Home appliances are electrical/mechanical machines which accomplish some household functions, such as cooking or cleaning. Home appliances can be classified into:
- Major appliances or white goods
- Small appliances
- Consumer electronics or brown goods
This division is also noticeable in the maintenance and repair of these kinds of products. Brown goods usually require high technical knowledge and skills (which get more complex with time, such as going from a soldering iron to a hot-air soldering station), while white goods may need more practical skills and “brute force” to manipulate the devices and heavy tools required to repair them.
Given a broad usage, the domestic application attached to “home appliance” is tied to the definition of appliance as “an instrument or device designed for a particular use or function”. More specifically, Collins dictionary defines “home appliance” as: “devices or machines, usually electrical, that are in your home and which you use to do jobs such as cleaning or cooking.” The broad usage, afforded to the definition allows for nearly any device intended for domestic use to be a home appliance, including consumer electronics as well as stoves, refrigerators, toasters and air conditioners to light bulbs and water well pumps.
While many appliances have existed for centuries, the self-contained electric or gas powered appliances are a uniquely American innovation that emerged in the twentieth century. The development of these appliances is tied the disappearance of full-time domestic servants and the desire to reduce the time consuming activities in pursuit of more recreational time. In the early 1900s, electric and gas appliances included washing machines, water heaters, refrigerators and sewing machines. The invention of Earl Richardson’s small electric clothes iron in 1903 gave a small initial boost to the home appliance industry. In the Post–World War II economic expansion, the domestic use of dishwashers, and clothes dryers were part of a shift for convenience. Increasing discretionary income was reflected by a rise in miscellaneous home appliances.
In America during the 1980s, the industry shipped $1.5 billion worth of goods each year and employed over 14,000 workers, with revenues doubling between 1982 and 1990 to $3.3 billion. Throughout this period companies merged and acquired one another to reduce research and production costs and eliminate competitors, resulting in anti-trust legislation.
The United States Department of Energy reviews compliance with the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987, which required manufacturers to reduce the energy consumption of the appliances by 25% every five years.
In the 1990s, the appliance industry was very consolidated, with over 90% of the products being sold by just five companies. For example, in 1991, dishwasher manufacturing market share was split between General Electric with 40% market share, Whirlpool with 31% market share, Electrolux with 20% market share, Maytag with 7% market share and Thermador with just 2% of market share.
Major appliances, also known as white goods, comprise major household appliances and may include: air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, drying cabinets, freezers, refrigerators, kitchen stoves, water heaters, washing machines, trash compactors, microwave ovens and induction cookers. White goods were typically painted or enameled white, and many of them still are.
Small appliances are typically small household electrical machines, easily carried and installed. Some are classified with white goods, and relate to heating and cooling such as: fans and window mounted air conditioners, and heaters such as space heaters, ceramic heaters, gas heaters, kerosene heaters, and fan heaters. Yet another category is used in the kitchen, including: juicers, electric mixers, meat grinders, coffee grinders, deep fryers, herb grinders, food processors, electric kettles, waffle irons, coffee makers, blenders and dough blenders, rice cookers, toasters and exhaust hoods.
Entertainment and information appliances such as: home electronics, TV sets, CD, VCRs and DVD players, camcorders, still cameras, clocks, alarm clocks, video game consoles, HiFi and home cinema, telephones and answering machines are classified as “brown goods”. Some such appliances were traditionally finished with genuine or imitation wood. This has become rare but the name has stuck, even for goods that are unlikely ever to have had a wooden case (e.g. camcorders).