Washing machines are not essential to life, but they save labor and time and have benefited human health. Because cleaning clothes was long considered woman's work, washing machines have also helped free women from household chores, allowing them to enter the paid work force.
Before washing machines were introduced in the 19th century, laundry had to be done by hand. This involved either hauling laundry to a water source or hauling and heating wash water to fill a tub. The next step was soaking the laundry and beating, stirring or trampling it to loosen dirt. The final step was wringing the laundry out and spreading it to dry. This was both time-consuming and hard work, as soaked cloth is quite heavy.
Because few women could spare the time from food preparation and other tasks to do laundry frequently, most households went at least several weeks between washes. Scrubbing boards and hand-cranked wringers made the work of doing laundry easier, especially after soap became plentiful and cheap, but by 1900 most households still washed laundry no more than once a week. Wearing dirty clothing and using dirty linens contributed to skin diseases and the spread of infectious agents, which are still problems in regions where washing machines are not available.