Look into Energy Efficient Washers and Dryers

Paying a bit more for efficient washers and dryers will reap long-term savings that more than recover the up-front cost.

washers and dryers - child looking in the door of a washer

Washers and dryers are fascinating objects in their own right, however much water or electricity they may use.

Photo by Peter Cade/Photodisc Red/Getty Images

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Energy-efficient washers and dryers can save you money and reduce environmental damage. Laundry machines account for about 5 to I 0 percent of a typical household's energy bills. Not only can energy-efficient models lower these costs, they also help reduce pollution, including emissions that lead to acid rain and global warming. Efficient washing machines also conserve water.

Making the Right Choice

Consider a front-loading washer. Consumer Reports recommends front-loading, horizontal-axis machines for best all-around performance. Models with this type of axis tumble clothing instead of agitating it-they effectively wash clothing without completely submerging it. Not only does this extend the life of your clothing, it also uses far less water and energy. In fact, tests show that the most efficient of these machines can cut water consumption by about 25 to 50 percent compared with the least efficient, vertical-axis washers rested.

While front-loading washers are more expensive than conventional, vertical axis cop-loaders, you'll typically save $40 to $60 per year in energy costs. The best front-loaders offer gentle action and quiet operation and have ample capacity. In addition, they require less detergent, and their high spin speeds reduce drying rime.

If a top-loader works better for you, some manufacturers offer top loading horizontal-axis models. Other high-efficiency, vertical-axis models are available, but the energy savings are based on the moisture removed during higher-speed spin cycles, not water conservation.

Consider a gas dryer. The major difference among dryers is not in their overall efficiency, but in the type of energy they use to dry the clothes. Gas dryers are generally cheaper to run and have less impact on the environment than electric dryers, generating about 60 percent less carbon dioxide. Gas dryers do cost about $50 more, but their greater energy efficiency will make up the price gap in a year or two.

Insist on a moisture sensor for dryers. Sensors shut the dryer off automatically when the clothes are dry enough and will not overdry them. Dryers with moisture sensors can save energy, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by about 10 percent, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. By reducing drying rime, sensors also help protect clothing from shrinking and other damage. Again, such dryers cost about $30 to $50 extra, but your savings over time will make up for the added expense. A less reliable option offered on many low-priced models is a thermostat; these simply regulate the temperature in the drum and can allow the dryer to run longer than necessary.

To get you started, here is a table presenting Ratings for 16 Washers and Dryers.

Getting the Most Value

From your washer:

• Keep wash temperatures low. Whichever washing machine you choose, using the lowest appropriate water temperature can help save energy. Reserve hot water for stains, such as oil, that respond best to hot water, or for allergy-proofing bed linens. Always rinse with cold. Another good idea is to lower your hot water heater setting to 120 degrees.

• Wash full loads. You'll use less water and energy per pound of dirty clothes if you wash large loads.

• Use your washer's fastest spin speed. The more water your washer extracts at the end of the cycle, the less energy your dryer will need to dry the clothes.

From your dryer:

• Don't overdry. It not only wastes energy but also can damage your clothes. If your machine doesn't have a moisture sensor, use an automatic setting such as "less dry" rather than a timed setting. You can always increase or decrease it as needed.

• Clean line filters and moisture sensors regularly. This will save energy, improve performance and minimize fire hazards. Occasionally remove the filter and rinse it under running water; clean it with a soft brush if it holds water. The dryer's moisture sensor, usually located inside the front edge of the drum, will function better if cleaned regularly with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. Refer to the machine's instruction manual for specific instructions.

Assessing Your Needs

What size washer and dryer do you need? Try to match your washer and dryer capacity to the largest load your household is likely to generate routinely. A machine with a larger capacity will let you do fewer loads, saving time and energy.

Consider using a clothesline or drying rack. Hanging even some of your clothing can help you save energy.

How old is your current washer or dryer? If your washer or dryer is more than eight years old and it breaks, don't fix it. Instead, replace it with a more energy-efficient machine. Generally speaking, repairs that exceed half the cost of a new model are not cost-effective.

Keep in mind that nearly 90 percent of all household appliances, such as washers and dryers, are now recycled, thanks largely to state and municipal bans on disposing of these products at landfills. The dealer from whom you buy a new washer or dryer may offer to haul away the old one; your local sanitation department may have provisions for picking up discarded appliances, as well. There's also a nationwide network of steel recycling locations; you can find one near you by visiting the Steel Recycling Institute.

If you decide to replace a still-working washer or dryer, and it is a relatively efficient unit, consider donating it to a person or charitable organization that can use it.

Energy Efficiency Standards

The federal government sets minimum energy-efficiency standards for several appliances, including washers and dryers, and runs the mandatory EnergyGuide and voluntary Energy Star programs. The EnergyGuide label appears on all models of washers and dryers and tells you how much energy the product consumes relative to the average of all washers and dryers. A washer bearing the Energy Star sticker has been verified to be at least 37 percent more efficient than other models. (See our washing machine projected costs and savings table. The Energy Star program does not rate dryers because most use comparable amounts of energy.) Beginning in January 2007, all washing machines will be required to be 21 percent more efficient than the minimum allowed today. Corresponding with this change, Energy Star-qualified models will be at least 65 percent more efficient than today's minimum; front-loading washers already meet that criteria.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that since these minimum energy standards went into effect for appliances, consumers have saved some $200 billion in energy costs. The standards also have played an important role in promoting the design and production of more eco-friendly appliances.

Some states offer tax incentives that encourage consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances. To find out what's available where you live, contact your state energy office or local utility company, or visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. Many states' incentives are based on whether or not an appliance has earned the Energy Star designation. Go to Energy Star Qualified Products for a full list of qualified brands and models.

More Options

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) include the most efficient washing machines in the Energy Star program. DOE test procedures determine a "modified energy factor" (MEF) for all washers, which measures the efficiency of the washing process in terms of energy used by the machine, water heater and dryer (the remaining moisture content of the clothes following the spin cycle, which determines drying time). The higher the MEF, the more efficient the washer. An Energy Star washer must have an MEF that is at least 37 percent higher than the federal minimum. Of the many machines that carry Energy Star's label, the following models were not included in the Consumer Reports tests, but have impressive MEFs:

• Whirlpool LHWOOSO

• Eurotech EWF272EL

• Siemens WFXD5201 UC

• Asko W6461

• LG Electronics WM268#H Steam Washer

• Bosch WFMC640SUC Nexxt Premium Platinum


This article was adapted with permission from GreenChoices.org, a project of Consumer Reports magazine.