If it seems you're always doing laundry, join the club. We can't lighten the load, but here's a real brightener: The price of many washers has dropped by as much as 33 percent compared with a year ago. Plus in our months of testing we found a few CR Best Buys, including a $650 Frigidaire front-loader and a $480 GE conventional top-loader.
Many of the tested washers are very energy- and water-efficient, which can save you money in the long run. Energy Star models might also qualify for a rebate of up to $250 under the federally funded State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, also known as Cash for Clunkers for Appliances. Rebates vary by state, but one thing's certain: They're expected to go fast. For more information, read Rebates for new appliances.
Our tests of 76 models also revealed some problems. The $600 LG WM2010C front-loader moved several inches during testing. Its SpinSense option, which is designed to help reduce or eliminate vibration, kept the machine in its place but extracted about 20 percent less water, so the laundry took longer to dry. Despite its new Sound Silencer Plus technology, the $500 Frigidaire FTW3014K top-loader was pretty noisy. It was also a mediocre performer.
Washers have become more efficient, but dryer technology hasn't changed dramatically in the past decade. The Department of Energy says that most use about the same amount of energy; that's why there are no Energy Star models, and state rebates won't apply. The Select Ratings (available to subscribers) highlight dryers that offer impressive performance and value. Here's what else we found:
Most top-loaders that cost less than $500 didn't wash as well, used more energy or water, couldn't hold as much, or were tougher on laundry than more expensive models. And an inefficient machine can cost an added $130 or more to operate per year than our most efficient models. The $330 Estate ETW4400W, a conventional top-loader, frayed fabrics, earning it a poor rating for gentleness. The $750 Whirlpool Duet Sport HT WFW8400T front-loader scored only fair for gentleness. That tough treatment could mean fabrics won't last as long.
First there were allergy cycles and steam settings. Now there's Whirlpool's FanFresh and Maytag's Fresh Hold. Both are supposed to help prevent the odor that can develop when you leave clean laundry in the washer for too long. A fan brings in room air and circulates it through the clean laundry, and the laundry tumbles every 15 minutes for up to 10 hours. Try as we might—we left laundry, including loads of heavy plush towels, in those and other machines for up to two days—none of the laundry developed an odor, whether we used the feature or not. The Maytag and Whirlpool were fine washers.
Readers tell us about mold and odors developing in their front-loaders. Our Annual Product Reliability Survey found that 8 percent of front-loader problems were caused by mold or mildew. LG and Maytag front-loaders were slightly more susceptible than most brands surveyed. (See our laundry advice in Soap sense.)