Washing machines that save water and money

New washers use less than half the water of those made 20 years ago

Published: April 09, 2015 01:00 PM

Pam Heath has used her top-loading agitator washer for 20 years and says it still works fine but because of the drought, this Californian is thinking of replacing it. “I’ve cut back on shower time and have done everything I can do short of changing my washer,” she says. “Since the water shortage will probably get more severe I’m looking at washers that use little water but have longevity.” Here’s a look at just how much water different types of washers used in Consumer Reports’ tests.

Most agitator top-loaders we tested 18 years ago used over 40 gallons of water to wash an average size load. Since then, federal standards have gotten increasingly tougher, requiring washers to use less water and energy. Today, any washers scoring excellent in water efficiency in our tests used about 13 gallons or less to do our 8-pound load. A very good score means the washers used 13.5 to 17.5 gallons. Washers scoring poor in water efficiency used about 26 gallons or more. Our tests also found that despite using less water, cleaning remains just as good in many of the washers, but wash time is longer.


As a group these typically clean better than HE top-loaders and use less water and their high spin speed extracts more water so dryer time is cut. Most front-loaders can handle about 17 to 28-pound loads.
Water used: Most scored excellent in water efficiency meaning they used about 13 gallons of water or less to wash an 8-pound load, including the top-rated Samsung WF56H9110CW and the LG WM8500HVA, each $1,450, and the Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW, $950. Each washer used around 10 gallons to wash our 8-pound load.  

Samsung WA48H7400AP

High-efficiency (HE) top-loaders

Most high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry (17 to 28 pounds) than agitator top-loaders and typically wash better. HE top-loaders use a lot less water and their higher spin speed reduces dryer time by extracting more water.
Heads up: "If an HE top-loader senses a severe imbalance the washer may keep adding rinses until the problem is resolved—we've seen up to 100 gallons used on some models—or until an error warning flashes,” says Emilio Gonzalez, the engineer who oversees our tests of washers and dryers. So properly loading the washer is important. Add a few items at a time, rather than dumping in a basket of laundry, and wash similar items together—a load of sheets, a load of towels. And if you need to wash a waterproof item, check the manual and read the “5 things to know before buying a washer and dryer.”
Water used: Most HE top-loaders tested score very good in water efficiency, using about 13.5 to 17.5 gallons to do our 8-pound load. The top-scoring Samsung WA48H7400AP, $900, scored excellent and used about 12 gallons of water but the Frigidaire Affinity FAHE1011MW, $550, scored poor, using about 26 gallons.

Whirlpool WTW4850BW

Top-loaders with agitators

They’re still the big sellers, in part because they’re the cheapest. These perform the least impressively as a group and because they use more water—most scored fair or poor in water efficiency—and extract less than high-efficiency top-loaders and front-loaders, dryer times are longer. Most hold about 12 to 16 pounds of laundry. The good news is a few agitator top-loaders we tested were impressive in cleaning and one even had excellent water efficiency.
Water used: The top-rated Whirlpool WTW4850BW, $580, scored excellent in water efficiency and used about 13 gallons to wash our 8-pound load and was impressive at cleaning. Washers at the bottom of our washing machine Ratings scored poor in water efficiency, including the $400 Amana NTW4651BQ. It used about 27 gallons.

Water-saving laundry tips

  • Do full loads and use cold water when possible.
  • Measure laundry detergent and use HE detergents for HE top-loaders and front-loaders. Regular detergents are too sudsy and using too much can cause these washers to use more water by extending the rinse cycle.
  • Choose the right soil setting for the load. Using the heavy-duty soil setting can use more water and extends wash time. The normal setting works for most loads.
  • Pick the appropriate water level setting—often small, medium, large—for the load if that’s how your machine works. Front-loaders and most HE top-loaders have auto-load sensing, and a few agitator top-loaders that recently came out have it too. This feature automatically determines the load size and the amount of water need.

More choices. Use our washer Ratings to compare models, and try the washer selector to filter your search by washer type, price, and brand. Then click the “Features & Specs” tab to compare features and to see each washer’s dimensions. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org. And be sure to use the Energy Star rebate finder. It's money in the bank. 

Kimberly Janeway 

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