Our fourteen-year-old washing machine was on life support for a while. I'm not sure what finally threw it over the edge. Maybe it was my eleven-year-old daughter's obsession with cleaning every item of clothing she wears, even if she only has it on for fifteen minutes. Maybe it was just old age.
Anyway, last Tuesday I ended up wringing out a load of bath towels because halfway through the wash cycle our machine took its final breath.
I called a repairman and got the bad news. We needed a new motor, which would cost us $375. That's about what the top-loader cost back in 1995. Even if we spent the money on a repair, the odds were that something else would go wrong. The best bet—buy a new machine. So, $900 later, we're the proud owners of a Whirlpool front-loading washer.
Before I bought our new machine, I did a little research on the Internet. Then I went shopping at our local appliance store. I've always used a top loading washing machine, but our friends from England were appalled at the wastefulness of a top loading machine. Now, I know why.
The new high-efficiency washers are designed to use a LOT less water and a LOT less electricity to do a load of clothes. But it takes a bit of personal courage in these tough economic times to spring for the extra cost.
We would have saved over $125 if we bought an Energy Star rated top loading machine. The one the salesman showed me was a Maytag with a stainless steel tub and a wash capacity of 3.5 cubic feet. The list price was $549. Then he showed me a front loading Whirlpool, with 4 cubic feet of capacity and a list price of $809.
In both cases, a five-year service contract covering all parts and labor cost $129.95. For an additional $49.95, they would deliver the washer, install it, and dispose of the old machine. Once sales tax was added, the front loader cost $908 after rebates. The top loader compared at $780.00.
So, why spend about $130 more for a front loading machine? Well, if your partner is anything like mine, he or she will be so intrigued by the new machine that they'll start volunteering to do laundry. And, on a more serious note, the greater capacity of the front loader is a big plus. The instruction manual says you can fill the drum with items, so long as the door isn't difficult to close. You might end up doing fewer loads.
It's also much quieter, which is a bonus for us since our machine is right outside our kitchen. Also, there's no agitator in the middle of the tub, and, therefore, the clothes take less of a beating, something our British friends also pointed out.
The savings are significant. My salesman estimated that the top loading machine would use about 50% more water than its competitor and about 50% more electricity. Other estimates say a front loading machine can use as much as 63 percent less water. So, based on an average US water cost of 0.3 cents per gallon, water alone would cost at least 12 cents per wash for the average top loader, and closer to 6 cents per wash for a front loader.
That's assuming that a top loading machine would use about 40 gallons of water for the typical wash cycle, versus 20 gallons for a front loading machine. And more water means more energy to heat the water. So, if you wash your clothes in hot, or even warm water, it will cost you a lot more to do your laundry since most of the energy used by a washing machine is used to heat the water.
The cost of the electricity you use to clean your clothes will also go up if you use an electric water heater and if you wash in hot or warm water. We have a gas water heater, and I wash primarily in cold water, which keeps our costs down. We estimated that it costs 2 cents per load for the electricity to run our old top loader using cold water, versus 1 cent to run our new front loader (see Energy Miser table: How Much Does it Cost to Run My Appliances?).
So, our new machine is costing us an estimated 7 cents per load (excluding detergent), versus 14 cents for our old clunker. Savings have been estimated to be as high as 35 cents per load, though, especially if you use hot water and have an electric water heater.
Some people have complained in chat rooms on the Internet that the front loading machines had a moldy smell because the tub agitates on its side and has less venting. My friendly salesman showed me the simple solution for that--just keep the door ajar between washes.
It all adds up. If I do one load each day, 340 days a year, it's about $24 to run my machine instead of $48 for a new top loader. After about five years, the difference in cost between the top and front loading machines will have been recovered. Of course, the more laundry you do, the sooner you'll recover the extra cost of buying a front loading machine. And that's about the only good thing I can say about doing more laundry!