Washing Machine is the first Sonic Youth album in which Kim Gordon plays guitar, instead of bass, almost exclusively.
The track "Little Trouble Girl" features vocals by Kim Gordon and Breeders/Pixies member Kim Deal along with Lorette Velvette and Melissa Dunn. During the song, Gordon makes reference to the song "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" by The Shangri-Las, borrowing the words and inflection "very, very close" from the song. The video for that track was directed by noted music video and feature film director Mark Romanek. It's in a gently-paced artistic sci-fi style, with Gordon and Deal and a strange small alien creature with long fingers.
"Becuz Coda" (the unlisted track 9) was originally part of the song "Becuz", but Geffen Records felt they needed to cut the seven and a half minute track to make the album's opening more accessible. "The Diamond Sea" runs approximately six minutes longer on the vinyl LP version of the album. The extra time is in the noisy coda near the end of the song. The 25-minute version was also made available on the CD single for "The Diamond Sea" and, in 2006, on the compilation The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities.
Trouser Press described the album's style as "[veering] between trance-guitar experiments and more concise statements".Entertainment Weekly described it thus: "these songs unfold over even-tempered rhythms and guitars that linger rather than attack. A splatter of distortion may enter, but the effect is mostly languid and wonderfully hypnotic."
The album cover consists of a cropped polaroid shot of two unidentified fans taken at a Sonic Youth show in Amherst, Massachusetts in April 1995, during a short tour undertaken while the album was still in production; they are shown wearing T-shirts that were sold as merchandise during that tour. Visible on the left-hand shirt are signatures by Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw of the tour's opening band Come. According to Sleevage.com, the polaroid was found on the floor of the venue, and presented to the band. DGC attempted to identify and obtain clearance from the pictured individuals via an MTV News bulletin, but as they could not be identified, their faces were cropped out for the album cover.
Washing Machine peaked at No. 39 on the UK Albums Chart. The record was released in Europe also in a double "special limited edition tour package": the second disc contained "Starfield Road", "Eric's Trip", "The Diamond Sea" and "Teenage Riot" live from a France Inter Radio broadcast of a September 12, 1995 Paris gig.
Allmusic praised the album, calling it "easily their most adventurous, challenging and best record since Daydream Nation [...] Not only are the songs more immediate than most of the material on their earlier records, the sound here is warm and open, making Washing Machine their most mature and welcoming record to date. [..] Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound."