how does a washing machine work
How Does A Washing Machine Work?

Part 1 of 3

Every washer does the same four things: Fill, Wash, Drain, and Spin.

Let’s break that down.


The machine allows water into the dispenser to mix with the detergent. The amount and temperature are based on “Cycle Selection” and “Load Sensing”. The motor is energized briefly, and the time it takes to stop after is measured and timed. That tells the Main PCB about the weight resistance to motor function.

Wash Action:

This activates the detergent. And it is here that the enzymes and surfactants go to work to seek out, breakdown, digest, and then attach the protein-based stains to the water molecules. Other ingredients keep the colors from bleeding and the clothing smelling clean.


Water is removed, with the dirt particles, by a pump. Self-explanatory, right? But the pressure sensor is watching, too. The next cycle won’t begin until the water level drops… and it has “X” amount of time to get this done or “ND” appears on the display.


Once the water is out, it is “safe” to rotate the tub and “extract” dirty water from the clothing. The Inverter Board, through the complex and ingenious method of utilizing hall sensors and rotor magnets, monitors the bumpiness of tub rotation. At the same time, machine vibration is reported to the inverter board by a MEMS Sensor. As tub behavior smoothes out, the Inverter board sequentially increases tub RPM.

Seems simple, right? Next month, we will discuss what can go wrong, and why.

Part 2 of 3

Every washer does the same four things; Fill, Wash, Drain, and Spin. We broke that out earlier. But we skipped over the Chemistry of Laundry Detergent. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and wash our hands with a popular brand of detergent

Now, I am NOT advocating you do this. But once, in a desperate attempt to clean my hands so I could go to lunch after an old school, greasy, dusty, black clutch washer repair, I poured on the detergent.  Here’s what I experienced, and what I learned.

As I am swishing wet, slippery detergent soaked hands around in the sink, my hands are quickly getting warmer. Why?

Because the chemicals in the “Cold Water Power” detergent I am using heat up the water with motion… Exactly as they do during a washer’s wash cycle. And the detergent’s protein-based enzymes – which seek out, break down, and digest protein-based stains – are eating away the protein-laden dead skin on my hands (and maybe some live skin, too). And what’s this slimy feeling on my hands? That comes from the surfactants clinging to my skin and trying to carry away the dirt that appears to be there. (Remember, we humans are largely made of fats, protein, and water with protein being the key here).

Then a bell goes off in my head, as I recall so many customers saying:

“I don’t use (insert detergent’s name here) because I am allergic to it”, “…it irritates my skin”, “…it gave my kids a rash” and so on.

Could it be they were using too much detergent? The bottle says (it has) 128 fluid ounces, and also says (good for) 96 Loads. Third-grade math says that’s about 1.3 Tablespoons per load. So, could it be that the rest of the detergent stays in the clothing? If so, it could be reactivated during the normal process of perspiration and evaporation of moisture as the garment in question is being worn. Have you ever washed cleaned clothing, without detergent, and seen suds reappear as the water gets cloudy?

Forgive me for digressing, but follow me back to washing my hands. Funny thing is, my hands didn’t clean up well, because transmission oil and clutch dust are NOT protein-based stains; Nor is cleaning up after a greasy appliance repair job the everyday activity that laundry detergent is designed for. I’d need a citrus degreaser or oxygenating additive for that kind of dirt.

So, from all this information, we can surmise that Laundry Detergent, with its heat generating chemicals, protein attacking enzymes, and surfactants is a key factor in how clothing gets clean. Furthermore, we can also surmise that what does not come out “in the wash”, gets “baked on” in the clothes dryer – a big argument against using too much detergent.

Next, we will discuss “What’s that smell” when we open the pump.

Part 3 of 3

First, we discussed the four actions of a washer, then detergents, respectively. Now let’s

Breakdown why it’s so important to keep your washing machine clean, inside and out.

I own a 16-year-old, top load washer. It washes great because I maintain it. Every week it does at least five loads of clothing plus dog blankets, bathroom mats, garage rags, kitchen towels and anything else I can think of. Occasionally, I wash my raincoats, waders from fly fishing, snow pants, jackets, gloves and even sneakers in there. I work it like a plow horse. And it responds gracefully.

To add more pain, I have well water, with so much mountain iron and New England granite that I must change filters monthly. If I don’t, I’d have to shower in bottled water. It’s that hard.

But, I will swear on a stack of smartphones, when I open the washer to repair it, it is clean. That’s right. No odor, no mildew, no rust. The tub nut loosens, the wash basket comes out. Some small flakes of dried additives fall away. No leaks. No rattles. That’s it.

How is this possible?

Because I read the directions. Remember earlier: 128oz/96 Loads. I have a 5.0 cu. ft. the machine, but never use more than two ounces of detergent. And I add citrus or oxygenate cleaner to non-protein stains. I use fabric softener. Bleach is illegal in my home.

More importantly, (in my opinion), I also use (insert your brand preference here), Washer Cleaner and I do so monthly.

Granted, my machine was manufactured before special cycles to clean washing machines existed, (Self Clean), so I improvise. I use the hottest, fullest “towels” cycle, select “vigorous”, longest “presoak” available, and choose “extra rinse”.

The Washer Cleaner will eat the colors of clothing, so I am sure to rinse twice.

What’s the moral of the story? To keep a washing machine clean, odor free, and running great, you need to Read the Manual First, follow the directions about the amounts of detergent and other additives to use, and run the Self Clean cycle as directed to clean out residual detergent left over from previous loads. If your washer has a filter, check it regularly and clean it or change it as needed If you (or your customers) don’t take these steps, well, the residual detergent accumulates, the washer becomes less clean, and pretty soon there’s that odor and complaints that “the washer doesn’t clean my clothes like it used to”.

Makes sense, when you think about it. Regardless, it all comes down to Reading the Manual First and, of course, following the directions. That’s something every washer owner should know.


Jim Narsh, Samsung Regional trainer