Ignore brand jargon and look for key basics that produce cleaner, healthier laundry.
A few weeks ago, my friend Cheryl asked for advice on how to buy a front load washing machine when her relatively new high end top loader broke down. It’s the second time I’ve had this question recently. Cheryl had a life-long top-loader routine based on stopping the machine to let loads soak for hours, moving laundry around the agitator, and shlepping heavy pots of boiling water to get really hot temperatures for white and sanitary loads. With an active house of five she realized she was working too hard doing laundry every day.
We both belong to a geeky group of hot-washing laundry lovers. Many of us own European front loaders with onboard heaters — I have a 24” wide Miele 3035 compact. We’ve been trying to convince her that a front loader would make life easier. The best front loaders have heaters to generate hot washes above the house water heater temperature. Front loaders excel at stain removal during cycles when the heater kicks on. I detailed how my machine removed a set coffee stain from chinos in my Miele Fans Washing Machine Cheat Sheet. Front loaders also have multiple rinses plus high spin speeds to help reduce drying time.
Cheryl didn’t have a Miele budget, which can be double the average $600-1300 cost of a non-compact front loader. When she called around to see which machines could easily be serviced in her area, the field narrowed to a few brands. She knew she needed a family-size machine but most of her laundry loads are medium sized. Like many people, she wanted a machine large enough to launder bed quilts at home. However, the onboard heater was her first priority to ensure a true hot wash to remove allergens and body oils from clothing, bedding and bath towels and to get bright whites. A separate rinse cycle was another must-have — not every machine has one.
Being a quick study, I volunteered to help search out the best options. My first stop was a manufacturer’s website. Once I began to read the descriptions of the various models I was overwhelmed by the volume of jargon, meaningless claims, endless features and fuzzy facts. So I stopped at Lowe’s to look at washers. That wasn’t helpful either. More pre-shopping was needed.
Back at home, I pulled up abt.com, the website of a large and reliable Chicago area appliance retailer where I had shopped in the past. That site is easy to use and search. They carry all the major brands. Plus, abt has star ratings and up to date customer reviews. Online reviews can be old, tricky or fanboy. These were current, sounded real and some washer models had in excess of 1000 comments.
I started with abt’s 40 “best seller” washing machines and quickly realized that size mattered. Consumer reports provided a handy guideline for judging front loader capacity:
◊ Compact European washers range from 2.5 to 3 cubic feet, are 24” wide, and generally handle less than 8 to 12 pounds of laundry in a single load.
◊ Medium-size front loaders range from 3 to 4.5+ cubic feet, are 27” or wider, and generally handle 14 to 18 pounds of laundry in a single load.
◊ Large-size front loaders have about 5 cubic feet, 27” or wider, and generally handle 25 to 28 pounds of laundry in a single load.
Most of us don’t weigh laundry at home but we all wash bath towels. An average bath towel (700 grams, 28 x 55 inches ) weighs about 1.5 pounds. So a medium-size front loader (3 to 4.5+ cubic feet) should handle about 8 bath towels in a single load.
Deciding on washer size is important for the following reasons.
◊ Washer size affects price.
◊ With a target size in mind, it’s easier to compare brand options and check on service. It’s crazy-making to drill down and finally pick a machine only to find out that the nearest servicer is two hours away and it takes two weeks to get an appointment.
◊ Should you upsize? A friend, who does laundry for two, was looking at 5 cubic foot machines so she could wash her quilts at home. It’s important to consider size carefully and choose whether the additional capacity offsets the size of an average laundry load. Small loads can be difficult to balance in a very large machine and don’t always spin efficiently. The 4.5 cubic foot washer Cheryl chose was big enough. She didn’t feel she needed the largest machine on the block.
◊ Also consider whether any washer (and dryer) choice fit the existing laundry space. Measure a few times to be sure about any changes needed.
The Case for Internal Heaters and True Hot Washes
The single most important thing I learned by helping my friend shop for a new front loader is this: without an onboard heater, the hottest wash you will get is about the temperature of the house water heater, usually 120F. By my standards, that’s warm water, not hot. For reliable stain removal and sanitizing I look for a temperature of 140F or above. One of Cheryl’s goals was to get a front loader with a true hot wash so she didn’t need to keep adding boiling water to the washing machine.
Why is that important when clothing, towels and even bed sheet labels recommend washing in cold water? Cold water washing is promoted as energy saving and eco-friendly. And Consumer Reports researchers recently told the Wall Street Journal that enzymes in many modern detergents work better in cold water than in hot. In 13 years of front loader use I have found the opposite to be true.
I discovered the benfits of hot washes when I cleared out the linen closet in our apartment ahead of a renovation back in 2009. The closet smelled. So did the sheets and not in a good way even though our bedding was washed twice a week in the apartment building top loaders. After the renovation, with the linen closet repainted, I tried to deodorize the sheets using the sanitize cycle of the new Bosch Axxis front loader compact in the laundry closet of our our renovated kitchen. But the Bosch didn’t have an internal heater and no matter which detergent I used, the odor and slight yellowing remained in the sheets. So I took the sheets to our house where, at the time, I had an Asko front loader with a heater that generated hot washes up to 205F (nearly boiling). After two hot water washes, the odor was gone and the sheets were bright white. Hot water washes remove stains, produce bright whites, and keep front loaders from developing the dreaded mildew smell.
“Steam” is the current buzzword for hot wash capability. But “steam” terminology offers no guarantees. It’s necessary to check the “specifications” on each machine for the “internal heater” feature. Some brands list internal heater in the specs but indicate yes or no for various models — watch for that. Other brands or models don’t say anything about an internal or onboard heater — which means there isn’t one — even though the model may have cycles labeled steam, allergen or sanitize.
To be sure a washer with an internal heater will really produce hot washes, look for NSF certification for the allergen cycle. Allergen is the most reliable standard for hot washes today. There’s a reason. To be certified by the NSF — National Sanitation Foundation — protocol specifies “that washing machines must demonstrate the ability to kill dust mites and wash away a minimum of 95% of pet dander and dust mite allergen loadings in a common load of household laundry. Manufacturers may also choose to certify for removal claims for canine dander, cockroach allergen and birch pollen. The wash water temperature is evaluated to determine its ability to kill dust mites. Published industry research has shown that dust mites are unable to survive in a water temperature of 55° Celsius (131° Fahrenheit), so the protocol requires that the wash cycle must be sustained at this temperature for at least three minutes.”
Let me repeat that clearly: A temperatures of 131F for three minutes will remove or reduce allergens, pet dander and dust mites from laundry.
Here is a link to NSF certification standards for allergen cycles. Anyone who has pets sleeping on or in their bed should be aware of this.
NSF certificated washers carry their symbol. However, to be sure a specific model is currently NSF certified, search the NSF site by manufacturer here.
Don’t be fooled by manufacturer claims about “sanitize.” The allergen standard is the only one linked to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. Sanitize is not!
The standard for “sanitize” is non-specific. A query to the NSF by member of our laundry group produced this response: “Protocol P172 measures the antimicrobial efficacy of washing machines by determining whether the sanitary wash cycle is effective at removing 99.9% of bacteria from heavily contaminated cloth swatches from typical laundry loads. The protocol does not evaluate the water or steam temperature per se, but it evaluates the ability of the sanitization cycle to perform effectively. The sanitization cycle of a washer is dependent on the combination of many variables (i.e. – drum size, drum shape, heater wattage- if applicable, cycle time, cycle temperature, tumbling action, etc.) These variables can change from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer as long as they perform effectively.”
In other words, blah, blah, blah. “Perform effectively” becomes the standard for a sanitize wash but there’s no definition of what that means and no specific temperature. I feel this is deceptive marketing. A “sanitize” cycle that does not go above 120F is not what most people expect. I feel it should be a true hot cycle — 140F or above. This may require independent verification for some brands. When in doubt, call the manufacturer and ask.
Evaluate Energy Saving Features
With today’s emphasis on water and energy conservation, washers are also rated for water and electric usage by CEE, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency. CEE ratings range from Tier 1 to Tier 3. CEE ratings reflect the amount of laundry that can be washed and dried by 1 kilowatt of electricity. Tier 1 are washers use the most amount of water per cubic foot of laundry. Tier 3-rated washers use the least.
I favor Tier 1 and 2 washers. However, many washers, like my Miele (above) are not rated. Mine has electronic sensors that adjust water levels to the size of each load. That’s very helpful, especially for good rinsing. Isn’t my rinse water in the photo (above) wonderfully clear? CEE restrictions are another reason to match the right size washer to the specific needs for any household. But regardless of the rating, a front loader is the greenest choice.
Today’s washers aren’t like your Mom’s. Convention wisdom says — and I’m summarizing — their life span will be 8 to 12 years, not the 25 to 30 years expected for machines made prior to the 1990s. And because today’s washing machines are described by — trust me — marketing gibberish, it’s important to read the use and care manual to know exactly what the machine will and will not do before making a purchase.
User manuals often yield surprises. And because many are brand-specific rather than model-specific, I recommend the manufacturer’s consumer help line to verify features for the specific model under consideration. When I called the Whirlpool consumer help line to verify water temperatures on various cycles for Cheryl’s first choice machine, I was told to submit an email to be forwarded to their technical department. That information wasn’t available.
Cheryl went with a Whirlpool Duet WFW95HEDW0. It does register 144F on the allergen cycle — an impressive hot temperature. Within a week she found that it doesn’t get very hot on the sanitary cycle. It was a bit of a shock. Aside from that, she is very happy with the initial performance and reports that clothes are getting clean and bright in less time than the top loader required. “I wish I would have made the change years ago. I will never go back to a TL. And for any of you that want a FL, but have doubts, just do it. Best thing that’s ever happened to laundry…,” she says.
Whirlpool Duets are high on abt’s “best seller” page along with offerings from LG, Samsung, Frigidaire, Bosch, GE and Electrolux, Asko, Blomberg, Miele and Maytag. Some of those machines also include handy features like delay start, stackability and pedestals and colors.
Because Cheryl had been using a top loader with manual controls, digital frills were not important. A cnet review of a new washer I read criticized a machine for not having a phone app! Remote diagnosis that connects the machine with the manufacturer also is available for some washers. I passed on that option for my washer and dryer. In my view, these are minor considerations since they don’t directly affect cleaning results.
11 Steps to Buying a Front Loader
1. Determine the capacity needed.
2. Pre-shop models of that capacity on a reliable retailer’s website to see price ranges.
3. Decide whether or not you want a machine with steam/internal heater — a bit more work but highly recommended.
4. Focus on the 3 or 4 most important cycles for your laundry routine — allergen? delicate? extra rinse? — and eliminate machines without them.
5. Don’t get taken in by claims you don’t understand or go for the highest number cycles assuming they cover everything.
6. Compile a target list of machines by model number.
7. Check with each manufacturer or a reliable local retailer to see what level of service is available. Verify warranty service times and conditions directly with the manufacturer — don’t take a salesman’s word on this.
8. Read owner reviews and ratings across several sites by model number. Check for NSF certification if needed.
9. Make a short list of the 3 best candidates and read those user manuals carefully. Call manufacturers to verify features.
10. Be sure to see the machine in person, inspect the door, the display and the arrangement of the controls to be sure you like them.
11. With the options are well defined, shop for the best price and dealer offering the best delivery, installation and service terms.
After the New Washer is Installed
Once the machine is installed, HE detergent will be needed. I get excellent results and low suds levels (see above) with Persil megaperls – a detergent used in Europe for nearly a century but new to the American market as a challenger to Tide. I use fabric softener only for bath towels and have found that Ecover, a green brand from the health food store, is thin, with little residue and does not over soften. Ecover’s rose geranium doesn’t have a synthetic or chemical fragrance to overpower the laundry room either.
New front loader users are advised to do a few initial loads of laundry without adding detergent. That helps remove any residual detergent from clothes, towels and bedding. Cheryl is a laundry goddess so she had zero residual detergent come out in her initial loads, which is rare. My first loads of towels were especially sudsy when I first washed them in my front loader.
Over the years of my front loader use, I feel 100 percent confident that my clothes are really clean and well rinsed. The wool cycle allows me to wash sweaters rather than take them to the dry cleaner. My machine also launders stretchy yoga clothes without causing them to pill, and am able to wash my favorite techno-fabric clothes confidently.
Despite the disappointing sanitize cycle on her machine, Cheryl is amazed at the amount of laundry she can do in one day. The learning curve that results from buying a front load washing machine paid off. And for many of us, having a great machine qualifies as laundry heaven.
(Source: greathomeideas.com, sears.com, Atticmag, mapeterson.com)
Copy and Paste Shortlink to Quick Share this Post: http://bit.ly/1Yx9iCn