Laundry inside a front load washing machine

How does a washing machine work?

Whether you have a top load or front load model, your washing machine helps you take care of your family’s laundry. Use the following guide to learn how a washing machine works and compare the wash actions of different types of washers.

How a washing machine works: step-by-step

Once you choose a normal, delicate or heavy duty cycle, your washing machine provides the desired wash action, water temperature and amount of water needed to care for your laundry. Read on below to learn how a washer works step-by-step.

Laundry basket in front of an open Whirlpool® front load washer

Step 1. Wash cycle begins

Once you load your laundry inside the washer drum, close the washer door or lid and select a cycle and water temperature to begin the wash cycle.

Swash® detergent pouring into a detergent dispenser

Step 2. Load sensing

The washer senses the size of the load to calculate the optimal water levels and water temperature. For load sensing models with detergent dispensers, the washer also calculates the right detergent dose for your load size.

Clothes agitating in a wash cycle

Step 3. Washer spins and agitates laundry

Different washers use varying methods to loosen soils from your laundry. Top load washers use agitators or impellers, while front load options use a tumbling action. Both machine styles move the laundry back and forth to loosen soils. The spinning or agitating action combined with the cleaning power of your detergent helps remove soils and odors from your laundry.

Clothes going through a rinse cycle in a washer

Step 4. Drain and rinse cycle

After agitation, the washing machine drains the tub of the soiled water and spins the tub to remove any excess moisture. Then, the tub refills with fresh water for the rinse cycle.


Some washers offer additional rinse cycle options and even a setting for adding and rinsing away fabric softener. 

Clothes going through a drain and spin cycle

Step 5. Drain and spin cycle

Following the rinse cycle, the washer tub is drained before a spin cycle removes most of the remaining water from your laundry.

How do washers with impellers work vs. agitators?

Top load washers clean clothes using either an agitator or an impeller. Machines with impellers work by spinning and rotating a low-profile cone, fin or disc to gently rub clothes against each other. Agitator washers use a central post that rubs against clothes by twisting back and forth.

Select Whirlpool® washing machines offer a 2 in 1 Removable Agitator that lets you choose how you care for your family’s laundry. The agitator can be removed to wash clothes using the Smooth Impeller Option.

How do top load washers work vs. front load washers?

Top load and front load washers offer different types of washing actions to get your clothes clean. Front load washers use a tumbling action to loosen soils from garments, while top load washers use either an agitator or impeller.

Front load washing machines typically use less water but generally have longer wash cycles compared to top load models.

Whirlpool® top load washer Needed

How do HE washers work? 

HE stands for High-Efficiency. HE washers clean your clothes using lower water levels and HE detergent. HE detergent produces less suds than standard laundry detergent, helping it to work with the lower water levels of your HE machine.

How do washer dryer combo machines work? 

Washer dryer combination machines offer the functionality of two appliances in one. This combination machine functions like a conventional front load washing machine and dryer, using a tumble action to loosen and rinse away soils, it then uses a heated tumble dry like a conventional dryer.

Shop Whirlpool® washing machines

Whirlpool brand offers a selection of washing machines in various sizes, capacities and styles to help you find the right fit for your family's laundry needs. Explore select models with features like the Load & Go™ Dispenser that allows you to fill up to 40 loads worth of detergent1 and Pretreat Station that lets you soak, scrub and wash all in one place.

Learn more about laundry appliances with Whirlpool brand

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1. Based on an 8-lb load. Actual dispenser capacity varies by model.