High efficiency washing machines (designated by the “HE” symbol) are simply a great investment. They work better for cleaning your clothes, and they use substantially less water and electricity than traditional washers – saving money while reducing your home’s environmental impact at the same time. Learn about the advantages of HE washing machines, and what you should look for.
Front Loaders Are Better
Front-loading washing machines are better for several reasons. First, they can clean clothes better with less water by tumbling the load. They also exert less wear and tear on your clothes, since items aren’t being churned by an agitator.
Finally, front-loaders can remove more water when the load is finished (by spinning clothes faster than top-loading machines), which means less time is needed in the dryer. Faster spinning speeds can occasionally cause vibration issues on some floor surfaces, but proper installation and anti-vibration pads will help your washer run quieter and smoother.
Remember The Energy Star
Energy Star-rated washers use roughly half the water of traditional washing machines (around 20 gallons per load compared to 40-50 gallons), which is important considering that washing machines are second only to toilets as a home’s biggest water hog. And using less water means using less electricity too, since just 10% of a washer’s energy consumption runs the motor, while a whopping 90% goes to heating the water.
Look For: Low Water Factor, Proper Capacity, High MEF
Instead of merely looking at how many gallons of water are used per load, a machine’s Water Factor and total capacity offer a much better gauge of its efficiency. Water Factor is the ratio of water to size (e.g., 25 gallons per load in a 5-cubic-foot washer would mean a Water Factor of 5; this figure must be lower than 6 to qualify for an Energy Star rating).
Since machines deliver maximum efficiency with full loads of laundry, capacity counts too: you don’t want a washer that can handle 20 pounds of laundry if you typically wash only half that amount. The Modified Energy Factor (MEF) is the washing machine’s capacity divided by the energy consumed (in kilowatt hours), plus the energy needed to dry any water left after the spin cycle. A higher MEF means a more efficient machine, and Energy Star rated washers must have an MEF above 2.0.
Tip 1: Use The Right Soap
All detergents are not created equal. High efficiency washers use less water, so they require low-suds soaps that will be able to clean clothing effectively and rinse properly. Using regular laundry detergent (even in smaller amounts) can leave soap residue in your clothes, and cause scummy buildup in the washing machine itself.
Editor’s note: Of the various HE soaps we’ve tried ourselves, the best is Method’s SmartClean High Efficiency Laundry Detergent, a plant-based, biodegradable, non-toxic formula. We like the “Free & Clear” formula, which has no dyes or fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin. The 20-ounce bottle is enough for 50 loads of laundry. (Bonus points for the slim bottle that fits neatly in a crowded cabinet.)
Tip 2: Take Care Of Your Machine
If not cared for properly, some front-loading high efficiency washing machines can be prone to trapping water or dirt, which can cause issues with mold and mildew. Fortunately, most problems are easily avoided: be sure to wipe away any water or dirt that gets trapped in the rubber door seals, and leave the door open after use so the inside can dry completely.
They Pay For Themselves
A new, more efficient washer can be an expensive investment. But remember, it will pay for itself through reduced water and power bills: The Department of Energy estimates that replacing a 10-year-old washer with an HE model could reduce a homeowner’s utility costs by $135 per year.
Also, although the federal government doesn’t currently offer rebates, many manufacturers and local utilities provide incentives like tax credits or rebates for energy-efficient washing machines.