Today's Washing Technology
For thousands of years, people beat their clothes against rocks and scrubbed them on washboards. Fortunately, today we can toss our laundry into a machine and turn it on, getting results with a few minutes of work that would have taken hours of hard labor 200 years ago. The Vatican newspaper has even declared recently that the washing machine did more to liberate women than any other development in the 20th century, including the pill and the right to work.
So what is it exactly that a washing machine does to make your clothes so white and bright? Sure, there's the detergent and stain remover, but it's the washing machine that really does the trick. There are two basic types of washing machines in use today, divided by where you put in the clothes: top-loading machines and front-loading machines. This article covers front-loading washers and how they work.
Front-loading (or "horizontal-axis") machines are often found in laundromats or commercial laundry facilities and use gravity to move clothes in and out of the water. These washers are becoming more and more common in homes because they use less of everything: less water, less power and less detergent. The horizontal tub, which consists of an inner drum that is perforated to allow water to drain through and an outer drum that holds the water, lets gravity do the work of agitating. During the wash cycle, the inner basin spins at a low speed, moving clothes from the bottom to the top and back again.
After the wash cycle, the inner drum of a front-loader spins at a speed of several hundred revolutions per minute (RPMs), using centrifugal force to wring water out of your laundry. The inner drums of front-loading machines usually spin at a higher speed than top-loading washers, giving you drier clothes and translating into less time needed in the dryer.
Since most of the power a washer uses is directed at heating the water, using less water means less power, as does reducing the time to dry the clothes you wash. Less water also means less detergent, and less chemicals going into the waste water. It even improves the length of life of your clothes since there is no agitator twisting and pulling them.
See For Yourself
The U.S. Department of Energy website suggests a simple experiment, using a jar and some old rags or clothes you can cut up, that you can try to see why front-loading machines are so efficient. Check it out in the resources section below.