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washer buying guide: how to buy a washer to fit your needs
We’ve all grown accustomed to life with an automatic clothes washer. Whether the closet is filled with designer suits or the timeworn jeans, if the clothes aren’t kept clean, life just isn’t right. Clothes washer design has come a long way since the wringer washers of decades ago. Today’s models run more efficiently than ever before and offer a great selection of innovative options and controls.
To begin, use the following questions to help navigate through the key components of buying a washer. Find in-depth information on the topics listed below by simply clicking on any of the following links:
- What is the difference between top load washers and front load washers?
- How much capacity do I need in a clothes washer?
- My space is limited. How do washers vary in size?
- What installation considerations should be made when comparing washers?
- What wash cycles are available and how do they differ?
- What design & color options are available?
- How does steam affect washing performance?
- What are some new and unique features available on today’s washers?
- How can I further protect my investment?
If you haven’t shopped for a clothes washer in a while, you’ll notice a lot more variety than in years past. Today’s market offers a plethora of options including front load washers, conventional top load washers and high efficiency top load washers.
Conventional Top Load Clothes Washers
Conventional top load laundry has operated in the same way for many years. In a conventional top load wash, clothes are loaded from the top of the machine into the wash basket. After detergent is added – usually right on top of the clothing – and the cycle started, the washer fills with water. The agitator is used to push the clothes down to the bottom of the basket, where the agitator fins beat the clothes clean. Clothes rise back to the top and are driven down again in a continuous pattern.
Conventional top load washers provide easier access for those who have difficulty bending low and wash times are noticeably quicker. They also allow for the flexibility of throwing in “last-minute items”. In contrast, once a cycle is started on a front load machine, the door will remain locked shut until the cycle is complete.
Front Load Clothes Washers
Front load laundry operates with a completely different wash system. Clothes are loaded through the front of the machine and the door locks. A separate compartment drawer (located on the upper front corner of the washer) is used to hold detergent and other additives. Water and detergent mix together in a reservoir, forming a lathery concentration. As the washer tumbles, the wash basket’s internal fins cradle the sudsy water, allowing gravity to pull it through the fiber of the clothes – forcing out dirt and soils.
Front load washers out-perform conventional top load washers in clean-ability and energy efficiency. The front load wash system is gentler on clothes and uses 1/2 the amount of water than that of conventional models. Spin speeds on front load washers range from 50-80% faster than conventional top load spins – which results in faster dry times – saving on time and energy. A household doing 12 loads per week and paying the national average for water, sewer, and electric bills will save about $150 per year by switching from a top load washer to a front load washer.
High Efficiency Top Load Clothes Washers
For those who prefer the performance of a front load washer and the top load design, high-efficiency top load washers are a perfect blend.
High efficiency top load washers offer the same capacity, performance and efficiency standards of front load washers. A high efficiency top load is ideal for those with narrow laundry rooms or specific plumbing constraints. A top load washer can be easily installed on either side of the dryer, whereas fixed door hinges on front load machines make for less install flexibility. Top load design also eliminates the need for low bending, which is required with a front load machine unless a pedestal is purchased (generally at additional cost). return to top
Ultimately, the right washer capacity is determined by each customers’ set of needs and expectations. Never has a manufacturer marketed its washer capacity as being “extra small”. However, many superlatives such as “super”, “super plus” and “extra large” can be difficult to compare.
Most conventional top load washers range between 3.2 and 3.5 cubic feet. For the majority of customers replacing a washer more than 7 years old, this represents an upgrade from the past, when washer capacities ranged from 2.7 to 3.2 cubic feet. Some specialty-sized washers (such as apartment or compact) have smaller capacities.
Front-load washer capacity is determined by an IEC (International Electrotechnicial Commission) rating. In essence, the IEC rating indicates the overall capacity that a top load washer would need to have to be comprable in size. Since front-load washers can be loaded more tightly, they can handle larger loads with a smaller wash basket. Compact front load washers range from 2.0 to 2.5 cubic feet, and most high efficiency washers range from 3.1 cu. ft. (IEC) up to 4.7 cu. ft. (IEC) – which represents a significant upgrade from conventional top load washers.
As a rule of thumb, to accomodate a king-sized comforter, a washer capacity of 3.8 cu. ft. (IEC) or greater is required. For a queen-sized comforter, approximately 3.5 cu. ft. (IEC) or more is needed. return to top
The majority of washing machines are 27″ wide, though a small segment of models are 25″ wide. The average washer is approximately 25″-28″ deep. Top load washers are 36″ high, not including the back control panel, which varies depending on the model. Front-load washers range from 34″-39″ high.
Some manufacturers build specialty-sized compact laundry, which typically measure 34″ high, 24″ wide and 24″ deep. These units are generally installed beneath countertops or in a small closet.
Laundry pedestals can raise front-load washers and dryers an additional 7-15″ higher for easier access. Pedestals can also serve as additional storage space. return to top
The large majority of washers require a standard 110-volt outlet.
A small number of washers, primarily European compact laundry manufacturers — such as ASKO, Miele and certain Bosch models — run off of 220-volt power rather than standard 110-volt. Some of these models use only a cold water fill, as opposed to having both a cold inlet and hot inlet. If you have a compact-sized washer, be sure to check the existing plumbing and electrical to ensure the new washer can be reconnected without additional work.
Though most washers are installed next to the dryer, some save space by stacking. In the past, stackable laundry was commonly sold as a one-piece tower with the washer on bottom and dryer on top. While still available in limited selection, most stackable laundry is now available by purchasing each piece separately and using a mounting bracket to connect.
Generally, the front load washer door should swing opposite of the dyer door so that clothes can be easily transferred. Most front load washers are left hinged and cannot be reversed. If existing plumbing doesn’t accomodate the typical setup, a small number of right-hinged and reversible front-loading washers are available. High efficiency top load machines also an available substitute. return to top
At a minimum, every washer will feature three main wash cycles: normal, permanent press, and delicate. A normal wash is designed for casual clothes and towels. Permanent press offers gentler wash action for dress shirts, pants and other business attire. Delicate washes are designed for laces, silks, and other sensitive items that would be harmed by more abrasive wash action.
Top load washers utilize transmissions with varying motor speeds. To wash more delicately, a one-speed washer will agitate intermittently. A washer with two or more motor speeds can reach a lower agitation level, providing more delicate care than intermittent performance. Front-load washers slow down tumbling motion and default to lower spin speeds when a more delicate cycle is selected.
In addition, with the use of advanced technology, many manufacturers offer specialty cycles that optimize wash times, temperature levels, water levels, agitation/ tumbling speeds, rinses and spins to suit each individual load size and fabric type. return to top
Unique specialty cycles
Sanitary Cycle – internal heating elements increase the temperature of incoming water to over 160 degrees. Sanitary cycles are capable of killing dust mites, germs, and bacteria. The National Sanitation Foundation, or NSF, approves washers capable of sanitization with the “NSF Certified” label. Best used on comforters, bed sheets and pillow cases.
Allergy Cycle – internal heating elements increase incoming water temperature to over 130 degrees. Though not capable of true sanitization, it is able to kill most allergens that irritate sensitive skin. Best used on regular clothing that could be damaged by the extreme high heat of a sanitary cycle.
Favorite / My Cycle – many manufacturers allow for a commonly used cycle to be programmed into the machine’s control memory. This makes it convenient to select the same cycle settings each time with the push of one button. return to top
Options in laundry designs & color have increased greatly in the past few years. Though white is still the most popular color for washers & dryers, colors like red, blue, gray, champagne and stainless are becoming more popular.
In addition to providing more color choices, washers are designed with increasingly sophisticated control panels and door designs. For example, some deluxe models feature touchless control panels, LED readout screens, chrome door rings, shiny knobs and silver accents as opposed to less-expensive models with push-button controls and painted finished knobs and door trim.
A growing trend in new homes and remodeled laundry rooms is building laundry into surrounding cabinets and under a counter. The built-in look provides a large, convenient surface for folding clothes and storage. Laundry can differ in size, so its important to check installation requirements & measurements before designing the cabinetry.
Some manufacturers, such as ASKO and Miele, offer models that accept a custom door front. In this application, a cabinet-maker builds panels to the required specification, which match the room decor. This allows the washer and dryer to be installed and integrated into existing cabinetry for a flush, seamless appearance. return to top
Steam washers use internal heat chambers to superheat incoming moisture into steam and inject it into the washtub during the cycle for enhanced deep cleaning and clothes freshening.
Most front load washers clean by thoroughly showering water through the clothing fibers. Steam can penetrate through clothing fibers better than water molecules resulting in a deeper, more effective clean. Steam, being 212 degrees, reaches a high enough temperature to eliminate certain irritants and bacteria. LG washers with the Allergiene cycle, are specifically designed to help people who suffer irritation or other symptoms resulting from household allergens.
Washers with steam capabilities often feature a freshening cycle as well. These short freshening cycles (approximately 20 minutes) are designed to force stale odor from clothes that have been hanging in the closet (or sitting damp in the washer) for far too long. return to top
Automatic Temperature Control (ATC)
Most washers rely on the incoming water temperature, but some clothes washers use thermostats to ensure that this temperature is proper. If water is coming in is either too cold or too hot, the appropriate valve will open to bring the water to an ideal temperature.
Automatic Temperature Control (ATC) technology designed by Frigidaire, is especially useful in cold climates when performing a cold wash cycle. Detergent requires a minimum water temperature of 65 degrees to activate cleaning enzymes. If the incoming water is too cold, Automatic Temperature Control opens the hot water valve to bring water temperature to 65 degrees. This is still a cold wash by garment industry standards but is at the minimum temperature needed to activate detergent enzymes for proper cleaning.
Stainless steel wash basket
An increasing number of washers now come with a stainless steel wash basket as opposed to plastic or porcelain. A stainless steel wash tub gradually smoothes out over time, creating an environment less likely to snag and damage clothing. Stainless steel is less porous than plastic or porcelain – and less likely to absorb odors or discoloration. Ultimately, aside from offering a great appearance, stainless steel is the most durable tub material in the industry.
Magnetic direct-drive system
Traditionally, washers used either a belt-driven or gear-driven transmission. More models now feature a magnetic direct-drive system which uses two oppositely charged magnets that push and pull against each other. With origins in the respirator industry, this motor is one of the most stable and reliable in the industry.
A second rinse is helpful in removing soap residues, which can irritate people with sensitive skin. A second rinse often occurs automatically. Extra rinse allows a third rinse to be added for good measure. Some washers can clean efficiently with up to seven rinses.
Ease of use
Most of us are used to setting our own options when running the washer, but high-efficiency machines default to an appropriate time, spin speed, and temperature once a cycle is selected. Some models have touch-screen controls or attractive LCD readouts that make setting the wash cycle a snap.
While not rated as certifiably as the dishwasher industry, models differ from one another in terms of volume, sometimes substantially. Higher-end washers use better suspension systems, shock absorbers, insulation and motor design in an attempt to ensure silent operation.
Most pedestals are designed to raise a front load washer higher from the ground, providing easier access and extra storage. Some innovative pedestals now feature compartments that can store up to six months of liquid detergent and fabric softener. This type of pedestal connects directly to the corresponding front load washer and dispenses detergent automatically. return to top
Most manufacturers offer a one year limited warranty on their product. For as little as $50 Warners’ Stellian offers a Product Protection Guarantee designed to keep your new washer performing as well as the day you bought it. Our Product Protection Guarantee covers all functional parts and labor on your new appliance for up to two, three or five years. return to top
We hope you have found this buying guide to be useful and informative and we appreciate the time you took to read through it. If you have questions that were not answered by this guide, please feel free to contact us.