Clothes Washer Purchase Tips

A typical clothes washer will cost almost $1,100 to operate over its lifetime (based on 8 loads of clothes a week for 14 years, using 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity at today’s average cost of 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour). Water and energy efficient clothes washers are much more common and inexpensive than they were a few years ago. Nevertheless, the high efficiency models are still more expensive than the old inefficient models.

If you are wavering about purchasing a high efficiency model consider that recent research has shown that the energy and water savings achieved by these machines will payback the cost difference in 1 to 6 years (Mayer et. al. 2001). The US Department of Energy lists the useful life of a clothes washer at 14 years, so over the life of the product the savings in water and energy should easily outweigh the additional cost. Some water and energy utilities offer rebates for the purchase of a high efficiency washing machine. Incentives make these machines even more affordable.

Front Loader vs. Top Loader

Standard clothes washers are almost always top loading or vertical axis machines. High efficiency washers on the other hand are either top loading or front loading/horizontal axis machines. Generally speaking, the horizontal axis machines are the most water and energy efficient, although some new top loader designs have made those machines more efficient.



Top loading and front loading clothes washers (courtesy of Whirlpool and Maytag)

Tips for selecting your clothes washer

Features and options that affect the amount of hot water used play a primary role in the overall efficiency of a clothes washer.

  • Choose a size of machine that most closely matches your laundry needs. For a family that does a lot of laundry, one of the larger models probably makes the most sense. For an individual or couple who does less laundry, a small model will be the most economical.
  • Choose a washing machine that has several options for adjusting the water level. A small load should have the option of using a smaller amount of water. Generally, washing a full load is most efficient.
  • Select a model with many choices of wash and rinse cycles. Warm wash cycles clean very well. Only oily stains may require hot washes. Cold water washing is adequate with proper detergents and pre-soaking. Cold rinses are effective.
  • Look for pre-soaking options. Both pre-soaking options and “suds saver” features conserve energy, although the latter option is rare.
  • Your clothes washer also impacts the energy use of your clothes dryer depending on how dry the clothes are after the spin cycle. Choose a washing machine with faster spin speeds. Higher spin speeds result in better water extraction and reduce drying times.

Resources for selecting a clothes washer

ENERGY STAR was introduced by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products, in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. ENERGY STAR labeled clothes washers use superior designs that require less water to get clothes thoroughly clean. These machines use sensors to match the hot water needs to the load, preventing energy waste. For information on qualifying products and where to buy them visit the ENERGY STAR web site.

For information on the efficiency rating of various machines please visit the Consortium for Energy Efficiency’s web site. This site compares the energy and water efficiency of all clothes washers on the market and provides efficiency ratings for each machine.

Where to Get Clothes Washer

High efficiency clothes washers are now
offered by almost all the leading manufacturers and should be available wherever clothes washers are sold. For a list of stores in your area, try the ENERGY STAR store locator. All you need is a zip code!


Photo source: Aquacraft, Inc., by permission.

A higher efficiency machine will use less water and also energy when less water is heated for each warm water wash cycle. The higher the efficiency of the machine the lower the Water Factor or abbreviated as “WF” which is a measure of water used per cycle per cubic foot of laundry. In other words, the lower the “WF” the lower the water consumption and the more efficient the machine.

Current listings of the most efficient machines is maintained and regularly updated by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). The CEE web site posts a listing of high efficiency residential clothes washers. To find most current listing, click the “Residential Clothes Washers” then click on “Qualifying Products.”

Clothes Washer Incentives or Rebates

Some water providers, cities, and utility companies offer financial incentives for replacing an old inefficient clothes washer with a high-efficiency model. Typically they offer a rebate of between $50 and $100 towards the purchase of an Energy Star rated machine.

For information about clothes washer rebates and incentive programs in your area, contact your local water provider.

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