Selecting a washing machine

Washing machine technology has come a long way in the last 10 years (in America, anyway). We have gone from 90% top-loading washers to about 60% top-load and 40% front-load, with about half of the top-loaders sold being high-efficiency machines. With the great variety of brands, prices, styles, and features, how is one to make a decision? Please allow me to help.



CONVENTIONAL

First, how many people are you washing for? If it's just you, you may want to consider an low water use conventional top-loader. These machines look like the old-fashioned machines we grew up with, and they still have the agitator, but there is no longer a Load Size/Water Level knob. Instead, it has a load sensor that will determine how much water is needed. This saves water and energy. These machines usually sell for around $600. Machines with the Load Size/Water Level knob will use quite a bit more water, and won't clean any better, plus they'll cost more to run. On average, after 3 years you'll have saved enough with the low water model to cover the price difference, and the rest of the savings are just gravy.

With any conventional top-loader, you should maintain the machine by running Washer Magic through it once every 4-6 weeks, to remove detergent, fabric softener, and stain residues. If you don't know where these residues are because you don't see them, carefully run your finger under the metal rim of the opening to the washtub. Feel that goop? See how it's all blackish-green and gross? That's what you need to get rid of. Now that you know your enemy, vanquish him!


HIGH-EFFICIENCY

Next, we have high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. If you do at least 9 loads of laundry in an average week with your conventional top-loader, an HE machine will make a big difference in both the number of loads you do and the amount of water and electricity (and/or gas) you use.

These machines are also gentler on your clothes, as there is no agitator. Front-loaders wash by tumbling clothes, while top-loaders wash by shuffling the clothes up the center and down the sides. In both cases, the clothes scrub each other clean, instead of just sloshing around in a tub full of soapy water. With nothing to snag on or pull against, clothes like hooded sweatshirts, coveralls, and even comforters pose no problems. With many of these machines able to wash things like comforters, you can save money by not spending $20-40 at the dry cleaners.



FRONT-LOADERS

For those whose homes don't have much floor space, a front-loading pair may be the best choice. These machines will generally have the capacity -- 3.6 - 5.2 cubic feet) -- to handle at least 50% more laundry than a conventional top-loader. They will also use far less water. A conventional machine uses about 42 gallons of water, beginning to end, for a Normal cycle. A front-loading machine will use, on average, about 14 gallons of water for the same cycle. They also use, on average, 50-75% less energy. Every front-load washer is Energy Star-compliant, and many are Tier 2 or Tier 3 (which may qualify you for rebates from your city or state).

These machines also have high spin speeds, anywhere from 950-1400 rpm. This results in much less water left in the clothes, so the dryer won't have to run so long, which will save you energy. Front-loaders are also appropriate for people who want the storage that comes beneath when pedestals are added (these are not free, however).

Front-loaders are best placed on concrete floors or reinforced first floors, and, when properly installed, can be incredibly quiet. Most are appropriate for second-floor installation.

If the machines are not going above the first floor, the only other considerations would be the dimensions of the machines versus the space you have, whether you want them stacked or not, whether you want pedestals or not, and the features you want in your machines.

Front-loaders have a wide price range, from about $600 up to $2000, depending on the brand and model. Generally, capacity, cycle options, and special features will increase as the price increases.


FEATURES

There is a mind-boggling laundry list (heh) of features available in today's front-load washers and dryers. Here is a run-down of most of what you'll find available:


Internal water heater: gradually heats water in washing machine to 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit for sanitizing and to increase whitening activity in bleach and bleach alternatives.


Steam: In washer: helps with stain removal at end of wash portion of cycle.

In dryer: relaxes wrinkles in clothes that have been left in the dryer too long, removes odors from clothes that are otherwise clean (smoke, perfume, etc.), removes wrinkles from clothes from the closet.


PowerFoam: HE detergent and water are combined in a foam generator that speeds the dissolving process and makes the detergent more rapidly absorbed by the laundry so it can work on stains longer (Samsung exclusive).
 

ActivFresh (formerly Silver Care): cold water passes over silver plates in washer, carrying silver ions with it, and the natural anti-microbial activity of ionic silver sanitizes laundry without use of fabric-damaging bleach or additional energy to heat water; some people have expressed concern about silver entering the environment, but amounts are minute, and is far less damaging than the large amounts of silver jewelry that gets lost in waterways (Samsung exclusive - discontinued).

Direct Drive: instead of having the motor at the bottom, and having belts drive the drum, the motor is directly behind the drum; LG and Samsung tout this as superior technology, but little evidence supports these claims, and repairs can be very costly for this style of motor, because any harmful movement of the drum goes directly to the motor, instead of just damaging a belt. Most direct drive machines can be installed on second floors.

Filter trap: a place where little bits and pieces of stuff left in clothes (or falling off clothes) gets trapped instead of heading directly into the pump; some manufacturers, like Whirlpool, keep this trap behind the fascia panel at the bottom, while others, like LG, GE, and Samsung, have them accessible from the front without the need for dismantling anything.

Smart-Dispense: a special pedestal that has three dispenser jugs in it, two for detergents and one for fabric softener; the washing machine can automatically detect how much it needs based on the concentration of the detergent, size of the load, and water hardness (GE exclusive - discontinued; replaced by dispensing system in new HE top-loaders).