Top Load Versus Front Load | How Washers Work

Basically there are two types of washing machines in use today, the frontloading or horizontal access washer, and the old standby top loading washers. Obviously the basic function of a washing machine is to take dirty clothes, wash them thoroughly, and spin as much water out of them as possible. Removing as much moisture as possible from the clothing, cuts down on the amount of time that a dryer has to operate. This is one of the reasons that front loading washers are becoming more and more popular. Not to mention the fact that the manufacturers are pushing them because they are less expensive to manufacture in most cases. Also the market is demanding more front loading washers. Because a front loading washer does not use a transmission, and has less mechanical parts, it can spin the clothing to remove moisture much faster.

Front Loading or Horizontal Access Washer
A front loading washer has a wash / spin basket that spins horizontally. The clothes are put in and removed from the washer by a door located on the front. Most front loading washers today use variable speed motors, either an alternating current motor, or a direct current motor. This allows the manufacturer to vary the amount of voltage that is delivered to the washer motor to be able to control the speed of the motor. Mostly in the case of the front loading washer that has a DC motor, the washer manufacturer can design the washer so that it tumbles in both directions. This is a key feature in the event that a front loading washing machine gets out of balance and starts to vibrate. With a DC motor, the manufacturer can stop the spin basket, and rotate it in the opposite direction in an effort to distribute the clothing more evenly. In fact, this is a very common problem with front loading washers. They tend to vibrate, especially when on a pedestal, due to the fact that the center of gravity is higher. The more serious problems with unstable or vibrating washers, are those that are installed on a weak floor. Front loading washers that operate on a solid concrete floor have less issues with vibration.

Top Loading Washers
A top loading washer is a washer where the clothes are put into the wash basket by lifting a lid on the top. This has been the standard for many years in the United States. But of course this is starting to change as washer manufacturers switch over to front loading washers. With a few exceptions, a top loading washer has a transmission that is driven by the main motor. The motor is either attached to the transmission using a belt, or a heavy duty flexible coupler. In most cases with top loading washers, the main motor runs in one direction to turn the transmission attached to the agitator, and in the other direction to spin the clothes in the basket. There are some top loading washers today that operate using a different mechanism. These washing machines do not have an agitator inside the basket and use a plate in the bottom of the basket, known as the nutator, to move the clothing around. In recent years the reliability of this type of washing machine has come into question.

Washing Machine Timers and Electronic Controls
All types of washing machines must have a control mechanism to ensure proper operation. In the past a washer timer was the standard, but in more recent years electronic controls are what control most washing machines. A washer timer is a mechanical device enclosed in a metal or plastic housing. On the outside of the housing in most cases, is a motor that turns gears that operate cams, used to open and close switch contacts within the timer to control the loads within the washer. When we say loads we mean electrical loads, such as the fill valve, the washer motor, and the motor and pump assembly. Most washing machine manufacturers today are using the more dependable, and in most cases less expensive to manufacture, electronic controls to control the loads on the washing machine. An electronic control is kind of like a mini computer that uses low voltage to energize coils on relays, to open and close contacts completing the circuit to the loads.
Washing Machine Pumps
All washing machines use at least one pump to drain the water at the end of the wash, and rinse cycles. A washing machine pump is sometimes attached directly to the motor, or is operated by a belt. More commonly today though a washing machine drain pump will have a separate motor attached to it. Again this cuts down on the mechanical parts necessary to manufacture the washer. A lot of front loading washers today have pumps with an access port in the front, so that you can remove debris.