed your washing machine will then move to spin.

This process means that your washing machine has to attempt to sort the laundry as best it can so that it is evenly distributed across the drum to prevent any imbalance. This is very important, especially so on high spin speed models (over about 1000rpm) as any imbalance can lead to excessive vibration and even damage.

Of course, how fast the laundry is spun will be determined in large part by your program selection and/or settings.

What will normally happen is that your washing machine will agitate to sort the laundry then ramp up to a moderate slow spin to check for instability and imbalance using feedback from the motor tachometric generator to do so.

If anything is out of balance then the program will abort in almost all cases.

While your washing machine spins the drain pump will run to clear away the water being extracted from your laundry.

The most common problems in this section of the wash program are an imbalanced load that causes the spin cycle to abort, a pump blockage that prevents your washing machine from draining or carbon brushes faulty in the motor.

Components in use:

  • Main Controller
  • Drain pump
  • Motor

  Wash Program Complete

Once complete the washing machine winds down and the door lock is released.

Components in use:

  • Main controller
  • Door lock

  Washing Machine Problem Detection

As you can no doubt see from the above, if there is a problem with any particular component then your washing machine will almost certainly halt and on more modern washing machine models, display an error code of some kind.

Of course this will vary from washing machine to washing machine in terms of how this is done exactly but, the above gives a general view of how every cycle runs.

We do quite often get people thinking that their washing machine has changed in some way, that it is doing something different in some way in terms of how it washes but the reality is that this isn't really possible. Of course it can happen but it is so incredibly rare as to be safe to discount from the get go when people have a problem because the machine is set up to do the same thing repeatedly. It just does the same thing over and, over and, over again.

What does change is what people put in their washing machine, every single load is different.

So when you get a problem with poor wash results, damaged clothing and so on it is really very important to first look at how the machine is being used and what is being used in it. Most often you will find that there is some strange additive, a change of detergent or incorrect program selection at the root of the problem and not the washing machine electrically or mechanically.

Your washing machine is unlikely to not work on a specific program as all the same components are used on each cycle. It cannot introduce smells, stains or anything else but users can affect these things.

Where there is an issue it will normally be abundantly clear that there is a problem because your washing machine just won't work at all and the above, as well as all the links to other articles to help you find the problem with your washing machine, should help you in trying to find out why.

tompatz
I agree to the last quotes, thanks. But I have a question, how about the "circulation pump" how does it work and at what phase this will engage.thanks in adavce

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