2724: Washing Machine Settings

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Washing Machine Settings
I guess the engineers who built my dishwasher MIGHT have some insight into how to load it, but instead of reading the booklet they gave me, it seems easier to experiment for years and then get in arguments so heated that I get banned from Quora.
Title text: I guess the engineers who built my dishwasher MIGHT have some insight into how to load it, but instead of reading the booklet they gave me, it seems easier to experiment for years and then get in arguments so heated that I get banned from Quora.


The comic strip depicts Cueball (possibly Randall) standing in front of a washing machine, wondering which settings to use for his particular wash load. He ponders as to the intended meaning behind the word "Delicate" and decides to look up detailed information on what the settings do and when to use them. A thought then occurs to him that there should be a location where people could crowd-source data on what settings they have found work best for various clothing items, before realizing that that would likely have already been done by the manufacturers beforehand and the results put into the product manual.

Labels on appliances tend to be terse, often using single words that make the intended interpretation challenging. In this case Cueball likely is trying to wash something that is both "delicate" and has "colors", but is forced to choose between them, even though there would ideally be a washer setting that anticipates the need for both considerations at once. Due to the laconic vagueness in the choice of wording for the dial (or button/menu), the "(Light)" may refer to the setting being intended for lightly or pastel colored clothing, that the setting is meant for delicate fabric, or that it is a quick, surface-level wash (i.e. as opposed to deep cleaning), though a separate "half load"/”economy" button (or similar) often exists that abbreviates the appropriate phases of each main washing cycle accordingly.

The title text proposes deliberately ignoring the manual for a dishwasher and continuing to use the internet and other people for information on household devices. This might refer to the tendency for people to not read manuals and instead post their queries online awaiting answers, which sometimes gets disparaging comments to read the manual. It also references Quora, a website which allows users to publicly ask questions and answer the questions of others. The website is not typically known for its debates, although the situation in this comic could probably lead to one, as it is quite opinion-dependent with no true correct answer (even the suggested settings given in the manual, written by the makers themselves, could be prone to disagreement as users might find the settings to have adverse effects on their clothing, or discover an even better setting that the makers might not have had). Although Quora moderation is notably inconsistent, being inflammatory (as people tend to be in debates that progress too long) could lead to one's account being reported and banned, like on a typical social network or forum.

The same concept is present in 2834: Book Podcasts.


[Cueball is standing in front of a large combination washing machine/dryer, holding a coat, wondering.]
Cueball: Okay, do I want "Colors (light)" or "Delicate"? Does delicate mean less agitation? Or a slower spin?
Cueball: I should Google, I bet clothing experts have experimented with various settings/clothing combos.
Cueball: Ooh, someone should make a tool that indexes people's results by washer model, so you can look up what settings to use for a given...
[Caption below the panel]:
Every now and then I forget that product manuals exist and spend a while reinventing them.

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> [...] standing in front of a washing machine [...]

To be more exact, this is a combo washer dryer (also known as washer-dryer) - which looks like so called laundry center design (one unit, with washer on bottom, and what looks like heat-pump or vented dryer on top). --JakubNarebski (talk) 10:01, 14 January 2023 (UTC)

Thanks! I was wondering about that, since it doesn't look at all like any washing machine I've ever seen before Zoid42 (talk) 16:35, 14 January 2023 (UTC)
Really? I've never used one myself, but about 15 years ago they were already so widespread and accepted as standard (at least in North America) that when my mom was buying her still-being-built condo, the standard default condo plans had a laundry closet assuming one of these top-and-bottom models, she had to specifically insist that the plans be adjusted to merge with a nearby linen closet to make a laundry closet that could accommodate her side-by-side machines. I didn't know they had become so common until then. They're considered space saving as they only take the floorspace of one machine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:23, 21 January 2023 (UTC)

Does anybody even own a houshold applicance whose manual was written by engineers - or at least someone who knows what the device they write the manual for is actually doing? I once had a toaster that came with a 96-page-manual that actually was good. But for most devices it is clear that they payed someone with less hands-on experience than GhatGPT to write one. -- 14:40, 14 January 2023 (UTC)

Most manuals these days don't seem to be written at all, consisting entirely of incomprehensible illustrations instead. 09:47, 16 January 2023 (UTC)
Well, a competently-'written' illustrated guide can (in suitable cases, e.g. a self-assembly item; the ultimate practical example is a Lego set, where they've got it down to a fine art arguably far beyond the likes of Ikea) by the best solution. Not necessarily intended as a (working) manual, I know, but a "don't hold flames against this highly flammable bit of our product" can be usefully summarised by symbology, as can "don't leave your hand/shopping/baby in this area of the product whilst folding it for storage/transportation".
Especially where products are intended for multiple markets with multiple possible languages. The last 96-page(-or-thereabouts) manual I may have had was probably twelve eight-pags sixteen six-page manuals, combined, to feature English, French, Spanish, Portugese, German, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Polish, (at least) two different Cyrillic languages, Arabic, Hindu, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Not necessarily in that order, and the English was actually in American (and/or maybe just not entirely translated from the original eastern language, to add extra confusion), which may have been the source language that some of the others got onward retranslated from but was clearly not the original.
(And I resisted the urge to suggest that Portugese was "just a dialect of Spanish", ditto Dutch as either German or "English with a heavy cold". That would be lazy. More lazy than my lumping all "Arabic" versions together, less lazy than when I realised I was already at my predicted twelve representative languages and had only just gotten out of the general area of Europe (without even going into Flemish; already summarised Russian and A.N.Other, without specifying from the host of choices), was probably going to skip both Hebrew and Farsi, and yet needed to have the Big Three far-Eastern lingos because this hypothetical manual was doubtless for a product created primarily in/for one or other of them. So, with special apologies to all flavours of Scandinavian (including Icelandic, and acknowledging native Greenlandish amongst all its more related kin). And the whole of Africa, quite pointedly (not at all to depricate the Aboriginal and other contintental/island-group aboriginal tongues from around the world), but you're probably fairly used to not even having four pages out of 24, as I don't think I've seen written Xhosa (though I have Afrikaans, or "German+Dutch with a cold"... ;) ), nor Igbo, Yoruba or any of the others all across the area that I might mention but probably can't easily recall anyway.)
..erm, so, anyway. I was going to allude to the Rosetta Stone, but it seems I got sidetracked. You get my point, I'm sure. And I probably have a (circa) 96-page manual around here actually all in English, if I search but it's likely something that came with a '90s operating system. Itself a climb-down from the... <hastilly grabs nearest suitable example> ...BBC Microcomputer manual which is a 500+ page (250+ leaf, if you prefer) ringbound behemoth from when OEM manuals were often still manuals, and you didn't mostly need 3rd-party ones like Haynes or O'Reilly or even a "... for Dummies/Idiots" to fill in the necessary details. 13:44, 16 January 2023 (UTC)
So in short, it's all about cutting costs (printing and translation). Usually at the expense of intelligibility. Of course the best manuals mix both written and illustrated instructions, so that they cater both to those who think spatially / symbolically and verbally. 15:04, 17 January 2023 (UTC)

The owner’s manual can’t always be trusted. Note the exposé in this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll6-eGDpimU which reveals dishwasher manufacturers sometimes recommend dishwasher cubes against the design of the machine, because of a pact with the cube manufacturers. 22:16, 19 January 2023 (UTC)

Even more important than the owner’s manual are the instructions written on the inside of your clothes. It turns out that those obscure runes actually mean something! 17:28, 13 January 2023 (UTC)

The laundry instructions on clothing are helpful guidelines, but they must be taken with a large grain of salt. Especially in cases of "no bleach" or "non-chlorine bleach only" this is CYA verbiage, and regulatory capture has given a bad name to plain chlorine bleach. You would be surprised at how many textiles can be bleached with Clorox chlorine. Test for colorfastness first. Anyway, it's a good idea to learn those "obscure runes" because they're universal, and often easier to read than the English text accompanying them. And they do give you a heads-up to what temperature water, what sort of iron or not, etc. In fact, I have a black tee shirt with cool laundry symbols on it; I wear it to the Wash&Fold service and the dry cleaner. Let's also never forget "No Starch Press", every nerd's favourite imprint for books on coding, networking, and Linux. Elizium23 (talk) 22:45, 16 January 2023 (UTC)

It's been decades since I've seen an appliance user manual half as detailed as what Cueball describes. Mostly they say things like 'plug it in' & 'pressing Power button starts the device, pressing again turns it off'; never details such as 'Delicates mode reduces agitation'/spin etc. Even widely used software often goes without significant documentation. Randall makes a joke that user manuals already exist, but I feel they're rather rare!? ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:32, 13 January 2023 (UTC)

I believe you're right, was coming here to complain that my user manual on my new washer does not explain what the various settings do, but says such useless things as "use cotton setting for cotton fabric". Telling me it's a hot water setting (which I don't want, as I never bother connecting the hot water to a machine) would be useful, but doesn't appear to be a feature of user manuals these days.

The manual for my washing machine actually lists the available programs along with a short description, tips (like "use less detergent for washing laces") and various metrics (like max load and energy consumption). However, this is for a machine installed at a home. Cueball in the comic seems to be standing in a laundromat. Even if those machines came with a manual, can the end-user actually access them? I guess you could pester an employee to dig them up for you... 22:10, 13 January 2023 (UTC)

I don't think it's a laundromat, there would be more than one machine. I think the joke is based the fact that so many things are done with GUI applications these days, and they have very limited manuals, if any at all. Barmar (talk) 23:23, 13 January 2023 (UTC)
Yeah I'm not sure why multiple people here are assuming this is a laundromat unit. I had one of these stacked units stuffed in the closet at my last apartment and I've basically only seen them at apartments. 09:24, 18 January 2023 (UTC)
For my part, I'm not even familiar with that style of machine. Looks like some sort of top-loader base (haven't used one of them, a twin-tub, since the late-seventies/early-eighties when we transitioned to the first in a series of standard front loaders) with a tumble-dryer above (never bothered with a tumble-dryer since the university laundromat, and they were floor-to- ceiling with huge drums and eventually I worked out I was just feeding a huge slot machine where I couldn't even get the three lemons).
But I deduce probably a stereotypical 'Merkin "big home, big utility basement" thing, rather than a more UK-market piece of whitegoods.
As an equivalent example, you do at least see those huge two-door fridges (with ice-dispensors in them) in the electrical goods stores, even though I know of no-one who has actually gone and got one. But washers and dryers always tend to be standard (and separate) front-loaders (with occasional 'retro' top-loaders), even if most people seem to consign the latter to a corner of the garage. (And I just use a washing line/drape in front of a warm radiator!) 23:44, 13 January 2023 (UTC)
To the contrary, this is not a "big basement 'Mercan" unit. This is pretty clearly a "stacked" unit. These are most common in apartments or condos, specifically because they are small on space. The front-loading dryer sits on top of the washer. The triangular cut-out in the center allows the top-loading door of the washer to open. As proof, notice that the wide, ridged dryer exhaust pipe is connecting to the top half and the pair of water hoses are connecting to the bottom half. More modern stacked units are front-loading may just be two full-sized independent units arranged one on top of the other, but this is an old-style one. It is possible to go smaller, with an "all-in-one" washer & drier (such as I understand are more common to be found in Europe) --- which likely offers even *more* setting options to choose among. 17:29, 17 January 2023 (UTC)
I should mention that under the twitter post of this comic by @xkcd, someone did post a manual page with information about what each program exactly does. https://twitter.com/dansmith_tweets/status/1613936063978049538 -- 16:44, 24 January 2023 (UTC)

Appliance user manuals seem to be written by legal staff, not engineers. Mine are full of warnings and "Do not ..." statements. Specific to laundry appliances, settings on the washing machine never match those on the drier. For example, there is a drier setting for "Jeans" but nothing comparable for the washer. TCMits (talk) 15:47, 14 January 2023 (UTC)

While paper manuals are easy to lose, some appliances have manuals online / in PDF. Those tend to be easier to find. -- Hkmaly (talk) 15:48, 14 January 2023 (UTC)

I noticed the tooltip today and I came here to say this: no manufacturer bothers to "provide" a "booklet" along with the appliance. They produce a PDF and they hold it captive on the manufacturer's website. You'll receive a warranty card, a multilingual "Quick Start Guide" and a QR code with a broken link. Then you'll be expected to visit the website and manually search their Support site for your module number so you can download the right PDF. Thankfully, most companies that haven't gone belly-up are still serving PDFs for manuals for discontinued products. But the fact remains that the tooltip is now an anachronism, because Munroe apparently hasn't unboxed many appliances lately. Elizium23 (talk) 22:41, 16 January 2023 (UTC)

When I read this comic, my first reaction was that Randall was pretty much exactly describing the current process for learning how to use Stable Diffussion AI art generation, including it's dozens of different GUI's and Models. NOBODY has an actual manual written yet, although the user advice threads can get pretty detailed. On the other hand, we mostly use Reddit and Discord, not Quora. 01:57, 15 January 2023 (UTC)


Quora is the absolute worst. Nearly every time you see a Quora blurb in Google, you can bet that the opposite is true. 06:43, 14 January 2023 (UTC)

Quora has invited me to earn money by getting a "Quora Patner" that posts controversal questions that cause much traffic. That was the moment I learned that it might not be worthwhile to spend precious lifetime at that site.--Gunterkoenigsmann (talk) 14:45, 14 January 2023 (UTC)
Wow. While that make sense from a purely business standpoint, it doesn't make sense from a "helpfulness to society" standpoint. I'll remember this when I see questions I wouldn't have expected someone to ask. 17:46, 14 January 2023 (UTC)
I think it's Quora where if I arrive by Google (or other search-engine!) I get to read it, but trying to then follow an 'internal' link to a related (or otherwise intruiging/sufficiently) question's page tries to get me to log in. (Which I refuse to do. Being fed up with having to have accounts for things I actually don't see the technical need for. Witness here, but for Quora I additionally manage to resist asking novel questions; or answering any in the face of so many other free opinions.) But if I'm weak-willed/desperate nough to decide that I actually do want to read what others have said about onward items then I'vs found that copying the link-question's text and going back to plug it into the searchbox will often give me a login-free access.
Though, in that way of by-passing the more obvious clicks-to-revenue tricks of the Quora website itself, you are instead giving slightly more detail about yourself (or at least your current whims and flights of fancy) to your chosen search-provider. Which has potentially more ways to make business use of such things. (So, a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, arguably.) 11:35, 15 January 2023 (UTC)
I think copying the link to a new tab works. 16:28, 18 January 2023 (UTC)

Getting banned from Quora is an impressive feat. I've seen some really weird and cursed posts on there (strange sexual shit) and people calling each other slurs in the threads. Randall is a madman. Also, don't confuse my description of the platform with Twitter. Psychoticpotato (talk) 18:48, 3 May 2024 (UTC)

Matt S[edit]

My new over has a "roast" setting. I looked it up in the manual. The button turns on roasting. Great. Now if we only knew what roasting was.

I think it had something to do with insults? Psychoticpotato (talk) 18:50, 3 May 2024 (UTC)