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History comes clean: Laundry through the centuries

More than three decades ago and fresh off retiring from his career teaching electrical engineering, Lee Maxwell and his wife climbed into their new motor home and headed east toward Maine for a vacation. Halfway through Iowa, they decided to stop for lunch and came across a farm auction. An antique washing machine was up for bid. Maxwell, now 87, raised his hand and made the purchase that would chart his course for the next 30 years.

Maxwell and his wife returned from that first trip with 13 washing machines, an interest Maxwell attributes to a “mechanical fascination” with the appliances. He began scouring antique shops and auctions for more models and added a trailer to his motor home to transport his haul. His collection has since grown to more than 1,400, which Maxwell displays at Lee Maxwell’s Washing Machine Museum in Eaton, Colorado.

“They turned out to be quite odd things, and something you’d hardly ever see, even though there were plenty around,” Maxwell said during a recent phone interview. “I’d bring them home and tear them apart, clean them up and put them back together. It started in my garage. It moved to the barn and now, over the years, I’ve had to build buildings for the darn things.”

The oddball museum has become a regular stop for tour buses and people looking for a tour of Maxwell’s collection, which he books by appointment only.

After decades of collecting, it is only natural that Maxwell would become a historian both of the machines themselves and of society’s laundry habits. He has even written a book on washing machine history, “Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines.”

“I’ve collected old advertisements and patents,” Maxwell said. “I’ve downloaded 23,000 patents for washing machines, dating from the 1700s to about 1960.”

Most of us are used to simply dropping the clothes in the washer, turning it on, and returning when the cycle finished. You might not even recognize many of the items as a “washer,” like the washing bat, which Maxwell says is still the most common “washing machine” in use in the world today.

Then there was the dolly stomp. “You stomp up and down on those pegs, wrap the clothes around them and drag them back and forth through the water,” Maxwell says. “They started clear back when clothes were invented and were very common tools up until the 1920s. In Europe, they were used later than that.”

There’s a chance you might recognize the “vacuum stomp,” which can still be purchased new today. They were typically used for smaller loads.

At one point in the 1800s, Maxwell says, more than a thousand companies in North America made washing machines. That’s also about the time electric machines started showing up, but customers had to purchase the electric motor separately and attach it to a manually operated machine. Around 1907, The Nineteen Hundred Corporation began shipping a machine with a motor already attached.

“That’s a historic moment in washing machine development,” Maxwell says. “Prior to that, machines were mostly hand-operated. You had some animal and water-powered machines prior to that. But this was the first time the company thought to make it a little easier to do the wash. The company, Nineteen Hundred, changed its name around 1951 to a name you probably recognize: Whirlpool.

Laundry has changed over time as well. Clothes are a lot cleaner than they used to be, and laundry—once an occasional community event in some places—is done more frequently.

“I can remember my grandfather wearing his overalls until they literally stood up,” Maxwell says. “Washing was washing. Today, we don’t really ‘wash,’ we kind of refresh. Your shirt doesn’t get that dirty.”

Laundry appliances have also changed how homes are designed. “Old houses never had a room dedicated for washing machines,” Maxwell says. “The washing was done outside, on the back porch, or more recently in the basement. It was only with the advent of the automatic washing machine, right after World War II, that folks started thinking about incorporating the washing machine into part of the kitchen, or another part of the house.”

These days, Maxwell’s mission is to preserve his collection and the museum’s legacy. “Someday, I’m going to find a home for these 1,400 washing machines,” he says. “My collection is the only comprehensive collection of washing machines there is. I need to find a home for it.”

It’s the little things: Small appliances add big convenience to tiny houses


Across the country, many people are looking to simplify their lives and lower their housing costs by downsizing their living spaces. Their choice of accommodations ranges from permanent or semi-permanent “tiny houses” or “micro-apartments,” extra-small apartment units in densely populated areas.

But downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the appliance conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to.

“A lot of people are concerned about how the house will function,” says Jeremy Weaver, a tiny house dweller and co-owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Wind River Tiny Homes. “Appliances are an integral part of how people interact with their houses, arguably the most intense way. I tell them we can get the same functionality, though it will be a lot smaller.”

With Wind River’s models usually topping out around 350 square feet (though they have built larger homes in the 400-800 square foot range), space, as you might imagine, is precious. Appliances that won’t get a lot of use are usually left out. But tiny spaces have many of the same conveniences as their full-sized counterparts, just on a smaller scale. How much use an appliance will get is the major factor in whether it will be included.

“In a tiny house, if someone doesn’t use an oven, they probably won’t have an oven,” Weaver said. “If you want a full-sized fridge, it means you won’t have a pantry or you’ll have hardly any counter space. There really isn’t space for something you don’t use. People who don’t cook a lot typically don’t use ovens—they’ll use a cooktop or a microwave.” Many of the Wind River homes have been fitted with four-burner, 20-inch ranges, Weaver said. In his tiny house, which includes four burners and an oven, he’s able to fit four full-sized pots and pans on top and 2-3 cookie sheets in the oven.

Every inch matters in a tiny house, and some may opt for a two-burner portable induction cooktop that can hang on the wall when it isn’t being used, Weaver said. Appliances in tiny homes often are powered by propane. Mobile tiny homes can also be set up to plug in like RVs.

For laundry, combination washer-dryers are the way to go in a small space. They’re common in Europe and Asia, where small-space living is more widespread, Weaver said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses we’ve done have them.” More options from manufacturers have become available over the past few years, he said.

Small appliances were already being manufactured for boats and RVs. Wind River recently installed a dishwasher for the first time in a tiny home and used a model made for an RV, a drawer-style under-counter model.

Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!

Universal design: How to select appliances

Universal design started as a concept aimed primarily at creating accessible, barrier-free homes for people with disabilities. But it has evolved into the concept of creating a comfortable, accessible space for all members of the household, and there are number of reasons why a homeowner may decide to pursue it during a remodel or renovation.

“Aging in place is a huge thing,” said Chris Salas, owner of Cocina Interior Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer. “Multiple generations may be living in one home. You may have small children and older parents living under one roof and need flexibility in the spaces according to who’s using them. Resale is also a big factor. You aren’t ruling anybody out.”

Many appliances already incorporate universal design concepts and are easy for anyone to use, Salas said. But if you’re looking to build a kitchen that’s accessible to people of all sizes and physical abilities, there are certain features and elements you should consider when choosing your appliances. Salas, who has more than two decades of design experience, shared her insight on what homeowners who are pursuing a universal design concept should keep in mind.

Cooking

A traditional oven/range has limits to where and at what height it can be installed. Wall-mount ovens and microwaves can be mounted and placed at different heights according to the needs and abilities of the user, so they may be preferable. How the oven opens is also a factor. “Side-opening ovens are handy for everybody,” Salas said. Think about how all household members will reach the controls, not just those for cooking. For example, you may choose to put the fan control at counter level rather than at the rear of or above the range, or use a remote-operated fan. Many cooking appliances already have safety features in place that are appropriate for universal design concepts, Salas said. “A lot of cooktops and ranges have an indicator showing that the surface is still hot. Some even have a lock-out so you can’t turn on the cooktop without knowing how.”

Dishwashers

You’ll need adequate space and access to load and unload dishes as well as put them away. Salas has designed kitchens with all dish storage on the same side of the dishwasher door so those who are unloading the dishes don’t have to go around the open door. Dishwashers with single or double pull-out doors rather than a standard design may make opening, closing, loading and unloading easier.

Refrigerators

Consider the width of the door swing and whether all parts of the refrigerator are reachable. “It might be hard to get out of the way of a 36-inch door,” Salas said. “The smaller doors come in handy. The French door is probably the best invention for universal design.” Keep the height in mind as well. “The door swings may not be as big as a one-door model, but you might not be able to reach half the fridge because it’s tall.” Salas recommends testing appliances before you buy them. “Some fridges have a really good feel but may be difficult to open,” she said. “The bells and whistles might look or sound cool, but once you’re living with it, it might not add value. Get out and try these things to make sure they work.”

Outside the kitchen: Laundry

The height of the appliance relative to the user’s needs is also a factor in choosing and installing clothes washers and dryers, Salas said. “Keep flexibility in mind,” she said. “The washer and dryer can be on a pedestal. You can build them up onto your custom platform. It’s all about the user’s height. The front load is optimum for anybody to use.”

Tips to keep your dryer running safely

 

Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.
Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.

When used and maintained properly, clothes dryers are extremely safe appliances. But accidents still happen. In 2010, nearly 15,500 fires occurred that involved clothes dryers, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. And the NFPA says that failure to clean the clothes dryer is the leading cause of fires involving dryers. When failure to clean a dryer was a cause, the fires led to $44 million in direct property damage.

Regular cleaning of your dryer both improves performance and reduces the risk of fires. There are four areas of your dryer that need regular cleaning: the lint filter, the interior and venting system, and the rear of the dryer. Here’s how to keep each clean:

  • Lint filter: This easily accessible and removable piece should be cleaned after each time you use the dryer. The lint can usually be removed by hand. The filter should also be periodically cleaned with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water to remove residue. Don’t use your dryer if the lint filter is blocked, damaged or missing. Contact your dryer’s manufacturer or a licensed service technician to ask about a replacement filter.
  • Interior and venting system: This is the venting material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, which typically is outside the home. The system should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. It can become blocked if it isn’t cleaned regularly, leading to longer drying times. If you’re noticing clothes are taking longer to dry, it may be time for cleaning.
  • Behind the dryer: Lint can build up behind your dryer as well. Check the rear of your appliance regularly and remove any trapped lint.
  • Drum: Remove any lint that has collected in and around the drum.

Cleaning is important to prevent fires, but there’s more you can do to reduce your dryer fire risk. Keep these items out of your dryer:

  • Anything that has come into contact with flammable liquid: This includes materials that have been used to clean up gasoline, alcohol, solvents, cooking oil or other types of flammable material. Most can’t be completely removed in a wash cycle, meaning the flammable material remains in the fabric. Dry these items outdoors away from heat. Even if the item makes it through a drying cycle, a fire risk remains for hours afterward.
  • Foam, rubber, plastic or other heat-sensitive material: These materials aren’t made to withstand the heat of a dryer cycle. They should be line-dried. If you are using a dryer, use a no-heat cycle.
  • Glass fiber materials: Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions.

Proper installation can also reduce your risk. Are you installing a dryer or having one installed? Follow this advice from AHAM and UL:

  • Use rigid or semi-rigid sheet metal venting material. This will reduce airflow and reduce dryer times.
  • Use the shortest, straightest possible vent length, and use a louvered or box hood-style to cap your outside vent.
  • Check the air flow. You should be able to feel the air flowing out of the dryer vent to the outdoors when the dryer is on.
  • Regularly inspect the venting system behind the dryer. Replace any damaged or crushed pieces.

Get AHAM and UL’s pamphlet, “Helpful hints for using your clothes dryer safely and effectively.”

Keep Your Clothes Dryer Operating Safety and Efficiently with These Tips

Lint filter iStockMedium

Proper installation and maintenance of clothes dryers are an important part of ensuring that the appliance performs as designed.

The dryer venting materials are an important factor in dryer performance and safety. AHAM recommends the use of rigid sheet metal or corrugated semi-rigid sheet metal venting material. Never use coiled-wire foil or plastic venting material.

Are your clothes taking longer to dry than they used to? Dryers need maintenance like any other appliance. In order to keep sufficient airflow around the heating source, lint must be removed from the dryer and vent. Lint and dust can build-up over time and reduce airflow, resulting in decreased performance, by not allowing air to circulate freely through the dryer. Don’t forget to clean the back of the dryer, where lint can be trapped. Clean the lint filter before and after each load. The interior of the appliance and venting system should be cleaned periodically by qualified service personnel. Keep the area around the dryer clean and free of clutter.

Dryer Do’s

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions on installing the dryer and vent system.
  • Replace coiled-wire foil or plastic venting with rigid sheet metal or corrugated semi-rigid sheet metal venting.
  • Clean the lint filter before and after each cycle.
  • Inspect venting system behind dryer to ensure it is not damaged or crushed.

Dryer Don’ts – Do NOT dry the following items in the dryer:

  • Anything containing foam, rubber or plastic (i.e. bathroom rugs, non-slip mats).
  • Any item which the dryer manufacturer’s instructions specifically state “dry away from heat.”
  • Glass fiber materials (unless manufacturer’s instructions permit).
  • Materials on which there was anything flammable (e.g., alcohol, cooking oils, gasoline, spot removers, dry-cleaning solvents, etc.). These should be dried outdoors or in a well- ventilated room, away from heat even if they have gone through the wash cycle. Flammable substances give off vapors that could ignite or explode.
  • Fabric soiled with cooking oils.

A complimentary copy of AHAM’s Clothes Dryer Safety brochure can be obtained by sending a request to info@aham.org. Large quantities of the brochure, as well as those on preventing range tipping, portable heater safety and cooking safety, can be ordered through AHAM’s online store for a nominal shipping fee.