Washers and dryers that save effort and energy

While they don't make laundry day fun, they do save work and money

Published: February 03, 2015 01:45 PM

Do you know any laundry enthusiasts? Unlike cooking, washing and folding laundry isn’t fun—no matter how you spin it—but when your washer breaks and dirty laundry piles up, you quickly appreciate a machine that gets the job done.

Front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loaders clean best, while using less water, yet agitator washers remain the best sellers because they’re usually cheaper and faster. Tougher federal standards requiring all washers to use even less water and energy kick in in March 2015. Consumer Reports is starting to test those models and will soon report on performance and any changes in wash times. The first Energy Star-qualified dryers are in stores now. You can see our take on them below.

As for prices, the best washers and dryers we’ve tested are often the most expensive, though we’ve found impressive pairs for less. You don’t have to buy them as a set. If you want to, you’ll know they’re a couple when some of the same numbers pop up in the model name.

Get the most from your washer

Here’s how to improve the performance of your high-­efficiency top- or front-loader.

Sort. Washer capacities have gotten much bigger, and some can hold 25 pounds or more, but you still have to sort. Mixing fabrics, colors, and really dirty items with the not-so-dirty can mean mediocre or even disastrous results—using the delicate setting to wash delicates with heavier fabrics can damage fine items and do a poor job cleaning heavier fabrics. So fully load the washer with similar items, but don’t pack tightly.

Load handfuls at a time. Minimize tangling by washing similar items together. Rather than dumping everything into the machine at once, add a few items at a time, making sure to un-bunch sleeves, pants legs, and socks.

Adjust soil setting. Some washers aren’t so gentle on fabrics, so use the normal wash on the light-soil setting when possible and the delicate cycle when necessary.

Change the spin speed. High- efficiency (HE) top-loaders and front-loaders spin much faster than agitator top-loaders, so more water is extracted and dryer time is cut. If wrinkling is a problem, be sure to untangle and shake out items before you put them in the dryer. For dress shirts and other items where wrinkling is a no-no, reduce the washer’s spin speed or pick a cycle such as permanent press, which usually uses lower speeds. Add a slightly dampened cloth for good measure.

Check the manual. If you need to wash a shower curtain or other waterproof item, first read your manual. Some HE top-loaders can’t handle those items because they increase the chance of loads becoming unbalanced, which can cause excessive shaking and damage the machine.


Dryers get more energy efficient

You may have seen the Energy Star label on dryers—for the first time—and wondered what it means. Many washers we test are Energy Star qualified; some dryers are earning that mark, too. Manufacturers can manipulate wash time, hot water usage, and spin speeds for better extraction and still deliver impressive cleaning—with better energy use and water efficiency. But with dryers there are fewer variables to play with—mostly it’s drying time and the amount of heat.

We tested seven electric Energy Star dryers, from LG, Maytag, and Whirlpool. All were excellent at drying and quiet or at least relatively quiet. But they didn’t make our list of top dryer picks. Our tests found that you’ll save some energy using the energy-saving option, but you’ll extend the drying time, in some cases doubling it. The $950 Whirlpool Duet WED87HEDW, for example, took about 2 hours to dry our 12-pound load of cottons using EcoBoost. Energy Star says you can expect to save about $20 per year in electricity with an Energy Star dryer.

—Kimberly Janeway

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