Thursday, June 5, 2008

High Efficiency Washing Machines

I spent way too much time online this week poring over Consumer Reports, its Greener Choices recommendations, and the gardenweb laundry forums (I know, I know, avert your eyes from my glamorous lifestyle) trying to find the most energy-efficient, water-saving washer possible that works with our family's style of doing laundry. By style of doing laundry, I mean the days that sometimes elapse between the start of a wash cycle and the last fluff of that clean clothing in the dryer. Really, my confession would have to be that I have no spectacular laundry system.

Our old top-loading, not even remotely energy-efficient washer kicked it. Not so shocking, since its sister dryer let out her last gasp right around New Year's (and they were only bought just yesterday in the summer of 2000). If you're wondering what I did this week, I was on my knees, shaking my fists at the sky, wondering why they don't make 'em like they used to. I could swear my parents never bought more than one washer the whole time I was growing up. In reality, I was doing less raging and more wringing out dirty water from sopping wet clothes and trying in vain to find a laundromat. Anyways, I am right behind No Impact Man when he told us to use our appliances until their last dying breath. I'm telling you, nine times out of ten, the answer to being green? Save your money and stop buying stuff. But sometimes, planned obsolescence and shoddy manufacturing force your hand....

I'm posting the factors we wrestled with in the hopes that I can help someone else in their greening-their-laundry decision-making. Someone else who might be, er, chore challenged, to make the greenest of their lot in life. I know that hanging our clothes to dry would be a fantastic move. Alas, even if I wanted to dry my face in a crunchy, stiff towel (kidding!), this option's not for us since we have a)barely any yard front and back -- think no grass at all -- and b)trees in front and back that drop all manner of leaves and bird excrement. Burying my face in bird droppings might be 100% organic, and might even improve my skin, but it's not going to happen. Our saving grace is that newfangled dryers for the most part have moisture sensors which prevent them from heating your clothes to high heaven after they are done.

Back to the washer. The uber expensive uber eco-conscious choice would of course be to get an HE front loading washer. I decided against it after reading of the possibility of a class action suit against the manufacturers of said washers for mildew smells that have ruined clothes, made laundry rooms stink to high heaven and basically negated the convenience of having a washer in your home in the first place. Lots of people duked it out on the many zillion forums I read, arguing that if one always removes the wet clothes promptly, wipes out the washer with a cloth soaked in bleach (!) or vinegar, and always leaves the washer door open, you won't have this problem. Even without the many people who commented that they had done these high maintenance steps and still ended up with a $1000-plus washer filled with mildew? I think I could walk away at the words, "always remove clothes promptly." You know, it's important to know yourself.

After the shock of shooting down the front loaders (which is what I thought we'd get) I was very pleased to realize that I could still pay more for a washer than I thought was humanly possible make an eco-conscious choice. I found a top loading high efficiency washer from Fisher and Paykel that has the benefits of both fresh-smelling clothes and water conservation. Draining down -- no mildew! High efficiency machine from outside the US -- despite failing the buy local test, this means no scrambling to adapt to 2008 water conservation standards with substandard design! Their website has a whole section about eco friendly manufacturing processes and techniques. And no, I didn't get a dime. Although I would be happy to review a free washing machine.

It comes tomorrow...I never thought I'd say it, but I can't wait to warsh my clothes!



*Photo courtesy of lusi at sxc.

13 comments:

De in D.C. said...

Hope you like the new machine! We went through a machine hunt about 2yrs ago when the old washer died (old being a relative term as it was bought in 2001!! by my FIL to passed it to us when he moved into a condo). We went with a humongous capacity top-loaded HE Kenmore (the Elite Oasis) from Sears that was relatively new to the market. The thought process at the time was that one giant load would use less water than 2 smaller loads; plus it takes less time and therefor burns less electricity.

It has since gotten horrible reviews on the sears website, and while it's still working fine for us, there are some definite downsides you may want to me on the lookout for with your new machine. The delicate cycle is a joke - even the "low" spin speed is too high and will warp bra underwires. "High" spin was too strong even for durable everyday clothes, so we always use "medium" now. To get clothes really clean with no soap residue, we need to do a prewash cycle, which kind of defeats the purpose of HE. Loads of sheets almost always end up as a mushroom bundle - a sheet will stretch over the top and trap everything beneath it. Sheets also require a second rinse, but first you need to untangle everything from the first rinse, so you can't just set it to do a second rinse at the end of the cycle.

MamaBird said...

Thanks so much, de - I appreciate your feedback and may spend awhile longer researching online tonight! Double washing would indeed be a shame... I did hear that the HE washers end up with wrinkle city clothing but since I will be using a dryer figured it was a non issue. So appreciate your commenting!

Mrs. G. said...

Only you can enlighten and entertain me about laundry systems. We, too, are at a similar crossroads with an old Maytag. I had never heard of the frontloader mildew problem, so thank you for that. Like you, I know myself. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been right there to get the clothes out.

Annie said...

Hey there Surley, I follow your blog...love it! So about this washer thing. We bought a whirlpool duet front loader about 7 months ago. I too wanted effieciecy, but had heard about the mildew smell. I bought it anyway and have yet to have any problems. I am saving money on energy costs so that will be a plus for you too. I am glad you found something that works. I was totally freaked out about the decision because it was such a pricey one. The whirlpool has a clean cycle setting that allows you to run a cycle with bleach. I have done it once, just in case...I am paranoid because of all of the online stuff written about about HE washers. I have decided that there is a lot of bad stuff written online because everyone that is unhappy goes on and writes about it. You never hear the good stuff cause people don't really have a reason to write about it...they are just not motivated. This is just what I have concluded. Happy washing!!!

Annie said...

Oh yeah and by the way I am totally with you on the scrunchy towel thing.

katydidnot said...

wait. is there some expectation that one will remove one's clothes from the washer or dryer as soon as the machine finishes?

yeah, no, i'm lucky if i get there the same week.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I've been wanting the front-loader, but hadn't heard about the problems--thanks for that. I'm following the wait until it dies rule.

Thanks for the linky love!

Green Me said...

We have an LG front loader (just over 3 years old, came with the house) and it does collect water in the rubber seal around the door. Doesn't happen right away, but took us FOREVER to figure out why the laundry room was getting a mildew smell in our dry climate. Now I wipe out the seal with vinegar once a month (or two or three) and leave the door open on occasion, which seems to have fixed the problem. We do live in a dry climate tho...

Michele in BC said...

We live in a fairly damp climate (west coast of Canada), and I have a fairly new front loading washer. It does get a bit musty now and then - I run a cycle with bleach or vinegar now and then and leave the door open occasionally. It doesn't completely eliminate it, but it doesn't seem to be a problem really. One of the things I love about a front loading washer is the fact that it takes less time to do your laundry. Your clothes are less wet when you put them in the dryer, so your drying time is less. I think I save about 1/3 the time. Also, front-loaders take more clothes at a time, so you have less loads - also a time saver.

Going Green Mama said...

We have a front-loader HE washer that we bought 2 years ago, when our machine exploded out the back!

It was about $100 more, but I do love it.

One thing to consider with the dryers, though, is that the dry time seems to be much longer.

We also bought a HE dishwasher when ours died this winter. It's much quieter, but again, the cycle is much longer too. So I am unsure how it all balances out energy-wise.

Melissa Gonsalves said...

Does the TOp-Loading HE machine use he regular detergent or does one have to buy the HE detergent for it?

JessTrev said...

Hey Melissa -

It uses HE soap...and I have not had to pre-rinse like De does, but often have to come balance the load (often stops itself mid cycle if sheets or towels are in there). No moldy smell either!

Ben said...

If we are interested in living more eco conscious lives it means we will not only need to purchase different types of appliances, but we will have to alter our lifestyles.
If you are not interested to do this, you are enjoying a product related fad and will not be aligning yourself with what is needed for a sustainable future.
In the end, its really not that bad. I believe in most cases our own inertia is the biggest impediment to change. Doing things differently even for a radical change in energy use will result in different daily patterns of our lives that are usually just different and won't kill us. Those that will have you think otherwise are highly influenced by product manufacturers looking for profit or exaggerated personal experience that should be expected of passionate, emotional people. We must be wise in our decisions!