Washing machines: The next wave

We look at the steam, energy efficiency and nanotechnology features of modern washing machines

Image credit: Flickr.com/photos/alindquist_/people/ (Creative Commons)

Image credit: Flickr.com/photos/alindquist_/people/ (Creative Commons)

Gone are the days when washing machines were all identical white monoliths. In recent years, the range of different models on offer has broadened significantly, with brand-new technologies and innovations entering the marketplace. Some of the considerations you need to make when purchasing a new washing machine include steam cleaning, green initiatives and nanotechnology. Let's take a look at each in turn, so you can see what the next generation of washing machines offers before you buy.

Steam

Steam cleaning has been around since the 1920s, but it only became an option for household washing machines in recent years. Steam-based washing machines use less water than regular washers (up to 35 per cent less, according to manufacturers). They also benefit from near-silent operation – handy if your living area is next to the laundry.

So how does it work? During the washing cycle, the water in a steam washer turns into vapour. The vapour causes fabrics to fluff up and expand, gently loosening dirt and stains in the process. As you'd expect, this is considerably less rough on fabric than a regular washing machine, which translates to longer-lasting clothes.

The steam's high temperature helps to break down dirt embedded deep within fabrics. Steam washing machines are also more energy-efficient (the LG WD13050SD has a 4-star energy rating, for example). For lighter cycles, you don't even need to use detergent, which is good for the environment.

In addition, steam-based washing machines help to minimise allergens found in clothing, such as common dust mites. This is a big incentive if you (or members of your family) have allergies. Steam-based washing machines can also be used to 'deodorise' slightly soiled clothes, without going through a whole wash process.

As with any new technology, steam cleaning washers cost a lot more than regular washing machines – expect to pay up to $3000 for washing machine capable of 10kg loads.

Green initiatives

If you care about the environment – and your energy bill – then it's important to choose a washing machine that's 'green'. All washing machines in Australia have an energy rating and a water rating, which are represented by stars out of five. The more stars a washing machine earns, the more 'green' or efficient it will be. Try to choose a washing machine with an average star rating of at least 3.5.

Front-load washing machines (that is, when the clothes are loaded in from the front) are usually more water-efficient than top-load models. 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). Front loaders also tend to use less detergent when compared to top-loaders of an equivalent size.

The speed of the spin cycle also has an impact on a washing machine's energy efficiency. The spin cycle is 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. This may also benefit your electricity bill – especially if you use a clothes dryer.

Nanotechnology

Some new washing machines use nanotechnology, which cleans clothing material at the molecular level. This allegedly helps to remove bacteria and fungi from clothes, with billions of invisible silver nanoparticles being injected into the fabric. According to Samsung, its WM1245A Washing Machine disinfects 99.99 percent of bacteria from clothing, with an 'antibacterial effect' that lasts up to 30 days after washing.

The 'Silver Wash' system also eliminates the need to sanitise clothes in hot water prior to washing, claims Samsung. This is beneficial to the environment, and also saves money on your water bill. At the time of writing, no independent studies have proved the validity of Samsung's claims.

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Tags energy efficiencyhome appliancesnanotechnologywhitegoodswashing machines

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Chris Jager

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