How high-efficiency washers work—and save money
The savings largely boil down to how much hot water is used.
“High-efficiency clothes washers reduce hot water consumption, and therefore save water heating energy,” explains Logan Jacobson, a technology research analyst specializing in energy-efficient laundry equipment for E Source.
Traditional top loaders use a lot of water during the wash and rinse cycles—20 gallons or more per load.
More importantly, HomeAdvisor’s smart home strategist Dan DiClerico points out, “they don’t do a great job extracting that water during the spin cycle, so your clothes spend more time in the dryer, the most energy-intensive phase of the laundry process.”
High-efficiency, front-load washing machines use less water to get clothes clean—as little as 7 gallons per load. Plus their fast-spinning drums are better at extracting water, which shortens your drying time.
“Replacing a 10-year-old top-loader with a new front-loader could save you upward of $200 a year,” says DiClerico.
Even if you’re loyal to top-loaders, you can look for a high-efficiency model. These models also use less water and spin faster than traditional top-loaders.
Is a high-efficiency dryer worth buying, too?
We’ll cut to the chase: not really.
Though dryers use more energy than any other appliance in your home, “manufacturers haven’t been able to make them much more efficient,” admits DiClerico. “The basic physics of creating heat simply hasn’t allowed for the same level of innovation in this category.”
With dryers, DiClerico adds, “energy consumption is comparable from one unit to the next.”
What you can look for is a model with moisture sensors that can figure out when your clothes are dry. These will stop your machine from overdrying, save you some energy, and also keep your delicates from getting crisped-up like french fries.
And although gas dryers tend to cost more, if you can afford to get one, you may see another dip in monthly utility bills. Gas is usually cheaper than electricity, so “you’ll make up the difference in operating costs pretty quickly,” says DiClerico.
What an Energy Star rating means
Consider this the government’s seal of approval that an appliance is energy-efficient, and has been independently verified as such. This sticker makes it easy for you to home in on the most efficient laundry appliances on the market.
“An Energy Star clothes washer uses 37% less energy, or 397 kilowatt hours less annually, and saves users $48 per year compared to conventional equipment,” says Jacobson. “An Energy Star clothes dryer uses 21% less energy, or 160 kilowatt hours less annually, and saves users $19 per year.”
Plus, this little sticker can help sell a house.
But if you want to drill down even deeper, check the EnergyGuide, a yellow tag found on many appliances, which tells you the estimated yearly operating costs.
“It contains a lot more valuable information [than an Energy Star sticker], including an estimate for what you’ll pay to run [an appliance] for a year, plus an idea of how this compares to other similar models,” says DiClerico. “That last data point is what really leads you to the most energy-efficient model.”
How to save on energy-efficient appliances
“We see mail-in rebates for as much as $75 in some parts of the country,” says DiClerico.
Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, and search for rebates by your ZIP code.
But don’t write off your current washer and dryer just yet. If they’re still in good shape, “replacing them just to save energy doesn’t make sense—it’ll be easier on your wallet and the planet to get the longest life possible out of the existing machines,” says DiClerico.
On the fence about whether to repair or replace? “A good rule of thumb is if the appliance is more than seven years old and the fix will cost more than twice as much as a new unit, go for the replacement,” DiClerico says.
How to cut energy costs without new appliances
Some simple changes in how you do laundry can save you some bucks, regardless of how efficient your machines are. For instance, try the following:
- Use the cool water setting: “Washing machines and laundry detergents have both become so much better in recent years that clothes will generally get clean without hot water,” DiClerico explains.
- Do full loads as often as possible: Why waste water and energy on just a pair of jeans? Load that sucker up. But not too much, or you’ll throw it out of balance.
- Choose the highest spin speed: “The more water you can extract from your clothes, the less time they’ll have to spend in the energy-intensive dryer,” says DiClerico.
- Put up a clothesline outside: That way, when the weather’s nice, your clothes can dry (for free) in the breeze—and you’ll continue to slash your laundry-related energy costs.
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