Washers & Dryers

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Washers & Dryers


NAICS: 33-5224 Household Laundry Equipment Manufacturing

SIC: 3633 Household Laundry Equipment Manufacturing

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-522401 through 33-52240215


Washing Machines

Washing machines are devices designed to clean apparel and other textiles. Washing machines use water, rather than chemicals, as used in dry cleaning systems. Put in the simplest terms, a washing machine agitates textiles that are submerged in water and in the presence of soap. Heating of the water used is often an important part of the process.

Top-loading washing machines agitate fabrics using a back-and-forth motion supplied by vanes. Front-loading machines tumble fabrics by rotating a drum. The textiles are raised and permitted to fall, thus imitating washing clothes by pounding them on rocks. Front-loading machines are less likely to tear fabrics and also require much less water. Because less water has to be heated, the machines consume less energy overall. For this reason front-loaders were becoming popular in the energy-conscious first decade of the twenty-first century.


Washing clothes has long been a labor intensive activity. Throughout history the methods used included wetting clothes and beating them on rocks, kneading them with the hands, or striking them with sticks. A board covered with some sort of corrugated surface—a wash board—was used later by rubbing the wetted, often soaped clothes against the board before thoroughly rinsing them. What all of these early methods have in common is that they combine water, often soap, and some form of agitation of the clothing. The agitation takes human effort.

Heating the water used to clean clothes has also been done throughout history. By heating the water, its molecular activity is sped up and the desired chemical reactions are aided by heat. The heating of water, of course, adds to the energy needed for the task.

In the seventeenth century Monday was the traditional day for doing the laundry in the United States and in Europe and tended to be a task that consumed most of the day. Water had to be boiled and moved to large tubs. The clothes, towels, and linens of the household were then soaked, soaped, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung out, and hung out to dry. Between loads, new water was often added after being heated and hauled to the wash tub. Finally, ironing and folding took place. As Martha Ballard, a well-known eighteenth-century woman, wrote in her journal on November 26, 1795, "A woman's work is Never Done as ye Song Says, and happy Shee whos Strength holds out to the End."

Early Automated Washing Machines

The laborious nature of the task of laundering clothes and linens provided a widespread motive for the design machines that could eliminate the human effort. Machines were being developed simultaneously in many places during the early days of the industrial era that dawned with the nineteenth century to try to apply new technology, especially electric power, to the task of automating laundering. The Automatic Electric Washer Company and Hurley Machine Corporation both began selling electric washers in 1907 while Maytag offered an electric wringer-washer in 1911. In 1947 Bendix offered the first fully automatic washing machine; by 1953 spin-dry machines overtook wringer-types in popularity.

The last wringer washer manufactured in the United States was made in June of 1990 at Speed Queen's plant in Ripon, Wisconsin. The major U.S. manufacturers today are General Electric, Maytag (Montgomery Ward), Speed Queen (Amana and Montgomery Ward), Whirlpool (Kenmore), and White Consolidated (Frigidaire and Westinghouse). Some of these companies have merged but retain their identities as brands.

Many models with many varying features are now available; however, with a few exceptions, only the controls are different. The only difference between the washer in your home and the top-loading washers in the laundromat lies in more rugged componentry and a coin-operated enabling device used in the latter.

Household washing machines are part of the durable goods sector, a sector defined as including items expected to last at least three years. According to Appliance Magazine washers have an average life expectancy of eleven years with a low-end life expectancy of seven and a high-end of fourteen years. In the United States, washers were present in 93 percent of homes in 2005, a saturation or penetration rate higher than most household appliances except that held by refrigerators (99%) and microwave ovens (95%).


The traditional method of drying clothes and linens after they were laundered was to hang them out to dry—or to hang them in to dry in winter. The desire to speed up the drying process originated even earlier than mechanical washing. Paul R. Liegey, an economist working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, included historical background on dryers in a paper on the Consumer Price Index. The first such machine appears to have been introduced by a Frenchman named Pochon in 1799 and was called a ventilator. Clothes were tumbled in a drum over a source of heat. The American J. Ross Moore invented clothes drying as we know it today. He patented clothes dryers using electric power and gas as sources of heat in 1936. Moore sold his patents to Hamilton Manufacturing Company, the first dryer producer who offered dryers as early as 1937. From those early times into the first decade of the twenty-first century, gas and electric dryers have been available. Just under four electric dryers were sold for every gas-heated machine in 2005.

Dryers dry clothes by tumbling them in hot air, the tumbling motion exposing the textiles to the air. Air pressure moving through the dryer carries off the moisture. Exhaust gases are typically filtered to capture small particles of fibers loosened by the process. In most households the outgoing air is directed out of doors.


General Indicators

The U.S. Census Bureau combines washers and dryers into the Household Laundry Equipment Manufacturing industry. Data on the shipments of the industry in sufficient detail to distinguish washers from dryers were available at the time of writing for the period 2001 through 2006, with only aggregate data available for earlier periods. In 2001 the industry shipped goods valued at $4.2 billion, in 2006 goods valued at $5.2 billion, producing growth in shipments at the rate of 4.6 percent yearly, outperforming the durable goods sector growing at 2.7 percent per year in the same period. Washing machines increased from $2.4 to $3.2 billion in this period, a growth of 6.4 percent, much better than its parent industry. Dryers increased from $1.5 to $1.9 billion, a 3.8 percent annual growth. Parts shipments and specialized devices were a small portion of the industry and decreased at a rate of 14 percent per year.

Figure 226 shows shipments of the laundry equipment sector for the period from 1997 to 2006, with details by three sectors shown for the period from 2001 to 2006. Worth noting is the generally upward trending pattern of the industry. It exhibited a brief downturn only between 2000 and 2001, showing that this industry, like most others, responds to recessionary trends. A brief recession began in early 2001.

Worth noting as well is that dryers are the smaller market segment. In 2005, the last year for which unit sales were available, 7.3 million dryers and 10.3 million washers were sold. For the entire period for which data were uniformly available, for every 15 dryers, 20 washing machines were sold. Unit growth rates were higher for washers (4.7% per year) than for dryers (2.3% per year). These patterns are explained in part by users upgrading washing machines, thus, replacing top-loaders with front-loaders and in part by the fact that dryers appear to have a longer life. In 2005, at the manufacturing level, the average cost of a washing machine was $324 and the cost of a dryer $258. Figure 227 displays shares of products in 2005. The graphic shows dryers subdivided by category because disaggregated data were available for that product category, but not for washers.

Foreign Trade

Imports and exports in this industry played a relatively small role in the period from 2001 to 2006, but trends were not favorable from the view-point of domestic employees of the industry. In 2001 imports accounted for 3.3 percent of apparent domestic consumption, in 2006 for 16.2 percent. In 2001 U.S. exports exceeded imports. In 2006 the situation had reversed with the United States experiencing a small trade deficit in the laundry machines category of $628 million. Apparent consumption is calculated by reducing domestic production by exports and adding imports. In 2001 apparent consumption was lower than domestic production because the country had a trade surplus, in 2006 apparent consumption exceeded domestic production because of a U.S. trade deficit.

In this period imports grew at a dizzying rate of 67 percent per year—signaling that jobs were being transferred to low-wage regions. Exports grew at a rate of 11 percent per year. If the trend in this period holds into the second decade of the twenty-first century domestic shipments will first flatten and then begin to drop.


Whirlpool Corporation

Whirlpool began as the Upton Machine Company in 1911, with the first home appliance it offered being the washing machine. The company is located in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and is the top producer of appliances in the United States. In 2006 the company reported sales revenues of $18.1 billion of which home laundry appliances represented $5.47 billion, 30 percent of the company's total revenues. Whirlpool's sales in the laundry category increased 8.7 percent between 2004 and 2005 and 23 percent between 2005 and 2006, indicating that the company was outperforming the industry as a whole. Whirlpool grew both from within and by acquisition as its list of major brands indicate. Whirlpool sells its products in the United States under Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Roper, Estate, Admiral, Magic Chef, Amana, and Inglis brands. Whirlpool also produces appliances for Sears under the Kenmore brand and operates under additional brand names in other countries as well.

AB Electrolux

Electrolux is the world's largest producer of household appliance and commercial kitchen machinery. The company began in 1901 as AB Lux, a maker of kerosene lamps (lux being the Latin for light), developed later as a distributor of vacuum cleaners, changed its name first to Elektrolux and then Electrolux to reflect its expansion beyond the Germanic language regions. In 2006 Electrolux was a global group formed of about 500 companies, with half of the company's sales originating in Europe, about 40 percent in North America, and 5 percent in Latin America. In 2006 the company's revenues were 103.8 billion Swedish Krona (SEK) valued at $15.1 billion. Frigidaire and Eureka are well-known Electrolux brands sold in the United States. Electrolux holds the third place market share in the United States in washers and dryers but is the top appliance supplier in Europe.

General Electric

In terms of market capitalization, General Electric (GE) was the world's second largest company in the latter years of the first decade of the twenty-first century and one of the largest players in the home appliance sector. According to Business Week in 2006, General Electric had the fourth most recognized brand in the world, the GE name itself. In that same year, and for the sixth year in a row, Fortune Magazine reported that GE ranked as the most admired corporation in the United States. With sales revenues in 2006 of $163.4 billion and major involvement in industrial products and systems of all kinds, the company's participation in appliances, however broad, is difficult to pinpoint precisely in dollars and cents. The company's Industrial segment represented $33.5 billion of revenues. Within that segment the Industrial & Commercial segment represented $14.25 billion. Appliances were in this subcategory along with lighting and industrial products. GE's product array in appliances includes refrigerators, freezers, electric and gas ranges, cooktops, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, microwave ovens, air conditioners, water heaters, filters, and softeners. In the United States GE is ranked second in market share both in washers and dryers.


With data based on Census Bureau reporting, the top six classes of materials or subassemblies required to make washers and dryers were steel sheet and strip typically delivered to producers in large rolls for cutting and shaping to specifications at the factory. This category represented nearly 10 percent of inputs. Electric motors to provide the required movement of fabrics within washers and dryers and to pump water in washers or to move air in dryers represented 7 percent of material consumed. Plastics of all kinds and electric transmission devices accounted for approximately 5 percent of materials costs each. Electronic resistors, capacitors, transformers, and similar components were 4 percent, and iron and steel castings 3 percent of inputs. The remaining two-thirds of materials and/or components used were also predominantly metal products (stampings, forgings, bars, shapes, and plates) made of ferrous metals or aluminum; other electronic devices including timers and controls; other plastics products such as hoses and belting, mineral wool insulation material, paints and varnishes; and paper and paperboard for packaging.

The types and categories of materials or components named above are routinely and readily available in industrial corridors around the world where such products as washers and dryers are produced. For this reason no unusual logistical constraints influence the industry.


Appliances have always been sold through a three-tier distribution system in which the manufacturer sells to a wholesaler, the wholesaler supplies a retail store, and the store deals directly with the consumer. In 2003 more than 10,000 household appliance stores were serving the public with retail sales of $15 billion. The number of retailers had dropped from a level of just under 10,500 in 1997, the shrinkage possibly the consequence of the entry into the market of major mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart, Kmart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sam's Club, Costco, and others. Sears, Roebuck and Company had always been—and continues to be—a major factor in distribution. Sears was acquired by Kmart in 2004 and thus the distribution channel for Kenmore brands became larger.

The impact of these mass merchandisers is much more visible at the wholesale than at the retail level. NAICS 42-3620, Electrical and Electronic Appliance, Television and Radio Set Merchant Wholesalers, is the industry in which the Census Bureau places wholesalers who deal with all manner of household appliances. In this industry 2,975 companies participated in 2003, down from 3,895 companies in 1997. While the retail sector's company population declined 5 percent, in the wholesale sector the population decreased by 24 percent. Whether in categories like washers and dryers or in categories like television sets and radios, mass merchandisers have gained dominance and their presence impacts independent wholesalers.


Washing machines and dryers are sold to three markets: commercial laundromats using coin-operated devices, institutional markets, and the household market. Institutional markets include hotels, hospitals, group-living institutions, school systems, prisons, and the military. Commercial and institutional buyers make large purchases and typically deal with wholesale merchants or get special discounts from mass merchandising organizations. The largest market is the household market—the retail customer. The largest segment of this market is the family occupying a home with room to accommodate a washer-dryer pair.


For years, detergent makers have promoted their product as the critical ingredient in getting wash to look bright and to smell clean. As detergents are the most obvious adjacent markets to washers, products that reduce static cling are most directly linked to dryers. Other chemicals used in pre-treating clothing and in bleaching whites are in the same intimate relation to laundry machines as the water needed to operate washers, the product, typically, of municipal water works. In many regions the water is mineral-rich to such an extent that effective laundry operations stimulate the adjacent market for water softeners. Front-end loaders, which use low amounts of water, typically require what are called high-energy or high-efficiency detergents, labeled HE. They cost more but less detergent is needed per wash.

Irons, ironing boards, and various sprays to make ironing easier are also product lines adjacent to washing and drying. Shirts and blouses made of specially formulated wrinkle-free fabrics were introduced to ease the homemaker's labors after the washing and drying were done. Clothes lines intended to be mounted outdoors or in basements and foldable drying racks are products adjacent to dryers.

The need to sell more and more of ever-improving detergents gave birth, a long time ago already, to a cultural product which has amused and bemused the American public and has spread around the world. This product, the television Soap Opera, may never have taken off had it not been for the products that are the focus of this essay.


Washing machine producers spend much of their research and development resources focused on developing more energy efficient and environmentally safe appliances. Like concept cars, concept appliances have an aesthetic appeal and often introduce unique features although it is usually difficult to bring these products into the mainstream market. Once a new appliance is conceptualized, companies must subject the product to analysis focused on manufacturability, acceptable production cost, and consumer reaction. Manufacturers do a lot of work to design products that can be easily recycled after they are replaced.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is promoting efficiency by redefining the water and energy consumption laundry devices must achieve. A Modified Energy Factor (MEF) of 1.04 was required for all washing machines sold on January 1, 2004; as of January 1, 2007 all U.S. washing machines were required to have a MEF of 1.26. MEF is a measure of cubic footage, the amount of fabric a machine can properly handle in one cycle per kilowatt hour of energy. Thus the higher the number, the more efficient the device.

In 1992 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working in conjunction with the DOE, introduced a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to help in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is called the Energy Star program. The Energy Star label can be applied to any appliance or other electrical device that meets the requirement for that product established by the EPA. In order to meet the Energy Star labeling requirements for refrigerators and freezers, manufacturers have had to improve the efficiency of their appliances during both the 1990s and the early 2000s as the EPA's Energy Star efficiency requirements have increased periodically since the program's inception. Energy Star labels for washers can be applied by the manufacturer if the washer achieves an MEF of 1.72 or greater.

Radically new concepts are being talked about, tested, and promoted, with most such activity taking place overseas. Among new devices are LG Electronics' steam-drive washer. LG is a Korean company. Electrolux has introduced a washing machine using ultraviolet light to clean clothes without water or chemicals. Sanyo Electric Company has introduced a device called Aqua that, curiously, does not use water. Instead the cleaning action is supplied by ozonized air. The Chinese concern Haier is working on a washer that gets clothes clean without detergents.


High-efficiency Top Loaders

These newer designs incorporate wash plates, discs that lift and tumble laundry, and other replacements for the traditional agitator. Washing performance is usually better than with regular top-loaders, and capacity is generally greater as well. Top-loaders work somewhat like front-loaders, filling partially with water and spinning at very high speeds. Most are more efficient water and energy users than regular top-loaders, but the high spin speeds that reduce drying time (and energy consumption) can make clothing more tangled and wrinkled. These machines work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.

Front loaders

These devices, also known as horizontal-axis washers, account for approximately 30 percent of new purchases according to Consumer Reports. They represent the high end of washing machines. They feature more capacity, lower water consumption (from one-third to one-half the amount that top-loaders require), less energy use, gentler action, and more quiet operation. Front-loaders have one major drawback. They can cost more than vertical-axis machines. Still the energy savings they provide may save money in the long run. Because less water is used, less gas or electricity is required to heat the water; the machines spin faster, clothes are wrung out more completely, reducing the cost of running the dryer.

Urban Living

Stackable machines and space-saving combo units are an important benefit to people with limited space. In terms of home appointments, human-scale is in—to fit better into smaller city living spaces. The design-look is clean and minimal, and the products fit the apartment home as nicely as the million-dollar condo in the big city.

High Technology & Computer Controls

Increased levels of computer power are also being built into many appliances. The word "smart" is typically associated with such devices, and smart appliances are on the horizon. These machines will use sensors applied to fabric to set themselves and to meter out water and detergent based on their sensors. Electrolux has a washing machine that talks to the user, in effect helping the user learn the machine's features.


Pressures to improve the energy efficiency of washers and dryers has been noted above. Such pressures come from upward-spiraling fossil fuel prices and increasing concerns over the nation's energy future. Approximately 26 billion gallons of water are used each day in the United States, 4.5 billion of which go to operate washing machines. The average person in the United States uses 100 gallons daily. Residential water use accounts for 13 percent of water use, agriculture, 41 percent, and industry, 46 percent. Considering that only 3 percent of the Earth's water is fit for human consumption, preserving water is an urgent task. Pressures to conserve water will clearly favor technological approaches that reduce or forego its use.


Users of washers and dryers divide into two major segments one of which demands long-lived, rugged, and reliable equipment with low maintenance and running costs. This, the smaller segment, is the commercial/institutional buyer. The other segment is the homeowner who asks for affordable, aesthetically pleasing equipment with nice features that produce good results with minimum after-the-wash labor. Marketing efforts by the industry are directed at the latter segment. The marketing message in the late half of the first decade of the twenty-first century emphasized conservation and good environmental performance on the one hand and features and looks on the other. Specialty equipment such as combination washer-dryers and small equipment for apartment dwellers represented markets too small for major promotions.


Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, http://www.aham.org

Fabricators & Manufacturers Assoc. International, http://www.fmanet.org

National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF), http://www.nmfrc.org


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see also Soaps & Detergents

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