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Title:
LAUNDRY WASHING MACHINE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/096009
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A laundry washing machine (1) comprising an outer casing (2) and, inside said outer casing (2), a washing tub (3), a rotatable drum housed in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub (3), a detergent dispenser (10) for supplying detergent into the washing tub (3), a fresh-water supply circuit (12) which for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains towards the detergent dispenser (10) and/or the washing tub (3), and an internal water softening device (13) filled with a water softening agent; the laundry washing machine (1) further comprises: at least a first drawer (16, 70) inserted in extractable manner into a drawer housing (18, 71) located inside the outer casing (2), provided with a regeneration-agent compartment (21) tillable with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent; a first water-supply line (19) for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said regeneration-agent compartment (21); a brine reservoir (35) located underneath said first drawer (16, 70) and dimensioned to catch and contain the brine falling down from said regeneration-agent compartment (21); and a second water-supply line (19) for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir (35) bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment (21) of said first drawer (16, 70).

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Inventors:
DEL POS MAURIZIO (IT)
FAVARO DANIELE (IT)
CINELLO MAURO (IT)
DA RIOL DANIELE (IT)
Application Number:
PCT/EP2014/078403
Publication Date:
June 23, 2016
Filing Date:
December 18, 2014
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ELECTROLUX APPLIANCES AB (SE)
International Classes:
D06F39/00; D06F39/02
Domestic Patent References:
WO2014121823A12014-08-14
Foreign References:
EP2657388A12013-10-30
EP2657387A12013-10-30
EP2562303A22013-02-27
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NARDONI, Andrea et al. (Corso Lino Zanussi 30, Porcia, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A laundry washing machine (1) comprising an outer casing (2) and, inside said outer casing (2), a washing tub (3), a rotatable drum housed in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub (3) and structured for housing the laundry to be washed, a detergent dispenser (10) which is structured for supplying detergent into the washing tub (3), a fresh- water supply circuit (12) which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains towards the detergent dispenser (10) and/or the washing tub (3), and an internal water softening device (13) filled with a water softening agent capable of reducing the hardness degree of the fresh water directed towards the detergent dispenser (10) or the washing tub (3);

said laundry washing machine being characterized by additionally comprising: a regeneration-agent reservoir (21) located/recessed inside the outer casing (2) and structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent; a first water-supply line (19) which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said regeneration- agent reservoir (21) so as to form brine; a brine reservoir (35) which is fluidically connected to said regeneration-agent reservoir (21) for receiving and accumulating the brine arriving from said regeneration-agent reservoir (21); and a second water-supply line (19, 74) which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir (35) bypassing said regeneration-agent reservoir (21).

2. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 1, characterized by comprising at least a first drawer (16, 70) which is fitted/inserted in ex tractable manner into a corresponding first drawer housing (18, 71), and in that said regeneration-agent reservoir (21) is a substantially basin-shaped, regeneration- agent compartment (21) formed on said first drawer (16, 70); said second water-supply line (19, 74) being structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir (35) bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment (21) of said first drawer (16, 70).

3. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 2, characterized in that said brine reservoir (35) is at least partly located underneath said first drawer (16, 70) for catching the brine falling down from said regeneration- agent compartment (21).

4. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 2 or 3, characterized in that said first drawer housing (18, 71) has a substantially basin-shaped bottom portion (32) which is substantially vertically aligned to the regeneration-agent compartment (21) of the drawer (16, 70), so that said basin-shaped bottom portion (32) receives the brine falling down from the regeneration-agent compartment (21); and in that said brine reservoir (35) is integrally formed or directly communicates with said basin- shaped bottom portion (32).

5. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 2, 3 or 4, characterized in that said brine reservoir (35) comprises a brine tank (37) which is discrete from the drawer housing (18, 71) of said first drawer (16, 70).

6. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 2, 3, 4 o 5, characterized in that in that said brine reservoir (35) comprises a brine tank (37) which is attached to the bottom of said first drawer housing (18, 71).

7. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 6, characterized in that said brine tank (37) communicates with said first basin-shaped bottom portion (32) via a vertical pipe-extension (38) that protrudes downwards from the bottom of said first drawer housing (18, 71) and fits into a complementary brine inlet opening (38a) formed on top wall of said tank (37).

8. Laundry washing machine according to any one of the preceding claims, characterized in that said brine reservoir (35) fluidly communicates with the water softening device (13) via a pump assembly (36) which is capable of selectively pumping the brine accumulated into the brine reservoir (35), from the brine reservoir (35) to the water softening device (13).

9. Laundry washing machine according to any one of the preceding claims, characterized in that said second water-supply line (74) comprises: an electrically- operated, on-off valve (75) which is connectable to the water mains; and a piping (76) connecting said electrically-operated, on-off valve (75) to the brine reservoir (35).

10. Laundry washing machine according to any one of Claims 2-9, characterized in that said first drawer (16) is additionally provided with one or more detergent compartments (17) which are arranged beside the regeneration-agent compartment (21) and are each structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent.

11. Laundry washing machine according to any one of Claims 2-9, characterized in that the detergent dispenser (10) comprises a second drawer (16) which is fitted/inserted in extractable manner into a corresponding substantially basin-shaped, second drawer housing (18) which is located/recessed inside the outer casing (2), and is provided with one or more detergent compartments (17) each structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent; said second drawer (16) being arranged horizontally beside said first drawer (70) so that both drawers (16, 70) are independently movable inside the respective drawer housings (18, 71) parallel to one another.

12. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 10 or 11, characterized in that said detergent dispenser (10) furthermore comprises a drawer flush circuit (19) which is connected to the fresh-water supply circuit (12), and is structured for selectively pouring the fresh water of the water mains into any one of said detergent compartments (17), so as to selectively flush the detergent, softener or other washing agent out of the same detergent compartment (17) and down onto the bottom of the corresponding drawer housing (18).

13. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 12, characterized in that said drawer flush circuit (19) comprises at least part of said second water-supply line (74).

14. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 12 or 13, characterized in that said drawer flush circuit (19) comprises at least part of said first water-supply line (19).

15. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 12, 13 or 14, characterized in that said drawer flush circuit (19) comprises: a water conveyor (42) which forms the upper lid of said first (18, 71) and/or second drawer housing (18), so as to be located immediately above said first and/or second drawer (16, 70) when said drawer/s (16,

70) is/are completely inserted/recessed into the corresponding drawer housing/s (18,

71) , and is provided with a number of first water-delivery portions (44) each vertically aligned to a respective detergent compartment (17) and structured to allow the outflow of the water from the water conveyor (42) towards the beneath-located detergent compartment (17); and an electrically-operated, water distributor (43) which is connected to the fresh-water supply circuit (12) and/or to the water softening device (13) for receiving unsoftened or softened fresh water, and is structured to selectively channel said softened or unsoftened fresh water towards any one of the first water-delivery portions (44) of said water conveyor (42).

16. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 15, characterized in that said water conveyor (42) is provided with a second water-delivery portion (46) which is structured to allow the outflow of the fresh water from the water conveyor (42) towards the brine reservoir (35) bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment (21); the electrically-operated, water distributor (43) being structured to selectively channel the softened or unsoftened fresh arriving from the fresh-water supply circuit (12) and/or from the water softening device (13) also towards said second water- delivery portion (46).

17. Laundry washing machine according to Claims 16, characterized in that said second water-delivery portion (46) comprises a nozzle structured to direct/project/ spout a jet of water towards the water inlet (38) of the brine reservoir (35) thus to form an air-break.

18. Laundry washing machine according to Claim 15, 16 or 17, characterized in that said water conveyor (42) is provided with a third water-delivery portion (45) structured to allow the outflow of the water from the water conveyor (42) towards the regeneration- agent compartment (21); the electrically-operated, water distributor (43) being structured to selectively channel the softened or unsoftened fresh arriving from the fresh-water supply circuit (12) and/or from the water softening device (13) also towards said third water-delivery portion (45).

19. Laundry washing machine according to any one of Claims 15-18, characterized in that said electrically-operated, water distributor (43) is a flow- diverter module (43) which has a water inlet (48) for receiving the softened or unsoftened fresh water; a number of water outlets (49) communicating with said water conveyor (42); and an internal rotatable flow diverter which is capable of channeling, according to its angular position, the water entering into the flow- diverter module (43) via the water inlet (48) towards any one of the water outlets (49) of the same flow-diverter module (43).

20. Laundry washing machine according to any one of Claims 2-19, characterized in that said first drawer housing (18, 71) comprises at least a portion of said second water-supply line (19, 74).

21. Laundry washing machine according to any one of the preceding claims, characterized in that said water softening device (13) contains a given amount of ion- exchange resins capable of retaining the calcium and magnesium ions dissolved in the water that flows through the same water softening device (13).

22. Laundry washing machine according to any one of the preceding claims, characterized in that the regeneration- agent compartment (21) is dimensioned to accommodate an amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent sufficient for performing one or more regeneration processes of water softening capabilities of the water softening agent contained into said water softening device (13).

23. Operating method of a laundry washing machine (1) comprising: a washing tub (3), a rotatable drum housed in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub (3), a detergent dispenser (10) structured for supplying detergent into the washing tub (3), a fresh- water supply circuit (12) structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains towards the detergent dispenser (10) and/or the washing tub (3), an internal water softening device (13) filled with a water softening agent capable of reducing the hardness degree of the fresh water directed towards the detergent dispenser (10) or the washing tub (3), a regeneration-agent reservoir (21) filled with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent to be used in the regeneration processes of water softening capabilities of the water softening agent contained into said water softening device (13), and a brine reservoir (35) fluidically connected to said regeneration- agent reservoir (21) for receiving and accumulating the brine arriving from said regeneration-agent reservoir (21); said operating method being characterized by comprising the steps of

- channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir (35) bypassing said regeneration- agent reservoir (21) for rinsing/washing up said brine reservoir (35); and

- draining said fresh water out of the brine reservoir (35).

24. Operating method of a laundry washing machine according to Claims 23, characterized by comprising, before the step of channelling a flow of fresh water into the brine reservoir (35) bypassing said regeneration- agent reservoir (21), the step of

- channelling a flow of fresh water into said regeneration-agent reservoir (21) so as to form brine that flows and accumulates into said brine reservoir (35); and

- moving the brine from said brine reservoir (35) to said internal water softening device (13) thus to substantially empty said brine reservoir (35).

25. Operating method of a laundry washing machine according to Claim 23 or

24, characterized in that the step of draining the fresh water out of the brine reservoir (35) comprises the step of moving said fresh water into said internal water softening device (13).

26. Operating method of a laundry washing machine according to Claim 24 or

25, characterized in that the step of moving the brine from the brine reservoir (35) to the internal water softening device (13) comprises the step of pumping the brine from said brine reservoir (35) to said internal water softening device (13).

Description:
LAUNDRY WASHING MACHINE

The present invention relates to a laundry washing machine.

More in particular, the present invention relates to a front-loading home laundry washing machine, to which the following description refers purely by way of example without this implying any loss of generality.

As is known, a front-loading home laundry washing machine generally comprises: a substantially parallelepiped-shaped outer boxlike casing structured for resting on the floor; a substantially horizontally-oriented and approximately cylindrical washing tub which is usually suspended in floating manner inside the casing, with the front mouth directly facing a laundry loading/unloading through opening realized in the front wall of the casing; a substantially cylindrical, cup- shaped rotatable drum structured for housing the laundry to be washed, and which is fitted inside the washing tub with the concavity facing the laundry loading/unloading opening, and is supported by the washing tub in axially rotatable manner so as to be able to freely rotate inside the washing tub about its substantially horizontally- oriented, longitudinal axis; a substantially cylindrical, elastically-deformable bellows which watertight connects the front mouth of the washing tub to the laundry loading/ unloading opening formed in the front wall of the casing; a porthole door which is hinged to the front wall of the casing to rotate to and from a closing position in which the door closes the laundry loading/unloading opening in the front wall of the casing for watertight sealing the washing tub; and an electrically-powered motor assembly which is structured for driving into rotation the rotatable drum about its longitudinal axis inside the washing tub.

This type of laundry washing machine furthermore comprises: a detergent dispenser which is located inside the boxlike casing, immediately above the washing tub, and is structured for selectively feeding into the washing tub, according to the washing cycle manually-selected by the user, a given amount of detergent, softener and/or other washing agent suitably mixed with fresh water arriving from the water mains; a fresh- water supply circuit which is structured for selectively drawing fresh water from the water mains according to the washing cycle manually- selected by the user, and channelling said fresh water to the detergent dispenser or directly to the washing tub; and finally an appliance control panel which is generally located on the front wall of the casing, above the laundry loading/unloading opening, and is structured for allowing the user to manually select the desired washing-cycle.

In addition to the above, high-end front-loading laundry washing machines may optionally have an internal water softening device which is located along the fresh-water supply circuit, and is structured to selectively reduce the hardness degree of the tap water channelled towards the detergent dispenser and the washing tub. The use of softened water during the washing cycle, in fact, significantly improves cleaning performances.

More in detail, the water softening device is generally internally provided with a given amount of ion-exchange resins which are capable of retaining the calcium and magnesium ions (Ca++ and Mg++) dissolved in the water flowing through the same water softening device, so as to reduce the hardness degree of the tap water directed towards the detergent dispenser and the washing tub.

In addition to the above, since the water softening capabilities of the ion- exchange resins are used to quickly drop away after a limited number of washing cycles, this high-end laundry washing machines are generally provided with an internal reservoir of salt (NaCl) to be used for selectively producing some brine (i.e. salt water) which is periodically channeled into the water softening device to regenerate the ion-exchange resins located therein. Salt water, in fact, is able to remove from the ion-exchange resins the calcium and magnesium ions previously combined/fixed to said resins.

EP2657387 discloses a front-loading home laundry washing machine wherein the salt to be used in the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins is stowed into a regeneration- agent drawer which is fitted in manually extractable manner into a corresponding drawer housing recessed on front wall of the casing, beside the drawer housing of the detergent drawer of the detergent dispenser. The laundry washing machine is furthermore provided with a water supply line structured to selectively pour a shower of water droplets by gravity into the regeneration-agent drawer thus to solve some of the salt grains contained into the same regeneration- agent drawer and form the brine that drops on the bottom of the drawer housing of the regeneration- agent drawer. An electric pump assembly finally sucks the brine from the bottom of the drawer housing of the regeneration- agent drawer and feeds it to the water softening device.

Unluckily as time passes the brine temporarily accumulating on the bottom of the drawer housing of the regeneration- agent drawer tends to form, on the bottom of the drawer housing, salt deposits that may block up the suction of the pump assembly with all problems that this entails.

Aim of the present invention is to prevent the brine to form, on the bottom of the drawer housing of the regeneration- agent drawer, salt deposits capable of impairing operation of the electric pump assembly.

In compliance with the above aims, according to the present invention there is provided a laundry washing machine comprising an outer casing and, inside said outer casing, a washing tub, a rotatable drum housed in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub and structured for housing the laundry to be washed, a detergent dispenser which is structured for supplying detergent into the washing tub, a fresh-water supply circuit which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains towards the detergent dispenser and/or the washing tub, and an internal water softening device filled with a water softening agent capable of reducing the hardness degree of the fresh water directed towards the detergent dispenser or the washing tub;

said laundry washing machine being characterized by additionally comprising: a regeneration-agent reservoir located/recessed inside the outer casing and structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent; a first water-supply line which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said regeneration- agent reservoir so as to form brine; a brine reservoir which is fluidically connected to said regeneration-agent reservoir for receiving and accumulating the brine arriving from said regeneration- agent reservoir; and a second water-supply line which is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir bypassing said regeneration-agent reservoir.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized by comprising at least a first drawer which is fitted/ inserted in extractable manner into a corresponding first drawer housing, and in that said regeneration- agent reservoir is a substantially basin-shaped, regeneration- agent compartment formed on said first drawer; said second water-supply line being structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment of said first drawer.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir is at least partly located underneath said first drawer for catching the brine falling down from said regeneration-agent compartment.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer housing has a substantially basin- shaped bottom portion which is substantially vertically aligned to the regeneration- agent compartment of the drawer, so that said basin-shaped bottom portion receives the brine falling down from the regeneration-agent compartment; and in that said brine reservoir is integrally formed or directly communicates with said basin-shaped bottom portion.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir comprises a brine tank which is discrete from the drawer housing of said first drawer.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir comprises a brine tank which is attached to the bottom of said first drawer housing. Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine tank communicates with said first basin- shaped bottom portion via a vertical pipe-extension that protrudes downwards from the bottom of said first drawer housing and fits into a complementary brine inlet opening formed on top wall of said tank.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir is dimensioned to contain a given amount of brine greater than 100 millilitres.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir is dimensioned to contain an amount of brine overapproximating the whole amount of brine to be channelled into the water softening device for performing the regeneration process of the water softening agent contained into the same water softening device.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine reservoir fluidly communicates with the water softening device via a pump assembly which is capable of selectively pumping the brine accumulated into the brine reservoir, from the brine reservoir to the water softening device.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said pump assembly comprises an electrically- powered volumetric pump.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said second water-supply line comprises: an electrically-operated, on-off valve which is connectable to the water mains; and a piping connecting said electrically-operated, on-off valve to the brine reservoir.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer is additionally provided with one or more detergent compartments which are arranged beside the regeneration- agent compartment and are each structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent. Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that the detergent dispenser comprises a second drawer which is fitted/inserted in extractable manner into a corresponding substantially basin-shaped, second drawer housing which is located/recessed inside the outer casing, and is provided with one or more detergent compartments each structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said second drawer is arranged horizontally beside said first drawer so that both drawers are independently movable inside the respective drawer housings parallel to one another.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said detergent dispenser furthermore comprises a drawer flush circuit which is connected to the fresh-water supply circuit, and is structured for selectively pouring the fresh water of the water mains into any one of said detergent compartments, so as to selectively flush the detergent, softener or other washing agent out of the same detergent compartment and down onto the bottom of the corresponding drawer housing.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said drawer flush circuit comprises at least part of said second water-supply line.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said drawer flush circuit comprises at least part of said first water-supply line.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said drawer flush circuit comprises: a water conveyor which forms the upper lid of said first and/or second drawer housing, so as to be located immediately above said first and/or second drawer when said drawer/s is/are completely inserted/recessed into the corresponding drawer housing/s, and is provided with a number of first water-delivery portions each vertically aligned to a respective detergent compartment and structured to allow the outflow of the water from the water conveyor towards the beneath-located detergent compartment; and an electrically-operated, water distributor which is connected to the fresh-water supply circuit and/or to the water softening device for receiving unsoftened or softened fresh water, and is structured to selectively channel said softened or unsoftened fresh water towards any one of the first water-delivery portions of said water conveyor.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said water conveyor is provided with a second water-delivery portion which is structured to allow the outflow of the fresh water from the water conveyor towards the brine reservoir bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment; the electrically-operated, water distributor being structured to selectively channel the softened or unsoftened fresh arriving from the fresh-water supply circuit and/or from the water softening device also towards said second water- delivery portion.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer housing has a substantially basin- shaped bottom portion and in that said second water-delivery portion is structured to direct the water into the first drawer housing towards a region of said basin-shaped bottom portion vertically misaligned to the first drawer in retracted position.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said second water-delivery portion comprises a nozzle structured to direct/ project/spout a jet of water towards the water inlet of the brine reservoir thus to form an air-break.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said water conveyor is provided with a third water- delivery portion structured to allow the outflow of the water from the water conveyor towards the regeneration- agent compartment; the electrically-operated, water distributor being structured to selectively channel the softened or unsoftened fresh arriving from the fresh-water supply circuit and/or from the water softening device also towards said third water-delivery portion. Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said electrically-operated, water distributor is a flow-diverter module which has a water inlet for receiving the softened or unsoftened fresh water; a number of water outlets communicating with said water conveyor; and an internal rotatable flow diverter which is capable of channeling, according to its angular position, the water entering into the flow-diverter module via the water inlet towards any one of the water outlets of the same flow-diverter module.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer housing comprises at least a portion of said second water-supply line.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said second water-supply line is at least partly delimited by or incorporated into said first drawer housing.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer comprises a manually openable, upper lid assembly which is located on the upper mouth of the regeneration-agent compartment, and is structured to couple with said third water-delivery portion for receiving the water coming out from the water conveyor and distribute said water into the beneath- located regeneration-agent compartment.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said first drawer additionally comprises a partitioning septum which extends inside the regeneration-agent compartment above a brine outlet of the regeneration-agent compartment, and has a water-permeable structure which is designed to slow down the outflow of the brine from the regeneration-agent compartment via the brine outlet for causing a temporary stagnation of the water poured into the regeneration- agent compartment above the partitioning septum.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said brine outlet is a pass-through opening which is formed on the bottom of the regeneration-agent compartment, and is shaped/ dimensioned to allow the brine formed inside the regeneration-agent compartment to freely fall on the basin-shaped bottom portion of said first drawer housing.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said partitioning septum is structured to allow the passage of the brine through the same partitioning septum with a flowrate which is lower than that of the fresh water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment via said first water-supply line.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that said water softening device contains a given amount of ion-exchange resins capable of retaining the calcium and magnesium ions dissolved in the water that flows through the same water softening device.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that the regeneration-agent compartment is dimensioned to accommodate an amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent sufficient for performing one or more regeneration processes of water softening capabilities of the water softening agent contained into said water softening device.

In compliance with the above aims, according to the present invention there is also provided an operating method of a laundry washing machine comprising: a washing tub, a rotatable drum housed in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub, a detergent dispenser structured for supplying detergent into the washing tub, a fresh-water supply circuit structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains towards the detergent dispenser and/or the washing tub, an internal water softening device filled with a water softening agent capable of reducing the hardness degree of the fresh water directed towards the detergent dispenser or the washing tub, a regeneration-agent reservoir filled with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent to be used in the regeneration processes of water softening capabilities of the water softening agent contained into said water softening device, and a brine reservoir fluidically connected to said regeneration-agent reservoir for receiving and accumulating the brine arriving from said regeneration-agent reservoir; said operating method being characterized by comprising the steps of

- channelling a flow of fresh water into said brine reservoir bypassing said regeneration-agent reservoir for rinsing/washing up said brine reservoir; and

- draining said fresh water out of the brine reservoir.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the operating method of the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized by comprising, before the step of channelling a flow of fresh water into the brine reservoir bypassing said regeneration-agent reservoir, the step of

- channelling a flow of fresh water into said regeneration- agent reservoir so as to form brine that flows and accumulates into said brine reservoir; and

- moving the brine from said brine reservoir to said internal water softening device thus to substantially empty said brine reservoir.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the operating method of the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that the step of draining the fresh water out of the brine reservoir comprises the step of moving said fresh water into said internal water softening device.

Preferably, though not necessarily, the operating method of the laundry washing machine is furthermore characterized in that the step of moving the brine from the brine reservoir to the internal water softening device comprises the step of pumping the brine from said brine reservoir to said internal water softening device.

A non-limiting embodiment of the present invention will now be described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

Figure 1 is a perspective view of a laundry washing machine realized in accordance with the teachings of the present invention, with parts removed for clarity;

Figures 2 is a side view of the Figure 1 laundry washing machine, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 3 is an enlarged perspective view of the top of the Figure 1 laundry washing machine, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 4 is a perspective view of the detergent dispensing assembly of the Figure 1 laundry washing machine, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 5 is a schematic view of the Figure 4 detergent dispensing assembly; Figure 6 is a partially exploded perspective view of the Figure 4 detergent dispensing assembly, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 7 is a sectioned front view of the detergent dispensing assembly shown in Figures 4 and 6, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 8 is a partially exploded perspective view of the detergent drawer of the detergent dispensing assembly shown in Figures 4 and 6, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 9 is a sectioned side view of the detergent drawer shown in Figure 6, with parts removed for clarity;

Figure 10 is an enlarged side view of a portion of the Figure 7 detergent dispensing assembly, sectioned along section line A-A;

Figure 11 is an enlarged side view of a portion of the Figure 7 detergent dispensing assembly, with parts in section and parts removed for clarity;

Figure 12 is a perspective view of the upper lid of the drawer housing of the detergent dispensing assembly shown in Figures 6 and 7;

Figure 13 is a sectioned perspective view of the Figure 6 detergent dispensing assembly, with parts removed for clarity;

Figures 14 and 15 are perspective views of the top portion of two further embodiments of the Figure 1 laundry washing machine, with parts removed for clarity; whereas

Figure 16 is a schematic view of a further embodiment of the Figure 4 detergent dispensing assembly.

With reference to Figures 1, 2 and 3, reference number 1 indicates as a whole a laundry washing machine 1 which preferably basically comprises: a preferably substantially parallelepiped- shaped, outer boxlike casing 2 structured for resting on the floor; a preferably substantially horizontally-oriented, approximately cylindrical washing tub 3 which is arranged inside the casing 2 with the mouth directly facing a laundry loading/unloading pass-through opening realized in the front wall 4 of the outer casing 2; a substantially cylindrical, cup-shaped rotatable drum (not shown) which is structured for housing the laundry to be washed, and is fitted in axially rotatable manner inside the washing tub 3 with the concavity facing the front opening or mouth of washing tub 3, so as to be able to freely rotate about its longitudinal axis inside the washing tub 3; a porthole door 5 which is hinged to the front wall 4 of casing 2 so as to be movable/rotatable to and from a closing position in which the door 5 closes the laundry loading/unloading opening on front wall 4 for watertight sealing the washing tub 4; and an electrically-powered motor assembly 6 which is structured for driving into rotation the rotatable drum (not shown) about its longitudinal axis inside the washing tub 3.

In the example shown, in particular, the rotatable drum (not shown) of laundry washing machine 1 is preferably arranged inside the washing tub 3 with the drum rotation axis locally substantially coaxial to the longitudinal axis of washing tub 3, i.e. oriented substantially horizontally, and with the circular front opening or mouth of the drum directly aligned and faced to the circular front opening or mouth of washing tub 3, so as to receive the laundry to be washed through the laundry loading/unloading opening realized on front wall 4.

The washing tub 3, in turn, is preferably suspended in floating manner inside the casing 2 via a suspension system that preferably, though not necessarily, comprises at least one, and preferably a couple of upper coil springs 7 connecting the upper portion of washing tub 3 to the top of casing 2, and preferably at least one, and preferably a couple of vibration dampers 8 connecting the bottom portion of washing tub 3 to the bottom of casing 2. Moreover the laundry washing machine 1 is preferably provided with a substantially cylindrical elastically-deformable bellows (not shown) which watertight connects the front mouth of washing tub 3 to the laundry loading/unloading opening realized on front wall 4 of casing 2.

With reference to Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4, the laundry washing machine 1 furthermore comprises: a detergent dispenser 10 which is located inside the casing 2 preferably above the washing tub 3 and preferably, though not necessarily, immediately underneath the upper worktop or top wall 11 of casing 2, and is structured for selectively feeding into the washing tub 3, according to the washing cycle manually-selected by the user, a given amount of detergent, softener and/or other washing agent suitably mixed with fresh water; a main fresh-water supply circuit 12 which is connectable directly to the water mains, and is structured for selectively channelling, according to the washing cycle manually- selected by the user, a flow of fresh water from the water mains to the detergent dispenser 10 or directly to the washing tub 3; and an internal water softening device 13 which is located inside the boxlike casing 2, along the fresh- water supply circuit 12 or the detergent dispenser 10, and is structured for selectively reducing, during each washing cycle, the hardness degree of the tap water that fresh-water supply circuit 12 channels towards detergent dispenser 10 or washing tub 3.

More in detail, the water softening device 13 basically consists in a closed container which has a water inlet and a water outlet fluidically connected to the fresh-water supply circuit 12 and/or the detergent dispenser 10 so as to be crossed by the tap water directed towards the washing tub 3, and which is furthermore filled with a given amount of ion-exchange resins capable of retaining the calcium and magnesium ions (Ca++ and Mg++) dissolved in the water flowing through the same container, so as to reduce the hardness degree of the tap water directed towards the washing tub 3.

In the example shown, in particular, the water softening device 13 is preferably located inside the boxlike casing 2 adjoined to the detergent dispenser 10, and is preferably fluidically connected directly to detergent dispenser 10 so as to be crossed by the fresh water flowing towards the washing tub 3 via the same detergent dispenser 10.

With reference to Figures 1 and 3, in addition to the above, the laundry washing machine 1 preferably moreover comprises an appliance control panel 14 which is preferably located on front wall 4 of casing 2, above the laundry loading/ unloading opening and preferably also immediately beneath the upper worktop or top wall 11 of casing 2, and is structured to allow the user to manually select the desired washing cycle among a number of available washing cycles.

With reference to Figures 1-9, detergent dispenser 10 in turn basically comprises: a detergent drawer 16 which is provided with one or more substantially basin-shaped, detergent compartments 17 (three detergent compartments 17 in the example shown) each structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent, and which is fitted/inserted in manually extractable manner into a corresponding substantially basin-shaped, drawer housing 18 which, in turn, is located/recessed inside the casing 2 above washing tub 3, and whose entrance is preferably located on front wall 4 of casing 2, above the laundry loading/unloading opening realized on the same front wall 4; and preferably a drawer flush circuit 19 which is connected to the fresh- water supply circuit 12, and is structured for selectively channelling/pouring, when the detergent drawer 16 is completely fitted/inserted into drawer housing 18, the fresh water of the water mains into any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 so as to selectively flush the detergent, softener or other washing agent out of the same detergent compartment 17 and down onto the bottom of drawer housing 18.

More in detail, detergent drawer 16 is preferably movable inside the drawer housing 18 parallel to the substantially horizontally-oriented, longitudinal axis L of drawer housing 18 between:

- a retracted position (see Figure 2) in which detergent drawer 16 is completely fitted/inserted into drawer housing 18, so as to be almost completely recessed into the front wall 4 of casing 2; and

- a completely extracted position (see Figures 1, 3, 4 and 5) in which detergent drawer 16 partly juts out from the front wall 4 of casing 2, so as to expose the one or more detergent compartments 17 at once.

In other words, detergent drawer 16 is movable inside the drawer housing 18 in a substantially horizontally-oriented, displacement direction d which is locally substantially parallel to the longitudinal axis L of both drawer housing 18 and detergent drawer 16, between: - a retracted position (see Figure 2) in which detergent drawer 16 is almost completely recessed into the front wall 4 of casing 2 and the one or more detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 are inaccessible to the user; and

- a completely extracted position (see Figures 1, 3, 4 and 5) in which detergent drawer 16 partly juts out from the front wall 4 of casing 2, so that all detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 are fully accessible to the user.

In the example shown, in particular, the entrance of drawer housing 18 is preferably located on front wall 4 of casing 2, immediately underneath the upper worktop or top wall 11 of casing 2 and substantially horizontally aligned beside the appliance control panel 14. Moreover the longitudinal axis L of both detergent drawer 16 and drawer housing 18, and as a consequence the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16, are preferably locally substantially perpendicular to front wall 4 of casing 2.

Preferably each detergent compartment 17 is furthermore dimensioned to contain a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent sufficient for performing only a single washing cycle.

In addition to the above, the detergent drawer 16 preferably has, inside each detergent compartment 17, a siphon assembly suitably structured/dimensioned to selectively channel the mixture of water and detergent, softener or other washing agent formed inside the detergent compartment 17 out of the same detergent compartment 17 and down onto the bottom of drawer housing 18.

As an alternative to the siphon assembly, detergent drawer 16 may have, on the bottom of the detergent compartment 17, a large pass-through opening which is suitably shaped/dimensioned to allow the mixture of water and detergent, softener or other washing agent formed inside the same detergent compartment 17 to freely fall on the bottom of drawer housing 18.

The drawer flush circuit 19, in turn, is preferably structured for directly pouring, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, a shower of water droplets by gravity selectively and alternatively into any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16, so as to selectively flush the detergent, softener or other washing agent out of the same detergent compartment 17 and down onto the bottom of drawer housing 18.

With reference to Figures 3 to 9 and 13, detergent drawer 16 is furthermore provided with a substantially basin-shaped, regeneration-agent compartment 21 which is located beside the one or more detergent compartments 17, and is structured for being manually fillable with a given quantity of salt grains (NaCl) or other regeneration agent suitable to be used in the regeneration process of the ion- exchange resins of the water softening device 13.

More in details, the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is preferably arranged, on detergent drawer 16, beside the one or more detergent compartments 17, so that both detergent compartment/s 17 and regeneration-agent compartment 21 are allowed to almost contemporaneously come out from the front wall 4 of casing 2 when detergent drawer 16 moves from the retracted position to the extracted position.

In other words, the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is preferably arranged on detergent drawer 16 beside the one or more detergent compartments 17 transversally to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16, i.e. transversally to the longitudinal axis L of detergent drawer 16, so that the detergent compartment/s 17 and the regeneration-agent compartment 21 are arranged on opposite sides of a substantially vertically-oriented, reference plane which is parallel to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16 inside drawer housing 18, i.e. parallel to the longitudinal axis L of detergent drawer 16.

Detergent drawer 16 is therefore movable inside drawer housing 18 in the substantially horizontally-oriented, displacement direction d between:

- a retracted position (see Figure 2) in which detergent drawer 16 is completely recessed into the front wall 4 of casing 2, so that both the detergent compartment/s 17 and the regeneration-agent compartment 21 are inaccessible to the user; and - a completely extracted position (see Figures 1, 3, 4 and 5) in which detergent drawer 16 partly juts out from the front wall 4 of casing 2, so that both the detergent compartment/s 17 and the regeneration- agent compartment 21 are simultaneously fully accessible to the user. Preferably the regeneration- agent compartment 21 is moreover dimensioned to accommodate/contain an amount of consumable salt (NaCl) or other regeneration agent sufficient for performing a plurality of regeneration processes of the ion- exchange resins of the water softening device 11.

With reference to Figure 9, in addition to the above the detergent drawer 16 preferably has, on the bottom of regeneration- agent compartment 21, a large pass- through draining opening 22 which is suitably shaped/dimensioned to allow the brine formed inside the regeneration- agent compartment 21 to freely fall on the bottom of drawer housing 18.

More in detail, with reference to Figures 3 to 9, in the example shown detergent drawer 16 preferably comprises: a single drawer-like supporting structure 23 which is preferably made in a one piece construction, and is fitted/inserted in axially sliding manner into the drawer housing 18; and a manually-sizable front panel 24 which is arranged/located on a front side of the drawer-like supporting structure 23, so as to close the entrance of drawer housing 18 when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position (see Figure 2).

The one or more basin-shaped detergent compartments 17 and the basin- shaped regeneration-agent compartment 21 are formed directly on the drawer- like supporting structure 23 one side by side the other. The manually-sizable front panel 24, in turn, is arranged/located on a front side of the drawer-like supporting structure 23, so as to be arranged locally substantially coplanar to the front face 4 of casing 2, beside the appliance control panel 14, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position (see Figure 2).

In the example shown, in particular, the drawer-like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16 is preferably made in a single piece, via an injection moulding process. Preferably the same applies to the manually-sizable front panel 24. With reference to Figures 4, 5 and 6, the drawer flush circuit 19, in turn, is preferably additionally structured for selectively channelling, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, the fresh water of the water mains also into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, so as to dissolve some of the salt grains contained into the same regeneration- agent compartment 21 and form the brine.

In other words, drawer flush circuit 19 is directly connected to the fresh- water supply circuit 12 for receiving the fresh water of the water mains, and is suitably structured for selectively pouring, when the detergent drawer 16 is completely fitted/ inserted into drawer housing 18, the fresh water arriving from the water mains into any one of detergent compartments 17, or into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

In case of detergent compartment/s 17, the poured fresh water serves to selectively flush the contents of the detergent compartment 17 out of the same compartment 17 and down on the bottom of drawer housing 18 via the corresponding siphon assembly. In case of regeneration-agent compartment 21, the poured fresh water serves to dissolve some salt grains contained into the regeneration- agent compartment 21 to form the brine that falls on the bottom of drawer housing 18 via pass-through opening 22.

With reference to Figures 6, 7, 8 and 13, detergent drawer 16 is preferably additionally provided with a preferably manually-removable, water-permeable partitioning septum 25 which extends inside the regeneration-agent compartment 21 immediately above the bottom of regeneration-agent compartment 21 and its large pass-through opening 22, and has a water-permeable structure designed for preventing the grains of consumable salt to come out of the regeneration-agent compartment 21 via the pass-through opening 22 and, at same time, for allowing the brine to trickle onto the bottom of the regeneration- agent compartment 21 and then freely flow by gravity towards the pass-through opening 22.

Preferably the partitioning septum 25 furthermore has a water-permeable structure suitably designed to slow down the outflow of the brine from the regeneration-agent compartment 21 via opening 22 thus to cause a temporarily stagnation of the water poured into the regeneration- agent compartment 21, above the same partitioning septum 25.

In other words, the water-permeable partitioning septum 25 is arranged above the pass-through opening 22 so as to completely cover the latter, and is preferably structured to allow the passage of the water/brine through the same partitioning septum 25 with a flowrate which is lower than that of the fresh water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 by drawer flush circuit 19, thus to cause the stagnation of the fresh water above the partitioning septum 25.

Preferably the water-permeable partitioning septum 25 furthermore extends inside regeneration-agent compartment 21 slightly spaced from, and preferably also locally substantially parallel to, the bottom of regeneration-agent compartment 21, so as to form a thin air gap immediately above the bottom of regeneration- agent compartment 21.

In the example shown, in particular, the water-permeable partitioning septum 25 preferably consists in a rigid plate-like element 25 preferably made of plastic material, which substantially copies the shape of the bottom of regeneration- agent compartment 21, and has a microperf orated structure which is suitably dimensioned to cause a prolonged stagnation of the water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 above the partitioning septum 25.

More in detail, the central portion of plate-like element 25 is preferably provided with a plenty of substantially evenly distributed, transversal pass-through microholes or microslots each preferably having a cross-sectional area lower that 3 mm 2 (square millimetres), so as to allow the flow/passage of the brine/water through the partitioning septum 25 with a flowrate preferably ranging between 0,4 and 1 litre/min (litre per minute). The flowrate of the fresh water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 instead preferably ranges between 5 and 8 litre/min (litre per minute).

With reference to Figures 3 to 9, the detergent drawer 16 preferably, though not necessarily, moreover comprises a manually openable, upper lid assembly 26 which is firmly fitted on the drawer- like supporting structure 23, on top of the regeneration-agent compartment 21, and is structured to selectively close the upper mouth of regeneration- agent compartment 21, preferably so as to almost completely cover the upper mouth of regeneration-agent compartment 21. Furthermore, this upper lid assembly is additionally structured so as to be able to receive, from drawer flush circuit 19 and at least when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, a flow of fresh water of the water mains and to channel said water into the beneath- located regeneration- agent compartment 21, preferably while spreading out the same fresh water inside the regeneration- agent compartment 21.

In other words, the upper lid assembly 26 is preferably provided with a water inlet which is faced to the outside of regeneration-agent compartment 21 and is structured to allow the fresh water to enter into the same upper lid assembly 26, and with one or more water outlets which are faced to the inside of regeneration-agent compartment 21, fluidically communicate with the water inlet, and are finally suitably structured to allow the water entered into the upper lid assembly 26 through the water inlet to come out of the lid assembly 26 and fall into the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

The drawer flush circuit 19, in turn, is preferably structured to selectively channel, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, a flow of fresh water of the water mains towards the water inlet of the upper lid assembly 26.

In other words, drawer flush circuit 19 is preferably additionally structured to selectively channel, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, the fresh water of the water mains towards the water inlet of lid assembly 26 which, in turn, is structured to distribute the fresh water arriving from drawer flush circuit 19 into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, so as to dissolve some of the salt grains (NaCl) contained into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 and form the brine that falls on the bottom of drawer housing 18 via opening 22.

Drawer flush circuit 19 is therefore directly connected to the fresh-water supply circuit 12 for receiving the fresh water of the water mains, and is preferably suitably structured for selectively and alternatively channelling, when the detergent drawer 16 is completely fitted/inserted into drawer housing 18, the fresh water arriving from fresh-water supply circuit 12 towards any one of the detergent compartments 17, or towards the water inlet of the upper lid assembly 26.

In addition to the above, in the example shown the water inlet of lid assembly 26 is preferably furthermore structured to couple, when the detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, in a stable, though easy detachable manner, with the drawer flush circuit 19 for receiving the fresh water of the water mains, and the upper lid assembly 26 is preferably structured to sprinkle the fresh water into the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

With reference to Figures 3 to 9, in the example shown, in particular, the upper lid assembly 26 preferably comprises: a plate-like element 27 which is structured to rigidly fit into the upper rim of regeneration- agent compartment 21 to substantially completely cover/close the upper mouth of the regeneration-agent compartment 21 ; and a manually-movable trapdoor 28 which is arranged to close a preferably substantially rectangular-shaped, large pass-through opening which is preferably formed roughly at centre of plate-like element 27, and which is suitably shaped/dimensioned to allow the user to easily manually pour the consumable salt (NaCl) or other regeneration agent into the regeneration- agent compartment 21.

The plate-like element 27 preferably has a hollow structure and is preferably provided with a water inlet 29 which is suitably structured to watertight couple, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, with the drawer flush circuit 19 thus to allow the fresh water to enter into the plate-like element 27; and with one or more water-outlets 30 which are arranged on the lower face of plate-like element 27, preferably all around the central pass-through opening closed by trapdoor 28. Each water-outlet 30 allows the fresh water entered into the plate-like element 27 to slowly come out of plate-like element 27 and freely fall into the regeneration- agent compartment 21.

Preferably the water-outlets 30 of plate-like element 27 are furthermore suitably shaped/structured to pour a shower of water droplets by gravity into the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

Drawer flush circuit 19, in turn, is preferably structured to selectively couple, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, with the water inlet 29 of plate-like element 27, so as to be able to channel the fresh water of the water mains into the plate-like element 27 of lid assembly 26 which, in turn, distributes said water into the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

With reference to Figures 3, 4, 6 and 7, the bottom of drawer housing 18 in turn is preferably divided into two separated and substantially basin-shaped, bottom portions 31 and 32 which are vertically aligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, respectively to all detergent compartments 17 and to the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

More in detail, in the example shown the bottom of drawer housing 18 is preferably divided into two separated and substantially basin-shaped bottom portions 31 and 32, which are arranged side by side to one another transversally to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16 inside drawer housing 18, i.e. transversally to the longitudinal axis L of drawer housing 18, so as to be vertically aligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, one underneath the one or more detergent compartments 17, and the other underneath the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

With particular reference to Figures 6 and 7, drawer housing 18 preferably furthermore comprises a substantially vertical, partitioning wall 33 that protrudes upwards from the bottom of drawer housing 18 while remaining locally substantially parallel to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16, i.e. parallel to the longitudinal axis L of drawer housing 18, and the basin-shaped bottom portions 31 and 32 of drawer housing 18 are arranged on opposite sides of partitioning wall 33.

In other words the vertical partitioning wall 33 is arranged between the two basin-shaped bottom portions 31 and 32 of drawer housing 18.

Detergent drawer 16, in turn, is preferably arranged astride the partitioning wall 33 so that the one or more detergent compartments 17 and the regeneration- agent compartment 21 are arranged on opposite sides of partitioning wall 33.

More in detail, with reference to Figure 7, the bottom portion of the drawer- like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16 is preferably provided with a rectilinear groove extending parallel to the longitudinal axis L of detergent drawer 16, i.e. parallel to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16 inside drawer housing 18, between the one or more detergent compartments 17 and the regeneration-agent compartment 21, and the partitioning wall 33 of drawer housing 18 protrudes from the bottom of drawer housing 18 and extends upwards into said rectilinear groove.

Preferably the drawer- like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16 is furthermore structured to abut in axially sliding manner on the straight upper crest line 33a of partitioning wall 33, so that the detergent drawer 16 rests in abutment also onto the same partitioning wall 33.

In other words, in the example shown the drawer-like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16 is preferably engaged/coupled in axially sliding manner to the drawer housing 18 via two rectilinear runners or groves that extend on the two reciprocally-faced sidewalls of drawer housing 18 locally substantially parallel to the displacement direction d of detergent drawer 16, i.e. parallel to the longitudinal axis L of detergent drawer 16 and drawer housing 18. Furthermore the drawer-like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16 is additionally centrally coupled in axially sliding manner to drawer housing 18 at the upper crest line 33a of partitioning wall 33.

With reference to Figures 2, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 13, the basin-shaped bottom portion 31 vertically aligned to the one or more detergent compartments 17 is structured for receiving the mixture of fresh water and detergent, softener or other washing agent falling down from any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 via the corresponding siphon assembly, and communicates with the inside of washing tub 3 preferably via a connecting duct 34 that branches off from the basin-shaped bottom portion 31 of drawer housing 18 and ends directly into the beneath- located washing tub 3, so as to allow the mixture of water and detergent, softener or other washing agent to quickly flow by gravity directly into the washing tub 3.

The basin-shaped bottom portion 32 vertically aligned to regeneration- agent compartment 21, in turn, is structured for receiving the brine (i.e. the mixture of water and salt) dripping/falling down from the regeneration-agent compartment 21 via the pass-through opening 22, and directly communicates with the inside of a small brine reservoir 35 which is dimensioned to catch and contain a given amount of brine preferably greater than 100 ml (millilitres), and is arranged underneath the same basin-shaped bottom portion 32 so as to allow the brine to quickly fall/flow by gravity directly into the brine reservoir 35 and to therein accumulate.

Preferably said brine reservoir 35 furthermore fluidically communicates with the inside of the water softening device 13 via a small, electrically-powered pump assembly 36 which is capable of selectively pumping the brine (i.e. the mixture of water and salt) accumulated into the brine reservoir 35, from brine reservoir 35 to water softening device 13, and preferably also to watertight isolate the brine reservoir 35 from the water softening device 13 when deactivated.

The laundry washing machine 1 is therefore additionally provided with a brine reservoir 35 which is dimensioned to contain a given amount of brine preferably greater than 100 ml (millilitres), and is located/arranged underneath the detergent drawer 16 when placed in the retracted position, thus to catch and accumulate the brine falling down from the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16; and preferably also with a small pump assembly 36 having the suction connected to the brine reservoir 35 and the delivery connected to the water softening device 13, thus to be able to selectively pump the brine from the brine reservoir 35 to the water softening device 13.

In other words, the laundry washing machine 1 comprises: a regeneration- agent reservoir, i.e. the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16, which is located/recessed inside the casing 2 and is structured for being manually fillable with a given amount of consumable salt or other regeneration agent; a brine reservoir 35 which is dimensioned to contain a given amount of brine preferably greater than 100 ml (millilitres) and fluidically communicates with said regeneration- agent reservoir for receiving and accumulating the brine coming out from said regeneration-agent reservoir; and optionally also a small, electrically-powered pump assembly 36 having the suction connected to the brine reservoir 35 and the delivery connected to the water softening device 13, thus to be able to selectively pump the brine from the brine reservoir 35 to the water softening device 13.

In the example shown, in particular, the brine reservoir 35 is preferably dimensioned to contain a maximum amount of brine preferably overapproximating the whole amount of brine to be pumped into the internal water softening device 13 for performing the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins located inside the same water softening device 13.

More in detail, assuming for example that the overall amount of brine to be pumped into the water softening device 13 for performing the whole regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins is preferably equal to 540 cm 3 (cubic centimeters), brine reservoir 35 is preferably dimensioned to contain a maximum amount of brine preferably equal to 550 cm 3 (cubic centimeters).

Pump assembly 36, in turn, preferably comprises an electrically-powered volumetric pump.

As an alternative, in a less sophisticated embodiment the pump assembly 36 could be replaced by an electrically-operated on-off valve which is interposed between the brine reservoir 35 and the water softening device 13, and is capable of controlling the flow of brine by gravity towards the water softening device 13.

With reference to Figure 5, in addition to the above the drawer flush circuit

19 of detergent dispenser 10 is furthermore structured for selectively channelling the fresh water of the water mains directly to the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 and/or to the brine reservoir 35 bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

In other words, the drawer flush circuit 19 is directly connected to the freshwater supply circuit 12 for receiving the fresh water of the water mains, and is suitably structured for selectively and alternatively channelling the fresh water arriving from the water mains towards any one of detergent compartments 17, towards the regeneration-agent compartment 21, and finally towards either the basin- shaped bottom portion 32 or the brine reservoir 35 bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

More in detail, in the example shown, the drawer flush circuit 19 is preferably structured for selectively channelling the fresh water of the water mains directly to either the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 or the brine reservoir 35 so as to selectively completely fill up the brine reservoir 35 with fresh water.

With reference to Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 13, in the example shown, in particular, brine reservoir 35 preferably comprises a small, unpressurized closed tank

37 which is discrete from drawer housing 18, and is firmly attached directly to the bottom of drawer housing 18, preferably locally substantially vertically aligned to the basin-shaped bottom portion 32, preferably by means of one or more anchoring screws and/or other fastening members.

Preferably said brine tank 37 furthermore directly communicates with the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 via a vertical pipe-extension

38 that protrudes downwards from the bottom of drawer housing 18 and directly fits, preferably in a substantially airtight and/or watertight manner, into a complementary brine inlet opening 38a formed on top wall of the same brine tank 37 preferably with the interposition of a corresponding annular sealing gasket.

In addition to the above, brine tank 37 preferably directly communicates with the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 also via a second vertical pipe-extension 39 that protrudes downwards from the bottom of drawer housing 18 and directly fits, preferably in a substantially airtight and/or watertight manner, into a complementary air vent opening 39a formed on top wall of brine tank 37, beside brine inlet opening 38 a, preferably with the interposition of a corresponding annular sealing gasket.

Furthermore, in the example shown vertical pipe-extension 39 preferably additionally protrudes upwards into drawer housing 18 within the perimeter of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32, so as to arrange its upper mouth at a given high from the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 and thus prevent the brine from freely falling into brine tank 37 via the same vertical pipe-extension 39.

As a result, the brine preferably falls into brine tank 37 solely via the vertical pipe-extension 38, and the vertical pipe-extension 39 allows free ventilation of brine tank 37 and moreover the selective overflow into brine tank 37 of the exceeding brine that may accidentally stagnate on the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18.

With reference to Figures 4-7 and 10-13, the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10, in turn, is preferably suitably structured to selectively channel the fresh water of the water mains directly to brine reservoir 35, or better to brine tank 37, without wetting the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18.

In the example shown, in particular, the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 preferably comprises:

- a plate-like water conveyor 42 which is suitably structured to form the upper lid of the substantially basin-shaped drawer housing 18, so as to be located immediately above the detergent drawer 16 when the latter is placed in the retracted position, i.e. when the latter is completely inserted/ recessed into drawer housing 18, and is provided with a number of water- delivery portions each suitably structured to allow the outflow of water from plate-like water conveyor 42 towards the beneath-located detergent drawer 16; and

- an electrically-operated, water distributor 43 which is fluidically connected to the fresh- water supply circuit 12 and/or to the internal water softening device 13 for receiving a flow of unsoftened or softened fresh water, and is suitably structured to selectively channel the unsoftened fresh water arriving from fresh- water supply circuit 12 or the softened fresh water arriving from water softening device 13, towards any one of the water-delivery portions of the plate-like water conveyor 42.

More in detail, with particular reference to Figure 12, the plate-like water conveyor 42 is provided, on the side directly faced to the inside of drawer housing 18, with a group of first water-delivery portions 44 which are locally substantially vertically aligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, each to a respective detergent compartment 17 of detergent drawer 16, and are each suitably structured to allow the slow outflow of the fresh water from the water conveyor 42 towards the beneath- located detergent compartment 17.

In the example shown, in particular, each water-delivery portion 44 of platelike water conveyor 42 is preferably structured to pour by gravity a shower of water droplets directly into the beneath-located detergent compartment 17 of detergent drawer 16.

Preferably the plate-like water conveyor 42 is furthermore provided, on the side directly faced to the inside of drawer housing 18, with a second water-delivery portion 45 which is locally substantially vertically aligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, to the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16, and is suitably structured to allow the outflow of the fresh water from the plate-like water conveyor 42 towards the beneath-located regeneration- agent compartment 21.

More in detail, with reference to Figures 11 and 12, in the example shown the water-delivery portion 45 preferably comprises a male or female hydraulic connector which is suitably structured to couple, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, in detachable manner with a complementary second hydraulic connector which is incorporated into the water inlet 29 of the upper lid assembly 26, or better into the water inlet 29 of plate-like element 27, so as to put the upper lid assembly 26 in fluid communication with the plate-like water conveyor 42.

With reference to Figures 12 and 13, the plate-like water conveyor 42 is preferably finally provided, on the side directly faced to the inside of drawer housing 18, with a third water-delivery portion 46 which locally faces the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18, and is suitably structured to allow the outflow of the fresh water from the plate-like water conveyor 42 towards the basin- shaped bottom portion 32 without affecting the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

The water-supply line that channels the fresh water of the water mains to the brine reservoir 35 bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is therefore at least partly delimited by the drawer housing 18.

More in detail, in the example shown the vertical pipe-extension 38 preferably branches off from the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 at region of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 vertically misaligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, to the drawer-like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16. The water-delivery portion 46, in turn, preferably comprises a nozzle which is locally substantially vertically aligned to the upper mouth of the vertical pipe-extension 38, and is suitably structured to direct/project/spout a jet of fresh water directly towards the upper mouth of the vertical pipe-extension 38, thus to form an air-break and preferably also thus to pour a flow of fresh water directly into brine tank 37 without wetting the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18.

In other words, in the example shown the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 is preferably structured to selectively direct a jet of fresh water of the water mains directly into the upper mouth of the vertical pipe-extension 38, thus to reach brine tank 37 without wetting the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18.

Obviously, the nozzle of water-delivery portion 46 could also be misaligned to the upper mouth of the vertical pipe-extension 38 and be vertically aligned to a region of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 non covered by the detergent drawer 16 in the retracted position, thus to direct the jet of fresh water against surface of basin-shaped bottom portion 32. In this embodiment, therefore, the fresh water coming out from water-delivery portion 46 is obliged to wash up/ rinse part of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 before falling into brine reservoir 35.

With reference to Figures 6 and 12, the electrically-operated, water distributor 43, in turn, preferably consists in a discrete, electrically-operated, flow-diverter module which is firmly attached to the outside of plate-like water conveyor 42, at a coupling socket 47 preferably realized on one of the two major faces of the same plate-like water conveyor 42.

The electrically-operated, flow-diverter module 43 preferably has a water inlet 48 which directly communicates with the water softening device 13 for directly receiving softened fresh water, and preferably also with the fresh-water supply circuit 12 for also directly receiving unsoftened fresh water; and a number of water outlets 49 which are located, preferably one side by side the other, at the interface portion of flow-diverter module 43 suited to couple with coupling socket 47 of plate- like water conveyor 42.

Preferably the electrically-operated, flow-diverter module 43 furthermore internally accommodates a rotatable flow diverter (not shown) which is capable of channeling, according to its angular position, the water entering into flow-diverter module 43 via the water inlet 48 towards any one of the water outlets 49 of the same flow-diverter module 43.

In addition to the above, the flow-diverter module 43 preferably also comprises an electrically-operated motor assembly (not shown) which is mechanically connected to the rotatable flow diverter for controlling the angular position of the flow diverter, and optionally also an electronic control unit (not shown) which is structured to directly power and control the electrically-operated motor assembly according to electric signals arriving from the main electronic central control unit (not shown) of the laundry washing machine 1.

The plate-like water conveyor 42, in turn, is provided with a number of water inlets 50 which are located at coupling socket 47 and separately fluidically communicate each with a respective water-delivery portion 44, 45 and 46 of the water conveyor 42, and each water outlet 49 of flow-diverter module 43 is structured to watertight couple/connect, at coupling socket 47, with a respective water inlet 50 of plate-like water conveyor 42, preferably with the interposition of a corresponding annular sealing gasket.

The electrically-operated, flow-diverter module 43 is therefore structured to selectively channel, on command, the water entering into the flow-diverter module 43 via the water inlet 48 towards any one of the water inlets 50 of the plate-like water conveyor 42.

As an alternative, the electrically-operated, water distributor 43 may consists in a valve assembly comprising a number of electrically-operated on-off valves capable of selectively channeling the unsoftened fresh water arriving from freshwater supply circuit 12 or the softened fresh water arriving from water softening device 13, towards any one of the water inlets 50 of the plate-like water conveyor 42.

With reference to Figures 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13, in the example shown, in particular, the plate-like water conveyor 42 is preferably provided with a number of internal water channels each of which separately begins at coupling socket 47 and extends inside the body of water conveyor 42 up to reach a corresponding water- delivery portion 44, 45 or 46 of water conveyor 42.

Each water outlet 49 of the electrically-operated, flow-diverter module 43, in turn, is substantially watertight coupled, at coupling socket 47, with the mouth 50 of a corresponding internal water channel of the plate-like water conveyor 42.

With reference to Figures 4, 6 and 7, the internal water softening device 13, in turn, is preferably fluidically connected to the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 so as to be crossed by the fresh water that flows inside drawer flush circuit 19 towards the detergent compartments/s 17 of detergent drawer 16, and optionally towards the regeneration-agent compartment 21 or towards brine reservoir 35, so that the hardness degree of the tap water poured at least into any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 is significantly reduced.

In the example shown, in particular, the water softening device 13 preferably consists in a substantially plate-like, discrete modular cartridge 51 which is provided with a water inlet and a water outlet, and is filled with a given amount of ion- exchange resins capable of retaining the calcium and magnesium ions (Ca++ and Mg++) dissolved in the water flowing through the same modular cartridge 51.

The ion-exchange -resins cartridge 51 is preferably furthermore rigidly attached to a sidewall of drawer housing 18 preferably by means of one or more anchoring screws or other fastening members, so as to cantilevered extend downwards beyond the bottom of drawer housing 18 and next to brine tank 37, preferably while remaining locally substantially parallel and tangent to a vertical sidewall of the outer casing 2. Preferably the ion-exchange-resins cartridge 51 is additionally rigidly attached also to brine tank 37, preferably by means of one or more anchoring screws or other fastening members.

In addition to the above, the internal water softening device 13, or better the ion-exchange-resins cartridge 51, is preferably fluidically connected directly to the plate-like water conveyor 42 of drawer flush circuit 19, so as to be crossed by the fresh water that circulates inside the plate-like water conveyor 42, directed towards any one of the detergent compartments 17 and optionally also towards the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

More in detail, in the example shown the water inlet and the water outlet of the ion-exchange-resins cartridge 51 are preferably directly connected to the plate - like water conveyor 42 by means of two hydraulic connectors 52 that protrude from the lower side of the plate-like water conveyor 42, i.e. from the major face of platelike water conveyor 42 provided with coupling socket 47 and water-delivery portions 44, 45 and 46.

With reference to Figures 6 and 12, the hydraulic connector 52 suited to couple with the water inlet of water softening device 13 directly communicates, via a corresponding internal water channel of water conveyor 42, with a pipe-fitting 53 that protrudes from water conveyor 42 and is structured to watertight couple directly with the fresh-water supply circuit 12. The hydraulic connector 52 suited to couple with the water outlet of water softening device 13, in turn, directly communicates, via a corresponding internal water channel extending inside the plate-like water conveyor 42 up to coupling socket 47, with the main water inlet 48 of flow-diverter module 43.

With particular reference to Figures 4, 5, 6 and 12, the fresh- water supply circuit 12 of laundry washing machine 1, in turn, preferably comprises two independent electrically-operated on-off valves 55 and 56, each separately connectable to the water mains.

The electrically-operated on-off valve 55 is directly connected to the main water inlet 48 of flow-diverter module 43 via a first connecting tube 57 or other piping, thus to channel the fresh water of the water mains directly to the flow- diverter module 43 bypassing the internal water softening device 13. The electrically-operated on-off valve 56 instead is directly connected to the pipe-fitting 53 of plate-like water conveyor 42 via a second connecting tube 58 or other piping, thus to channel the fresh water of the water mains to the internal water softening device 13.

In addition to the above, with reference to Figures 4, 5 and 12, in the example shown the fresh- water supply circuit 12 preferably additionally comprises a further independent electrically-operated, on-off valve 59 which is separately connectable to a source of hot water (namely the hot branch of the piping, fittings, and fixtures involved in the distribution and use of hot water in the domestic building), and is directly connected, via a third connecting tube 60 or other piping, to a second pipe- fitting 61 that protrudes from plate-like water conveyor 42 preferably next to pipe- fitting 53.

This second pipe-fitting 61 directly communicates, via a further internal water channel extending inside plate-like water conveyor 42 up to coupling socket 47, with the main water inlet 48 of flow-diverter module 43, thus to channel a flow of hot, unsoftened fresh water towards the water inlet 48 of flow-diverter module 43.

As an alternative, pipe-fitting 61 of plate-like water conveyor 42 may directly communicate with the hydraulic connector 52 suited to couple with the water inlet of the ion-exchange-resins cartridge 51 , thus to channel a flow of hot, unsoftened fresh water towards the water inlet of the water softening device 13.

With reference to Figures 2 and 5, the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 is preferably finally structured to selectively channel any kind of water that enters into the same drawer flush circuit 19, to a water drain line 62 that braches off from the drawer flush circuit 19 and ends into the drain sump 63 of washing tub 3, or even directly into the suction of the electric pump that drains the waste water or washing liquor outside the laundry washing machine 1.

In the example shown, in particular, the water drain line 62 preferably comprises a hosepipe 64 or other piping, that branches off from a funnel-shaped portion (not shown) of drawer casing 18 and fits directly into the drain sump 63 of washing tub 3. With reference to Figure 12, the plate-like water conveyor 42, in turn, is preferably provided, on the side directly faced to the inside of drawer housing 18, with a further water-delivery portion 65 which is substantially vertically aligned to the funnel-shaped portion (not shown) of drawer casing 18, and is structured to allow the outflow of the fresh water from water conveyor 42 towards said funnel-shaped portion of drawer casing 18.

Alike the other water-delivery portions 44, 45, 46 of water conveyor 42, the water-delivery portion 65 selectively receives, from the electrically-operated, flow- diverter module 43, any kind of water entering into the same flow-diverter module 43.

With reference to Figure 5, preferably the brine reservoir 35 is finally provided with a second water drain line 66 that braches off from brine tank 37 and ends into the drain sump 63 of washing tub 3, or even directly into the suction of the electric pump that drains the waste water or washing liquor outside the laundry washing machine 1.

In the example shown, in particular, the second water drain line 66 preferably comprises: a hosepipe 67 or other piping, that branches off from the bottom of brine tank 37 and fits directly into the drain sump 63 of washing tub 3; and an electrically- operated, on-off valve 68 which is arranged along hosepipe 67 for controlling the outflow of the water or brine from brine tank 37 towards the drain sump 63.

General operation of the laundry washing machine 1 is similar to that of the front loading washing machine disclosed in ELECTROLUX European patent No. 2657387, the only exceptions being that the partitioning septum 25 with micro- perforated structure causes an extremely slow outflow of the brine (i.e. salt water) from the regeneration- agent compartment 21, and that the basin- shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 and/or brine reservoir 35, i.e. brine tank 37, is/are selectively rinsed/washed up preferably at the end of the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins contained into water softening device 13.

More in detail, the water-permeable partitioning septum 25 allows the passage of the water/brine through the same partitioning septum 25 with a flowrate which is significantly lower than that of the fresh water poured into the regeneration- agent compartment 21 by drawer flush circuit 19, thus the softened or unsoftened fresh water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 by the drawer flush circuit 19 temporarily accumulates above the partitioning septum 25.

As a consequence, the partitioning septum 25 causes a temporary increase of the level of water above the same partitioning septum 25.

More precisely, the partitioning septum 25 causes a quick increase of the level of water inside the regeneration-agent compartment 21, up to a maximum value above the partitioning septum 25, and then a slow lowering of the level of water down to the high of the same partitioning septum 25.

After slowly passing/flowing through the partitioning septum 25, the brine formed into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, above the partitioning septum 25, reaches the pass-through opening 22 and then drips into the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18. Immediately after reaching the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18, the brine quickly falls into brine tank 37 via the vertical pipe-extension 38 and accumulates into brine tank 37.

Due to the presence of partitioning septum 25, the brine formed into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16 takes a few minutes to move from the regeneration-agent compartment 21 to brine tank 37 but, at the end of the temporary stagnation of the water, the regeneration- agent compartment 21 remains empty of brine and all brine formed into the regeneration- agent compartment 21 is contained into brine tank 37.

Therefore, when regeneration of the ion-exchange resins is to be performed, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 operates the flow-diverter module 43 so as to channel, towards the regeneration-agent compartment 21, the softened or unsoftened fresh water entering into the drawer flush circuit 19, and then opens for a short time either the on-off valve 55 or the on-off valve 56 of the freshwater supply circuit 12, so as to pour a given amount of fresh water, for example 300 cm 3 (cubic centimeters) of fresh water, into the regeneration-agent compartment 21.

Due to the presence of water-permeable partitioning septum 25, the softened or unsoftened fresh water poured into the regeneration-agent compartment 21 temporarily accumulates above the partitioning septum 25 wherein can dissolve a great amount of salt grains and form the brine.

The brine formed into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, above the partitioning septum 25, slowly passed across the partitioning septum 25 and then drips into the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18. From basin- shaped bottom portion 32, the 300 cm 3 (cubic centimeters) of brine then quickly falls into brine tank 37 wherein accumulates.

Then, if brine tank 37 has room for other brine, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 opens again for a short time either the on-off valve 55 or the on-off valve 56 of fresh- water supply circuit 12, so as to pour some more fresh water, for example 250 cm 3 (cubic centimeters) of fresh water, into the regeneration- agent compartment 21, so as to form a 250 cm 3 of brine that, again, slowly moves into brine tank 37.

Sequential quantum supplying of fresh water into the regeneration- agent compartment 21 continues until brine reservoir, or better brine tank 37, is completely filled with brine, i.e. contains an amount of brine sufficient for performing the whole regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins contained into water softening device 13.

When brine tank 37 is completely filled with brine, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 activates pump assembly 36 to move at a time the whole brine from brine tank 37 to water softening device 13, so as to fill up the water softening device 13 with brine.

In other words, when brine tank 37 is completely filled with brine, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 activates pump assembly 36 so as to substantially empty the brine reservoir 35 into the water softening device 13.

The regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins begins when the electric- pump assembly 36 moves the whole brine from brine tank 37 to water softening device 13.

During the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins, i.e. during the stay of the brine inside the water softening device 13, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 preferably performs the rinsing/washing up of the brine reservoir 35.

More in detail, when electric-pump assembly 36 finishes pumping the brine from brine tank 37 to water softening device 13, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 operates the flow-diverter module 43 so as to channel, directly towards the brine tank 37 and bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment 21, the fresh water entering into the drawer flush circuit 19, and then opens the on-off valve 55 of the fresh-water supply circuit 12 thus to pour a given amount of fresh water into the brine reservoir 35.

The fresh water channelled into the brine reservoir 35 serves for rinsing/ washing up the same brine reservoir 35.

In the example shown, in particular, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 keeps the on-off valve 55 open until brine tank 37 is completely filled with fresh water.

After having filled up brine tank 37 with fresh water, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 operates the flow-diverter module 43 so as to put the water inlet 48 of flow-diverter module 43 in direct communication with drain line 62 and the awaits the end of the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins.

After a given time preferably, though not necessarily, ranging between 10 and

20 minutes, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 assumes that the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins is completed and activates again the electric-pump assembly 36 to move at a time the whole rinse water from brine tank 37 to water softening device 13, so as to substantially empty the brine reservoir 35 and at same time push the brine out of water softening device 13.

The brine coming out from the water outlet of water softening device 13 preferably enters into the flow-diverter module 43 and is immediately channeled to the drain line 62 thus to leave as soon as possible the laundry washing machine 1.

Preferably, furthermore, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 may fill up brine reservoir 35 with fresh water and subsequently move said fresh water into the water softening device 13 several times, thus to repeatedly wash up/rinse both the brine reservoir 35 and the water softening device 13 to clean and remove any salt deposit inside both components.

As an alternative, rather than activating again the electric pump assembly 36, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 may open for a short time the electrically-operated, on-off valve 68 of drain line 66, thus to empty the brine tank 37 directly into the drain sump 63 without affecting the water softening device 13.

When washing up/rinsing of brine reservoir 35 and water softening device 13 is completed, the central control unit of laundry washing machine 1 operates the flow-diverter module 43 so as to channel the softened or unsoftened fresh water arriving to flow-diverter module 43 towards any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16, thus to continue the washing cycle.

The advantages resulting from the possibility of selectively washing up/ rinsing the brine reservoir 35 with fresh water are remarkable.

First of all, recurrent rinsing of the brine reservoir 35 prevent formation of salt deposits that may block up the suction of pump assembly 36.

Furthermore the use of the same fresh water to rinse in sequence the brine reservoir 35, i.e. brine tank 37, and the water softening device 13 significantly reduces the overall water consumption of the laundry washing machine.

Lastly the presence of a brine reservoir 35 having a given capacity preferably roughly equal to the whole amount of brine to be pumped into the internal water softening device 13 for performing the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins, allows a much more precise control of the amount of brine pumped into the water softening device 13 for performing the regeneration process of the ion- exchange resins.

Clearly, changes may be made to the laundry washing machine 1 without, however, departing from the scope of the present invention.

For example, the brine may also accumulate on a region of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 and the brine reservoir 35 comprises also this region of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18. Moreover, with reference to Figure 14, in a less-sophisticated embodiment the detergent drawer 16 lacks the manually openable, upper lid assembly 26, and the water-delivery portion 45 is arranged on the plate-like water conveyor 42 so as to be locally substantially vertically aligned, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, to the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16 and is structured to pour the fresh water directly into the beneath-located regeneration-agent compartment 21.

Preferably the water-delivery portion 45 is furthermore structured to pour by gravity a shower of water droplets directly into the beneath-located regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

In other words, the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 is preferably structured for pouring by gravity a shower of water droplets selectively and alternatively into any one of the detergent compartments 17 and into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, and for additionally channelling the fresh water of the water mains to the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 or directly to the brine reservoir 35, i.e. to brine tank 37, bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

With reference to Figure 15, in a further alternative embodiment, the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is located/incorporated into a corresponding manually extractable, regeneration- agent drawer 70 which is discrete from detergent drawer 16, and is fitted/inserted in manually extractable manner into a corresponding substantially basin-shaped, drawer housing 71 which is preferably located/recessed inside casing 2 horizontally beside the detergent dispenser 10.

More in detail, in this embodiment the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is integrally formed into the drawer-like supporting structure of the regeneration- agent drawer 70, and the optional upper lid assembly 26 is arranged/located on said drawer- like supporting structure, on top of regeneration- agent compartment 21.

Drawer housing 71, in turn, has its own basin-shaped bottom portion which is structured for receiving the brine dripping/falling down from the regeneration- agent compartment 21 through the large pass-through draining opening 22, and which directly communicates with the inside of a beneath-located brine reservoir 35 so as to allow the brine to quickly fall/flow by gravity directly into the brine reservoir 35 and to accumulate therein. Again brine reservoir 35 communicates with the inside of the water softening device 13 via a small, electrically-powered pump assembly (not shown) which is capable of selectively pumping the brine (i.e. the mixture of water and salt) accumulated into the brine reservoir 35, from brine reservoir 35 to water softening device 13, and preferably also to watertight isolate the brine reservoir 35 from the water softening device 13 when deactivated.

In other words, in this embodiment the laundry washing machine 1 comprises a small, unpressurized tank (not shown) which is discrete from drawer housing 18 and from drawer housing 71 , and is firmly attached directly to the bottom of drawer housing 71 preferably by means of one or more anchoring screws and/or other fastening members, and furthermore directly communicates with the basin-shaped bottom portion of drawer housing 71 via at least one, and preferably two vertical pipe-extensions (not shown) that protrudes downwards from the bottom of drawer housing 71 and directly fits, preferably in a substantially airtight and/or watertight manner, into corresponding opening formed on top wall of the brine tank (not shown) preferably with the interposition of corresponding annular sealing gaskets.

Again the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 is preferably structured for selectively channelling the fresh water of the water mains directly to the basin-shaped bottom portion of drawer housing 71 and/or to the unpressurized tank forming the brine reservoir 35, bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 70.

Preferably detergent drawer 16 and regeneration-agent drawer 70 are furthermore independently movable inside the respective drawer housings 18, 71 parallel to one another.

More in detail, alike detergent drawer 16, the regeneration-agent drawer 70 is movable in a substantially horizontally-oriented, displacement direction between:

- a retracted position in which regeneration-agent drawer 70 is almost completely recessed into the front wall 4 of casing 2 and the regeneration-agent compartment 21, or better the upper lid assembly

26, is inaccessible to the user; and

- a completely extracted position in which regeneration- agent drawer 70 partly juts out from the front wall 4 of casing 2, so that the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is fully accessible to the user prior opening of the upper lid assembly 26.

More in detail, with reference to Figure 15, in the example shown the drawer housing 71 is preferably realized in one piece with drawer housing 18, and the platelike water conveyor 42 of drawer flush circuit 19 is preferably structured to form the upper lid of both drawer housings 18 and 71.

Detergent drawer 16 and regeneration- agent drawer 70 are independently movable parallel and adjacent to one another, along a same substantially horizontally-oriented, displacement direction d which is locally substantially parallel to the longitudinal axis L of both drawer housings 18 and 71.

Furthermore, even if regeneration-agent compartment 21 is no more formed/ incorporated in the drawer- like supporting structure 23 of detergent drawer 16, the manually- sizable front panel 24 of detergent drawer 16 is preferably still dimensioned to close, when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the retracted position, both the entrance of drawer housing 18 and the adjacent entrance of drawer housing 71. Thus the axial displacement of regeneration- agent drawer 70 towards the completely extracted position is exclusively allowable when detergent drawer 16 is placed in the extracted position.

With reference to Figure 16, in a still further alternative embodiment the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 is structured to solely channel the fresh water of the water mains into any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 and into the regeneration- agent compartment 21. The laundry washing machine 1 furthermore comprises an auxiliary fresh-water supply line 74 which is directly connectable to the water mains and/or is incorporated into the freshwater supply circuit 12, and is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains directly into the brine reservoir 35, i.e. into the basin- shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 and/or into brine tank 37, bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

In this embodiment, therefore, the auxiliary fresh-water supply line 74 is discrete from drawer flush circuit 19 and brine reservoir 35 receives the fresh water directly from the water mains, bypassing the drawer flush circuit 19.

More in detail, auxiliary fresh- water supply line 74 preferably comprises: a further independent electrically-operated, on-off valve 75 which is separately connectable to the water mains; and a connecting tube 76 or other piping which directly connects the electrically-operated, on-off valve 75 preferably to a nozzle or orifice that is incorporated in drawer housing 18 and is structured to pour/spout the fresh water of the water mains into the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 or directly into the brine reservoir 35, i.e. into the upper mouth of vertical pipe-extension 38.

As an alternative, connecting tube 76 could also end directly into brine tank 37 thus to channel the fresh water of the water mains directly into brine tank 37.

According to a non-shown, less-sophisticated variation of this embodiment, furthermore the drawer flush circuit 19 of detergent dispenser 10 may be structured to solely pour the fresh water of the water mains selectively and alternatively into any one of the detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16.

In this less-sophisticated variation, therefore, the laundry washing machine 1 may additionally comprise a second auxiliary fresh-water supply line which is directly connectable to the water mains and/or is incorporated into the fresh-water supply circuit 12, and is structured for selectively channelling a flow of fresh water from the water mains directly into the regeneration-agent compartment 21, or better into the upper lid assembly 26 located on top of regeneration-agent compartment 21. This second auxiliary fresh-water supply line is therefore discrete from drawer flush circuit 19.

More in detail, this second auxiliary fresh-water supply line may comprise a further independent electrically-operated, on-off valve which is separately connectable to the water mains; and a connecting tube or other piping which directly connects said further electrically-operated, on-off valve to an hydraulic connector which is stationary inside the drawer housing 18 and is structured to couple, when detergent drawer 16 or regeneration-agent drawer 70 is placed in the retracted position, in detachable manner with the water inlet 29 of the upper lid assembly 26, so as to put the upper lid assembly 26 in fluid communication with said tube.

In this less-sophisticated variation, therefore, also the regeneration-agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16, or the upper lid assembly 26 if present, receives the fresh water directly from the water mains bypassing the drawer flush circuit 19.

According to a further not- shown alternative embodiment, brine reservoir 35 may lack the unpressurized tank 37 and may instead comprise a small catchment sump directly formed on the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18.

Preferably this catchment sump furthermore may be dimensioned to contain a given amount of brine which is preferably greater than 100 ml (millilitres), and which preferably also overapproximates the whole amount of brine to be pumped into the internal water softening device 13 for performing the regeneration process of the ion-exchange resins located inside the same water softening device 13.

In this further not-shown alternative embodiment, therefore, brine reservoir 35 is directly incorporated into the bottom of drawer housing 18.

According to a still further not- shown alternative embodiment, brine tank 37 of brine reservoir 35 may be arranged spaced apart from drawer housing 18, even at greater height than drawer housing 18, and may fluidically communicate with the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 via a further, electrically- powered pump assembly which is capable of selectively pumping the brine (i.e. the mixture of water and salt) arriving onto the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18, from the bottom of drawer housing 18 to brine tank 37, and preferably also to watertight isolate the brine reservoir 35 from the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 when deactivated.

In this further not-shown alternative embodiment, therefore, the brine arriving onto the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 no more flows by gravity into brine tank 37. According to a still further not-shown alternative embodiment, the detergent drawer 16 of detergent dispenser 10 may have, in place of the draining opening 22, a siphon assembly which is located inside the regeneration-agent compartment 21 and is suitably structured/dimensioned to selectively channel the brine formed inside the regeneration-agent compartment 21 onto the bottom of drawer housing 18.

According to a still further not-shown alternative embodiment, the one or more detergent compartments 17 of detergent drawer 16 may be dimensioned to contain a given amount of detergent, softener or other washing agent sufficient for performing a number of washing cycles. Furthermore, the detergent drawer 16 may optionally comprise, for each detergent compartment 17, a respective electrically- powered detergent feeding pump which is structured to selectively suck the dose of detergent, softener or other washing agent necessary to perform a washing cycle from the detergent compartment 17 and pump said dose of detergent, softener or other washing agent on the basin- shaped bottom portion 31 of drawer housing 18.

According to a still further not-shown and less-sophisticated alternative embodiment, the electrically-operated, flow-diverter module 43 of drawer flush circuit 19 may be incorporated into the plate-like water delivery member 42 as disclosed in EP2562303.

According to a still further not- shown alternative embodiment, rather than being faced to the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18, the water- delivery portion 46 of plate-like water conveyor 42 may be arranged and structured to fit into the upper mouth of a substantially vertically-oriented, auxiliary water channel that extends inside the body of drawer housing 18 roughly up to the level of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32, i.e. underneath the detergent drawer 16, so as to channel the fresh water coming out from water-delivery portion 46 directly to the basin-shaped bottom portion 32 of drawer housing 18 bypassing the regeneration- agent compartment 21 of detergent drawer 16.

More in detail, this auxiliary water channel preferably may extend inside a sidewall of drawer housing 18 up to the level of the basin-shaped bottom portion 32. The water-supply line channelling the fresh water to brine reservoir 35 bypassing the regeneration-agent compartment 21 is therefore at least partly incorporated into the drawer housing 18.

Lastly, in a non-shown alternative embodiment of laundry washing machine 1, the laundry loading/unloading opening may be located on the upper worktop or top wall 11 of boxlike casing 2, and the washing tub 3 may be arranged inside casing 2 with the mouth directly facing the upper worktop or top wall 11. The rotatable drum, in turn, may be fitted vertically into washing tub 3 with the concavity facing the upper mouth of washing tub 3, so as to be able to rotate about a substantially vertically-oriented, longitudinal axis.