Back Button

What Is a Rotary Washing Machine?

Jeanne Young

When we think about washing machines, we immediately think about washing clothing. People have been washing clothing since before recorded history. In early civilization and until the advent of consumer washers, women often washed clothing in rivers or streams. However, clothing was not the only thing that people washed. When people began mining, they washed the dirt and mud from the item they were mining, which could include precious gems or metals such as ore.


The invention of the scrub board in 1797 freed people from scrubbing their clothes on a rock or merely swishing their clothes around in water. In 1851, hand-powered washing machines with wooden tubs were invented. H.E. Smith took that a step further in 1858 with the invention of the rotary washing machine.

Early Rotary Clothes Washer

The early rotary washer consisted of a hand-turned crank that rotated, or turned on an axis, a perforated cylinder inside a wooden shell. That allowed the water to be forced through the clothing inside the cylinder as someone turned the hand crank to rotate the cylinder.

Industrial Rotary Washer

Mining operators use a modern motorized rotary washing machine. For example, when mining for ore, it is necessary to wash away the mud and stone powder from the ore aggregate being mined. Therefore, it is placed into a rotary washer constructed for that purpose. Although a rotary washer for mining operations is much larger, it operates on the same principles as a rotary washing machine for clothing. The material being washed is placed inside a cylinder that is rotated.

Motorized Rotary Washer

Modern rotary washing machines for clothing operate on the same principle as the original, but an electric motor causes the rotary action now. Although the early rotary washing machines were loaded from the top, front loading rotary washing machines are now available. In addition, rotary washers are often called rotary drum machines. Rotary washing machines are often used in textile laboratories as garment washing/drying machines when performing tests on fabrics.