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My little boy (11 months old) has just discovered how the buttons and dials of the washing machine work. This is inconvenient, because the machine does not react well to random button mashing while it's running - leading to program changes, stops and the like.

How could a washing machine be made childproof?

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This is something I looked at when re-fitting the kitchen and doesn't seem to feature as something which is thought about very much by appliance designers. Some brands of appliances do come with a simple lock mode (eg press and hold down one button to lock the interface / press and hold down again to activate). –  PhillipW Jun 26 '13 at 9:27
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In computer hardware, these protections are known as Molly Guards, maybe that will give you more angles to consider. The only childproofing I've ever seen on washing machines consisted of the buttons being far away from the floor, though. –  Ulrich Schwarz Jun 26 '13 at 9:55
    
Haha, I red "My little boy (11 years old)"... Would have been more interesting to see the answers to that :) –  Henrik Ekblom Jun 26 '13 at 12:58
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As the father of a 13 month old, I can tell you my solution for any and all childproofing questions invariably ends with a gate that blocks access to the entire room in question :) –  Charles Wesley Jun 26 '13 at 15:59
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The same issue also applies to ovens: and having an oven turned up to max with something in it, by little fingers, can be a lot more catastrophic. –  PhillipW Jun 26 '13 at 16:00

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Our machine has a pretty good implementation. Activating child lock is done via it's (simple) menu.
While the machine is not running, its behaviour is unchanged. Most kids lack the strength to close the door so there is very little danger of a toddler washing the family pet.
Once the machine is started its behaviour changes in two key ways. First, the front panel goes dark to avoid attracting small children in the first place. Second it ignores all of its controls, EXCEPT for a long press of the start button, which is easy for an adult to remember and do, but most small kids don't have the patience to hold a button down for several seconds.
It's getting that balance right between having an action that is unlikely to accidental and not having one that is so convoluted that it annoys the user. @prince, I think the parallel between this and mobile phone unlock is a good one.

This also smells to me like a security issue, I'd put a child gate on the kitchen. :)

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+1 for it being a security issue. –  DA01 Jun 26 '13 at 15:45
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It also helps if there's a clear 'lock' graphic on the front of the machine - as by the time the child has started pressing buttons, you'll have 'filed' the instruction book somewhere safe (and forgotten) –  PhillipW Jun 26 '13 at 15:56
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My washing machine and dishwasher both have "long press" to set and clear the child-lock. –  Paddy Landau Jun 26 '13 at 18:36

I think the older layout of washing machines was great for that exact purpose; the controls (and for the washer which presents a possible drowning hazard, the door) are on the top and to the rear of the machine. An 11-month-old has no chance of reaching them unless he's sitting on top of the machine, and if he's sitting on top then his parents only have to look in a mirror to identify the problem.

Many of the newer HE washer/dryer sets now have all the controls on the front at the top, for ease of access. Well, you wanted ease of access, you got it, for everyone including little one (assuming he's tall enough or can step up on a stool to get to the controls).

Many I've seen do have a "lock" feature. Press and hold a "lock" button for one second and the controls are disabled (and the door latch locked) until you press and hold some combination of buttons that a toddler ostensibly couldn't stretch his fingers far enough to hit at the same time. That's probably as good as it gets, and if you want better you should again probably look in a mirror; how is your 11-month-old kid getting enough time to himself in the laundry area (which has myriad household chemicals that could kill him) to mess up the washer cycle?

Remember the Douglas Adams adage: "A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools". That holds for children as well. In fact, nothing's ever labelled "childproof" anymore because that implies a 100% guarantee that a child could never get past it (leading to several lawsuits, often successful, against manufacturers of these devices). What was "childproof" is now "child-resistant". Take heed; that's really the best you can do.

As an aside, stoves and ovens used to have similar layouts as the older style of washing machines, and many still do. The recent move on electric stoves to putting the controls on the front is as much a safety thing as having them at the rear on a washer/dryer; it's kind of hard to turn off the burner when you have to reach through a column of boiling steam or flame to do so. Gas cooktop designers have known that for years, but electric appliances are just now catching on.

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  • Electrify the exterior. Every time a child touches it they get shocked and eventually learned to KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OF IT!
  • Add the CAPTCHA-MATIC add on. This is a giant screen that is mounted on the device that consists of 12 indecipherable characters that you must enter within 3 seconds to re-activate the control panel.
  • Implement 2-step verification. To modify the Washer settings, you also have to use the water dispenser on the fridge to activate.
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Why not add a monster under the machine while you're at it? ;) –  rk. Jun 26 '13 at 15:51
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@rk. Don't be silly, monsters don't exist. Flamethrowers, on the other hand... –  badp Jun 26 '13 at 16:07
    
But eletrifying the exterior means that the parents get shocked, too :) –  Sebastian Negraszus Jun 26 '13 at 16:11

It could have lock mode while working. To unlock there should be action performed which is difficult for child either physically or mentally, i.e. considering child's constraints.

At the same time from a manufacturer perspective the solution should be as cheap as possible because it is reflected on the machine price.

For the advanced washing machines it could be coded in the firmware and it is extremely cheap! Pretend, a washing machine asks you "1+3=?" (mental barrier).

More simple machines without screens it could be some tricky physical button (physical barrier).

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Some off the top of my head ideas:

  • a separate key/card that has to be inserted into the machine for button presses to be registered.
  • a time lock which kicks in after say one minute and has to be solved by a PIN before one can interact with the machine controls
  • having the machine controlled by a remote rather than physical buttons on the actual machine, you place the remote in a remote location (harr harr) for the infant
  • a seal which has to be operated by both hands at each top corner of the machine front to unveil the button panel
  • threats of repercussions if the child touches the god damn machine again.. (probably not a good solution though)
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+1 for item #5. That can be just an effective a solution as any of the others. –  Justin ᚅᚔᚈᚄᚒᚔ Jun 26 '13 at 15:52

Well, a washing machine needs to be used frequently but just to make sure someone doesnt accidently press any switches, we cannot or shouldnot provide high security or anything, i mean its after all the washing machine.

So i think it will be better to provide autolocking feature after the user doesnt press any button for sometime. Instead of giving a keycode to unlock it i think its better to take a page from the old mobile phone's book. Long press the lock button to unlock it!! How about that??

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If you don't tell the kid... –  11684 Jun 26 '13 at 11:49
    
@11684 true... But same goes in the case of setting a password... –  prince Jun 26 '13 at 11:51
    
Perhaps add it to the answer? With a password, it's kind of obvious to keep it secret. With a button press... The kid might spot you long-pressing that button and replicate that. Remember, the boy from the question is 11 years old. –  11684 Jun 26 '13 at 11:54
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@11684 The boy is only 11 months old... But it doesnt matter. But we should consider the fact that adding password entry means number keys which means increased price for washing machine. –  prince Jun 26 '13 at 11:57
    
Oops, misread. How stupid of me. –  11684 Jun 26 '13 at 12:05

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