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Understanding how your washing machine works


1st Jan 2015 Home & Garden

Understanding how your washing machine works

Learn how your washing machine works, how to maintain it, and how to fix it when it breaks down with this useful guide.

The parts of the washing machine

All washing machines have the same basic parts: a watertight container called the tub; a drum, which fits inside the tub, to hold the washing; electrically operated valves to allow water into the tub; a heating element to raise the water temperature; an electric motor to turn the drum; a pump to drain the water; and a programmer to control the switching of the various components. Once you understand how the different parts work in the washing process, maintaining and repairing your machine is much easier.


How a programmer works

Washing machine programmer inside

The programmer is the brain of the washing machine: once you choose the desired setting for the types of fabrics in the wash load, the programmer takes over.

Every programme is a permutation of the same factors: the amount of water taken in via the inlet valves (which dictates how far the clothes fall when they drop off the top of the drum—and so how hard they hit the water); the temperature of the water and detergent solution; how long the drum turns for during the wash and spin sequences and how fast it turns.

The programmer also controls the operation of the pump to drain the machine at various points in the wash cycle.


What happens during a wash cycle

Inside of a washing machine

1. Setting the programme controller and switching on the machine activates the door interlock: once the door is shut it cannot be opened until the programme is finished.

2. As soon as the door is locked, the programme begins. The inlet valves are opened, allowing water to flow into the drum. On the way it passes through the detergent tray, collection powder or liquid.

3. The water entering the drum compresses air in a pressure chamber. this pressure is relayed along a flexible pressure tube to a pressure switch, which shifts the inlet valves at the programmed water level.

4. The heating element comes on raising the water temperature to the programmed level, On very hot washes, only the hot inlet valve may open. Thus reduces the time the heating element is on.

5. The motor is started, driving the drum at around 55rpm. This is the best speed for washing clothes: they stick to the drum until the top of a revolution then fall back into the detergent solution.

6. The motor is switched off and the pump turned on to empty dirty water from the tub via a lint filter and the drain hose. After a hot wash the cold inlet valve may open first to cool fabrics gradually and protect them from damage. 

7. The pump is switched off and the cold valve open to start the rinse cycle. A repeated sequence beginsL the tub filling to the programmed level, the drum revolving and the water being pumped out.

8. At the end of the final rinse, the spin cycle starts. The motor is switched on, revolving the drum at high speed. At the same time the pump is switched on to remove the water coming out of the clothes.

9. The motor is switched off. After a delay to allow the drum to stop spinning, the door lock is disengaged. The programme is now finished and the door can be opened.


Now you have learned the sequence of operations you can easily identify any problems you may be having with your washing machine. To troubleshoot your washing machine issues, click here.


Washing machine maintenance

Every month:

Inspect detergent tray

If washing powder clogs the tray because of insufficient water pressure or using too much detergent, clothes won't be cleaned properly.

Clean glass door

Limescale and other debris can allow water to escape between glass and seal.

Test door seal

If seal feels tacky, it's a sign that it is perishing and needs replacing.

Operate hose taps

A flood can result if either tap seizes in the open position and there's a leak in the hoses between taps and inlet valves.


Every six months

Clean lint filter

This coarse sieve catches bits of fluff, small coins and other objects. If it gets blocked, water can remain in machine and leak may occur

Empty catchpot

Machines with no lint filter have one of these to trap items left in pockets and other debris. If not emptied, their contents can be drawn into pump.

Examine inlet hose connections

Because these are in the back of the machine, a leak from one of them can go undetected, causing damage to floor and machine.


Cleaning detergent tray

Pull the tray or drawer right out to clean it and examine the recess too; on some machines, this can also become clogged with detergent


Cleaning the glass door

Dip an abrasive pad in warm water, without any detergent in it, and rub debris off glass, concentrating on the area that touches the seal.


Cleaning the lint filter

Open the access hatch on the front of the machine, undo the filter cap and pull out the filter assembly.Remove fluff and other debris, rinse and refit.