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5 things to know before buying a washer and dryer

Here's what's different about the latest machines

Published: July 11, 2014 04:00 PM

Washers and dryers have changed since the last time you replaced yours. For starters, they're getting bigger. But they're also getting better at cleaning your clothes while saving you energy too. Here are five things to know before you shop for your next washer and dryer.

Better efficiency but longer wash times. The most efficient washers save roughly $1,400 over a decade and use about 110,000 fewer gallons of water than a 10-year-old conventional top-loader with a center agitator. They’re also better at extracting water, so drying time and your electrical costs are cut. And most of those washers clean well. But costs have risen and wash cycles are longer, 65 to 115 minutes, with front-loaders taking longer than top-loaders. That’s why more washers offer a quick cycle, usually for lightly soiled loads or smaller ones, or an option that cuts normal wash time for regular-sized loads. Our tests have found that Kenmore’s Accela-Wash, LG’s TurboWash, and Samsung’s SuperSpeed trimmed the wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.

Washers are deeper or wider. To help cut down on the amount of time you spend doing laundry, manufacturers have increased capacity. One way is to make the tub deeper in high-efficiency (HE) top-loaders—and some washers are also taller now—making it difficult for shorter people to retrieve laundry at the bottom. When shopping, reach into the washer. If you’ll need tongs to grab a sock, consider another model. Many machines also may be wider than models made 10 years ago. So if space is tight, measure before you buy.

Waterproof items can cause problems. HE top-loaders spin faster and extract more water than regular top-loaders, but water can get trapped in rain jackets and other waterproof or water-­resistant items. And as the spin cycle gets ­going, the load can become unbalanced and cause the machine to shake too much, even damaging the washer and laundry area.

Maytag and Whirlpool say that their HE top-loaders can handle waterproof items. LG’s manuals warn against washing such items, but the company told us that if we did, we should use the low-spin or no-spin mode. Samsung suggests the same for new models without the Waterproof cycle, which prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Kenmore told us to follow the manual’s advice on using the bulky cycle but not to wash waterproof items in Kenmore Elite models. Bottom line: Go online to check the owners’ manual before you buy.

High-efficiency dryers? Not yet . Unlike washers, dryers have usually used similar amounts of energy, even so-called HE dryers, according to Energy Star. But that may be changing. You may soon see Energy Star-qualified dryers in stores. LG’s EcoHybrid DLHX4072 electric dryer combines conventional vented drying with a heat pump to reduce energy by recycling heat generated during drying. LG says that energy use is cut by around 50 percent using the most efficient settings. It’s due to arrive in the U.S. sometime this summer and will cost about $1,600. We’ll buy and test it.

You may not need a new dryer after all. Though they may look different, many new dryers work similarly to ones made a decade ago. They use moisture sensors, which detect how damp the laundry is and adjust drying time to match. So if your current dryer has a sensor and you don’t mind that the washer and dryer look different, you can save some money by keeping your old dryer until it breaks.

Keep this in mind though: Dryers that have sensors are designed to handle full loads. When you toss in just a few items, the dryer might shut off before the clothes are dry because the items didn’t touch the sensor frequently enough. So use a timed cycle for drying small loads. And skip dryers with thermostats, which keep drying for a set amount of time even if clothes are dry sooner. Those models can overdry clothes, and they use more energy.

Best matching washers and dryers
To find the top-rated matching washers and dryers from our tests read our full report. As a rule, the quieter models cost more so keep that in mind if your laundry room is near the family room. If your machines live in the basement, you can spend less and still get top performance.

—Kimberly Janeway

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