From the early nineteenth century white goods was used to refer to household linens, traditionally white in colour, such as sheets and towels.
However since the second world war the term has been applied to domestic appliances which are traditionally white such as fridges, washing machines, dishwashers etc. (It does not apply to TVs - they are "brown goods".)
The more recent use seems to have taken precedence, and the OED refers to the linens uses as historical.
- Household linen, traditionally white in colour, such as sheets and towels. Now hist.
1807 T. Young Course Lect. Nat. Philos. I. xx. 245 About one half [sc. of imported cotton] is consumed in white goods,one fourth in fustians, and the remainder in hosiery, mixtures, and candle wicks.
1885 N.Y. Weekly Sun 13 May 6/7 White goods, scrim curtains and table damasks have a fairly liberal outlet.
1900 T.> > Eaton & Co. Catal. White Goods & Midwinter Sale 12 These prices > for Shirt Waists and Wrappers are special for the White Goods Sale only.
1943 L. I. Wilder These Happy Golden Years xxxi. 276 Busily
working with the white goods, Ma and Laura discussed Laura's dresses.
2013 M. J. Lisicky Woodward & Lothrop 23 The store featured
linens, white goods and laces.
However, since 1947:
- Large domestic appliances that are conventionally white, such as refrigerators and washing machines. Cf. brown goods n. at brown adj.
1947 N.Y. Times 13 June 28/6 $50,000 worth of white goods like stoves and washers are available for immediate delivery.
1960 Economist 8 Oct. 158/1 Refrigerators, deep freezers, washing machines, clothes dryers and other so-called ‘white goods’.
1975 F. M. Scherer et al. Econ. Multi-plant Operation vii. 256 Appliance makers can better afford to maintain repair centers in most sizeable cities if they offer a broad line (including white goods other than refrigerators).
1981 Times 9 Mar. 19/6 An abiding problem for the white goods manufacturers is the high level of imports. 2012 Wall St. Jrnl. 14 Jan. c9/2 In our age of white goods and wipe-down surfaces, it is difficult to grasp the sheer amount of toil involved in maintaining..an Edwardian or 1920s home.