Rescue an Old Washing Machine With Modern Controls

The humble washing machine is an appliance that few of us are truly passionate about. They’re expected to come into our lives and serve faithfully, with a minimum of fuss. In the good old days, it was common for a washing machine to last for well over 20 years, and in doing so ingratiate itself with its masters. Sadly now while the simple mechanical parts may still be serviceable, the electronics behind the scenes can tend to fail. This is a Russian story (Google Translate link) about giving a new brain to an old friend.

The machine in question is known as an Oriole, and had served long and hard. Logic chips and entire controllers had been replaced, but were continuing to fail. Instead, a replacement was designed to keep the machine operational for some time yet. Rather than relying on recreating the full feature set of the machine it was decided to eliminate certain things for simplicity. Settings for different fabric types or wash modes were eliminated, which is an easy choice if like most people all your washes are done in the same mode anyway. A water level sensor was found to be no longer functioning properly and was simpler to eliminate than repair.

The brain is a PIC microcontroller, with an ESP12 acting as a webserver for monitoring and control. Additionally, a glass lens was taken from some former medical equipment and neatly installed in the control panel of the machine before an OLED display, giving the machine far more feedback than before. Control is still done with the machine’s original buttons. Temperature sensors were added as well to allow the machine to shut itself down in the event of an overheating problem. It’s all tied together on what looks to be a classic single-sided homebrew PCB.

It’s a great project that shows it’s easy to bring modern electronic might to bear on vintage mechanical hardware, with great results. A washing machine lives to see another day, another load – and the landfill remains just that much lighter, to boot.

We’ve seen controller builds for old washing machines before, too – like replacing mechanical control with an Arduino.

[Thanks to Tirotron for sending this in!]

24 thoughts on “Rescue an Old Washing Machine With Modern Controls

  1. As russian talking person, interface of this washing machine more looks like some rocket launchpad.
    Probably as in USSR many things served dual purpose, i wont be surprised that there is some key combination to open LAUNCH menu, that will ask for GPS coordinates of “that damned imperialists”.

  2. When I was a kid my grandmothers wringer must have lasted her 50 years. She hated to give it up. She even used it after she got an agitator type machine. It had a toggle switch on it. The agitator type machine she got lasted beyond her death. That had a few toggle switches on it for all the controls. My moms machine had a timing motor and a cam with switches. The last one we bought had a microcontroller. In order of which one was most reliable start with my grandmother’s wringer and work backwards from there. Putting micros and logic in places where they are not needed just causes problems. You wind up with many more points of failure. I like electronics but the older I get the more I find myself not liking them in some places. Washers, dryers, and coffee machines are among them. I will admit that I have taken a liking to electronic microwaves vs the wind up timer types. I have not had a microwave fail from a dead timer board that did not have an underlying problem.

    1. In many cases, electronics is being used to save energy, weight and cost.
      Yes, an old washing machine lasted forever, but cost a fortune, and wasted huge amounts of water and electricity.
      Also, you needed four men to move it.
      Todays models (at least the European ones) need about 1/4 of the water and electricity, and you can move them alone.

      1. I know of several people that purposefully sought to buy a washing machine that has the worst water consumption… why you ask?
        Because the efficient ones do NOT wash out the detergents properly, leaving considerable residues in the fabric an causing problems with allergic reactions. Not to mention it’s easier for the wastewater facility to process the wastewater if you use MORE water instead of less.

        1. Our 20-something year old top loader has an “Extra Rinse” option. With my wife’s sensitive skin, we always use it, along with a detergent that is free of perfumes and dyes. If someone could come up with a sensor to detect detergent in the rinse water, washers could have closed loop rinsing.

    2. You’re absolutely right in some respects. my grandmother’s twin tub lasted forever.

      I’d love to see if it would be possible to get a modern washing machine built like a good piece of music equipment – tough enough to last 20+ years. If you pay for good product, you can get solid guitar pedals and amps for example, because they’re built to last. I think it could be done now but the market doesn’t demand it – those who are wealthy enough to afford a solid washing machine don’t really care about having to replace one every five years because they can afford it.

      1. There’s such a project ongoing since a few years in France. “L’increvable” (“Tireless” in French) aims to be a modular rugged washing machine to end with obsolescence: lincrevable.com/en/

        Disclaimer: I’m not part of this product’s team but I’m hugely interested in it since day one

          1. I’ll take “indestructible, ugly and expensive” over “fragile, flashy and cheap” any day, I’m too poor to buy cheap stuff.

            I’ve run a Zanussi washer dryer for ten years. It is starting to develop a touch of the “grandfathers broom” syndrome admittedly (new motor, three sets of brushes, new inlet valves), but its built like the proverbial brick sh*t house, I suspect it is going to eventually succumb to rust.

            The previous but one machine lasted lass than two years, and I briefly had a third machine (its replacement) which I sent back after two sets of inlet valves failed within days of installing it brand new, pissing large quantities of water on the kitchen floor.. twice.

            So do the maths …

            (cost_of_good_indestructible_ugly_machine/10_years_service_life+spares) is less than (cost_of_cheap_crap/2_years_service_life+stress_of_discovering_it_beyond_economical_repair)

      2. I haven’t used them myself, but Speed Queen washers are supposed to be exactly that. Their main market is commercial laundry equipment, but they have home-sized machines as well.

        At the low end, I’ve got a mechanical timer unit from Whirlpool. The last one I had went for over a decade with no maintenance before springing a leak, and I took the lazy way out when it did and bought another.

  3. The new ones are so efficient, they get replaced every 5 years?

    I’ve known folks with the new efficient leaky front loaders, I’ve just replaced an 8 year old top loader washer after controller replacement, water level sensor problems, water control valve problems and a final belt/motor/transmission fail. My mom had a washer that lasted from the middle 60’s to the late 1980’s. If it had a “new and improved” stainless tub, I’m betting it would still be around.

    1. Old, comunist-made washing machines in Czechoslovakia tended to last 20 years easily, but eventually would be become an electrocution hazard – a combination of cheaper 2-wire electrical installations that was the norm back then and the fact that something in the washing machine would eventually fall apart.
      The next major item was the electo-mechanical “programmer”, which due to it’s nature would eventually wear out. The washing machine could run fine if it were possible to replace it, but after so long, it was usually impossible to get parts, so – into the landifills they went.

      Sure you can buy a washing machine that is expected to last much longer even today, but not in the “consumer market”.
      Once you look into what the pros buy – a whole new world. Machines are built to last, have easily replaceable parts and a much longer parts lifecycle. But all that comes at a cost – literally.

  4. 3 months ago,when I moved to a new house, I bought 5 new appliances (the best of best and most exlensive).
    If I have a chance I will be switched all of them to my old appliances which have been in my old house for more than 25 years and still work pefectly.
    Life expectancy for my new appliances most of is 5 years. Who can afford to buy again and again every 5 years a new appliances?
    Same is with TV and cars.

  5. A speed queen is simply an old Amana washer. Stainless basket doesn’t make the rest last longer on any machine. New top loaders are designed to be replaced after 5 years intentionally. They need it to break to make money. Front loaders aren’t inherently leaky but do last longer. Electronics actually can last longer than timers some manufacturers don’t protect the controls from moisture. But all manufacturers say that 80 percent of the controls replaced are found to be good.
    Over ten years repairing washers

  6. I recently replaced washer and dryer with Speed Queen units with the computerized controls. 5 years full warranty on both. Interesting that the units with the mechanical controls only had a 3 year warranty. I spent $2k for both. I am a happy user. Time will tell.

  7. Just got my subscription to their newsletter as well …
    Never heard about something like this. But it makes so much sense.

    Our trusty, New Zealand made, Fisher & Paykel lasted us 22 years. Replaced water pump (funny thing … water pump made in France!) some 4 or 5 times. Water and humidity ruining the coil part, then short circuit, then death. Opened and cleaned the “unbalanced” switch dozens of times. Main Board got rusty, so re-wired some rusted, disappearing tracks. At the end there were no spare parts to buy (at a reasonable price), service people never heard of that model. Ever. And they were Fisher & Paykel service repair, here in Australia.

    We farewell our trusty hard worker in a, simple but very emotional, privately held, ceremony.

  8. My father has had his washing machine since he got married 38 years ago. He’s been replacing parts as needed and he will probably continue for as long as he finds said parts and can still do the job himself.
    I drive by daily past a scrap yard with piles upon piles of used hardware that shift on a weekly basis and send out to a different center. I can’t help but think that many parts in those piles are still perfectly functioning even if the whole machines isn’t. And yet are discarded. Nobody wants/can repair those machines or harvest them for parts. I think we are doomed.

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