Sunday, July 5, 2015

What I learned appliance shopping - Washers & Dryers

Washers

There are basically 3 types of washers.
  • Top loader: These are traditional washers with an agitator.  These are slowly being phased out in favor of high efficiency models.  They tend to use more water and they are harsh on clothes; e.g. you won't find one of these with a gentle "hand wash" setting.  (Edit: This is not true per one of the commenters below.)  On the flip side, these tend to be workhorses and some brands like SpeedQueen are known to last very long.  These usually range about 3-4 cu ft in size.
  • High efficiency top loader: These ones usually don't have an agitator.  They typically have a load sensor to determine the amount of water to be used.  The drum bobs up and down and this is how it tends to wash.  Because there's very limited movement and no agitator, many users report that they do not clean as well as traditional top loaders.  They are also very susceptible to loads making the drum go unbalanced.  When unbalanced it gets noisy.  Some machines try to "auto balance" the load which involves adding water and trying to move things around.  In this case, part of the efficiency is given up as more water is utilized in trying to rebalance, sometimes without success and requiring manual intervention.  These can go as high as 5+ cu ft in size, but users report it's hard to balance the load when the machine is filled and so it can't really be filled to capacity.
  • Front loaders:  As the name suggests, these washers have the opening on the front.  Once closed, the unit is sealed shut.  One typically cannot add clothes mid cycle.  They offer the best cleaning performance as the drum rotates using gravity to move clothes around.  While it is possible to get an unbalanced drum with this, they are relatively rare compared to HE top loaders.  Many of these come with a gentle "hand wash" setting.  The main downside with front loaders is that water can become trapped in the seals and can eventually cause mold.  Suggestions to prevent mold include leaving the door open after a wash so that it has time to dry out and using a cleaning cycle with bleach.  Additionally, some newer machines have a drum that is tilted forward (and thus water is less susceptible to stagnating) and some have a fan to blow air to speed the drying process.  Still, despite all of this some users report problems with mold.  (Mold is never an issue with top loaders.)  Additionally, since the opening for loading the machine is in the front, these machines are amenable to stacking.  Even when not stacked, their tops can be used as counter space.  These can range in size from compact (~ 2 cu ft) to full sized 5+ cu ft.  The general rule with front loaders is that you can load them up as much as possible as long as one is able to shut the door.
One of the key specifications to look for is size of the drum.  I have seen sizes from < 2 cu ft to > 5 cu ft for most home machines.  Even for size, there are 2 ratings -- there's the IEC rating and the DoE rating.  The DoE rating is typically smaller and corresponds to the actual usable size.

Sizing works different for top load machines vs front load machines.  Front load machines typically hold more laundry than a top load machine of the same size.  For example, on a recent visit to a laundromat, I found that while the top load machines were rated for a single load, their smallest front load machine was rated at 3 loads.

Sometimes washers are rated in lb.  For example, a 20 lb washer is capable of holding a load equivalent to that of two standard top loading machines with an agitator.  The 2.83 cu ft (DoE) Asko washer is advertised as handling up to 24 lb, while the smaller 2.12 cu ft (DoE) Asko washer is advertised as handling up to 18 lb.

The size of the drum does not tell the entire story.  Depending on how the machine is designed, it may or may not perform well when heavily loaded.

Features to look for when buying a washer:
  • The size of the drum.
  • The location of door hinge and if it's reversible.
  • Water and energy consumption.
  • Internal water heater.
    • When equipped with an internal water heater, washing machines can wash with significantly higher temperatures than what is possible from the home's heater, which is usually set to a lower temperature to reduce the risk of scalding.
  • Wash programs and especially programs such as hand wash.
  • Warranty.
  • For front loaders, the design of the door seal and whether it is prone to mold.
  • Whether the washer can be interrupted to add clothes after a cycle has been started.
  • Material used for construction of the drums (inner and outer) and the guides/impeller in the drum.
  • Delayed start.
    • Useful when you want a program to start running just before you get home.
  • How the unit is powered.
    • 110v, 240v, must plug into matching dryer, etc.
Dryers

Dryers are a lot simpler than washers.  There are 3 basic types of dryers.
  • Vented dryer: This is the most common type and is what one would expect to find in the average US home.  As the name suggests, the dryer has to be hooked up to a vent.  Hot air is sent to the vent.
  • Condensation dryer: These units are made specifically for homes and apartments that do not have a vent.  With machines of this type, hot air is released into the room after the moisture has been removed from it.  Condensation dryers typically take a lot longer to dry the clothes, and some folks find the release of hot air into the room annoying.
  • Heat pump dryer: This is the latest technology for condensation dryers.  With dryers of this type, instead of the hot air being released into the room, the hot air recirculated back helping lower the energy consumption.
Many dryers offer the option of running on gas or electricity.  The ones that run on gas typically cost about $100 more.  But because they run on gas, and gas is typically cheaper, they can help lower the utility bills.  However, some utility companies have cheaper electricity and some homes are equipped with solar panels, so the economics starts to dull.

Perhaps the most interesting feature in a dryer is a moisture sensor.  This allows the dryer to sense the remaining moisture in the clothes and either extend or shorten the drying time.  Without a sensor, one would have to manually check if the clothes are dry, or risk "cooking" the clothes.

The matching dryer for any given washer is typically a little larger because dried clothes take up more space than wet ones.

Features to look for when buying a dryer:
  • Size of the drum.
  • Whether it has a moisture sensor.
  • The type of dryer.
  • How the dryer is powered -- gas or electric, if electric whether it is 110v or 240v.
Brands

As with refrigerators, there are the usual brands.  Most of the European brands only make compacts.
  • Asko: A Swedish brand now owned by a Slovene company called Gorenje and manufactured in Slovenia.  A cool innovation with their washers is they have figured how to build a front loader with no rubber seal in the door opening (instead there is just a small rubber seal on the door itself), making it less susceptible mold.  These are less pricey than the Miele, but more expensive than the other brands.
  • Blomberg: A German brand that is owned by Arcelik, a Turkish company, and the units are now manufactured in Turkey.  Also only make compacts.  Their prices are much lower than Miele and even Asko.
  • Bosch: A German brand, but they only make compacts.
  • Electrolux.
  • GE.
  • LG.
  • Miele: A German brand, and they only make compacts.  You buy these from a dealer, but they are delivered and installed by Miele.  The build quality is great, but they are expensive (about twice the price for half the washer).  This was Steve Jobs' preferred brand for a washer (see the discussion at the very bottom of the page).  Most people that have these like them, but at 2 cu ft, they fall in the compact category.
  • Samsung.
  • SpeedQueen: These are made in US, and seem to have good reliability based on reviews.
  • Whirlpool family: These include Whirlpool, Amana, Maytag.  These are "assembled" in the US, meaning that final assembly is done in the US, but many parts are imported.

6 comments:

  1. Your statement regarding top loaders with agitators:"They tend to use more water and they are harsh on clothes; e.g. you won't find one of these with a gentle "hand wash" setting."is not true. The GE Model # GTWN5650FWS has a Hand Wash cycle. The washer is a variable speed washer which allows for different speeds as per the cycle. It is also rated energy efficient as the washer does use less water than the older top load agitator one. Also, it's more gentle on clothes than a front loader which tangles and "ropes" clothes terribly. The spin cycle on a top loader with agitator is better for clothes than a top load HE without an agitator. The HE sets wrinkles due to the very high spin speed in order to extract more water. Believe me as I've dealt with all. Give me my 30 yr. old Whirlpool, my 20 year old Lady Kenmore, or my 15 yr old GE Profile Electronic any day of the week (left behind due to moving) over any of the newer most expensive washers being shoved down our throats!

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  2. Thanks for the comment and the for the correction. Is that a discontinued model? I see it on various store sites, but I do not see it listed on the GE site.

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    1. Hi there,
      Thanks for responding to my info. Enter Model #GTWN5650FWS on GE's site as well as Sears (where I purchased mine), Home Depot and many online appliance stores. I'm sure it's being phased out like other agitator brands due to Big Brother's control over us. I read a post where someone is purchasing two....one to use now and one for storage! I have spent weeks researching washers, reading reviews and posts. I own a working 6 1/2 yr old Whirlpool Duet set with pedestals which I'm donating because I despise front loaders. I don't like washers "thinking and choosing for me". The only good thing about mine is the Tumble feature after the wash cycle....helps prevent wrinkles. If I make an error in choosing a cycle and want to change the cycle the stupid thing drains & spins with all my detergent, additives and water! My daughter is getting rid of her 6 mo old Whirlpool Cabrio...doesn't clean well and she has to rewash. Just like the low flush toilets, what have we gained when we have to flush 2 or three times? Another brand to consider is the Speed Queen, but I believe it has just 2 speeds not the super gentle Hand Wash the GE has. This has become a first class nightmare! Most, and I mean most people are NOT happy with the new HE washers.

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    2. I did actually enter it in the search box on the GE site and nothing showed up. I did find it at several stores, though, so looks like it may be getting phased out. Have you looked at some of the European brands such as Miele and Asko? They are smaller machines but many people that have them are all praise for them.

      I do agree that shopping for appliances is not a fun experience. I general, the focus is all about features and looks with very little regard for durability and the effectiveness of the appliance.

      I had a SpeedQueen washer and dryer in my apartment where I lived for 12 years and while it was rock solid, I would say the cleaning and drying experience left something to be desired. It may well have to to with a combination of the type of water (very hard) and the type of detergent (one of the plant-based non-toxic ones) that was being used.

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    3. If you Google the model # there is a link with the model # on the first line and ge appliances following (third link down) which takes you directly to the machine with all the specs, etc. I recall checking out the Miele, but can't remember why I wasn't interested. As I stated I've been at this for weeks not only shopping for myself, but my daughter, also. I will mention that I purchased a European D.W. A Bosch and I have complained about it also. I was shocked to find it didn't have a Rinse & Hold cycle! And, it doesn't dry very well. I'm so fed up with not being able to have the appliances I once had due to all the so-called energy saving features. The new appliances are actually causing more work for the consumer and MORE energy wasted.

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    4. I agree with some of your comments regarding energy wastage. There were several reviews on HE washers that I read where people complained that the machine would continuously add water and wash/spin trying to rebalance the drum when it got off balance. I can't see how that helps water or energy consumption.

      I think the only way out of this dilemma is to learn how to live with the imperfections.

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