What is an appliance? Definition and examples

An appliance is a piece of equipment or device that has been created for a specific function or task. In most cases, they are for domestic use and are powered by electricity or butane gas. It is a non-manual device, instrument, contraption, or apparatus that is powered by electricity or another fuel that we typically use in the home.

Household appliance

A household, domestic, or home appliance is a device we use to clean, wash, cook, or preserve food and drinks. There are basically three types:

Small appliances
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We also refer to these as small electrics. They are semi-portable or portable machines that we place and use on kitchen counter-tops, shelves, and tabletops around the house. A microwave is an example of one, as are food processors, toasters, electric kettles, ionizers, and humidifiers.

Major appliances (British: white goods)
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These are large machines such as washing machines, refrigerators, and stoves (British: cookers). They are not the same as a plumbing fixtures, which do not require electricity or fuel. Major appliances, unlike their smaller counterparts, are not portable, i.e., they are not for carrying around.

Many devices in this category require special connections to electricity or gas supplies, or the home’s plumbing system. Household members, therefore, cannot place them wherever they want.

Consumer electronics (British: brown goods)
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This category includes all types of electronic equipment that their creators designed for everyday use, especially in our homes. Hence, we also call them home electronics. All home recreation, communications, and entertainment devices belong to the consumer electronics category.

The first widespread consumer electronic product, the radio, appeared early in the twentieth century. As the century progressed, other products emerged in the marketplace, such as telephones, calculators, record players, TVs, video recorders, video players, personal computers, game consoles, and MP3 players.

Today, there are literally hundreds of different types of consumer electronics. It is a massive marketplace. Persistence Market Research predicted that by the end of 2020, the global market would be worth $2.9 trillion.

Computer appliances

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These are computing devices that have specific functions. Software engineers have placed their OS under their API (OS = operating software. ATI = application-specific interface). Some devices offer more than one service. However, they are not general-purpose computers.

You do not need expert computer skills to set up or use them.

Wikipedia.org says the following about the term:

“A computer appliance is a computer with software or firmware that is specifically designed to provide a specific computing resource. Such devices became known as appliances because of the similarity in role or management to a home appliance, which are generally closed and sealed, and are not serviceable by the user or owner.”

“The hardware and software are delivered as an integrated product and may even be pre-configured before delivery to a customer, to provide a turn-key solution for a particular application.”


Etymology is the study of the origin of words and common phrases and how their meanings have evolved over time. Experts on the origins of words are etymologists.

According to etymonline.com, the term appliance first emerged in the English language in the 1560s. It the time, it referred to the “action of putting into use.” In 1590, its meaning expanded to also include “instrument, thing applied for a purpose.”