How do washing machines get clothes clean?

Washing machines have automated the task of washing clothes. All one needs to do is load the clothes in the machine and switch it on. The machine does the rest. You may have wondered how the washing machine works to churn out clean clothes. The working of a washing machine has been detailed in this article in the context of its various parts and their functions.

Inner and Outer drum or tub

The inner drum is the place in which you load the clothes after opening the lid or door. In new washing machines, clothes are dropped after opening the lid present at the top. In front loading models, the inner drum faces the forward direction and the clothes are pushed inside it after opening the front door.

The inner drum in a front loader washing machine rotates around a horizontal axis. The drum has paddles present along the edges to move the clothes about in the water. In the case of a top loader washing machine, the drum is mounted around a vertical axis. But the drum doesn’t rotate itself, and the clothes are turned in the water by the agitator present inside the drum. Water gets inside the inner drum through numerous small holes present on it in both top loading and front loading washing machines. The inner drum rubs the clothes against its sides and bottom and also with each other to force the dirt out from them.

The outer drum is larger as compared to the inner drum. The outer drum holds water during the washing cycle. Outer drum is watertight to prevent water leakage.


The electric motor housed in the washing machine powers the turning motion of the inner drum in case of front loading washing machine or the agitator in case of top loading washing machine. The electric motor is connected to the inner drum or agitator by a long rubber belt.

Heating element and thermostat

The thermostat measures the temperature of the water coming inside the washing machine. The heating element heats the water to the required temperature. Thus, thermostat and heating element are essential components to wash the clothes at the right temperature.


There are a total of three pipes in a washing machine. The two inlet pipes allow hot and cold water to enter the washing machine. The single outlet pipe lets out dirty water from the machine after the washing cycle is over. The pipes have valves that open and close as per requirement.

Detergent dispenser

The detergent dispenser is the component in which powdered or liquid detergent needs to be placed. Water pours over the detergent dispenser to get the detergent into the drum. The machine pauses as the detergent gets dissolved.


The programmer opens the valves to let hot and cold water in through the pipes and closes the valves when inner and outer drums are filled. The programmer switches on the thermostat if the water is not warm enough. The programmer rotates the inner drum or agitator to slosh the clothes in the detergent mix. After washing, the programmer opens the valves to empty the drums. A pump is also switched on to empty the outer drum. Thereafter, the programmer opens the valves again to allow clean water for rinsing the clothes. The clothes are rinsed by rotating the inner drum or agitator.

In order to dry the clothes, the programmer makes the inner drum rotate at high speed so that the clothes are flung about its edge. This causes the water present in the clothes to pass through the holes into the outer drum, thereby drying the clothes.

Finally, the pump is activated to remove water from the outer drum.

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