Washing Machines

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Image Credit: djeyewater on stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1056073)

Most people don't relish the thought of doing the laundry. Along with vacuuming and ironing, it's one of the most dreaded of household chores. However, there's no need to make it more of a hassle than it already is. By buying the right washing machine, you can save on time, energy and even money.

Front Load vs Top Load

There are two basic types of washing machines; a front load and top load. As the names imply, front load machines are loaded with clothes from the front, while top load machines use a lid on top. These days, pretty much every washing machine is fully automatic, with the wash, spin and drain cycles all occurring in the same tub.

Front load washing machines offer several big advantages over top load units. For starters, they use less water and electricity, which can save you money on your utility bills and is also good for the environment. According to the government-sponsored Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme, a 6kg front load machine uses six standard buckets of water (58.7 litres) per load, while a 6kg top load machine uses 12 buckets (109.1 litres).

(WELS information is presented to consumers via a sticker on the washing machine, or the packaging, which contains a number and star rating - compare different machines to get the best overall rating.)

Front load machines also use about half the electricity of top load machines of a similar size. It's easy to see how front load washers can save you money in the long run, even if they cost more money upfront.

Another advantage offered by front load washing machines is that they are designed to be smaller. This makes them better for people with small laundry space. Despite being smaller in size, most front load washing machines still hold a similar amount of clothes as top load units, with an average machine holding somewhere around 6.5kg of dry clothing.

Top load washing machines are usually less expensive than front load models, making them better for people who are shopping on a budget. Another advantage offered by top load machines is the ability to interrupt a wash. Top load units can be opened at any time and clothes can be taken out, which can help when removing fragile items before the spin cycle.

Top load machines can also be quieter than front load models. Sometimes you can find a noise rating (in decibels) for a product in its documentation, but unfortunately not every manufacturer does this. If you really need a quiet machine, we suggest either purchasing a unit where a low decibel rating is given, or calling the manufacturer to try and obtain the information that way.

Dryer/washer combos If you're planning on buying a clothes dryer to go along with your washing machine, a sensible option might be to get a dryer/washer combo. These are front load machines that offer washing and drying functionality within the same drum. In addition to saving on money, this also takes up a lot less space than two machines side-by-side in your laundry. Unfortunately, dryer/washer combos generally offer less clothes space than a stand-alone washer. This means you may need to increase the number of laundry loads.

What about steam cleaning? Steam cleaning is a new development in the consumer-level washing machine market. Steam cleaning washing machines use a lot less water than a regular washer (up to 35 per cent less, according to the manufacturer) and they also benefit from an almost silent operation. The high steam temperatures also help to break down dirt imbedded within fabrics and overall they are much more energy-efficient. As with any new technology, expect to pay more for a steam cleaning washer - up to $3000 for an 8kg machine.

Spin Cycle and Efficiency The speed of the spin cycle has an impact on how much energy a washing machine uses. The spin cycle refers to when the machine spins your clothes around after a wash to remove as much water as possible. It is measured in rotations per minute, or rpm for short. Many front load units will have a top spin speed of over 1000rpm, whereas top load units often have a top speed of 850rpm or lower. The faster spin can result in clothes coming out dryer, which means less time on the line or, if you are using a clothes dryer, less electricity consumed. Most washing machines supply spin speed information on the packaging. Alternatively, you can check the spin speed of various models on the vendor's Web site.

Gentler wash = longer cycle Front load machines do not have an agitator, the device used in a top load machine to move the clothes around (generally a column sticking up in the middle of the machine). Instead, they work by gently turning the washing over and over in a tumbling action, a process which is quite gentle on clothes.

One area where front load washers are at a disadvantage is the length of time a wash takes. Expect a front load machine to take almost twice the time as top load machines to wash the same amount of clothes. (Despite taking longer however, they are still more energy-efficient, as mentioned above.) Also keep in mind front load units may require special washing detergent that produces fewer bubbles.

Price and features Finally, you should also look at the features of the machine. Generally, the more expensive a washer gets, the larger its size and the number of spin and wash cycles it will offer. These can range from delicate and extra soak modes, through to water temperature and water level controls.

When buying a washing machine, make sure to think about how many people you wash laundry for. For a single person, something around 4.5 kg units is more than enough, while a family with two or more children may want a 6kg or bigger unit.

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Chris Jager

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