The Best Washer and Dryer
After nearly 100 hours researching laundry appliances, interviewing a half-dozen industry experts, investigating the science of clothes-washing, polling hundreds of Sweethome readers, and comparing prices on top models for several months, we’re sure the LG WM3570HWA washer (usually between $750 and $900) and LG DLEX3570W electric dryer ($750 to $900) will make a fantastic pair for most laundry rooms.
This set checks off all the boxes: excellent at removing stains, efficient with water and energy, gentle on your clothes, big enough to hold a king-size comforter, stackable, and reliable (as far as anyone can tell). Even gimmicky-sounding features like TurboWash and the steam generator turn out to be pretty useful. You could pay more for higher-end models, but the extra features you get—slightly larger capacity, superfluous wash cycles—aren’t worth the added cost. The LG appliances are top-tier machines for midrange money, and they’re the best value out there right now.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,000.
If our main picks are sold out, or if the LG models cost hundreds more where you live, check out the Samsung WF45H6300AW washer (usually $800 to $990) and Samsung DV45H6300EW dryer ($800 to $990) instead. We like the Samsung models for most of the same reasons that we like our main picks: They boast excellent stain removal and high efficiency, they have the same stacking height, and they offer similar features and controls. The Samsung washer has a few minor advantages over the LG, including a standard cycle that can be shorter by up to 10 minutes for big loads, and a 5 percent larger capacity (though honestly, they’re both plenty big, and the extra room will almost never matter). On the downside, the Samsung models take up more floor space, as they’re both 5 inches deeper than the LG models. The Samsungs (usually) cost more, too, averaging an extra $180 for the pair during our months of research. And although dryer performance isn’t all that important, we should mention that the Samsung dryer isn’t quite as accurate as the LG dryer.
You shouldn’t buy a top-load washer, according to every bit of evidence we found. Such a model simply will not clean your clothes as well as a front-loader will. This design is also less efficient, so even though a top-loader might be cheaper at the store, it’ll cost more to own over time. But if there’s nothing we can do to change your mind, the LG WT1201CW ($765) is a pretty good, affordable high-efficiency top-loader. The LG DLEY1201W ($854) matching electric dryer is solid, too.
Looking for a stand-alone dryer? The Samsung DV42H5000EW ($600) is big and affordable, and it works as it’s supposed to—nothing fancy, but no funny business either. Frankly, you could buy this machine alongside our favorite washer to save a couple hundred bucks. But they won’t stack together, and this dryer doesn’t have the bonus steam generator.
Compact washers and dryers are an option for folks who don’t have the space for standard machines (which are typically 27 inches wide each, and at least 70 inches tall when stacked). Each small space has its own challenges, so recommending one particular brand and model that’ll work in most cozy homes is tough. We can point you in the right direction, however. Just to set your expectations, keep in mind that any kind of compact laundry option will require some compromise, especially when it comes to drying clothes.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- How we picked
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- What about the new LG models?
- The competition: front-load washers
- Why not a top-loader?
- A good top-loader, if you really want one
- What about compact washers and dryers?
- What if you want just a dryer?
- Here’s the thing about dryers…
- Care and maintenance (and how to do laundry)
Why you should trust us
We arrived at this pick more like reporters than product reviewers. We don’t have labs where we can test appliances, but we did spend about 100 hours putting together a bigger picture of the category, based on the results of nearly 400 professional reviews from Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com, thousands of user reviews and message board posts, real-world wisdom from interviews with a half-dozen industry experts, data from a Sweethome reader survey, and findings from our guide to the best laundry detergents.
The experts we spoke with include Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance + Lighting in Boston and a prolific industry blogger; Keith Barry, editor-in-chief of the appliance sections at Reviewed.com; Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com, who spent a few decades out in the field fixing all kinds of appliances; and Angela Smith, a brand manager at LG Electronics USA.
I also worked at Reviewed.com for about two years, during the time when it developed its appliance-testing program. Since 2013, I’ve covered a handful of other appliance categories for the Sweethome, including dishwashers, vacuums, and air conditioners.
How we picked
Today’s high-efficiency front-load washers get your clothes cleaner using much less water, electricity, and even detergent than the top-loaders most Americans once used (and still use, by the millions, today). So our search boiled down to finding a front-load washer with top-tier cleaning performance and the right balance of high efficiency, high capacity, and low price. Quiet operation, positive user reviews, and a reasonable expectation of reliability played smaller parts in the decision. As for the dryer, it just needed to be stackable. Pretty straightforward.
Our first assumption was that most people want to buy a matching washer and dryer. Not everyone shops for laundry machines this way, but matched pairs have advantages. Choosing a pair is the only way to go if you want to stack your machines, as 19 percent of respondents to a Sweethome reader survey said they do. Manufacturers are also more likely to offer rebates and discounts on pairs, according to Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance & Lighting in Boston and one of the industry’s most prolific bloggers.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that front-load washers are the better choice for almost everyone—and if you have a top-loader with a pole agitator, you should consider replacing it next time it needs a repair. It’s wasting at least 20 gallons of water every cycle, to the tune of almost 8,000 gallons per year on average. The agitator is slowly pulling your clothes apart, and it’s not cleaning them very well, either. A decent front-loader gets clothes cleaner using much less water and energy, even compared with new high-efficiency top-loaders.
Even after we drilled down to stackable, efficient front-loaders with excellent washing performance, we still had dozens of models left. So we let the results of our reader survey steer some of our decisions. We asked respondents to pick the top three factors they’d look for in a washer if they were shopping for one today. We weren’t surprised to find the most popular responses (out of 760) were cleaning performance (68 percent), efficiency (59 percent), and price (58 percent).
After those three, we saw a steep drop in the popularity of other responses, but the results still gave us a few hints about which specs and features matter to buyers. Capacity proved important (36 percent). A big washer can help families crank through tons of laundry, or let smaller households finish in just a few loads. Washers commonly hold 4.2 cubic feet these days, which is enough for 20 pounds of garments—or roughly a king-size comforter. That’s bigger than almost any noncommercial washer from 10 years ago, so we made it our target.3
Noise was a common concern, too (27 percent), presumably for people who keep their machines near a bedroom or TV room. Consumer Reports factors noise into its washer ratings, so we kept an eye on its results in this regard.4
The survey responses also suggested that some people (20 percent) want a wide range of cycles and options, so we slightly favored washers with extra options, particularly sanitize, steam, and “overnight” options. Short cycle times (7 percent) landed among the least-selected responses, which surprised us. But we still assumed that for most people, a shorter cycle is better, all things considered.
Since few sources for expert reviews exist out there, user reviews factored into our pick as well. User reviews offer the best way to gauge reliability, at least within the first couple of years of a product’s life cycle. A couple of models that ranked highly at Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com have turned out to be total duds in the real world with regular use—one particular Kenmore model is notoriously leaky, for example. We’d never know that without user reviews. Google Shopping does a decent job of aggregating user reviews from retailers (and sometimes from a manufacturer’s own site), and we also cross-checked with other sources when we got down to our top-rated models.
As with any appliance, owners want something that will work reliably for years and years. But the deeper we dug to find out what brands make a reliable washer (or any major appliance, really), the more we realized that it’s basically impossible to make such a prediction—even for brands that have been historically reliable. It’s like trying to predict the MVP of the Super Bowl before the football season even starts.5
Once we settled on the best few washers, we looked at their matching dryers. Our take is that as long as a dryer has an automatic dry mode and is stackable, it’s good enough to recommend as part of a matched pair. We used expert reviews and user reviews to make sure that none of these dryers had any dealbreaking flaws, such as a tendency to under-dry or damage clothes. Although the washer is by far the more important part of any laundry pair, dryers did end up playing a small part in our choice this time around. The two best washers are so similar in so many ways, but one of them has a quieter, more convenient dryer, and that detail (along with a consistently lower price) tipped the scales in favor of our pick.
We didn’t do comparative testing on the washer and dryer we chose because of the major logistical difficulties in running such a test, and because we had such great data from Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com to aid our search. However, three homeowners on the Wirecutter/Sweethome staff purchased our LG picks in early 2015, and we’ll keep this guide updated with long-term test notes on their performance. So far, so good.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,000.
The LG WM3570HWA is the best washer for most people because it gets your clothes as clean as washers that cost hundreds of dollars more. It’s one of the most efficient models available, thanks to light water use and a fast water-wicking spin cycle. It’s big enough to wash a king-size comforter, but it will probably fit into the same space as the washer it’s replacing. The TurboWash cycle can cut wash times in half, too (39 minutes instead of 85). The matching DLEX3570W electric dryer (or DLGX3571W gas dryer) is quiet, accurate, and easy to use. LG is consistently ranked as one of the most reliable laundry brands out there. And as a pair, these machines are right in the sweet spot for maximum value and minimum bloat.
First and foremost, the WM3570HWA excels at stain removal and overall washing performance. Consumer Reports gave the WM3570HVA (the same machine with a graphite finish) an Excellent mark for washing performance. It’s one of the cheapest washers to earn that top-tier score; most others cost $1,000 or more. Overall, it scored a 78, which is among the best ratings for a washer at this price. Our runner-up washer earned one more total point, scoring a 79, but it usually costs around $100 more. And CR’s top-rated front-load washer scored an 85, but it costs nearly twice as much as the WM3570.
Over at Reviewed.com, the WM3470HVA (a slightly older version very similar to the WM3570) boasts a score of 9.5 out of 10 almost three years after the review’s original publication—it’s in the number 6 spot out of more than 100, which is all the more impressive considering that Reviewed’s scores shift as newer, presumably better washers come out. Reviewer Keith Barry soft-pedals the washing performance in the text of the review (the testing house was still new to reviewing washers back in 2012, so the written evaluations are light on context), but the stain strip tests speak for themselves.6 The machine is excellent at removing blood and other protein-based stains, and it deals well with tannin-based stains such as red wine or waxy pigment-based stains like cocoa. It doesn’t remove sweat, grease, and other oily stains as readily. Those are pretty typical patterns we’ve spotted in most of Reviewed.com’s test results, and the WM3470 does a better job than most. Keep in mind that none of the test strips are pretreated at all—in the real world, a few minutes of pretreating can make all the difference.
One thing that doesn’t pop out from the spec sheet: The WM3570 does a fantastic job of pre-drying clothes during its spin cycle, which saves energy by requiring less work from the dryer. The WM3570 can spin at up to 1,300 revolutions per minute, one of the fastest spin cycles out there. It uses a direct-drive motor, an electromagnet the size of a deep-dish pizza, to achieve that speed. Other washers, including our runner-up, reach the same speed but all cost more than the WM3570. Reviewed.com reports that the WM3470 washer spun more than 50 percent of the water out of test garments, and we have no reason to think that the WM3570 is a step backward. The WM3470 is one of the best pre-dryers that Reviewed has tested—by comparison, competing models remove less than 40 percent of the moisture. With less moisture in the clothes, the dryer doesn’t have to work so hard, and the dryer is the real culprit when it comes to inefficiency.
The superior pre-drying function is just one factor that makes the WM3570 a supremely efficient washing machine. It carries an Energy Star badge, which is a great start, and it also blows past many other front-loaders and every top-loader on all the important markers for efficiency. Energy Star estimates that the WM3570 uses just 9.3 gallons of water per cycle, and Consumer Reports rates it as Excellent for water efficiency. (By comparison, a similarly priced HE top-loader uses about 12 gallons, while it’s not uncommon for a pole-agitator top-loader to guzzle about 30 gallons per cycle. Our runner-up, the front-loading Samsung WF45H6300, uses about 10.1 gallons per cycle—still good for an Excellent water-efficiency score from Consumer Reports.) The LG isn’t quite the most water-efficient washer out there, but it’s very, very close.
Its energy efficiency is typical of the best washers, too. Energy Star estimates that it will use about 100 kWh per year, which works out to about $12 based on the national average. Consumer Reports also rates it as Excellent for energy efficiency. (By some estimates, washers use 90 percent of their energy heating water, so it makes sense that water-light washers are more electricity-efficient, too. Take our runner-up, for example: It uses about 10 percent more water as well as 10 percent more electricity, according to Energy Star estimates.)
As for capacity, these machines are right on the sweet spot: 4.3 cubic feet for the WM3570HWA washer, and 7.4 cubic feet for the DLEX3570W dryer. (Dryers need a larger drum so that air can flow more freely, but the machines are intended to hold the same amount of laundry.) According to Consumer Reports, that’s enough space to hold more than 20 pounds of fabric, which is about the weight of a king-size comforter.
Even though they’re big enough to fit the largest item you usually wash at home, they’ll probably fit into the same space as the machines you’re replacing. Each machine is 27 inches wide, 28½ inches deep, and about 38 inches tall—all pretty typical measurements for today’s front-loaders. if you’re stacking them, they add up to about 77 inches. Of course, you can also line them up side by side, and pedestal mounts are available. (For anyone keeping track, yes, the WM3570 will fit on top of the Twin Wash mini-washer that LG announced at CES in early 2015.)
Cycle times are relatively quick for a front-loader. Consumer Reports’ results indicate that a normal cycle for our pick takes somewhere between 85 and 95 minutes, which is well within the range for today’s front-loaders. Your mileage may vary—all of these times are calculated based on 8-pound loads, which is the industry standard for testing. But a real-world, 15-pound load of laundry will take longer because it needs more water, which means more time filling the drum during each rinse, and a longer spin cycle.
The TurboWash feature, though, cuts that wash time by about half. TurboWash could likely be your go-to cycle for any garments that aren’t filthy. Reviewed.com testers found it nearly as effective as the normal cycle at removing stains, yet they clocked it on the older WM3470HWA at just 39 minutes—about 45 minutes shorter than the machine’s 85-minute normal cycle. (We don’t have data on how long TurboWash takes in the WM3570, but you can expect it to be similar.)
Angela Smith, a brand manager at LG, told us the TurboWash feature “is made possible by combining the spin and rinse cycles,” and uses “twin nozzles at the front of the washer to spray a concentrated detergent solution directly onto the clothes. A high-pressure nozzle above the drum sprays tiny water particles through the clothes during high spin cycles.” Several other brands offer a similar quick-wash feature in certain washers, including our runner-up, but not usually in a model as relatively affordable as the WM3570.
Some of the most common complaints about front-loaders compared with top-loaders are that they make more noise, shake the floor more, and have a greater tendency to start smelling musty. We’ll cover those arguments, but they’re all nonissues with the WM3570. Consumer Reports gave it a Very Good rating for both noise and vibration—the highest scores in those respects for any front-load machine. And we couldn’t find any mention of a mildew smell among user reviews. Angela Smith at LG explained to us that LG washers have a “magnet that props the door open slightly to allow fresh air to circulate in the wash tub when it’s not in use.” Nice touch.
As far as we can tell, the WM3570HWA, DLEX3570W, and DLGX3571W will be reliable machines. Consumer Reports ranks LG among the most reliable brands for washing machines and dryers, with only 6 percent and 3 percent of survey respondents, respectively, noting that they needed service for machines that they’ve bought since 2009. In J.D. Power’s ratings, LG holds the top rating for Overall Satisfaction, and is tied for the second-most-reliable brand of front-load washers. According to the Yale Appliance blog, LG is one of the most reliable brands across all appliance categories.
LG also covers its direct-drive motor with a 10-year warranty, which is by far the longest warranty of its kind in the industry. More common breakdowns, such as those affecting bearings, pumps, or logic boards, are covered through the first year, which is an industry standard. It’s a sign that LG is taking the quality of its washing machines seriously—something that the company needs to do, because the brand used to have a poor reputation for reliability, as Sheinkopf notes in the Yale Appliance blog. All the data available suggests that the WM3570HWA and the DLEX3570W (or DLGX3571W) have as good a chance at lasting as long as any other washing machine and dryer out there. RepairClinic.com’s Chris Zeisler says that can be anywhere between eight and 14 years, depending on how well you take care of your machines.
The LG DLEX3570W (electric) and DLGX3571W (gas) are great dryers. Despite several of our sources’ telling us that dryers all basically work the same way and use the same amount of energy, these dryer models played a small but important role in helping us decide on the LG 3570 series as the best washer-and-dryer pair for most people.
The washer is always the most important half of any laundry pair. But our top two contenders, the LG WM3570HWA and Samsung WF45H6300AW washers, are so similar in so many ways that it’s basically a toss-up when the prices are the same. (The Samsung usually costs 10 percent more than the LG, but the Samsung has been $50 cheaper than the LG on at least one occasion.)
One difference between the brands is that the LG 3570-series dryers are significantly quieter and easier to load and unload than their Samsung counterparts, according to Consumer Reports. That’s enough of a distinction to tip the scales in favor of the LG pair, even when it costs the same as the Samsung pair. CR ranked the LG 3570-series dryers near the top of the pack, giving them an overall score of 78 on the strength of an Excellent mark for convenience (which rates the controls, ergonomics, and ease of loading and unloading) and a Very Good rating for noise. The Samsung H6300-series dryers, on the other hand, received a much lower overall score of 69 (in the bottom-middle of the rankings), with a Good mark for noise and a Very Good score for convenience.
Like any decent dryer, the LG 3570-series models have a sensor dry cycle, which automatically stops the machine when clothes are appropriately dry. And like most dryers that match a front-loader, either 3570 dryer can stack on top of the WM3570HWA washer with the aid of a cheap bracketing kit. Both models earned an Excellent mark from Consumer Reports for performance, but so do the vast majority of dryers that CR rates. We aren’t sure what CR measures with its performance test (and CR reps didn’t reply to our emails asking for details). But our best guess is that the test rewards dryers that run precisely until the clothes are dry enough to wear—no excess moisture left over, and no energy wasted on extra drying time.
The steam feature built into the LG dryer is not unique, although it is rare at such a low price. Essentially, the feature turns the machine into a part-time clothes steamer. The “freshen” cycle claims to get B.O. and wrinkles out of garments in 20 minutes without the need to fully wash and dry them. That function alone is not a reason to buy this dryer, but it is a useful toss-in, and it represents a better use of money, space, and resources than buying a separate steamer.
Like the dryer, the WM3570HWA washer has a steam feature, which the industry has been trotting out in high-end washing machines for a few years. We’re not convinced that it does much. LG’s Smith told us, “I’m not an engineer or home economist, but I understand that the combination of high-heat water particles in steam can break down dirt and grime much better than hot water alone.” It’s sort of like how a carpet steamer works, in principle. Reviewed.com doesn’t test to see how well steam works, and Consumer Reports doesn’t seem to, either. None of the user reviews we found mention it, either.
If you’re interested in smart features, the 3570 pair has a few. If either machine throws out an error code, you can call the LG service hotline and hold your phone up to the control panel, and it’ll relay the error diagnosis to the support team. If the machine requires service, the technician will come already aware of what’s wrong with the appliance, which parts need to be swapped, and how long it should take. Also, owners can download new wash and dry cycles using an app, and send them to the machines via NFC. We haven’t heard any instances of this feature being useful to anybody yet, but maybe it could be.
Finally, people who own the WM3570 seem to love it. Its Google Shopping rating (combined for the white and graphite finishes) is 4.5 out of 5 across 307 reviews, including 234 five-star reviews. (Amazon.com has barely any reviews.) The DLEX3570 also fares very well with owners, earning a 4.6 out of 5 across 259 reviews, while the gas-powered DLGX3571 earns an average of 4.6 out of 5 across 66 reviews.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
When you buy a WM3570 washer instead of a $1,200 or $1,600 washer, you give up some capacity and a few wash options. You won’t miss them if you don’t have them.
Yes, you can find plenty of expensive washers that hold more clothes than the WM3570. A few of them are larger than 5 cubic feet, including a gargantuan 5.6-cubic-foot machine from Samsung. But you’ll rarely use the entire capacity. To put that in perspective, the washer you currently own probably has a smaller capacity than the 4.3-cubic-foot WM3570. And how often do you feel like your current washer is too small? What’s more, some mega-washers have enormous footprints—Samsung’s biggest washer and dryer are each 30 inches wide and 32½ inches deep. Side by side, they take up 3 square feet of extra floor space compared with our favorite LG pair.
As far as we’ve seen, the 3570-series washers and dryers have a very low rate of defects. They have so few negative ratings that it’s hard to find any troubling patterns.
In a few cases it sounds as if some buyers got a lemon. Tanya and BRob, each of whom submitted a review at Home Depot, and Thorne, who wrote in to LG’s website, say that their WM3570 units frequently over-fill with water. The problems range from leaking to over-sudsing to clothes that are too wet when the cycle ends. In an extreme case, water and soap bubbles leaked out of the machine’s air vent. Other reviewers, such as BeyondFrustrated at Home Depot, report leaking from the bottom of the machine. We read of a few instances of the DLEX3570W struggling to dry clothes, too. Those complaints, and a handful of related issues, are probably hardware problems that a pro should check out.
Although it totally sucks to buy a big, expensive appliance that doesn’t work properly at first, such things can happen with any brand or model, and shouldn’t discourage you from buying a WM3570. A bad run of these machines could have been floating around right after LG released the model in summer 2014. We noticed fewer recent reviews mentioning such issues (but a few complaints pop up here and there).7 All told, these machines seem to have an excellent service record so far.
Reports on LG customer service are mixed. Some owners say that reps have tried to brush off some issues as user error (which is certainly possible). Others state that they had no trouble getting LG to send a technician, though the earliest appointments were sometimes more than a week away. The technicians didn’t always solve the problem, either. Your experience will vary depending on which technicians LG contracts with in your area—and honestly, your experience will be similar dealing directly with any manufacturer. We recommend buying your machines from a store with a fair exchange policy. Lowe’s, for example, has a 30-day window for appliance returns and doesn’t charge a restocking fee, and Sears accepts exchanges due to defects if you request an exchange within 72 hours of delivery. Local or regional dealers, especially those with their own service teams, are likely to be the most responsive. If you find a problem from the get-go, do what you can to swap machines, because the repair process can be long and drawn out, and may or may not even fix the problem.
What about the new LG models?
We still think the WM3570, our current pick, is the washing machine that will make most people the happiest—for now. However, there are three new washers in the WM3xxx series, all of which look very similar to our current pick, and could be the right choice for you—especially if your local retailers are phasing out the WM3570. (Incidentally, this is a good time to look for clearance deals on the WM3570.)
The WM3575CW is the closest in terms of price and features, and is a modest update. The capacity is about 4 percent larger at 4.5 cu. ft., it’s about 10 percent more energy efficient, and it does away with the steam feature (and nobody cared). There is no matching dryer, you just pair it with the same DLEX3570 (or DLGX3570) dryer we currently call out. The only thing holding us back from making this washer our top pick, and this is nitpicking, is that we’re waiting for a few more reviews to trickle in, just to make sure there aren’t some hidden changes that we’re missing. This washer seems to be replacing our main pick at many retailers; just go ahead and get it if that’s what available near you.
Then there are two budget versions. The WM3370 does away with the TurboWash feature, and the WM3170 does away with TurboWash and steam washing. Their matching dryers also both qualify for the new Energy Star dryer certification—they’re about 4-5 percent more efficient than the 3570 dryer.
We think it’s worth paying extra for the WM3570 or WM3575 washer (and matching dryer, if you need to stack them), because the TurboWash cycle can cut wash times in half for normal loads. But if you don’t care about that and would rather save the money, get whichever of these two step-down models is cheaper—practically, they’re the same thing. You can just ignore that the WM3370 has a steam feature, because nobody has been able to give us a good reason why you’d want to spend money on that. And yes, we saw that the WM3170 was recognized by Energy Star in their “Most Efficient 2015” shoutout—the WM3370 was certified by Energy Star in 2014, so it likely didn’t qualify for the same pat on the back.
Also: Don’t pay attention to Consumer Reports’s review of the WM3370—it’s the lowest score in their database, but clearly some kind of error, because the user reviews are strong and Reviewed.com gives it a fine score (though we’re growing a little skeptical of their washer-testing methods). They’ve pulled it in and out of their rankings over the past few months; we have no idea what’s going on.
If our main picks go out of stock, or if a major price change occurs, the Samsung WF45H6300AW washer and DV45H6300EW electric dryer (DV45H6300GW for gas) is our second-favorite set of laundry machines.
The H6300-series washer is great for the same reasons as our main pick. It’s efficient, effective, reliable, stuffed with features you don’t usually find for less than $1,000, well reviewed by Consumer Reports, and well liked by owners—the scores and specs are very similar across the board. The Samsung’s standard cycle time can be 5 to 10 minutes faster depending on the size of the load, which is certainly a good thing. It also holds about 4 percent more laundry compared with the LG, though they’re both so big that most people will never notice a difference.
But the Samsung pair has a few drawbacks that tilted us in favor of the LG models instead. Price is the obvious one: Most days, each Samsung machine costs $90 more than each LG machine, so that’s an extra $180 for the pair. On only one occasion, in early May 2015, after four months of price tracking, did we find the Samsung models for less than the LG models—and that lasted for only a couple of days.
Even if the prices change permanently, we’d still give the edge to the LG pair—whether they’re the same price, or even if the LG set costs a few dollars more. That decision is mostly down to the dryers. The Samsung dryers are louder and score lower on convenience than the LG models do, leading to a significantly lower overall score at Consumer Reports. The Samsung washer and dryer are also each 5 inches deeper than the LG units, so if your floor space is tight, you end up losing a couple of square feet to the Samsung models. Samsung’s warranty period for the washer’s motor is shorter. And on the (very) slim chance you care about smart features, you can’t beam new wash cycles to the Samsung via NFC, as you can with an LG.
The competition: front-load washers
After considering more than 60 front-load washers, we found that the right amount for most people to spend is between $800 and $1,000. Plenty of the machines in that range perform just as well as the higher-end models, hold enough clothing for all but the biggest families, and have cool, useful features that are missing from cheaper models.
Spend less, and the maximum capacities shrink by 10 to 15 percent. The spin cycles are weaker, so more water stays in the clothes before you toss them into the dryer. Somewhat useful features such as express cycles and steam options aren’t available. Reliability and build quality can be sketchier, too.
Spend more, and you’re paying for things you don’t need. Humongous bodies that can be hard to fit into tight spaces. Comically oversized drums that fit more laundry than most families wash in any single load. Futuristic control panels. Superfluous wash cycles. None of this is to suggest that high-end washers are bad—most people just don’t have to spend that much money to get the machine and features that’ll satisfy them.
Within our target price tier, we came across a few washers that were serious contenders for our recommendation.
The Samsung WF42H5600AW ($810) landed near the top of our list, with a great review at Consumer Reports and a decent review at Reviewed.com. Our main hang-up was that it leaves clothes pretty wet at the end of a cycle, which drives up energy costs for the dryer. User ratings are low, too. Samsung also makes the H5000, H5200, and H5400—all of which are lesser versions of the H5600.
We passed on the Whirlpool Duet WFW87HEDW ($900) for similar reasons, and also because Whirlpool doesn’t rank as highly as either LG or Samsung in reliability polls. Whirlpool doesn’t offer much bang for the buck with midrange washers, actually. The company’s high-end Duet models such as the WFW96, WFW97, and WFL98 score very well at testing houses, but cost upwards of $1,100.
The Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW came close to getting a nod, at least as a runner-up. Both testing houses like it as much as, if not a little more than, our top two picks. The price and specs are great. And a handful of other Maytag models made our list of “maybes,” including the MHW6000AW, MHW3100DW, and MHW4300DW. Our concern, though, was the reliability and reputation of the Maytag brand. The name is tainted from the whole Neptune front-loader fiasco. Whirlpool seems to be doing an excellent job of rehabbing the brand, and the latest Maytag washers could provide years of service-free bliss. But the data, flawed as it is, still suggests that Maytag is one of the less-reliable brands of front-loaders, and we’re unwilling to go out on a limb to recommend one of them.
The GE GFWS2600FWW ($990) earned some decent scores at the testing houses, but nothing special compared with our top picks. The cheaper GFWS1700HWW ($800) managed only a Very Good cleaning rating at Consumer Reports, which is disappointing for a front-loader. GE is also one of the least-reliable brands of front-loaders according to reliability polls.
We found some solid washers under the Kenmore and Kenmore Elite brand names, but none of them ended up on our shortlist. The models in our price range didn’t fare particularly well in reviews, and all the best-rated Kenmore Elite machines cost too much. Note, as well, that Kenmore is just a label that Sears slaps onto appliances from other manufacturers. (We think the original manufacturers of Kenmore front-load washers are LG and Whirlpool.) Nothing wrong with that, especially considering that Kenmore machines are often cheaper than similar models from the original brands. Our reservation is that when you go with Kenmore, you have no choice but to buy through Sears, and that’s a hit-or-miss experience depending on the quality of your local store.
Reviewed.com loves Electrolux washers, while Consumer Reports is less enthusiastic. We had the EIFLW50LIW ($804) on our shortlist. The coolest feature is an absurdly fast 18-minute express cycle. But user reviews aren’t as glowing for this model as for other washers, the brand has a middling reputation for reliability, and the machine earned only a Very Good mark for cleaning performance at CR. Frigidaire, which is an Electrolux brand, falls into the same camp, though none of its models were impressive enough to land in our sights.
A few other European brands—Asko, Bosch, and Miele being the important ones—sell front-load washers in the United States. As desirable as these companies’ dishwashers, vacuums, and ovens are around the world, their washer designs just aren’t suited to American laundry habits. We found a Bosch contender in the compact washer department, but for the most part these machines are a pass.
Why not a top-loader?
Even so, a great many Americans still use top-loaders. About 50 percent of respondents to a Sweethome reader survey said they use some kind of top-loader to do their laundry—about 30 percent use an HE top-loader, while 20 percent still use a top-loader with a pole agitator.
What gives? We don’t have stats, but price seems to be the obvious reason for people to avoid front-loaders. Top-loaders with pole agitators can be as cheap as $400. If you’re not concerned about washing performance or long-term utility costs—landlords and builders might fall into that category—top-loaders are the go-to option.
Many HE top-loaders cost less than low-end front-loaders, and such a machine might be a decent option if you’re tight on cash. Fine. But consider the long view: Midrange front loaders will pay for themselves in water and energy savings, and will always get your clothes cleaner.
Other people cite physical comfort when they choose a top loader, “particularly the older crowd,” Sheinkopf says. Back pain or arthritis can make bending over whenever you need to load and unload a front-loader pretty uncomfortable, even if the machine is mounted on a riser or pedestal. If you can relate to that, then yes, you probably are better off with a top-loader.
One drawback to front-load washers is that they lock as soon as the cycle starts; otherwise water could come pouring out of an open door. So if you forget a shirt or drop a sock, usually you can’t add it to the wash as you would with a top-loader (some front-loaders do have short grace periods). This restriction could take a bit of getting used to. But really, just wait for the next load—the benefits of a front-loader are worth it.
Check out the ratings at Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com: All the best-rated washers are front-loaders. “All things considered, in our tests, front-load washing machines tend to be better at stain removal and water removal and efficiency than their top-load counterparts,” said Keith Barry, the editor-in-chief of Reviewed.com’s appliance sites. And that’s putting it politely, because top-loaders don’t even appear among his site’s top 30 washers—and they don’t crack the top 40 at Consumer Reports.
Sheinkopf told us that he always steers his customers toward front-load washers. “The math just adds up … it runs so much cheaper than a top-loader that you’re going to return your investment in a couple years. It’s just a better-designed machine.”
Why are top-loaders even an option anymore? Top-loaders can be cheap, and Americans have been using them for a long time. Washing machines first became common in North America in the economic boom following World War II. They were all top-loaders with pole agitators, because that’s just how US manufacturers like Maytag and Whirlpool designed them. For about 50 years, very little changed, and habits started to solidify into tradition.
In the late 1990s, US appliance-efficiency standards started tightening. To meet the new Energy Guide requirements, efficient front-loaders—basically direct ports of the designs that Europeans had been using for decades—began to show up in the United States. They were much smaller than what Americans were used to, the wash cycles took longer, and the detergents at the time weren’t really suited for front-loaders, because they used so much less water than top-loaders.
Owners didn’t always use their new front-loaders the right way, either, instead sticking with their old top-load habits. Using too much detergent was a common mistake. Shutting the door right after the end of a cycle was, too. So a lot of early adopters ended up with soap in their clothes or a stinky machine in their laundry room. Front-loaders were supposed to be the high-end luxury machines, but instead of a big improvement, some people found them to be a major disappointment.
And to be honest, some of the most popular first-wave front-loaders were awful. Maytag infamously made a bad batch in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Neptune. Steve Sheinkopf of Yale Appliance told us that these machines had a big gap between the rubber seal and the door where wash water could pool. It didn’t evaporate, and even if you were aware that the wash water was puddling up, it wasn’t easy to drain.
Today, front-loaders are much better. In Consumer Reports’s washer rankings, at the time we wrote this, 43 front-loaders scored higher than any top-loader. Not a single top-loader earned a mark of Excellent for energy efficiency, while about 75 percent of front-loaders did, including all of the top 20 models. A handful of top-loaders earned an Excellent score for water efficiency, while more than half of front-loaders did.8 Capacity, which people still sometimes cite as a strength in favor of top-loaders, actually falls slightly in favor of front-loaders. Only four top-loaders earned an Excellent in this respect, while five front-loaders did, including four in the top 10. Front-loaders even have roughly the same repair rate as top-loaders, according to CR’s reader survey.
And they’re better suited to American laundry habits. Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic put it best: “When the front-loaders first came here, they were very small and took a lot of getting used to. But we’ve adapted them to our style.” They hold more laundry than most top-load washers from even a few years ago, typically offering enough space for at least 20 pounds of fabric per load. HE detergents are sold everywhere, and they even come in premeasured packs, so it’s harder to over-soap your clothes out of ignorance. And all the experts we talked to basically said that if a new front-loader ends up stinking, that isn’t the machine’s fault—the user just needs to make a few simple changes in behavior.
We’ve done everything we can to show you that a decent front-loader is a better washing machine than any top-loader. We totally understand that you might want to buy a machine that you feel familiar with, and that you’re reasonably confident will work well for many years—doubly so if you had a bad experience with an early front loader. But try to keep an open mind. And if you ultimately settle on a top-loader, do yourself a favor and buy an HE model.
A good top-loader, if you really want one
The LG WT1201CW HE top-load washer and DLEY1201W matching electric dryer (DLGY1202W for gas) are a fine pair of top-load machines. To be clear: The washer is worse at cleaning clothes than almost any front-loader. It’s also less efficient in every way, so any savings on the sticker price will evaporate as your utility bills roll in. But if you absolutely can’t be convinced to buy a front-loader, this top-load pair is about as effective and efficient as they come, for the least money you need to spend to get anything decent.
(Just as we were getting ready to publish this guide, the LG 1201 washer and dryer pair went out of stock at most national retailers. LG told us that these models have not been discontinued or replaced, so we’re expecting to see them back in stock sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, they’re still available through many local and regional outlets.)
Because HE top-loaders can be cheaper than front-loaders, we targeted a lower price range for this pick. The WT1201 washer received a solid review at Reviewed.com, earning a score of 7.1, while the best top-loader earned a mark of 7.6. Consumer Reports gave it a rating of just 63, a middling score compared with that of the best HE top-loader, which earned a 73. We think that’s partially a scoring error. According to Energy Star, the WT1201 is equally efficient to some LG models that CR rated higher for efficiency. (No offense, but we trust the federal agency.) Consumer Reports has removed the WT1201 review from its listings since we started our research, which is puzzling because that machine is still a current product.
CR rated the model’s washing performance as Very Good, and Reviewed’s stain-strip tests show that it’s effective at removing blood, wine, and sweat, though it’s less successful with grease and cocoa. Put another way, our main pick (the LG front-loader) stands in the first tier for stain removal, and the WT1201 lands firmly in the second tier. But that’s still respectable. User reviews are generally positive: It currently holds a score of 4.6 out of 5 at Google Shopping based on 617 reviews aggregated from a few sources.
For a top-loader, the WT1201 is a relatively efficient washer, but front-loaders still put it to shame. Energy Star estimates that it uses about 14 gallons of water per cycle, while Reviewed testers measured about 14.5 gallons. Not bad, though that’s about 50 percent more water than our favorite front-loader, even though the WT1201 is only about 4 percent larger in terms of capacity.
Energy Star also predicts that the WT1201 will use 170 kWh of energy per year, about 70 percent more than our main pick. That discrepancy could be a little higher in real life, too, because you can get away with using cold water in a front-loader and your clothes will still come out clean. Regardless, HE top-loaders are simply not as effective at stain removal, so you’ll have to use warm or hot cycles more often.
According to Reviewed.com, the WT1201 removes only about 36 percent of water from clothes during its spin cycle, which is a weak showing but not uncommon for a top-loader. That means the clothes will need to spend extra time in the dryer, which is what drives up your utility bill. Good front-loaders get garments at least 50 percent dry.
We found a few recurring complaints about the WT1201 in user reviews. The most troubling: A handful of reviewers note that the machine falls out of balance constantly, tossing up the UE (“uneven”) error code.
An uneven or unbalanced-load warning usually happens when garments bunch up on one side of the drum as it spins. This throws off the weight distribution, and the machine automatically aborts the cycle to prevent damage to the suspension. Then the washer has to go through a lengthy rebalancing process, which uses more water and energy. Front-loaders almost never encounter this problem because the tumbling motion keeps clothes from bunching up too much. The problem is also uncommon in pole-agitator top-loaders. It’s unfair to say that unbalanced loads are common in HE top-loaders, but based on all the user reviews we’ve read, this design is the most susceptible to the problem.
Circling back to the WT1201 in particular, we’ve seen only a few complaints about frequent, unrelenting uneven-load errors. The examples we did find probably come down to user error—the washer must remain perfectly level (and the WT1201 has built-in adjustable legs for just that purpose), so any kind of tilt can create issues.
To be honest, we’ve brought up the problem here mostly because the cheaper WT1101CW had a major problem with uneven loads. That was the model we were all set to recommend, but we read close to 100 complaints about constant UE error codes, even after the owners went out of their way to fix the issue. As far as we can tell, the WT1201 doesn’t have that problem to the same degree.
Other user complaints have more to do with the HE top-load design than with the machine in general. Owners who are short say that they sometimes have trouble reaching items at the bottom of the big 4.5-cubic-foot drum. Some customers are baffled by how little water the machine uses, and seem certain that it must be a defect. (It’s not.)
The DLEY1201W dryer is not currently ranked at Consumer Reports (CR may have removed the rating at the same time as it pulled that of the WT1201CW), but it is one of the best-rated dryers at Reviewed.com, earning an 8.7. As we’ve mentioned, there’s not much interesting to say about dryers. This model gets your clothes just the right amount of dry on the sensor dry cycle, which is all you’ll really care about. It also has a steam feature, a rarity at this price.
We strongly considered a few other washers for this pick, and if you’re unsettled by the possibility that the LG WT1201CW might have balance issues, consider the following as leads for the rest of your search.
The LG WT1701CW ($827) is the top-loader that’s most similar to the WT1201CW. The WT1701 holds a couple extra pounds of laundry and has the TurboWash feature for faster cycles, though it costs about $100 extra. If the WT1201CW remains out of stock for more than a few weeks, this is the model (along with the matching DLEY1701W dryer) that we’re most likely to recommend instead.
The Maytag Bravos MVWB700BW ($674) and the similar B725 model nearly got the nod thanks to strong reviews from both CR and Reviewed, and a great price. But the average user review scores for this model are about a full point lower than those for the LG.
The Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8100BW got an excellent review at Reviewed, but similar models scored just okay at CR. Not many user reviews are available, and this model isn’t sold at many retailers, either. We think the company has discontinued it.
The Kenmore 28102 can be as cheap as $660, and it has strong reviews at both testing houses. But we prefer not to recommend Kenmore products because you have no choice but to go through Sears, and that’s a hit-or-miss experience depending on the quality of your local store.
Apart from those three, we liked the looks of some LG, Samsung, Whirlpool, Maytag, and even GE models in the $900-and-up price range. But if you’re going to spend that much, you’re far better off getting a front-loader, so we decided to pass on making a recommendation in that segment.
Plenty of cheaper HE top-loaders are available, too, but they have mediocre performance scores from both testing houses. Most models from Frigidaire and GE fall into this camp, though you can find some Whirlpool models in this range, too.
What about compact washers and dryers?
Compact washers and dryers come in all shapes and sizes, because small apartments, vacation homes, and other cozy quarters come in all shapes and sizes, too. We’ll go over some of the better small laundry units we’ve seen, and you can figure out which type will work best for your particular situation.
The high-performance option is to buy a compact front-loader. All the models we’ve seen are 24 inches wide and built to slide under a kitchen counter, just like a dishwasher. They start at around 2 cubic feet of capacity, which holds about 8 pounds of laundry, though some models claim to hold more than twice that much. Otherwise, they work just as larger front-loaders do.
Such models are popular in Europe, but the selection here in the US is somewhat limited. The Yale Appliance blog has a decent rundown of the top options, and we’ve narrowed in on two that are a good place to start looking. The 2.3-cubic-foot LG WM1377 ($1,000) has the best user ratings of any of the models mentioned in the Yale post, and is the only compact front-loader for less than $1,000 that seems any good. Then there’s the 2.2-cubic-foot Bosch Axxis Plus WAP24202UC ($1,260), which Yale endorses on the strength of the brand’s reputation.
Matching compact dryers are available for the LG and Bosch compact washers, as well as most others. Unlike their full-size counterparts, most of them lack vents. On the plus side, you can shove an unvented dryer under a counter or into a closet without running a hose out a window or through a wall, and they’re pretty energy-efficient. On the downside, they take about twice as long to dry clothes, garments tend to come out wrinkled, and usually you still need a 240 V outlet. Almost all of the current compact, unvented models use condensers, which slowly convert steam into drops of water. The water catch is designed to be emptied manually, but you can also run a drain line into your washer’s drain. It’s a compromise, for sure—you might consider line-drying instead, if that’s feasible.
A few other manufacturers make compact front-load washers (and matching unvented dryers) like the LG and Bosch models above, but you can probably pass on them. Whirlpool makes a couple that cost less than $800, including a Maytag-brand machine, but the user reviews of such models are miserable. A few small brands like Ariston and Blomberg make compact washers in the same price range, and some of them have done well in testing at Reviewed.com. Our concern is that you’ll have a tough time finding proper service for the machines if they break down. Asko and Miele make high-end compact washers that cost around $2,000. That’s a lot of money, but the Yale Appliance blog says that Miele washers rarely break down. If that’s a price range you can tolerate, you might want to head to a showroom and talk to a sales rep.
If front-load compacts don’t fit your situation or don’t seem worth the money, you might check out a combo stack, sometimes called a laundry center or unitized laundry. It’s an all-in-one unit with a top-load washer on the bottom and a conventional vented dryer on top.
Such units are still pretty tall—a combo stack is actually only an inch shorter than our favorite LG machines when they’re stacked up. And you need to be able to vent the dryer. You won’t find any pro reviews of these things, but we know that they won’t clean as well as front-loading compacts, simply because they are top-loaders. A combo unit, however, represents the cheapest way to get a washer and dryer into a space the size of a closet—any stackable front-loader and dryer will cost hundreds more than one of these combo units. If you decide that this style is your best bet, check out the Frigidaire FFLE2022MW. As far as we’ve been able to tell, it’s the only combo stack with a high-efficiency washer that costs about the same ($1,100) as its competitors.
Top-loading compacts are another option, but you probably want to avoid these unless you have no other choice. They’re generally sold in the US by white-label import companies like Avanti, Danby, and Haier, mainly through big-box retailers. We’ve found some as cheap as $300, and a few are even on wheels, like a portable dishwasher. Availability is pretty spotty, though, and we don’t have any info on how well these things work because nobody reviews them—even on retailer websites. But think of it this way: If full-size, full-price, brand-name top-loaders aren’t so great, what should you expect from a cheap, small, no-name version?
As for cheaper dryers, Avanti makes a compact condenser dryer that uses a 110 V outlet. It costs about $300. Much like the cheap compact washers, this model hardly has any reviews, and if a 240 V condenser dryer has a difficult time getting your clothes dry, imagine how the half-powered version will work.
What if you want just a dryer?
The H5000 has a capacity of 7.5 cubic feet, which is enough to hold more than 20 pounds of laundry—a bit more than the LG DLEX3570W, the dryer portion of our favorite pair. Consumer Reports gave it an overall score of 79, which makes it the highest-rated dryer for the price in CR’s rankings (and puts it one point ahead of the LG dryer, for what that’s worth). It earned Excellent marks in drying performance, convenience, and noise, and a Very Good mark in capacity. Reviewed.com awarded it an Editors’ Choice badge. Like all good dryers, it has the all-important moisture sensor and automatic cycles, which prevent it from over-drying your clothes.
On the downside, the H5000 lacks a steam generator, so it can’t run a deodorizing, de-wrinkling cycle as some higher-end dryers can, including our pick, the LG DLEX3570W. And if you buy this dryer on its own, without a matching washer, you won’t be able to stack the machines.
Settling on this model was an easy decision. We looked at the top-scoring models at Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com, focused on the cheaper models, and cross-checked with specs and user reviews to make our choice.
You might be wondering whether you could just buy this cheap dryer alongside the washer we recommend. Sure. The disadvantage is that you wouldn’t be able to stack this dryer on top of our favorite washer or our runner-up, because they’re slightly different sizes. They also don’t look alike. If such things don’t matter to you, mix and match as you please.
Here’s the thing about dryers…
Dryers are power hogs. The Environmental Protection Agency says they use more energy than any other home appliance, including the refrigerator. And according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, electric dryers account for 2 percent of all electricity use in the US—that’s including commerce and industry, not just residential use.
All that energy for a chore that could be done on a clothesline. But here’s a surprise: Millions of Americans aren’t allowed to line-dry their clothes, at least not outdoors. Some communities and homeowners associations have banned the practice because it’s considered to be an eyesore—or interpreted differently, it creates the impression of a neighborhood where people can’t afford washers and dryers.
Now there’s a Right to Dry movement. Banning clotheslines is an egregious restriction on personal freedoms, advocates argue. Line-drying (and washing clothes in cold water) would prevent millions and millions of tons of carbon emissions each year, not to mention cutting utility bills by billions of dollars. It helps clothes last longer, too. Some organizations go so far as to argue that line-drying could reduce obesity and depression, because people will get some extra outdoor activity each week just by reaching up and clipping clothes to a cord. There’s even a documentary called Drying for Freedom that explores the intersection of clotheslines, personal freedom, consumerism, and environmentalism.
All right, let’s be real: Even if Congress amended the US Constitution to specifically recognize line-drying as an inalienable right, most Americans would still favor dryers. The machines are convenient, and most people already have one. Line-drying takes more patience than we’re used to. Line-dried clothes also tend to be wrinkly, stiff, and rough compared with tumble-dried clothes. Towels are especially sandpapery when they come off the line (though that rough texture is a fantastic exfoliant). Plus, you know, there’s winter. If you can’t hang clothes outdoors because of the weather, indoor hang-drying is a nightmare. You have no sun to speed up the drying process and bleach your whites, and no breeze to freshen up the smell and semi-soften the fabric.
So line-drying isn’t a perfect solution. Can’t you just buy a more efficient dryer? Not really. A regular dryer heats up to about 135 degrees Fahrenheit (on a permanent press cycle) in order to draw the moisture out of the fabric. That takes a bunch of energy. Then all that hot air gets blown out of a vent (along with the moisture), so the dryer has to work constantly to keep the temperature up. It’s like leaving your front door open on a cold day and trying to keep the house cozy.
One liiiittle glimmer of hope: ventless heat-pump dryers. A lazy way to explain such machines is that they work a bit like backwards air conditioners. A heat pump has a hot side and a cold side. The hot side heats air, which circulates through the dryer’s drum to help moisture evaporate from the clothes—same as in a typical vented dryer. But instead of dumping the hot, moist air out of a vent, the dryer passes it over the cold side of the heat pump. Moisture condenses onto the cold coils, while the dry, still-pretty-warm air keeps moving back to the hot side of the pump then back into the drum, and the pattern repeats. These dryers don’t have to work so hard to keep the internal temperature up, so they use much, much less energy in a cycle than typical dryers do.
What’s the catch? Heat-pump dryers just started arriving in the US (the first models from LG and Whirlpool came out in November 2014, and Blomberg just released a compact model). Like any first-generation product, they’re expensive. The cycle times are also significantly longer than those of vented dryers—2 hours instead of 30 minutes. And even if your heat-pump dryer cuts energy use by 40 percent, it will still use more energy than any other white good in your home. But hey, maybe in a couple of years you’ll have three options when you’re looking for a dryer to match your washer: electric, gas, or heat pump.
In the meantime, you could try to use your dryer more judiciously. Run long, low-heat dry cycles instead of short, hot cycles. Use the spin cycle option in your washer—it whips moisture out of your clothes so that they don’t need to spend as much time drying. You could line-dry when possible, or even combine the two techniques: After you line-dry your items, toss them into the dryer on an unheated fluff cycle for 10 minutes to soften up the fabric without using much energy.
At this point, you might be wondering about the environmental impact of washing machines. Washers have a much smaller ecological footprint than dryers, and almost everyone agrees that they’re worth it. Check out this TED Talk—even hardcore environmentalists who refuse to drive cars will still use washing machines.
Care and maintenance (and how to do laundry)
If you just bought a high-efficiency washer for the first time, or if you’ve owned one for a while and you’re having problems with it and can’t figure out why, read on for some notes on the best practices.
Washers clean clothes through a combination of temperature, time, wash action, and detergent. Reduce the impact of one of those factors, and you can make up for that by increasing the impact of another.
For starters, you can wash most of your items on the cold setting most of the time. Today’s detergents work better in cold water than old detergents did, and front-loaders use a superior wash action and run for a longer time than old washers used to. As a result, the water doesn’t need to be as warm as it used to be. Since about 90 percent of the energy that your washer uses is to heat water, cold-water washing will save you a few bucks per year, and countless tons of carbon in the aggregate. It’s also better for your garments, because cold water doesn’t cause colors to run or fabric to shrink or warp.
To be clear, you have plenty of good reasons to use warm or even hot water. Certain stains come out only with heat, like oils, or after a cold pretreatment, tannins and dyes. (Here’s a cheat sheet.) If your washer is located in the basement, cold water might be too cold to work properly in the winter. But it’s worthwhile to consider cold-water washes as your standard practice.
Always use HE detergent, and usually less of it than you think you should use. We cover this topic in much greater detail in our guide to laundry detergents. But the basic idea is that because HE machines don’t use much water, HE detergent is engineered specifically for a water-light environment. It won’t get very sudsy, but that’s fine—don’t let your eyes fool you into thinking that the detergent isn’t working.
If you add too much detergent, it won’t wash out of your clothes. Over time, a filmy residue from the detergent (especially if it’s scented) will build up throughout the washer. The gunk traps moisture throughout the drainage system, turning it into a petri dish for mildew and mold, and it will make your washer stink like a forgotten pair of gym shorts.
Worse, excess residue can lead to mechanical problems, pricy repairs, and a shorter life span for the machine. Some people think liquid fabric softener causes problems, too, so use it at your own discretion.
After each washing cycle, you absolutely need to leave the door cracked, at least for a few hours. We’re emphasizing that because it’s mandatory, yet so many people seem to have missed that memo. Front-loaders are almost watertight when they’re closed, so moisture has a hard time evaporating. Any droplets left over from a cycle become a breeding ground for mildew (or even mold), which leaves behind a musty smell. Some people seem to resent having to do this (which boggles my mind, personally), but Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic told us that leaving the door ajar “becomes sort of a standard habit,” and it’s an easy, effective step to stop your washer from stinking. Things are beginning to change: Our top pick, for example, has a magnet that props the door open ever so slightly when it’s on standby. But to be on the safe side, keep it open between uses.
Once a month or so, wipe down the big rubber boot seal on the door, preferably with some vinegar. “It tends to gather some water at the bottom, from being moist all the time,” Zeisler told us, and that’s prime real estate for mildew to grow. But one minute of care, once a month, will nip that in the bud, Zeisler suggested.
Zeisler also recommended running a cleaning cycle a couple of times a year using a cleaning tablet like Affresh. (Angela Smith of LG recommended monthly cycles.) Even if you use an appropriately small amount of detergent, you’ll still have some moisture-trapping residue building up in the drainage hoses. The combination of super-hot water and a cleaning tablet will dissolve that gunk and help keep your washer running smoothly and stink-free.
As for your dryer, be mindful of lint. Clean the lint trap after each cycle—otherwise moist air can’t escape, so your dryer can’t do its job. Every couple of months, run some water through your (clean) lint trap to see if it flows freely. Fabric softener can create a filmy residue over the mesh that restricts the flow of moist air, again making it tough for your dryer to work properly. If the water pools, scrub the mesh with a toothbrush and then try to run water through it again. If that still doesn’t work, it’s time to buy a new filter.
Another critical bit of dryer maintenance: Clean your dryer exhaust lines every year. Lint builds up in the tubing and poses a “tremendous fire hazard,” Zeisler told us. The National Fire Prevention Association estimates that in 2010, more than 5,000 fires were caused by dryers that had not received proper cleaning. Use rigid hoses—the old plastic accordion hoses are now illegal, because lint got trapped in the folds pretty easily. Keep the path from the dryer to the exhaust vent as short and straight as possible. Zeisler really wanted us to stress this point, and you should take this bit of maintenance seriously.
Like any appliance, your washer and dryer will need service at some point. RepairClinic has an excellent series of videos on what can go wrong—and how you, as a regular person with a simple set of tools, can fix many of the most common problems, including broken inlet valves, cracked hoses, and popped drive belts. But once you start running into issues like fried logic boards, busted filter housings, and dead direct-drive systems, don’t be afraid to pay for professional help.
Steve Sheinkopf of Yale Appliance warns that modern appliances don’t last as long as older, sturdier models. So yeah, your old Maytag top-loader from the 1980s may have lasted for 25 years, but it’s unrealistic to expect that your new machine will—sorry. On the plus side, your new washer uses a fraction of the water and much less electricity, gets your clothes cleaner, and helps them last longer.
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Originally published: June 11, 2015