July 24, 2014

Do You Like Your Front Loading Washer?

It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it’s ruined—and Americans have politics to thank.

The above is quote from a Wall Street Journal Opinion piece by Sam Kazman. He goes on to say:

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were “excellent” and five were “very good.” By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were “fair” or “poor.” This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as “often mediocre or worse.”

How’s that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government’s obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren’t as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.

The federal government first issued energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. When the Department of Energy ratcheted them up a decade later, it was the beginning of the end for top-loaders. Their costlier and harder-to-use rivals—front-loading washing machines—were poised to dominate.

Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don’t fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy.

When the Department of Energy began raising the standard, it promised that “consumers will have the same range of clothes washers as they have today,” and cleaning ability wouldn’t be changed. That’s not how it turned out.

In 2007, after the more stringent rules had kicked in, Consumer Reports noted that some top-loaders were leaving its test swatches “nearly as dirty as they were before washing.” “For the first time in years,” CR said, “we can’t call any washer a Best Buy.” Contrast that with the magazine’s 1996 report that, “given warm enough water and a good detergent, any washing machine will get clothes clean.” Those were the good old days.

In 2007, only one conventional top-loader was rated “very good.” Front-loaders did better, as did a new type of high-efficiency top-loader that lacks a central agitator. But even though these newer types of washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders, overall they didn’t clean as well as the 1996 models.

The situation got so bad that the Competitive Enterprise Institute started a YouTube protest campaign, “Send Your Underwear to the Undersecretary.” With the click of a mouse, you could email your choice of virtual bloomers, boxers or Underoos to the Department of Energy. Several hundred Americans did so, but it wasn’t enough to stop Congress from mandating even stronger standards a few months later.

Now Congress is at it once again. On March 10, the Senate Energy Committee held hearings on a bill to make efficiency standards even more stringent. The bill claims to implement “national consensus appliance agreements,” but those in this consensus are the usual suspects: politicians pushing feel-good generalities, bureaucrats seeking expanded powers, environmentalists with little regard for American pocketbooks, and industries that stand to profit from a de facto ban on low-priced appliances. And there are green tax goodies for manufacturing high-efficiency models—the kind that already give so many tax credits to Whirlpool, for example, that the company will avoid paying taxes on its $619 million profit in 2010.

If you have switched from a top loading to a front loading washer and have a definite opinion about which is better – and why – please add your comment below. Let your voice be heard – are the socks you’re standing in clean enough?

Washing Machine Shopping Guide

Buying a new washing machine can be daunting. Many consumers find themselves standing in an appliance store looking at so many styles and brands, they are overwhelmed. Add to that the fact that often washer purchases are made in a rush because the old machine is broken and the laundry is piling up.

To help the frazzled shopper, we offer this list of questions to consider before heading out to the store.

What type of washer do I need?
If you are buying a replacement washer, you’ll probably choose the same type. If you are moving into a new home, remodeling or just looking for a change, you’ll want to choose a washer that fits the washer/dryer configuration you prefer; either side-by-side or stacked. If you live in a smaller home or apartment, compact washers require little space. They come in both stationary models and portable versions which can be stored in a closet and rolled to a nearby sink for use. Full-sized washers are now available in either top-loading or front-loading models. Front loaders can be placed under counters or stacked under a dryer, and save on energy costs. They are more expensive to purchase than conventional top-loading washers, and require special low-sudsing detergents to get the best results. If you live in an area with very high water and energy costs, like the western U.S., your energy savings could offset the purchase price difference. If you live in another area, you’ll want to spend some quality time with your calculator to determine if a front loader or a top loader is best for you.

What capacity washer should I choose?
Since your new washer is likely to last 10 to 15 years, you’ll want to consider both your family’s current and future size. Your laundry habits are also a consideration. Do you prefer to do your laundry in frequent small loads, or does your schedule require you to do large infrequent loads? There can also be seasonal factors, like sports and other outdoor activities, which might make a large capacity washer a welcome convenience.

How quiet should my washer be?
With more laundry rooms moving out of the basement and into living areas, quiet operation is becoming an important consideration. If you’re looking for a quiet washer, be sure to check for insulation inside the cabinet. Some models have sound-absorbing pads on all sides. Quality engineering and design also play a big part in sound reduction. A strong frame and suspension can help reduce a washer’s vibration from an unbalanced load. You’ll want to ask your appliance dealer about the quality of the stabilizing springs on models you’re considering, and be sure to check for thick rubber pads on the legs. They not only help reduce sound, they also protect your floors from scratches.

Should I look for an energy-efficient model?
Different washer models do vary in the amount of energy they use, and front-loading washers generally use less energy than top loaders. Front loaders cost more, and you will have to determine if energy costs in your area justify the higher purchase price. If you choose a top-loading washer, much of your energy savings will come from the choices you make when washing. Having a lot of cycle, water level and temperature options on your new washer will allow you to match the amount of hot water you use with your load. Some models offer a cold water rinse feature, which saves energy and gives you the same washing performance as a hot water rinse. Presoaking really dirty clothes can also save energy because, after the clothes have soaked, you can choose a regular wash cycle instead of the highest cycle setting. And, remember… when you’re in the store, be sure to compare the bright yellow Energy Guide labels to see which models run most efficiently.

What features are important to me?

Use catalogues, flyers and the Internet to identify your favorite two or three features. Popular features generally fall within three benefit categories:

* Ease-of-use Features
Consider who does laundry in your family before deciding which type of controls you want. Do children or an elderly family member need special consideration? Washer controls have become more advanced and, in many cases, easier to use. Electronic controls offer one-touch cycle selection and have easy-to-read digital displays. Other models have color coding and cycle indicator lights. A large lid opening can make loading and unloading easier. Most manufacturers offer automatic detergent, fabric softener and bleach dispensers, which make washing simpler and help avoid damage to fabrics. Some models also have self-cleaning lint filters. And, if you choose to stack your washer and dryer, you’ll not only reduce bending over, you’ll also save floor space.
* Performance Features
New washers offer a wide range of water temperature and cycle options, which allow you to customize your laundry for different fabrics and garments. Generally, the more cycle options your new washer has, the cleaner you’ll be able to get really dirty jeans, while protecting your fine delicates. You’ll want to find a washer that gives you the cycle and water temperature selections which match the clothes you normally wash. Some models have a water temperature sensor which automatically monitors and adjusts the hot and cold water flow to insure the ideal temperature for best washing results. And, remember to check your water heater setting to make sure the water coming to your new washer is hot enough. Normally, a setting of 120 degrees F. to 140 degrees F. will get good results.
* Durability Features
Washers must endure the corrosive effects of water and laundry chemicals, so rust protection is important. Ask your appliance dealer about the rust-proofing features which different manufacturers provide on washer cabinets and frames, as well as on working parts, like the pump. Check the fill hoses and fittings to make sure they are rust resistant and strong enough to last under high water pressure. Most washer models have a porcelain-coated wash tub, but you’ll want to find out if the coating is thick enough to withstand years of use without chipping. Stainless steel and plastic tubs won’t rust, but check the surface to see if it’s smooth enough to protect fine fabrics. If you’re going to use the top of your new washer as a work area, a porcelain enamel surface is more durable than paint. And, be sure to check the warranty. Some manufacturers cover rust and corrosion.

Good luck and enjoy your new washer!

Here are some of the Washers and Dryers available on the WEB: