Murphy’s Law – Building a better washing machine

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

I’d love a flying car. Or a teleporter. Or one of those machines that rehydrate tiny pizzas, turning them into delicious full-sized pizzas. But, more than anything, if we are ever going to make it as a futuristic utopia, someone really needs to come up with a new way of doing laundry.

Watching all of those old sci-fi films as a kid, I always wondered why people in the future just suddenly started wearing matching unitards. It always seemed odd that people would throw fashion to the wind and just start rocking matching silver jumpers. But as I’ve gotten older, it makes a lot more sense. Part of the reason their future societies have become so perfect is because they finally just went to one all-purpose, easy-to-wash outfit. Maybe they are self-cleaning. Or maybe they can just be thrown away after one use. Whatever the case, notice that you never see those smiling future people sitting in front of a washing machine waiting for the spin cycle to end. Because those smiles would fade pretty damn fast.

Don’t get me wrong. We definitely have it better than our ancestors did. The idea of making multiple trips to the well to get enough water to hand wash your clothes on a scrubbing board does not seem like my idea of a cheery afternoon. According to Wikipedia (which, let’s be honest, is as much research as any of us are ever going to do on this subject, so you might as well just accept it as fact):

Laundering by hand involves soaking, beating, scrubbing and rinsing dirty textiles. Before indoor plumbing, the housewife also had to carry all the water used for washing, boiling and rinsing the laundry; according to an 1886 calculation, women fetched water eight to ten times every day from a pump, well or spring. Water for the laundry would be hand carried, heated on a fire for washing, then poured into the tub. That made the warm soapy water precious; it would be reused, first to wash the least soiled clothing, then to wash progressively dirtier laundry. Removal of soap and water from the clothing after washing was originally a separate process. First soap would be rinsed out with clear water. After rinsing, the soaking wet clothing would be formed into a roll and twisted by hand to extract water. The entire process often occupied an entire day of hard work, plus drying and ironing.

I get exhausted just reading that. I honestly can’t imagine what a game changer the electric washing machine was.

But here’s the thing – the electric washing machine was first introduced around the dawn of the 20th century. Newspapers as early as 1904 make mention of electric washing machines. So it’s a technology that has been around for over 100 years now. Doesn’t it seem like we are overdue for some innovation?

Apple comes out with a new iPhone or a new Macbook every few months. Every time you go to the grocery store, someone has added another blade to your razor. The Reese’s company seems to change the size of the content of their peanut butter cup on a whim just to shake things up. So where’s a fucking breakthrough, washing machine makers?

Sure, they’ve played around with top-loading washers versus front-loading washers. And sure, they’ve made some progress in the way of making those behemoths more energy efficient. But that’s it. What they haven’t done is found a way to make washing clothes fast and easy enough that I don’t lose all motivation to put away a load by the time the process has finished.

I mean, seriously, who can stay motivated throughout the entire washing and drying process? Despite my best intentions, I completely stop caring about doing laundry five seconds after I move my clothes to the dryer. I have a load sitting on top of the dryer right now from when I washed them five days ago. They are just lying there, forgotten and wrinkled, like unvisited, retirement-home-dwelling grandparents. They’ll probably stay there until I run out of clean clothes and have to do another load.

And that’s doing laundry in my house. Forget going to a laundromat. That’s pretty much the most soul-sucking way to waste a Saturday. There’s pretty much nothing to do inside a laundromat watching your clothes slowly tumble around inside a big, noisy dryer than to question the series of life decisions that led to you being in a laundromat instead of owning your own place with its own washer and dryer. It’s a dark place to be, my friends. A dark place indeed.

So let’s see some innovation. Some bored guy in Phoenix, Arizona made a wheelchair with a flame thrower attached to it, for cripes’ sake. So step up your game, people. Surely, there must be something we can do to speed up the washing/drying process. Or there must be a way to make the clothes fold themselves. As I’ve documented before, I’m terrified of robots, but if you can get me one to do the impossible task of properly folding a freshly-laundered bed sheet so that I don’t have to, I might accept my inevitable enslavement by my metallic overlords as a fair trade off.

GE, now that you got rid of the sinking ship that is NBC, why don’t you do something worthwhile? And Maytag, get that worthless repairman off his lazy ass and into the design room. It’s the future, people – it’s time we have a washing machine that reflects that.

In the meantime, I’ll be shopping for silver unitards.

Photo by Chelsea Darter

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at

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