What the best washing machine has
- The right combination of features. Some washing machines do everything but move your clean clothes to the dryer, but the more features you get, the more money you pay. If you're a finicky, hands on, OCD laundry type, you may want to set every cycle/stain/soil/water level. If you're more the set-it-and-forget-it type, you only need a few presets. Balance your wants with your needs to find the perfect washer without overpaying for features you may never use.
- Washing performance for your lifestyle. Are you raising a football team? Is there a mechanic in the house? Or is it just you and your delicates? Some washers get better reviews for tough laundry jobs than others; however, those same washers may be a lot tougher on your clothes than those that get good ratings for gentleness -- and maybe not so great ones for stain removal. Think about what you wash and the durability of your most-washed clothes when shopping for the right washing machine.
- Great energy efficiency. Stricter-than-ever energy and water efficiency regulations are largely making this a moot point -- all washing machines must meet certain standards even to be sold in some states. However, top-loading washers, even HE top loaders, cost more annually to run than front-loaders, so, if energy efficiency and water-saving features are a top priority, opt for a front loader.
- Color options to fit your décor. Not all laundry areas are in a dank corner of the basement. Plenty of homes are built so that the laundry areas is part of the entry from the garage to the home. All but the cheapest washers come in something other than white, often a stainless-style finish such as platinum or metallic; some washers are also available in black, red or blue to really jazz up your space -- though expect to pay a little more in many cases for that extra touch of style.
Know before you go
Top load or front load? Both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Top loaders are less expensive to purchase than front loaders with similar levels of performance and features. However, even the most efficient top loader will use more energy and water than a typical front-load washer -- so much so that a front loader can turn out to be cheaper to own over the life of the machine, assuming it has a decently long life, of course. Front loaders do require a little extra care to make sure mold or mildew don't take root in their tub or gasket. They can also take a little to a lot longer to complete their wash cycles.
How large a washer do you really need? Washers with a large capacity can do more laundry in a single load, saving time, energy and water. However, this doesn't mean you should always buy the largest machine you can afford. For most users, a typical load is only 7 to 9 pounds of laundry, while a 4 cubic-feet washer can handle at least 12 pounds of laundry.
How big a space do you have? Large capacity washers go hand-in-hand with larger-sized chassis. Before upgrading to a larger machine, measure your existing space -- width, depth and, in some cases, height -- to ensure it will fit.
Will you also need a pedestal? Front-load washers are great at saving energy while getting your clothes as clean as possible. However, they can be a pain in the back -- literally -- as you need to stoop down to load and unload them. Many makers offer a pedestal as an accessory to raise the door to a more comfortable height, but these are pricey options -- $200 to $300 in most cases.
Can I use regular detergent in a high-efficiency washer? The short answer is no. The Cleaning Institute notes that specially designated HE detergents are a must in HE washers, such as those discussed in this report. Using regular detergent will decrease both efficiency and cleaning performance. They can also damage the washer. More details are available in this online brochure.