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Washing Machines – What’s in the Spin?

A whopping 85-90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes to just heating the water. So you can save a bundle by either lowering the temperature, or getting a machine that uses less water (or both).

Front-loading washers use 40-60% less water and 30-50% less energy than typical top-loaders (16 to 24 gallons vs. up to 40 gallons, and 400-560 kWh/yr. vsi. 800 kWh/yr.). They cost a little more up front (starting around $700), but they can slash your energy bill. Some states offer tax credits or rebates for the purchase of a front-loading washer.

A whopping 85-90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes to just heating the water. So you can save a bundle by either lowering the temperature, or getting a machine that uses less water (or both).

  • How much energy can you save by lowering the water temperature? A lot. Here’s the cost when your water is heated with electricity:
Wash/Rinse Setting

Electricity Use kWh/yr

Cost per year

 Hot / Cold

1,547

$155

 Warm / Cold

825

$83

 Cold / Cold

103

$10

  • Assumes 39-gallon model, 380 loads/yr. (7.5 loads/wk.), and water heated electrically at a cost of 10¢/kWh. As reprinted from the Rocky Mountain Institute.
  • To put in perspective how wasteful hot water is, washing your clothes in hot instead of cold uses more electricity than leaving the refrigerator door open 24 hours a day. (Fridge open 24/7: 180 watts x 13 extra hours day x 365 days/yr. = 854 kWh.)
  • Always use cold water for the RINSE cycle. Using warm or hot water for the Rinse cycle doesn’t get your clothes any cleaner.
  • Try using warm or cold water for the WASH cycle instead of hot water. Hot water shrinks your clothes, anyway. Hot water also fades and wears your clothes out quicker.
  • If you feel that warm water doesn’t clean as well for you as hot, then just use a warm pre-soak. Soaking clothes in warm water is usually just as good or better as hot water with no soak.
  • Use a centrifuge like the Spin Dryer which removes most of the water from washed clothes by spinning them really fast. That means a lot less time in the dryer, saving energy.
  • Run around the house naked. Then you’ll have less clothes to wash.
  • Replace your washer with an Energy Star model. The EPA has an excellent list of EnergyStar washers which shows exactly how much water and energy they use, and how much better that is than a typical washer. The EPA also has some good general info on EnergyStar washers. Most EnergyStar models are front-loaders, but some are top-loaders. (Who wants to research that so I can publish a list on this website?) Below is more info on front-loading washing machines.

Front-loading washing machines

  • Front-loading washers use 40-60% less water and 30-50% less energy than typical top-loaders (16 to 24 gallons vs. up to 40 gallons, and 400-560 kWh/yr. vsi. 800 kWh/yr.). They cost a little more up front (starting around $700), but they can slash your energy bill. Some states (such as Oregon) offer tax credits or rebates for the purchase of a front-loading washer.
  • Your clothes will also last longer with a front-loader, because they gently tumble your clothes instead of jerking them around with an agitator — but they still get your clothes just as clean as a regular washer.
  • Front-load washers squeeze more of the water out of your clothes, so you’ll spend less to dry your clothes.
  • Front-loaders usually have a higher capacity, so it’s easier to wash large items like bedspreads, rugs, and sleeping bags.
  • If you really prefer top-loaders, there are some Energy Star models like the EcoWasher that rival front-loaders for miserly water and energy use. (Unfortunately, the EPA’s list of Energy Star washers doesn’t bother to mention whether each washer is top-load or front-load. Who wants to volunteer to look up that information so I can publish it on this site?)
  • Wikipedia has a good a good comparison of top-loaders to front-loaders.
  • The question everyone wants to know is, “Will a front-loading washer pay for itself in increased savings?” We have the answer to that question below.

Will a front-loading washer pay for itself in utilities savings?

Probably, but it depends on a few factors. Let’s first look at how much a front-loader saves vs. a top-loader, if you have an electric water heater. (If you have a gas water heater then skip to that section.) As much as 90% of the energy used to wash a load of clothes goes just towards heating the water, and we include that cost in the table.

Washer used with ELECTRIC Water Heater

Per Load

Per Year

Top-Load

Front-Load

Top-Load

Front-Load

Savings

Electricity

2.33 kWh ($0.19)

0.65 kWh ($0.05)

933 kWh ($75)

260 kWh ($21)

$54

Water

50 gallons ($0.10)

25 gallons ($0.05)

20,000 gallons, ($40)

10,000 gallons ($20)

$20

TOTAL

$0.29/load

$0.10/load

$115/yr.

$41/yr.

$74/yr.

Assumptions: 8 loads/wk, 50 wks/yr., 400 loads/yr. Water cost of $2/1000 gal. Electricity cost $0.08/kWh. Water use is estimated.
Washers are 2002 models. Top-Loading model is $300 GE WVSR1060BW. Front-Loading model is $700 GE WSXH208A.

If you’re getting a new washer anyway: So will this pay for itself? Well, a front-loader saves the typical family $74/yr, and costs $400 more to buy. ($700 for a front-loader vs. $300 for a top-loader.) If you’re going to buy a new machine anyway (you’re in a new home or your old one died), then the front-loader will pay for itself in 5-1/2 years. Since the typical life of a washing machine is 13 years, you should go on to save an additional $555 over the life of the washer. Of course, if you get a rebate from your local utility or state (such as Oregon), then it’s an even better deal.

But what if you already have a perfectly usable top-loader? In that case, let’s say you can sell it for $100, so your cost for a new front-loader is $600 ($700 retail – $100 for your old machine). In that case it will take eight years to pay off the washer. After an additional five years, you should go on to save an additional $370 over the life of the washer.

What if you wash a lot fewer than eight loads a week? Then it’s probably not worth it. You can do the math yourself to see, since I included the Per-Load figures in the table above.

Remember the other advantages to a front-loader, including gentler washing action which makes your clothes last longer (even though they still get just as clean), the ability to wash larger items such as blankets and bedspreads, and the fact that they squeeze more water out of your clothes so it takes less time and money to dry them.

Also remember that you can save over $100 a year from simply switching from hot water to cold water, without having to trade in your washer.

Finally, remember that energy costs could increase! Many experts are predicting a surge in the cost of electricity and natural gas over the next decade. If that happens, your savings could be even more dramatic.

Washer used with GAS Water Heater

Per Load

Per Year

Top-Load

Front-Load

Top-Load

Front-Load

Savings

Electricity

$0.09

$0.03

$34

$10

$24

Water

50 gallons
($0.10)

25 gallons ($0.05)

20,000 gallons, ($40)

10,000 gallons ($20)

$20

TOTAL

$0.19/load

$0.08/load

$74/yr.

$30/yr.

$44/yr.

Assumptions: 8 loads/wk, 50 wks/yr., 400 loads/yr. Water cost of $2/1000 gal. Electricity cost $0.08/kWh. Water use is estimated.
Washers are 2002 models. Top-Loading model is $300 GE WVSR1060BW. Front-Loading model is $700 GE WSXH208A.

If you’re getting a new washer anyway: So will this pay for itself? Well, a front-loader saves the typical family $44/yr, and costs $400 more to buy. ($700 for a front-loader vs. $300 for a top-loader.) If you’re going to buy a new machine anyway (you’re in a new home or your old one died), then the front-loader will pay for itself in 9 years. Since the typical life of a washing machine is 13 years, you should go on to save an additional $176 over the life of the washer.

But what if you already have a perfectly usable top-loader? In that case, let’s say you can sell it for $100, so your cost for a new front-loader is $600 ($700 retail – $100 for your old machine). In that case it will take 14 years to pay off the new washer, except that the washer only has a typical life of 13 years. So in this case, wait until your existing washer dies before buying a new one.

What if you wash a lot fewer than eight loads a week? Then it’s probably not worth it. You can do the math yourself to see, since I included the Per-Load figures in the table above.

Remember the other advantages to a front-loader, including gentler washing action which makes your clothes last longer (even though they still get just as clean), the ability to wash larger items such as blankets and bedspreads, and the fact that they squeeze more water out of your clothes so it takes less time and money to dry them.

Finally, remember that energy costs could increase! Many experts are predicting a surge in the cost of electricity and natural gas over the next decade. If that happens, your savings could be even more dramatic.

Make sure you work with a qualified person to help you choose just the right washer for you and your family.

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