Social impact


The historically laborious process of washing clothes (a task which often had a whole day set aside to perform) has at times been labelled 'woman's work'. The spread of the washing machine has been seen to be a force behind the improvement of women's position in society. In 2009 the Italian newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published a Playboy article on International Women's Day arguing that the washing machine had done more for the liberation of women than the contraceptive pill and abortion rights. A study from Universite de Montreal, Canada presented a similar point of view, adding fridges as well. The following year, Swedish statistician Hans Rosling suggested that the positive effect the washing machine had on the liberation of women, makes it "the greatest invention of the industrial revolution". It has been argued that washing machines are an example of labour saving technology, which does not decrease employment because households can internalize the gains of the innovation. Historian Frances Finnegan credits the rise of this technology in helping undercut the economic viability of the Magdalene Asylums in Ireland, later revealed to be inhumanly abusive prisons for women, by supplanting their laundry businesses and prompting the eventual closure of the institutions as a whole.
Before the advent of the washing machine, laundry was done first at watercourses and then in public washhouses known as lavoirs. Camille Paglia and others argue that the washing machine led to a type of social isolation of women, as a communal activity became a solitary one.
In India, dhobis, a caste group specialized in washing clothes, are slowly adapting to modern technology, but even with access to washing machines, many still handwash garments as well. Since most modern homes are equipped with a washing machine, many Indians have dispensed with the services of the dhobiwallahs.