Clothes Washers

Beginning in the late 1990s, American clothes washers have become much more efficient. Since the typical US household does approximately 300 loads of laundry per year, consumers can save substantial amounts of both water and energy by using a new machine. As an added plus, studies show the new machines may get clothes cleaner.

Older top-loading machines used to use 40 gallons of water to wash a full load of clothes. Today's newer standard models use 27 gallons, and more efficient Energy Star washers can use 14 gallons per wash. In addition, Energy Star appliances typically use half the electricity as standard models.

Savings can be impressive. In 2012 Energy Star claimed, "Washers manufactured before 1998 are significantly less efficient than newer models. Together, these inefficient washers cost consumers $2.6 billion each year in energy and water. If every clothes washer purchased in the U.S. this year earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save 790 million kWh of electricity, 32 billion gallons of water, and 2 trillion BTUs of natural gas every year, resulting in energy bill savings of about $350 million, every year."

Standard Washers

For years the standard-designed home clothes washer loaded from the top and used an agitator to push or pull clothes through a full tub of water. Today's improved top-loaders may look much the same, but they don't waste water by filling the tub. They instead spin or flip clothes through a stream of water. Many match incoming water levels with the amount of clothes, and they rinse clothes by repeatedly spraying them with high-pressure water instead of soaking them in a full tub.

Horizontal Axis models

"Front-loading" or horizontal axis washing machines tumble clothes much like a dryer does. Clothes tumble in and out of a small pool of water at the bottom of the horizontally oriented stainless steel drum. This action is gentler on clothes than a traditional washing machine using an agitator in a full tub of water. The technology, long used for commercial washers, is being sold for residential use.

Besides using less water and energy, these front loaders - also called "High Efficiency," or "HE," washers - can also squeeze more water out of the laundry, thereby reducing drying time. New full-size machines can accommodate large items that won't fit in a normal-sized top-loader. And because both the washer and dryer load from the front, many models can be stacked on top of each other or mounted under a countertop. This feature is useful for people like apartment dwellers who might be short on space.

Combination Washers/Dryers

Long a standby in Europe and Asia, machines that combine the functions of both washing and drying clothes have been on the market for decades. They are practical for tight spaces where separate washers and dryers won't fit.

Many manufacturers market these all-in-one combo units that usually require less energy and water, often eliminate the need for venting, and create more space in your home than regular washers and dryers.

Smart Buying

Consider these tips when shopping for a new washer:

  • The federal government sets efficiency standards for clothes washers. That means each new washer sitting on a dealer's showroom floor must display an EnergyGuide label that estimates the amount of energy in kilowatt-hours (kWh) that is consumed by that model. The yellow EnergyGuide sticker compares that washer's energy use to similar models, and provides an estimated yearly operating cost. Since the label is created by the U.S. Department of Energy and not the manufacturer, it provides a valuable comparison tool for consumers. (Remember that the label compares front-loading models with other front loaders, not with conventional top-loading machines.)
  • Shoppers should also look for the ENERGY STAR® labels. Appearing on appliances that are the most energy efficient products in their class, these stickers may be found on washing machines as well as refrigerators, dishwashers, video tape recorders, televisions, computers and room air conditioners. Manufacturers and retailers can voluntarily place ENERGY STAR labels on appliances that meet or exceed standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. On an average, Energy Star washing machines use up to 50 percent less energy than other models.
  • ENERGY STAR clothes washers have a greater tub capacity, which means you can wash fewer loads to clean the same amount of laundry. They come in both front-loading and top-loading models. Both designs use less water and energy to get clothes thoroughly clean.
  • Because washers are most efficient when they are fully loaded, you should match the size of the washer to the needs of your family. For an individual or couple who do less laundry, a small model will be the most economical.
  • Utility companies often give rebates for new appliances. Check with your utility or the appliance salesperson for rebates on high efficiency models.

Smart Use

Once you've purchased an efficient washer, consider these tips to cut the amount of energy and money you spend washing clothes:

  • Up to 90 percent of the cost of washing clothes comes from heating the water; use hot water only for very dirty clothes, and always use cold water in the rinse cycle.
  • Presoak or use the soak cycle when washing heavily soiled garments like a dirty soccer uniform. This technique can help you avoid having to wash those clothes twice.
  • Try to wash only full loads, but do not overload your machine. Most washing machines have a dial that allows you to select a small, medium, or large load of dirty clothes - use it. All too often consumers set the dial to large and keep it there, regardless of the size of the load. Some newer machines include sensors that automatically determine the size of a load of clothes and then add the appropriate amount of water to the washing machine. This automatic feature saves not only water but the energy used to pump it.
  • Washer manufacturers recommend using only detergents displaying the HE label in front-loading and high-efficiency washers. HE detergents are designed to be more concentrated and low-sudsing. Too many suds may "confuse" a newer machine's washing cycles, causing delays and making it difficult to properly rinse clothes. Use the recommended amount of detergent - more soap is not necessarily better.