How A Washing Machine Works

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The motor drives the spinning tub and agitator during wash, damp dry and spin cycles.


You've probably noticed the tub you load your clothes into has hundreds of small holes. These holes allow water to flow through to an outer tub, which is solid and holds the water. In top-loading machines, there is usually an agitator in the middle. The agitator pivots clockwise and counterclockwise - about three-fourths of a revolution - plunging clothes through water to wash them. Clothes keep moving from the top of the tub down to the bottom and back again. This motion, along with friction caused by clothes rubbing together, allows detergent and water to reach every nook and cranny of your load and loosens soil.

Front-loading machines do not have an agitator. Instead, the drum rotates on a horizontal axis just like your dryer. With no agitator, clothes are pushed through a small amount of water in the bottom of the drum to get them clean. This waving effect, along with friction caused by clothes rubbing together, cleans the clothes. You can usually fit more clothes into front loaders since there's no agitator in the drum, and washing is easier on your clothes.

Washing Machine Motor and pump:

The motor drives the spinning tub and agitator during wash, damp dry and spin cycles. The pump removes water from the tub and lifts it out to a drain or laundry tub. The pump may be attached to the drum drive motor directly or with a separate pump belt. On some newer machines, the pump is a separate unit with its own drive motor, which is directed by the timer or control circuit board at the appropriate time to drain the machine. Most pumps have a limit of how high or at what volume they can push water from the machine.

In one direction, the motor works through a clutch and/or a transmission to spin the wash tub at speeds from 400 to 800 rpm in top loaders and 600 to 1500 rpm in front loaders. This spinning forces water, by centrifugal force, out of clothes and into the outer tub. This water is then pumped out to a drain. Most top loaders have a two direction or reversing motor. In the opposite direction, the motor works through the same clutch and transmission to move the agitator back and forth during the wash cycle. Modern front loaders usually have a variable speed reversing motor but no clutch or transmission since there is no agitator to move back and forth. The spin and wash speeds are controlled through circuit boards, which speed up or slow down the frequency of the voltage supplied to the drive motor.

Timer and selector switches:

The timer switch is usually behind the largest dial on the main control panel. It can be either a mechanical device, much like a simple clock, or completely electronic with a digital readout.

The timer runs the washing machine in a pre-determined pattern. It provides electricity to all washing machine components at the correct time and for the correct length of time.

Selector switches or knobs vary from machine to machine. Most washers have one or several switches or knobs on the control panel in addition to the timer/start switch. These enable you to adjust certain settings, such as water temperature, spin speed and timer cycle. For more information about Washing Machine Motor :