Buying a New Clothes Washer

As of 2010, federal standards for clothes washers have captured a portion of the energy and water savings from newer resource-efficient designs. New standards that take effect in 2015 capture additional savings from further product innovations. When you are ready to buy a new machine—washers typically last for 10 to 12 years, you will find a range of designs and special features to choose from, along with a range of costs to consider. As with other home appliances, it is always important to evaluate the long-term economics of purchasing a high-efficiency washer. Products that meet or exceed the 2015 standards are widely available, including many models in the same price range as less efficient washers. Many energy and water utilities around the country recognize the benefits of efficient clothes washers and offer rebates to consumers who purchase qualifying machines. Call your utilities and ask if they provide rebates for high-efficiency washers.

Range of Energy and Water Use for ENERGY STAR Washers

CLOTHES WASHER CAPACITY Energy Use, kWh/yr Energy Use, $/yr Water Use, Gallons/yr Water Use, $/yr*
Less than 2.0 cubic feet 105-151 $12.50-$17.95 3,060-4.031 $12.24-$16.10
2.0 to 3.0 cubic feet 108-210 $12.85-$25.00 2,741 -7,056 $10.95-$28.20
More than 3.0 cubic feet 83-284 $9.90-$33.80 4,052 -9,243 $16.20-$36.95
Compare to: Non­ENERGY STAR,3.2 cubic feet unit 427 $50.80 11,917 $47.65

(Assumes 11.9¢/kWh and 0.4¢/gallon.)

New ENERGY STAR-qualified clothes washers use at least one-third less energy and water than minimum standards allow. Once you have narrowed the field to include only ENERGY STAR models, it is important to realize that these models still vary considerably in total energy and water consumption. The table below illustrates the wide range of water and energy use for small-, medium-, and large-capacity ENERGY STAR washers. To further evaluate the energy and water use of your preferred models, check out the detailed information available in the list of qualified clothes washers available at energystar.gov. You can also consult the EnergyGuide label and manufacturer literature.

Did You Know? For each whole number drop in a washer’s water factor — say, from 8.0 to 7.0, you’ll save about 1,000 gallons of water each year.

All new clothes washers must display EnergyGuide labels to help consumers compare annual energy use. The EnergyGuide label for clothes washers is based on estimated energy use for 8 loads a week — a total of 416 loads of laundry per year. But this value does not tell you the whole story for washers because of variations in tub size and other factors. Standard capacity washers range in size from 1.6 to more than 4.0 cubic feet. Conventional washers with smaller tubs may have better EnergyGuide ratings, but the smaller capacity may mean you have to run the machine more often, so it may actually cost more to operate. With a range of highly efficient clothes washers available at prices comparable to less efficient models, their substantial energy and water savings translate into big money savings and a quick return on your investment. Depending on your local energy and water rates and the amount of laundry you do each year, you may realize annual savings of $50-75 or more. Even if you select a washer with added features and a higher price tag, you’ll realize a tidy savings and a tax-free return on your investment. Field studies have also shown that resource-efficient washers are gentler on clothes. Less dryer time further reduces wear and tear. With the average load of laundry valued up to $500, this can add up to substantial additional savings.

Front- vs. Top-Loading Clothes Washers

In general, horizontal-axis (usually front-loading) washers are much more efficient than conventional vertical-axis (top-loading) washers with agitators. However, many new top-loading designs achieve substantial energy and water savings compared to conventional top-loaders. To understand how these washers use so much less water and energy, consider the differences in washer design. In a conventional top-loader, the tub must be filled with water so that all the clothes are submerged.

The agitator then swirls the water around, moving clothes against the agitator to clean them. In contrast, resource-efficient washers need less water because the tub never needs to be filled completely. In front-loaders, the tub itself rotates, making the clothes tumble into the water. Redesigned top-loaders use sprayers to wet the clothes from above and a moving plate in the bottom of the tub to lift and bounce clothes through the wash water instead of an agitator. An increasing number of top-loading washers qualify for ENERGY STAR. High-efficiency front-loaders continue to out-perform even the best top-loaders.

Spin Speed

Resource-efficient washers also reduce the energy required for clothes drying. After completing the rinse cycle, these washers spin clothes faster than conventional machines, so the remaining moisture content of the clothes is lower. This mean clothes need less time in the dryer. Since mechanical water extraction is more efficient than thermal extraction (heating clothes in a dryer), this yields additional energy savings. Faster spin speeds can result in better water extraction and thus reduce the energy required for drying, so select the highest spin speed appropriate for each load.

Wash and Rinse Cycle Options

Choose a clothes washer that offers plenty of choices for energy-conserving wash and rinse cycles. Wash and rinse temperatures have a dramatic impact on overall energy use — a hot water wash with warm rinse costs 5 to 10 times more than a cold wash and rinse. Cold wash cycles generally clean clothes perfectly well and are in fact recommended for many fabrics. Note: With oily stains, hot water may be required for satisfactory cleaning. You should experiment with the different cycle options and find one that meets your needs. Cold water rinses are just as effective as hot or warm rinses.

Water Level Controls

With the latest federal standards, large-capacity washers can use no more than 30-40 gallons of water for a complete wash cycle. High-efficiency models—including many large-capacity models—now use less than 20 gallons per cycle, and a number of models may even use less than 10. All front-loaders and many of the higher-efficiency top-loaders feature advanced electronic controls to adjust the water level automatically according to the size of the load. If the models you are considering do not have these controls, choose a machine that lets you select lower water levels when you are doing smaller loads. For a given temperature cycle, energy use is almost directly proportional to hot water use. The lowest setting may use just half as much water as the highest. In general, you’ll save energy by running one large load instead of two medium loads. Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not publish the actual water use of their machines in different settings, so it is difficult to compare one brand to another.

Installing Clothes Washers

Remember, switching to cold water is the most effective energy-savings strategy for clothes washing. If you must use warm or hot water for more than the occasional load, try to install your clothes washer as close to the water heater as reasonably possible and insulate the hot water pipes leading to it to minimize heat loss through the pipes. Also, if possible, locate the washer and dryer in a heated space. This is particularly important with dryers, which depend on heat to dry.