TFL Tips: Buying a High-efficiency Washing Machine

If you’re in the market to buy a high-efficiency (HE) washer, join the crowd: These models are popular with environmentalists and price-conscious consumers alike. That’s because they use less detergent and about 70 percent less water and energy than their top loader counterparts. HE washers even reduce your electricity usage further because their super-fast spin cycles result in laundry that doesn’t need as much dryer time. And just about anyone can appreciate that there’s less wear and tear on clothing thanks to the gentler tumbling action of HE washers.

Here are nine things to consider before you buy a HE washer:

1. Capacity
High-efficiency washers range in size from more compact models for smaller loads to much larger machines that can handle multiple blankets and bedding. Consider how much laundry you need to wash in a typical load — a large family would most likely choose a larger-capacity washer than would a single person or couple.

2. Size of the washer
How much space can you allot for your HE washer? Will it have its own laundry room or be installed in a closet? Measure the area and bring those measurements — and your tape measure — with you when you shop. Don’t forget to take into consideration if you also need space for a dryer; one advantage to HE washers is they are typically top loading so they can be stacked with a dryer to save space.

3. Volume
Washers can be noisy, especially HE washers with those speedy spin cycles. This can be a problem if you plan on putting your washer in a bedroom or on the second floor. Look for a model with vibration reduction technology for quieter operation.

4. Dials vs. touchpads
Which to choose is a personal preference; some people find dials easier to use, but others prefer the menus and programmability of touchpads.

5. Operating costs
To compare energy usage among clothes washers you’re looking to buy, look over the yellow Energy Guide tag to see each model’s operating costs.

6. Installation requirements
Planning to put your washer on a pedestal? We don’t mean showcasing your washing machine as a work of art — although you may want to, since these models are sleek and many of them are available in designer colors to match your decor. But front loading washing machines do require you to bend over, so if this is a problem, see if the manufacturer offers a pedestal that will raise your washer to a more comfortable height.

7. Front load vs. top load
If you’re really set on buying a top loader, you’re in luck: Top loading HE washers are now available, offering all the high-efficiency benefits with no agitator. (The agitator is the common washing machine feature that protrudes from the bottom of the wash basket to circulate clothing, sometimes adding to wear and tear).

8. HE washer cycles
Once upon a time, washing machines offered a choice of hot, warm or cold washes. Today’s HE washers abound with cycles for various fabrics — some even have a special cycle for wool — as well as steam cycles that remove tough stains, odors and wrinkles.

9. High-efficiency sanitizing
Some HE washers may feature a steam or wash cycle specifically for cleaning the washer and keeping it free of mildew and odors. If allergies are a problem, look for a machine that bears the NSF certification label. This certifies that your high-efficiency washer meets the requirements for killing dust mites and washing away a minimum of 95 percent of pet dander and dust mite allergens.

Still unsure of which HE washer to buy? Visit the manufacturers’ websites. Most offer detailed specifications of various models, along with manuals you can download in PDF format.

Ela Schwartz is a writer specializing in home furnishing and remodeling for such publications as Kitchen Portfolio, the New York Daily News and At Home Long Island. She has written the book B&N Basics Home Renovation and has been the proud owner of a high-efficiency washer for several years.

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