Eli5 How does a washing machine determine what the water level needs to be when filling a load?

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For instance if I throw a couple of things in, it only fills the bottom with water, but if I completely fill the machine it fills all of the way up.

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New machines have sensors that determine how much weight is inside. Less clothes equals less water. If you use a washer from before the 2000’s then you’ll probably use a whole load of water every time.

Many machines are built with a tube outside the tub that fills as the water enters the tub. When the water level reaches a certain point in the small tube, a switch is activated, the water stops entering, and the cycle begins.

Choosing different size loads “tells” the tube which level to allow the water to get to before the “start washing” switch activates.