Washing Machines

Friday, 17 November 2006 | Tags: , , , , ,

All washing machines will clean your clothes, but there are differences in energy efficiency, noise, and bells and whistles. We take a look at some to see which clean best, without cleaning out the bank account.

The Basics

  • Look for the Energy Star designation, which means the washer meets strict efficiency guidelines (e.g. uses 50% less energy than a standard washer).

  • Washers with direct-drive transmissions usually need fewer repairs, but also have a higher price tag than belt-drive transmissions.

  • Front loaders are more expensive but cheaper to operate. Top loaders are cheaper to buy, and cheaper to fix, but use more water and therefore cost more to run.

  • Most front loaders have 25% more capacity than top loaders, which have a space-hogging agitator in the center of the drum.

  • Electric controls are more difficult to fix than mechanical dials.

  • Don’t be wooed by extra settings that you may not use. Most people only require a two speed wash cycle (regular and delicate wash), a spin cycle, water level controls and three temperature settings.

Other Considerations

  • Here are some tips for more energy-efficient washing:

    • Locate washer close to hot water tank to reduce heat loss in connecting pipes.

    • Choose a wash time according to size of load and soil level: longer washes are harder on your clothes; 8-10 minutes is enough for most laundry.

    • Wash full loads.

    • Always choose cold water rinse, which not only saves energy but clothes rinse cleaner and wrinkle less.

    • Turn water-heater thermostat down to 120 degrees F.

    • Use hot water only for very dirty clothes.

    • Use the right amount of detergent to avoid having to wash or rinse load again.


We tested these four new washing machines on a full load of mud drenched white t-shirts:

  • GE (top-loader: 6 cycles, 3 temperatures, 2 water levels): $629

  • KitchenAid/Whirlpool (top-loader: larger capacity, 6 cycles): $759

  • Frigidaire (front-loader: multiple spin speeds; auto temp control; auto water level adjustment): $1099

  • Miele (front-loader: microprocessor monitors spin speeds and water levels, making necessary adjustments): $2500

Our tests and results include:

Clean Test

Each shirt was equally dirty. We used the same brand of detergent, but specially formulated types for each machine. The shirts all came out quite similar and we were unable to choose a winner. We asked an expert washing machine repairman for his opinion:

  • His choice for an economical top-loader was the KitchenAid/Whirlpool.

  • For an energy efficient front-loader, he chose the Miele.


It really does come down to the style of washer you want and which, if any, features are important to you. Overall, we prefer front loaders for the long term cost benefit. Plus they’re gentler on some of our most prized possessions: clothes!



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