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.
If our main picks are sold out, or if you just don’t like the looks of them for whatever reason, we think the Electrolux EFLS617SIW is the next-best washing machine. Among full-size washers (and maybe all washers), it’s the best cleaner you can get. It’s also exceptionally efficient, and one of just a few models to earn a Tier 3 CEE ranking. A couple of factors are holding us back from making this our top pick: It may be rougher on fabrics than other washers, and Electrolux washers do not have as great a reputation for reliability as our main pick. If you need the matching, stackable dryer, that’s the Electrolux EFME617SIW. It’s an Energy Star–qualified model with a wrinkle-releasing steam option and an anti-allergen cycle.
Top-loaders don’t clean as thoroughly as front-loaders, and they use significantly more water and energy. But you still have some good reasons to buy a top-loader, and the best one we’ve found is the Maytag MVWB755DW. This affordable, effective washer has a bunch of useful, user-friendly features that improve performance and give it a bit of an old-school feel. Maytag has a great reputation for making sturdy top-loaders, too. This model (just barely) meets Energy Star efficiency standards. If you want the matching dryer, that’s the Maytag MEDB755DW.
Looking for a stand-alone dryer? The Samsung DV42H5000EW 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.
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 Reportsand 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.
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.
To keep the process simple, we looked for the best washing machine, not the best combined pair. Everyone we spoke with said that washers can have huge differences, while dryers all work pretty similarly. “It’s all about the washer,” Sheinkopf said. “The dryer is almost like a toss-in.” (To be fair, Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com tests show that drying performance can vary somewhat from dryer to dryer. But the differences between washers are much more significant.)
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.
To find the best front-loaders, we leaned heavily on the reviews and ratings from Consumer Reports and Reviewed.com. Laundry is one appliance category where standardized testing can tell most of the story about how the machines perform in the real world. The process doesn’t change much from model to model—it’s all about the results.1 So if a washer is highly rated at either one of these testing houses, it’s probably one of the best washers, period.2 We didn’t consider scores from Good Housekeeping; the rankings are out of date, and that testing house shares almost no information about its testing process.
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
Still, we used all the reliability data that we could find to make an educated guess. We took data points from Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, and the Yale Appliance blog. We also scoped out the prices of replacement parts for our contenders, as well as what material the crucial components are made from. All of this research narrowed our field of 61 front-load models—106 models total, including HE top-loaders—down to a handful of finalists.
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.
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.
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 machinesand 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 five 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 five across 259 reviews, while the gas-powered DLGX3571 earns an average of 4.6 out of five across 66 reviews.
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.
The other thing you sacrifice are extra wash cycles and options. You can get them on the truly high-end machines, but you don’t need them. Look at LG’s flagship washer, the $1,450 WM8500HVA, for example. It has 14 cycles and 12 options, versus the WM3570HWA, which has 12 and 11, respectively. What is the WM3570 missing? Just Small Load and Jumbo Wash, and an option to turn a light on inside the drum. In other words, nothing worth spending more for.
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.
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.
We also just looked for new washing machines from other major manufacturers, but found nothing worth getting excited about.
If the prices shift, or if something about our main pick doesn’t sit right with you—maybe you just don’t like LG for whatever reason—we think the next-best washing machine is the Electrolux EFLS617SIW.
The EFLS617SIW has the best set of features and cleaning options you’ll find in a washing machine right now, hands down. Tests have shown that compared with other full-size front-loaders, it’s the single best clothes cleaner available, and it’s one of the most efficient washers you can buy.
What’s stopping us from making it our top pick? Consumer Reports has raised a concern that it’s rougher on fabrics than many other washers. Also, Electrolux’s reputation isn’t as solid as LG’s for laundry, and this particular model has been out for only a couple of months (at the time of this writing), so we don’t have as much information about defects, performance problems, and general owner satisfaction.
By all accounts, the EFLS617SIW is a fantastic cleaner. The people at Reviewed.com ran tests and declared that the EFLS617SIW was the best stain remover they’d ever seen. In CNET tests, with SmartBoost turned on, the washer removed 60 percent of stains on the test strip, “a huge leap” over competing models. Consumer Reports also rated the wash performance as Excellent. Although we’re a little skeptical of lab-test results in general, these are all good signs. This model is also a favorite with some of the laundry obsessives at the GardenWeb.com forums (one of the best sources of real-world wisdom for washing machines). At AJMadison.com, customer reviewer Starkey0417 writes, “It has gotten EVERY stain out WITHOUT pre-treating them!” And reviewer CB6026 writes, “I paid more for the Electrolux model than I would normally pay. But am I glad. The difference in the quality of the wash results were well worth it.”
What makes it a better cleaner? Our best guess is that the SmartBoost feature has something to do with it. Using an extra water pump, the washer premixes detergent (or fabric softener) with the wash water (or rinse water), then sprays it throughout the wash tub. Since the solution is homogenized and evenly distributed, every garment should get cleaned (or fabric-softened) evenly. Most front-load washers do premix water and detergent (or fabric softener) to some degree, but it’s not entirely homogenized, and the wash solution just kind of dribbles onto clothes. So certain garments get more action, others get less. We were a little skeptical that SmartBoost would achieve much in the real world, but Reviewed.com and CNET rave about it and think it had a lot to do with the cleaning results. The EFLS617SIW is the only mainstream, full-size washer with this particular type of premixing function.
Other life-improving wash features in the EFLS617SIW include a super-hot sanitize option (it hits north of 150 degrees Fahrenheit on some cycles, similar to our main pick), and a related steam-clean function. StainSoak, a time-saving substitute for prewashing or soaking options, seems to work well, according to a forum post at GardenWeb. An auto-tumbling feature periodically rotates the drum every few minutes for a few hours after a cycle ends, to prevent the mildew smell that develops if you leave your clothes in the washer for a few hours after running a load. And for really small, barely dirty loads, the fastest cycle can finish in just 15 minutes.
The reversible door is another distinctive feature. Most washers open only one way, but you can set up the EFLS617SIW to open to the left or right, depending on your preference or your laundry room’s layout. The matching dryer also has this feature, as do a couple of other Electrolux models, and we don’t think any other widely available front-loaders have it.
According to people who know, the EFLS617SIW is a much sturdier machine than previous Electrolux washers have been. Customer reviewer Buildersboy at AJMadison.com writes, “The cheap feel of the [previous-generation] 60 series is gone, very well built machine.” So while Electrolux’s reliability ratings are in the middle of the pack at Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, this newer model may prove to be more dependable—but we don’t really know. We don’t have enough hands-on experience to compare the build quality against that of similarly priced washers from other brands.
Electrolux backs the machine up with a one-year comprehensive warranty, which is standard for the industry, plus 10-year coverage on the motor and drum, which is the longest-term coverage that we know of.
Though all front-loaders are very efficient, the EFLS617SIW stands a cut above most of its competitors. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) gave it a Tier 3 rating, essentially the best rating a mainstream appliance can get. It blows way past the baseline requirements for Energy Star certification. (If you use high-temperature cycles or options, energy efficiency falls off quite a bit, but the normal cycles are very, very efficient.) According to Energy Star’s measurements, its total water usage is on a par with that of other current front-loaders at this capacity, roughly 10 gallons on the Normal setting. But it uses about 15 percent less energy than many front-loaders, including our main pick. Some local governments and utility companies offer rebates for purchasing efficient appliances on a sliding scale, and the EFLS617SIW will almost certainly entitle you to the maximum rebate.
Overall, reviews of the EFLS617SIW are strong, too. It received an overall mark of 9.7 out of 10 at Reviewed.com, becoming that site’s second-ranked washer. CNET awarded an overall score of 8.1 out of 10, including a 9 out of 10 for performance. Of course, neither score says anything about reliability, and little about how you’ll like using the machine. Plus, we have our doubts about performance testing. But these are strong hints that the EFLS617SIW is one of the most effective washing machines you can buy. And at AJ Madison, its average customer rating is 4.8 out of five, based on about 150 reviews. Scores tend to be higher at that site than at other retailers—we’re not sure why—but by any measure this is very strong owner feedback. (This model isn’t carried at some major big-box stores, such as Home Depot, so we don’t have as many owner reviews to draw from as we might with other brands’ models.)
We can still think of a few reasons to be a little hesitant about the EFLS617SIW. Consumer Reports (subscription required) rated it as just Fair for gentleness, which is like getting a D on a test, and that grade drags down its overall score significantly. Only a handful of front-loaders have had such a low score in CR’s rankings, and most of them are other Electrolux models. CNET also found that it was rougher than some other front-loaders. Reviewed.com did not comment on gentleness in its review. We can only guess at why the machine scored poorly in this regard; the result may have something to do with the test procedure, which uses, essentially, predamaged garments to see how much more damaged they get. We have yet to stumble across any owner testimonials saying that this washer has damaged clothing, and we don’t have any firsthand knowledge to add to this debate. If you’re concerned about real-world risks, you can take some steps to mitigate the possibility of damaging your clothing in this (or any) washer, such as choosing cycles that use slightly more water (such as the delicates cycle), washing with colder temperatures, using fabric softener, and picking a slower spin speed. If it makes you nervous, maybe this model is not the washer for you.
Also, Electrolux has a weaker track record for reliability than the brand that makes our top pick, LG. Against all other major brands, Consumer Reports and J.D. Power put Electrolux in the middle of the pack. None of the repair techs we spoke with mentioned Electrolux as one of their preferred brands. Now, all of this is essentially historical data, and it doesn’t necessarily apply to the latest Electrolux machines. As we noted earlier, we’ve read a few testimonials indicating that the EFLS617SIW feels much sturdier than its predecessor. We haven’t heard many owner reports of problems with the new models, either. Even so, reputation has to count for something, and sturdy “feel” doesn’t necessarily mean the sensors and pumps and wiring are any stronger than they were. We think it pays to be a little skeptical.
Not everyone is a fan of the interface on the EFLS617SIW. A few owners write that they find it irritating that the washer won’t let them fully customize their wash cycles. For instance, if you select the delicates cycle, the machine prevents you from also selecting a hot wash temperature and a very fast spin cycle, because those settings can damage delicates. These restrictions are supposed to protect garments against damage resulting from their owners’ errors, and are common across most brands’ machines. We think the interface is pretty typical of a modern front-loader, but this is always a matter of personal taste, so go scope out a few models in person to get a feel for the options.
In contrast to our main pick, the door on the EFLS617SIW doesn’t stay propped open between uses (meant as an odor-preventing feature). We haven’t heard specific complaints about odors in this model yet, however. Plus, the big door gasket, which is a main source of stenches in most washers, doesn’t really have the kinds of crevices where mildew and mold thrive. You should still leave the door open and wipe down the gaskets at the end of every laundry day, as well as run a self-clean cycle about once a month. With proper care, we don’t think this washer is any more prone to smelling than other current front-loaders.
Other minor beefs: One owner writes in a review that laundry baskets can scratch the finish. Also, the spec sheet has a bunch of marketing fluff on it, such as “Fresh Water Rinse,” as though other washers don’t use clean rinse water (they do), or the “Second Floor Guarantee,” which means Electrolux will accept a return if the washer makes your wooden floors resonate like a drum head—most good retailers accept returns anyway, and Consumer Reports did not find that the EFLS617SIW was a particularly low-vibration model. Your mileage may vary.
And we’ll say this for posterity: If you’re upgrading from a very old or very inexpensive washing machine, you’ll need to adjust your habits to make this or any other front-loader work best. You can’t keep using it just like you used your old machine; if you do so, it will not clean very well, and you’ll cause problems for the washer.
The 617 is also available in a “titanium” finish, as the EFLS617STT, for $100 extra. If you need a matching dryer, grab the electric EFME617Sxx or gas-powered EFMG617Sxx (identical except for the power source and price). The dryer has a 10-minute wrinkle-releasing and odor-killing steam feature, which can come in handy if, say, you need to freshen up a shirt before work. (You’ll need to hook up the dryer to a water line to use the steam feature.) It also has an anti-allergen cycle, which essentially cooks dust mites dead, as well as a 15-minute quick-dry setting, which we assume cooks the threads on your clothes dead, too. Don’t forget the STACKIT7X stacking kit if you need it. And if you want to pedestal-mount your new laundry set, grab a pair of the (expensive) EPWD157Sxx, which raises the washer or dryer by about 15 inches and doubles as storage.
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, including the Whirlpool WFW90HEFW, Maytag MHW5500FW, and Samsung WF45K6500. We will update this section in fall 2016 with more details on these models and other front-loaders.
We should also mention the Kenmore 41382, which is nearly identical to our main pick. LG makes most front-loading washers for the Kenmore brand, and these models are a near match, minus the TurboWash feature. If you’re a Sears shopper, check this one out.
Since we originally published this guide in mid-2015, we’ve softened our stance on top-loaders. We’re overhauling this guide soon, and the new version will reflect our enlightened attitude, which is basically as follows:
Top-loaders can be perfectly adequate washers. While front-loaders will always clean better and run more efficiently when you use them properly, plenty of people need or strongly prefer the layout of a top-load design. Top-loaders also let you get away with lazy sorting, and they don’t need wiping down after every use like front-loaders do. They tend not to vibrate as much, either.
If you think a top-loader is the right style for you, the best choice is a high-efficiency (HE) model that costs around $500 to $700. In this price range, you’ll get the baseline features that let you wash most loads of laundry pretty effectively. Since it’s an HE machine, you’ll save tons of water and a chunk of energy compared with an old-school top-loader, and it will get your clothes cleaner, too. You’ll have to be willing to follow the directions for best use, though. (The trade-offs for going cheaper are problematic on many levels, and pricier models do not offer enough advantages for your money—more on this topic later.)
Our pick for this type of washer is the Maytag MVWB755DW. The Maytag brand has enjoyed a solid reliability track record for top-loading washers in recent years, and the MVWB755DW hits the sweet spot for value, packing in useful wash features such as a soak option, a deep-water fill, and a built-in heater for a lower price than most washers. It holds more laundry than most people will ever reasonably need to do in one pass, and it’s a very popular model, with tons of owner reviews and a strong average rating.
Assuming that Maytag is the brand to choose (more on that in a moment), we think the MVWB755DW has the best features for the price within the company’s lineup—particularly the built-in water heater, which can make hot tap water even hotter after it enters the washer. (It’s active only on certain cycles, though.) That function can help to make whites whiter and clean especially dirty loads more thoroughly. It also enables a steam-spray function, as well as a sanitize cycle, though Maytag promises that it’ll kill bacteria only if you also use oxygenated bleach (such as OxiClean). We also like the soak option, which is handy if you want to let certain garments sit for a while to loosen stains. And if you like, you can use its deep-water option, which works sort of like an old-school washer.
Customer reviews for the MVWB755DW are very strong, averaging 4.4 stars out of five across more than 1,100 ratings at Home Depot (which also include reviews posted at Maytag.com), and 4.7 stars out of five across more than 1,000 ratings at AJ Madison. Those stand among the strongest ratings you can find for a washer of any type. (Our guess is that since this model is pretty affordable, buyers have realistic expectations.) Positive reviews tend to cite the mammoth capacity, the cleaning performance, and garment care as the best parts. For some buyers, this model is their first upgrade away from a pole-agitator washer, and they tend to be impressed by how much smarter and more responsive new washers have become.
As best we can tell, we think the MVWB755DW should be reliable. Nobody can actually predict reliability, and not all of the data is in Maytag’s favor in this regard, but here’s what we’re basing this conclusion on: A Consumer Reports reader survey (subscription required) estimates that Maytag HE top-loaders will be less likely than other brands’ HE top-loaders to need a repair in the first five years of ownership (though every brand falls within the statistical margin for error). This particular model has been out for several years, long enough for obvious design or build-quality problems to start popping up, but so far no clear patterns have emerged in customer reviews.
Sure, J.D. Power ranks Maytag top-loaders in the middle of the pack in terms of reliability. But we take J.D. Power’s data with a grain of salt, because its evaluations lump HE and agitator top-loaders into the same group. For a brand such as Maytag, the agitator models are at the bottom of the lineup, meant to be the budget option, so the cheap models could be dragging down Maytag’s brand reputation as a whole. Other companies, such as LG and Samsung, make only HE models, which could give them an advantage.
Maytag markets itself as the sturdy brand, with its perma-frowning mascot and vague references to “commercial technology” in its residential washers. In an email, we asked a brand representative what exactly makes the tech special, but the rep did not include a reply to that question. Maybe Maytag uses sturdier components in the suspension? We don’t really know.
Basically, we’re doing the best we can to make an educated guess with incomplete data—the same as anyone else trying to predict reliability.
Like just about all high-efficiency washers, the MVWB755DW has the Energy Star badge of approval, and compared with the washers of yesteryear, this is an efficient machine. However, it uses somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 percent more water and overall energy than even the least-efficient front-loaders sold today, and it may not qualify for local utility rebates.
Neither of the major testing houses has reviewed the MVWB755DW. But similar models from Maytag and parent-company Whirlpool, such as the MVWB835DW and WTW8000DW, have received strong scores for washing performance and quiet operation.
The MVWB755DW has a truly massive capacity—its 4.8-cubic-foot tub is capable of holding close to 30 pounds of laundry (roughly 30 bath towels). Huge capacities are overrated, but this is a pretty typical size for a washing machine at this price these days. Some people have trouble reaching the bottom of such a huge tub, as owner JMLWI write-shouts in caps lock in a Maytag.com review: “I’M ABOUT 5’5” AND HAVE TO HAVE A STEP STOOL TO GET THE CLOTHES OUT OF THE MACHINE.” In a sense, the large size eliminates the ergonomic advantage of a top-loader. Not too many reviewers complain about the size, however. If you’re worried about it, check the machine out in a store.
One of the more irksome problems that some owners say they run into is that the detergent and bleach don’t always mix in with the wash water very well, and that can damage clothes. We’re not sure why this happens to some people and not to others. Maybe the detergent dispenser is defective, or maybe those people aren’t using the dispenser at all. It isn’t a problem with every unit, though; if you find yourself running into this problem, you should call customer service.
It’s worth repeating that although the MVWB755DW is a top-loader, it’s a high-efficiency model, so it works much differently than a pole-agitator washer. If you’re upgrading directly from the old-school tech, you might be caught off guard by the changes. These new machines use much, much less wash water. They take much longer per cycle. Occasionally, some garments won’t actually get wet during a cycle—that’s not supposed to happen, but it can. And the spin cycles run much faster now, so the machine might be louder than you expect at the end of a wash.
If you’re looking for a matching dryer, that’s the electric MEDB755DW or gas MGDB755DW. The dryer has a wrinkle-smoothing, odor-mitigating steam feature, as well as an auto-tumble feature to prevent wrinkles if you forget to unload your clothes when a cycle finishes.
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.
Whatever you do, do not buy an “integrated” washer/dryer, which promises to wash and dry your clothes in the same machine, all in one cycle. Everything we’ve heard suggests that the washing performance is fine, but the drying function barely works. That’s because such an appliance is a condenser dryer, which is already kind of a crap technology, with the anti-bonus that the entire system is sopping wet at the beginning of every cycle.
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.
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.
Dryers are so fundamentally inefficient that Energy Star didn’t bother to certify dryers until 2013, and even now, only a few dozen models have earned the badge (compared with hundreds of washers). The standards aren’t strict, either—it’s just a matter of which models are slightly less power-hungry. An electric dryer uses almost as much energy as a new fridge, dishwasher, and washing machine combined. And dryers still use about as much energy as they did back in 1981, according to the NRDC. If you’re part of the 25 percent of people who have the right hookup for a gas dryer, get one of those instead. They haven’t become any more efficient in decades, either, but at least they’re about 30 percent better than electric models.
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.
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.
Originally published: September 22, 2016