Controlling Temperature and Water Level
Courtesy of Bosch
Most washing machines will have three water level and temperature settings.
Water Level Settings
A basic washing machine has three settings — low, medium and high — for water level. The user chooses the setting based on the size of the load being washed. More expensive models will have four or more settings, or even sensors that automatically the amount of water used to the optimal level. Most front-loaders have this option.
Using just enough water to cover the clothing is considered to be the most effective and efficient. If your wash loads are always the same size and you never need to adjust the setting, water level may not concern you.
Water Temperature Settings
Again, a basic washing machine will offer just three temperature choices: hot, warm and cold. But if you find yourself shrinking or fading clothing on a regular basis, it is worth looking for a model with a few more temperature settings or with automatic temperature control. The automatic adjustment feature not only will change the wash and rinse temperature to best clean your clothes, but ensure that in cold weather the cold water isn't actually freezing and the warm water isn't actually lukewarm.
To achieve the high water temperatures necessary for eliminating the worst germs, look for washers with a temperature boost or a sanitize cycle. For example, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends washing bedding in water at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites, a common source of allergies.
Tub Capacity and Material
Washing machines can have anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 cubic feet of interior space.
Households with a lot of laundry will find that a washer with a big tub reduces the number of loads and therefore the time, water and energy spent washing clothes. It also makes it easier to wash large items such as comforters or blankets that might otherwise require a trip to the Laundromat or dry cleaner. Think about how your family might be changing — the birth of babies, children returning home after college or an elderly parent moving in — when you buy your washer and dryer.
Don't get sold on labels such as "king-size," "super," "plus," or "extra-large" capacity. Manufacturers also might define tub size by the number of jeans that it can wash, or the pounds of laundry it can hold.
To compare apples to apples, look at cubic feet of capacity. Top loaders usually range from 2.5 to 3.8 cubic feet, while front loaders average 3.1 to 3.8 cubic feet. A compact or portable washer usually offers 2.1 cubic feet. At the opposite end, manufacturers are now making top- and front-loading models with 4 or 4.5 cubic feet of capacity.
Like dishwashers, most washing machines use one of three tub materials: plastic, porcelain or stainless steel.
Plastic tubs are long-lasting, lightweight and less expensive. Porcelain-coated tubs are durable and easy to clean, but porcelain can chip. The highest-end models use stainless steel, which is easy to wipe clean and doesn't stain or rust. It also heats up more quickly and retains heat longer.
Standard and Optional Washer Cycles
Courtesy of Bosch
Today's washers often have more than the three basic settings.
Standard Washer Cycles
Every washing machine offers at least three cycle settings: gentle or delicate, regular, and permanent press or knits. Each setting is a pre-determined combination of wash time and spin speed.
Think about the kinds of clothes and fabrics you wear and wash before you buy a washing machine. If jeans, khakis, T-shirts and socks make up the bulk of your laundry, you'll do fine with the basic cycles.
If you wear a lot of silk, use cloth diapers or have other fabric care challenges, look for a washing machine with the appropriate special washer cycles explained below.
Keep in mind that typically the more advanced — and expensive — the washer, the more cycles it will offer. Some have as many as 26; 10 or 11 are pretty common.
Optional Washer Cycles to Consider
Cotton, silk, or wool cycles
Extra long: A longer wash time, good for seriously dirty clothing such as sports uniforms.
Extra rinse: Adds another rinse to get out more dirt and detergent.
Extra spin: More spin time gets more water out of absorbent items such as towels or comforters.
Favorite: Allows you to program the settings you use most often.
Hand wash: If you own a number of fine washables and neither the time nor the desire to wash them by hand, this is a good option to have.
Prewash or soak: A brief cycle before the main cycle, designed to help remove dirt and stains.
Quick: A shorter wash option for clothing that's only lightly soiled. It saves water and wear and tear on the clothes.
Sanitize: Offers a few minutes of extra-hot water mid-cycle to kill bacteria and other germs. Good for families with frequent illnesses and allergies.
Top Loaders and Front Loaders
Courtesy of the U.S. EPA's Energy Star program
Washers can either be loaded from the top or loaded from the front, depending on the model you purchase.
The big news in washers in the past few years has been the major introduction of front-load models — typically associated with commercial laundry machines — into the home. Both run on electricity and both will get your clothes clean. Where they differ is in how they get your clothes clean, water and energy usage, and tub capacity and placement.
Why choose a front loader over a top loader, or vice versa? Here's a breakdown:
Homes; United States
Laundromats and other commercial settings; Europe and Asia
Tub is filled with water, then agitator moves clothes (items may get tangled around it). Some top loaders have alternative technologies that are less forceful and use less water. Easy to add clothes mid-cycle.
Use tumbling action instead of agitator; cause less wear and tear on clothing. Water does not completely fill the tub. Higher spin speeds extract more moisture and reduce drying time. Difficult to add clothes mid-cycle..
Most are less expensive, with fewer options. They also are less efficient, with higher utility bills.
Higher price tag and typically come with more options. Greater efficiency means lower utility bills.
More popular, therefore come in a wider range of models, prices and styles
Much more common than even five years ago
The bigger the agitator, the less room for clothing
No agitator taking up space
Children and small adults may have trouble reaching in to remove wash
Require the average adult to bend over to load the machine
Energy and Water Savings
Not as efficient as front loaders, but can still find Energy Star models
Use less water than top loaders and therefore require less energy to heat it
HE (high-efficiency) detergent with fewer suds; slightly more expensive than standard
Range from very basic models to multiple cycles, speeds, temperatures, etc.
Tend to come with more options as standard offerings
No (unless part of a laundry center washer-dryer combo)
Washers and Dryers are no Longer Relegated to the Sidelines
Notice how people aren't putting laundry machines in the basement or the garage anymore? While they haven't exactly replaced the range and refrigerator in consumers' hearts or homes, washers and dryers are no longer relegated to the sidelines.
Some laundry appliances are located in the kitchen, so busy parents can switch between cooking and laundry and still keep an eye on the children. Some are in mudrooms, so athletes can leave shoes and clothing at the door rather than dragging dirt into the house. In other houses, laundry rooms have migrated to the second floor to be near the bedrooms and bathrooms where people change.
Professional Looks and Performance
This new generation of washers and dryers is more attractive, too, with sleek styling and designer finishes that rival those of any cooktop, computer or car. With bold colors, they command attention rather than fading into the background. In laundry, as in cooking, pro-style, pro-performance appliances are all the rage.
That means washers and dryers with bigger tub capacity for larger loads. More wash cycles and hotter water temperatures, capable of handling everything from hand washables to comforters. Moisture sensors to make sure both towels and T-shirts are dried to optimal levels. And an array of accessories, from platforms to storage, designed to make the sorting, treating and folding of laundry easier.
Energy and Water Efficiency
With gas prices above $3 per gallon becoming the norm and a persistent drought in the central and western areas of the country, saving natural resources is no longer just for environmentalists. Most manufacturers now offer energy- and water-efficient washers that have earned the government's Energy Star label. They tend to cost more up front, but the savings on the utility bills make up the difference in a few years.
Additional factors to consider when buying a new washer and dryer include:
Preset and programmable cycles
Gas or Electric?
Courtesy of Bosch
Dryers are either powered by gas or electricity.
Clothes dryers are less complicated than washers, with fewer options and therefore fewer decisions to make. One of the main choices is whether to buy a gas or electric dryer. Because gas and electric ranges function so differently, you might think the same is true of dryers, but it isn't; regardless of fuel source, dryers perform in a similar manner.
The only major difference between the two is price: gas dryers cost about $50 to $100 more than electric dryers up front, but are a bit more energy-efficient and therefore cost less to operate. If you're just replacing existing appliances, check out the existing hookups-you may want to stick with your current set-up to avoid additional installation costs.
120-volt outlet and gas hookup
Drum tumbles clothes through heated air. Electric motor turns drum and distributes air. Heating coils supply heat.
Drum tumbles clothes through heated air. Electric motor turns drum and distributes air. Gas burner supplies heat.
Requires electrician and plumber
Use slightly more energy
Use slightly less energy
Come in a wide range of models, prices and styles
Come in a wide range of models, prices and styles
Lower price tag; higher utility bills
Higher price tag; lower utility bills
All sizes, including compact
Not available in compact sizes
The Cost of Washers & Dryers
Courtesy of Washer-Dryer.edu.ms
Capacity and loading functionality are two things that can affect the price of your washer and dryer.
As with all appliances, you'll find that the more features your washer and dryer offer, the higher the price. For both types of laundry appliances, you will find a big range between the high and low end of the price spectrum. Washing machines cost between $250 and $2,050; dryers cost anywhere from $200 to $1,750.
Clothes Washer Prices
An average top-load washer with capacity over 3 cubic feet, three main temperatures and multiple cycles, and a plastic tub, will cost between $275 and $450. The matching dryer will cost about the same, although gas dryers are always more expensive than electric dryers.
Features such as a stainless steel tub, Energy Star qualification, detergent or bleach dispenser and additional cycles can take you up to about $650 in a top-loading washer.
The most expensive top-loaders are those that use an alternative technology rather than an agitator to wash clothing. They cost anywhere from $800 to $1,300.
Front-loading washers start at about $500 and typically cost at least $300 more than a similar top loader. In general, a high-end front loader with large stainless steel tub, electronic controls, a dozen cycles and more, easily costs $1,000.
Compact washers range from $200 for a tiny portable model to about $2,050 for a 24-inch, front-loading Energy Star washing machine with stainless steel exterior and tub and a dozen wash cycles.
Clothes Dryer Prices
An average electric dryer with about 6 cubic feet of capacity, plastic drum, dial controls, three temperature settings and a few dryer cycles and/or a timed dry feature, will cost between $200 and $400.
Features such as a stainless steel tub, moisture sensors, larger capacity and additional cycles can easily take you up to about $700 or $800.
Gas dryers cost about $50 to $100 more than electric dryers up front, but cost less to operate on a monthly basis.
The most expensive gas dryers are those that use offer the largest capacity, most cycles and designer exterior finishes. They cost anywhere from $800 to $1,200.
Compact dryers range from $300 for basic 24-inch electric dryer to about $1,750 for a 24- electric dryer with stainless steel exterior and drum and more than a dozen dryer settings.
Washer-Dryer Combo Prices
A laundry center-a stacked washer and dryer unit-ranges from $750 to $2,000, with most falling under $1,300.
An all-in-one washer-dryer unit, in which washing and drying take place in the same tub, ranges from $700 for a compact model to $1,700 for a full-size model with electronic controls, multiple wash cycles, stainless steel tub and noise-reduction features.
Things to Think About When Selecting Washers and Dryers
Courtesy of Whirlpool Appliances
To help focus your selection process, ask yourself the following questions. You also can print out the PDF version of the questionnaire and refer to it while visiting an appliance showroom or retail store.
Do I prefer a front-loading or top-loading washer?
Do I want a gas or electric dryer?
What are the dimensions of my current washer and dryer? Does my current floor plan allow for changes in these dimensions? Do I want to relocate the washer and dryer or change my floor plan?
Will the washer and dryer be in a closet or other tight space? If so, do I want to stack them?
Will the washer and dryer be in a readily visible location? If so, do I want to coordinate their color, finish and styling with the rest of the room?
Is my available space so small that I should consider a combination washer/dryer appliance?
Do I want my washer and dryer placed on platforms so that I don't have to bend down to load and unload them?
Are environmental considerations such as energy and water savings important to me?
Do I want large-capacity appliances so that I can do fewer but bigger loads of laundry, or do I need to do more frequent, smaller loads?
Is it important to have quiet appliances to avoid disturbing neighbors or sleeping family members?
Do I need a sanitizing wash cycle for heavily soiled clothing or family members with allergies?
Do I need just a few wash and dry cycles, or do I have multiple fabric and stain types that require a wide range of temperatures, water levels and other options?
Choosing the Right Fit
A typical full-size washer is usually about 27 inches wide.
Before buying a new washer, make sure you know where it's going and how much space you have for it. Take precise measurements of height, width and depth as well as the clearance from doors and walls; you want to be sure that a front-loading washer door or a top-loading washer lid can open fully, and that nearby doors can close properly. Don't forget: you will also need room for either a laundry tub or a standpipe drain system. (And a dryer, too, of course.)
A typical full-size washer is usually about 27 inches wide. Height can range anywhere from 34 to 42 inches. If you purchase optional pedestals that make front-loading washer and dryer pairs easier to load, they will add another 12 inches or so of height. However, the pedestals also serve as drawers, saving other storage space.
In a condominium, town home or other small residence where those sizes or set ups take up too much room, you have several alternative options:
If you're interested in a front-loading model, you have the option of stacking the matching dryer on top of it.
A compact washer, which is 21 to 24 inches wide. Some can be stacked with a matching compact dryer, and some are portable. The tub capacity is smaller than that of a full-size washer, however.
You can also buy one of two types of washer-dryer combos.
The more common kind is called a laundry center or stacked washer-dryer unit. Rather than consisting of two separate components, it is just one appliance, with a top-loading washer on the bottom and a gas or electric dryer on top. It's the same width as a full-size washer.
The other type is an all-in-one washer-dryer, in which clothes are washed and then dried in the same tub.
Energy and Water Efficiency
New washers have options to reduce the amount of water you use in a cycle.
Energy Standards for Washers
If it's been a while since you bought a washer, even regular models will be more efficient than your old one: U.S. Department of Energy standards for all clothes washers made or sold in the United States were raised on January 1, 2007. Look for the yellow and black EnergyGuide label, which will note the product's specifications.
The Modified Energy Factor (MEF) measures washer energy-efficiency. It is determined by dividing tub capacity by the total energy consumption per cycle (washing machine energy, water-heating energy and dryer energy). The higher the MEF, the more efficient the washing machine is. All standard-size top-loading and front-loading washers must have an MEF of 1.26 or greater.
Today's energy-efficient washing machines are effective cleaners that cost only a few hundred dollars more than their standard counterparts. If price is the overriding factor in your decision making, consider this: after four or five years, an energy-efficient washer will have paid back the extra money it cost to buy, thanks to lower utility bills. Also, some states offer rebates to consumers who buy energy-efficient or Energy Star washers.
Designed to promote efficient energy usage in homes and businesses, the Energy Star program is a joint effort of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. To meet Energy Star guidelines, a full-size washer must have an MEF greater than or equal to 1.72.
According to program officials, Energy Star qualified washers use 50 percent less energy than a standard washer and significantly less water: about 18 to 25 gallons per load, instead of approximately 40 gallons. These washing machines also tend to extract more water from the clothing while spinning, reducing necessary dryer time.
Both top-loading and front-loading clothes washers can qualify for ENERGY STAR, although front loaders generally use less energy and water than top-loaders.
In 2007, Energy Star also started measuring water efficiency, ensuring that all washers with its label meet a Water Factor (WF) requirement of 8 or less. The WF is determined by dividing the gallons of water used per cycle by the tub capacity. The lower the WF, the less water the machine uses.
The Energy Star Web site, www.energystar.gov, offers more information about home energy efficiency, including special offers or rebates and a list of Energy Star qualified washers.
According to the American Water Works Association, clothes washers account for 20.1 percent of water used daily in a typical single-family home with no water-saving fixtures. It amounts to 15.1 gallons daily, second only to toilets, which use 20.1 gallons. A water-saving washer automatically saves energy, because about 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes toward heating the water.
Energy Saving Tips
Whether or not you buy an Energy Star washer, you can save energy by:
Washing full loads
Adjusting the water level setting for small loads
Using cold water (or warm instead of hot) and cold-water detergent whenever possible
Use a high-speed or extended spin cycle to minimize dryer time