A Basic Guide to Korean Washing Machines

Written by on April 19, 2013 in Brands & Products, Lifestyle

A friend of mine recently bought an espresso machine. She was distraught at its complexity. “Whatever happened to put in coffee, water, press start, press stop?” I wouldn’t know. That used to be it, but nowadays I find that appliances and electronics have become too smart for our own good. Like laundry machines. The machines have function panels that would rival that of a fictional spaceship: completely computerized, touch buttons, malfunction dealt by self-inspection/ auto-repair/auto-lockdown, linking with bluetooth technology, the list is endless.

LG’s smart laundry machine with Bluetooth technology. Photo courtesy of LG

So what do you do when you don’t have the instruction manual in a language you’re comfortable with, or, in the opposite case, when the furnished apartment you’re renting comes with an ancient machine whose manual isn’t available anywhere?
Most Korean appliances manuals are available online at their brand homepages and enquiry for one in your native language is possible at their customer service department. (Whether they have it or not is another issue.) All you have to do is check the model number and find the appropriate manual that goes with it.
However, old tech or new tech, laundry is more or less the same, and with only slight variations or added details, knowing the basics would be more than enough to get your clothes nice and clean. For other descriptions, checking the definition in the dictionary should get you by as well. When you move into a new place and find yourself having to make the acquaintance of a new machine, asking the landlord or friend to give you a simple rundown of the function panel should be one of the first things to do.

There are generally two kinds of machines: the drum (드럼) and the barrel, which is affectionately called tongdori (통돌이). The latter is a nickname given by ajummas to washing machines which are top-lid, which have a barrel (tong) that turns (dori). The drum machines are those with side-lid openings. Ajummas, the homemakers and critical consumers of appliances seem to favor the former old school design – mostly because you can pause the machine to throw in an errant sock, which you can’t do with the latter.
Dryers are not that used frequently in Korea, either. Excluding the past couple of years when the weather has turned completely wonky and mercurial, Korea has an abundance of sunshine throughout the year. Drying clothes in natural sunlight not only get clothes dry, but disinfects and sterilizes so dryers weren’t that popular.
Dryers are very welcome in the monsoon season, but people managed without them by drying clothes indoors with the ondol (온돌) heat on, for in the dampest season you’d turn on the ondol anyway to get rid of the humidity permeating into the house.
Washer/dryers have gotten more popular in recent years, but many Korean households who have them only seem to use the dryers during the monsoon season only. It’s more of a habit not to use them, and the reason I’ve heard the most is “it takes too long” or “takes too much electricity”.

Before talking about the function panel, I have to first say that Korean laundry machines are hardcore. Perhaps it is in the Korean psyche that clothes have to be washed like they have been pounded on in the clearest water of a rushing brook, but generally, the “regular” cycle of a Korean washing machine would be equivalent of that of a “jeans” cycle of other non-Korean brands. I’m not saying this as a technical fact, but as an observation many people have made both here and abroad.

So with that in mind, here are examples of the function panels from different machines:

A standard machine from over 10 years ago

Old barrel style washing machine
From left to right
남은 시간 (Time remaining): Shows time left for cycle to finish
예약 (Reserve): Reserve time which you want laundry to start
Large circle on bottom

  • 급수 (Water Supply)

Smaller circles above

  • 냉수 (Cold water)
  • 온수 (Hot water)

Large circle on bottom

  • 물높이 (Water level)

Smaller circles above

  • 고 (High)
  • 중 (Middle)
  • 저 (Low)
  • 소 (Lowest)

Large circle on bottom

  • 수동 (Manual)

Smaller circles above

  • 불림 (Soak)
  • 세탁 (Wash)
  • 헹굼 (Rinse)
  • 탈수 (Remove water): spin-dry, removes excess water, does not heat dry
  • 구김방지 (Prevents wrinkles)

Large circle on bottom

  • 코스 (Course)

Smaller circles above

  • 퍼지 (Fuzzy): For lint prone clothes
  • 청바지 (Jeans)
  • 적은때 (Little dirt): For non-hardcore cleaning, such as delicates
  • 울 (Wool)
  • 이불 (Blankets)

동작/일시정지: Start/Pause
전원 : Power

In a machine like above, you’d choose from each section, for example: cold & hot water (=warm) + high water lever + all 5 in the next section + jeans. If you feel like you’ve added too much detergent, you can just run the rinse/spin-dry cycle again. Easy-peasy.

Washer/Dryer with more complex panel

Fairly recent drum washing machine with built-in dryer
Temperature wheel, clockwise from bottom left:

  • 급속 (Quick)
  • 란제리 (Lingerie)
  • 울 (Wool)
  • 합섬 (Synthetics)
  • 표준 (Standard)
  • 삶음 (Boil): Koreans traditionally boil-wash white laundry to disinfect and sterilize
  • 절전 삶음 (Energy-Saving Boil)
  • 이불 (Blankets)

Grey buttons

  • 예약 (Reserve)
  • 헹굼물 추가 (Add rinse water)
  • 내마음 (My style): Manually choosing options

Small black buttons from left to right, top to bottom
1st column

  • 불림 (Soak)
  • 예비 (Pre-wash)
  • 본세탁 (Main wash)
  • 소량 (Small batch)
  • 시간단축 (Shorten time): Speed cycle

2nd column: Number of cycles (turns)
3rd column: Number of rpm

4th column

  • 시간선택 (Time selection)
  • 강력 (Strong): For hardcore laundry
  • 표준 (Standard)
  • 다림질 (Ironing): Same as wrinkle-free
  • 저온 (Low temperature)

Bottom large circles

  • 세탁 (Wash)
  • 헹굼 (Rinse)
  • 탈수 (Remove water): Spin-dry for removing excess moisture
  • 건조 (Dry): Heat-dry

A special cycle for the machine

Another drum washing machine with built-in dryer
Had identical wording for main function panel but slight difference in the wheel
Clockwise from bottom left:

  • 삶음 (Boil)
  • 절전 삶음 (Energy-Saving Boil)
  • 표준 (Standard)
  • 울 (Wool)
  • 이불 (Blankets)
  • 급속 (Quick Speed)
  • 조용조용 (Quiet Quiet): Silent mode
  • 통살균 (Disinfecting barrel): NOT a clothes wash cycle. A special cycle where you add disinfectant to wash and sterilize the washing machine’s barrel. Most machines usually do not have a separate cycle for this and people generally just use the “standard” cycle to clean out their machines.

Lint catchers: the net get the lint, the balls prevent tangling.

The old school machines usually come with a lint catcher built into the side of the machine which you have to remove after every batch of laundry and clean out. The newer models have built-in lint catchers which are either hidden or self-cleaning, removing that hassle. However, if you don’t trust your machine to be doing a great job at this, you can always toss in lint-catching balls into your machine, which have the additional bonus of separating your clothes in the wash so they don’t come out in one huge tangled wet mess.
Also, with the old school machines where the delicate cycle isn’t that delicate, it’s usually good to use a laundry net to hold several items of clothing before throwing them in the wash. They come in various shapes and sizes, and are available at every large retailer and/or 1,000 won shops. I like the large ones for delicate (washable) long sleeve knits – they never get tangled in the net – the smaller ones for lingerie, and because I’m too lazy to wash them by hand – pantyhose and stockings. Of course, wash all above separately according to their proper cycles.
Which reminds me: READ THE CARE LABEL! Before you blame your Korean washing machine for ruining your favorite blouse, read the care label and follow the instructions. “Oh, but my other blouse was fine in the machine,” doesn’t mean anything. All clothes are different. Otherwise, why in the world would manufacturers even bother putting on the label? So do your laundry smartly.
As for another side of laundry, Korean dry-cleaning and the awesomeness of it – perhaps in another post.

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul