Washing machines replaced wash boards long ago as the preferred way of cleaning fabrics. The two types available today are top loading and front loading. The original machines were top loading and they are still popular today in countries outside of Europe, but front loading machines have become the most popular within Europe. Front loading machines are also popular with people who have difficulty lifting heavy loads, and with people who want to conserve water.
Top loading washing machines have an inner and outer bowl to hold the water and clothes, and an agitator to move the clothes around. Modern machines use a direct drive system to move the agitator and spin the inner bowl, without the need for a heavy gearbox and clutch. They can get out of balance easily if the load shift to one side of the bowl, and they need to be stopped and the load redistributed by hand.
The main problem with top loading washing machines is that they use a lot of water, because the items need to float in the bowl so the agitator can move them around. While most machines have controls that allow the water level to be changed to match the washing load, they still use more water than a front loading machine. Bulky items such as quilts are difficult to wash because they tend to float on the water surface.
Front loading washing machines only use enough water to keep the items wet. There is only one water level and it is maintained automatically by the machine. The items do not need to float in water to move around, and there is no central agitator because gravity keeps the items in the bottom of the bowl. Instead, there are several paddles fixed to the bowl that tug at the fabric as the items tumble around, stretching the weave so that the water and detergent can clean it.
Some people have difficulty using front loading washing machines that are sitting on the floor. It is easier for them to handle the washing load if the door is just above waist height. Generally, front loading machines use less water and power than top loading machines and have a lower running cost as a result. They are popular with people who live in apartments because they can be mounted on the wall to save space.
Other features to look for when comparing washing machines include the capacity, wash cycles, water temperature control, energy rating and adjustable feet. The capacity should be just large enough to handle the average household washing load. There should be a range of wash cycles from delicate up to heavy duty, with a minimum of three water temperature settings. A high energy rating can save a lot of money on power bills if the machine is used frequently. Adjustable feet are essential is the machine needs to be balanced on an uneven floor.
Washing machines have their share of problems too. If a valve becomes stuck open in a top loading machine, water can overflow the bowl and flood the floor. Front loading machines can leak if their door seal cracks, and they can also tear clothes that become caught in the door. A machine can behave abnormally if one of the many sensors they use fails. Corrosion is also a problem with washing machines because of the presence of water near unprotected metal parts.
In recent years, washing machines have been developed that also work as a dryer. They are more expensive than a regular washing machine but much cheaper than buying both separately. They save a lot of space and are very attractive to people who live in apartments. They are also good for people who have difficulty moving heavy loads around.
The retail price depends mostly on type and capacity. A front loading machine with a small capacity is usually the cheapest, while a top loading machine with a large capacity is often the most expensive. New washing machines typically cost between three and six hundred dollars, while second hand machines can be bought for considerably less.