July 31, 2014

Buying a Washing Machine?

If you are looking for a new washing machine, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions – Top loader or front? How can I be sure to buy an energy efficient washer? We’ll try to answer those and some others with help from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) site on consumer protection.

To help consumers see just how energy-efficient a washing machine is, the Federal Trade Commission requires manufacturers to post an EnergyGuide label on their appliances. The Guide shows how each model measures up — energy-wise — to others of the same size.

With front-loaders now more widely available for purchase in the U.S., the FTC has decided to require manufacturers to provide information that will compare all washing machines of a certain size (either “standard” or “compact”) with others of the same size, regardless of whether they are loaded from the top or the front. The label change is expected to alert consumers to highly energy-efficient clothes washers and spur competition among U.S. manufacturers. Front-loaders, which have been popular for years in Europe, generally are considered more energy efficient than top-loaders, although they usually are more expensive, too.

Most washing machines sold in the U.S. are top-loaders. They wash the clothes with an agitator that turns on a vertical axis. The tub also spins the clothes dry on a vertical axis. Front-loaders work by tumbling the clothes and then spin-drying them in a tub that rotates on a horizontal axis.

There are some exceptions: One manufacturer makes a horizontal-axis machine that loads from the top, and another company sells a machine with an axis that is between vertical and horizontal.

Typically, front-loaders use less water — from one-third to one-half the amount that top-loaders require. The clothes tumble in the tub, rising above the water and then falling back into it as the tub rolls on its side. Because less water is used, less gas or electricity is required to heat the water; because the machines spin faster, clothes get wrung out more completely, reducing the cost of running a clothes dryer.

Horizontal-axis washers (front-loaders) have one major drawback: They can cost more than vertical-axis machines. Still, with the energy savings they provide, front-loaders may save you money in the long run. In some areas of the U.S., utility companies, environmental groups and government agencies help sweeten the deal by offering incentives to consumers who buy front-loaders. At the same time, there are many highly efficient top-loaders available, too. Use the EnergyGuide to find efficient products at the price that’s right for you
The bright yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label helps consumers factor an appliance’s energy consumption or efficiency and its annual operating cost into their purchasing decision. The law requires manufacturers to place the label on most major appliances so that consumers will see it when they are considering various models.

The EnergyGuide for clothes washers uses kilowatt-hours (a measure of electricity use) to tell how much energy each appliance uses in a year and compares the appliance with other appliances of the same or similar size. The range on the label — where the appliance’s energy use is on a continuum — is of particular benefit to consumers: A marker shows where the particular model falls in the range and how it stacks up against the competition.

The EnergyGuide also gives the estimated cost per year to run the particular model when it is used with an electric water heater and with a natural gas water heater.

Once you’ve bought your washer and had it installed, you’ll want to use it as efficiently as possible the FTC has tips there too:

  • If possible, wash one big load rather than two small ones.
  • Load the washer to capacity.
  • If you must wash smaller loads, select lower water levels, if possible.
  • Use cold water rinses.
  • Use lower temperature settings and pre-treat or pre-soak stains or heavily soiled clothing.
  • Use the recommended amount and type of detergent.
  • Set the thermostat on your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.