Choosing a Washing Machine: Don’t Get Taken to the Cleaners!

by Gina Blitstein · 2 comments

A washing machine isn’t an appliance we think much about – until its time to replace it. That’s when we begin considering such issues as to its cleaning ability, energy and water efficiency and capacity. Let’s look at what’s available in the world of washing machines to discover what makes a washer both a good performer and a good value:

Thanks to for the following intel about washing machines:

General types of washing machines

Traditional washing machines are top-loaders with a center-post agitator. These machines typically wash 12-16 lbs of laundry per load. They’re the least expensive, at $300 – $650, and quickest-washing type of washing machine but they aren’t the most effective at cleaning clothes. They consume more energy than newer types of washers on the market and use 45 gallons of water per load.

High-efficiency washing machines use less water than traditional washers per load, hold larger loads of laundry (up to 20 lbs) and extract more water, which leads to a shorter drying time. They can, however, tangle and wrinkle clothing. Their cost is considerably higher than traditional washing machines at $600 – $1100.

Front-loading washing machines use the least amount of water per load (only half as much as a traditional top loading machine). Because front-loaders use less water, it can take 1/12 hours to wash a load of laundry, as compared to a traditional top-loader which takes 35 minutes. They have a 12-20 lb laundry capacity and spin even more quickly than high-efficiency washers, creating laundry requiring less drying time. Front-loaders have been found to clean significantly better than the other two types of machines and treat fabrics more gently, preventing undue wear. They’re the most expensive to purchase (from $700 – $1300); however in the long run, these washers can provide the most savings over time.

Once you decide, based upon your priorities and budget, which type of washer you’re looking for, you’ll need to navigate the plethora of features available. Some may prove handy, while others only raise the price and provide little benefit to you. Here are some features among which you’ll have to choose:

Automatic Dispensers – These allow you to add not only the laundry detergent but fabric softener and bleach at the beginning of the wash, to be dispensed at the appropriate time during the wash cycle.

Automatic Temperature Controls – Instead of simply mixing hot and cold for the optimal wash temperature, these adjust the actual temperature of the incoming cold water for more effective cleaning.

Dial Controls vs Touchpad – Dial controls are the traditional, straightforward means by which to choose settings, cycles, temperature and operate the washer. Touchpad controls are electronic and in addition, offer the ability to save certain settings and cycles as favorites, indicate the current cycle and time remaining and time delay your wash cycle. They are, however more complicated than a dial to operate and can require a costly repair when and if they malfunction.

High-Quality Wash Tub – Stainless-steel or plastic wash tubs won’t rust like a porcelain tub when chipped.

Steam Setting – According to Consumer Reports, the steam feature is effective at removing stains but washers on which it is available are particularly effective at washing even without steam.

When Consumer Reports tests and compares washing machines, it judges performance in specific areas which include:

Ability to remove specific stains (wine, blood, cocoa, body oil…)
Gentleness to fabric
Greatest effective load capacity
Energy and water efficiency
Brand reliability

It’s a good idea to read Consumer Reports findings when you’re in the market for a washer to help you find a great performing machine at a price within your budget.

What washing machine features are important to you?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

clare morrow September 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm

One thing you are not mentioning with front loaders is the tendency for the unit to smell. I now use a drain to completely empty the reservoir of stale water held in the machine. If I didn’t drain it, there would be a moldy smell in my next load of clothes. The drain is not convenient, as I need a pair of pliers to open the door that leads to it, and the water drains on the floor. The vendor has a kit available that you can buy for $10 to run through your machine once a month which consists of a heavy chlorine tablet. I have also seen these for sale at grocery stores so the problem seems to be wide spread. My only other option is to buy a new machine.

Ashley January 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm

For the commenter above, I have a front loader too. In the manual, it tells you to use a washing machine cleaner once a month (mine says specifically Affresh, it is a Whirlpool Duet). You should only have to remove that drain if it becomes clogged. I’ve had to do it once, and it had some change and a sock down in it, which was causing it to leak, etc.

Now, with my Whirlpool, my complaint is that the seal for the front loader is weak. Mine lasted a year. Luckily, it was under originally warranty. I bought the extended warranty, and in December, the bearings went out on it. This is a $700 job, more than I paid for the washer (on sale.)
If you’re going to buy a front loader, buy the extended warranty. I miss my Kenmore top loader that was made in 1990 – I never had an issue with it and I was the 3rd owner and do laundry for 6 people every week.

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