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Front-loaders save water and kilowatts

Sideways tubs are kinder to clothes and the environment


by: FILE PHOTO - Front-loading clothes washers dont require as much water to wash or rinse as older top-loaders, and they wring more moisture out of clothes before its time to dry them. Portlanders consume an average of 60 gallons of water a day — about 13 gallons of it just to wash clothes — according to the Portland Water Bureau. It may be time to consider a front-loading washing machine, which uses far less water and energy. That means savings on your utility bills.

How they work

Most top-loading machines need full tubs of water for the agitator to clean clothes properly. A front-loading machine requires only a third of its tub filled, because it uses gravity to drop the clothes back into the water. Hence the water savings and the need for less energy to heat the water. About 90 percent of the energy expended to wash laundry goes to heat the water.

A top-loader usually drains all soapy water, refills with clean water, agitates again, drains, rinses and spins. A front-loader sprays clean water on the load to rinse while the tub keeps spinning, saving more water. 

Since front-loaders have no agitator, there’s more room for dirty laundry. They also are gentler on clothes, extending the lifetime of your shirts, blouses, dresses and pants.

Front-loaders can spin at much higher speeds because of their horizontal build. That reduces the water left to dry on clothes, saving on drying costs.

Due to the location of the door on top-loading machines, they typically can’t be stacked, except for a few models. Front-loading washers are easy to stack with dryers, saving space in your home.

Top-loaders improving

The built-in advantages of front-loaders prompted some design changes in newer top-loaders. Before new 2010 standards were adopted, top-loaders traditionally used 30 to 45 gallons of water per load. Recently manufacturers have replaced some agitators on top-loaders with wash plates at the bottom of the tub, enabling them to use only 15 gallons per load.

Front-loaders use from three to 30 gallons per load, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving water. 

Consumer ratings

According to Consumer Reports, the independent product-rating service, front-loading machines in general will clean better. The organization recently found nine front-loaders that rated as having an “excellent” washing performance, while only one top-loader scored an “excellent” rating.

Energy Trust of Oregon, the nonprofit that encourages energy conservation measures, recommends selecting a clothes washer that carries the blue Energy Star label. Energy Star is a government-backed program to protect the environment and save money via energy-efficient products. Washing machines with the Energy Star label use 50 percent less energy than normal washers. They require 25 gallons of water for a full load instead of 40 gallons.That can save 6,000 gallons of water a year, according to Energy Trust.

Price factor 

Top-loading machines usually are cheaper up front, but front-loaders bring long-term savings. Money spent on high-efficiency Energy Star washing machines will be paid back by savings in water and energy. 

A U.S. Department of Energy study replaced 204 homeowners’ older washing machines with front-loaders. The owners experienced a 38 percent savings on their water usage and 56 percent less energy usage.

Experts at Portland-based Standard TV & Appliance

recommend front-loaders overall, because they are built to be more water- and energy-efficient. A decent Whirlpool top-loader recently was on sale at the store for around $500, while a comparable front-loader from GE cost around $700. 

Consumer Reports, which rated 55 front-loading machines, found the best deal for one with an excellent rating was an LG that retails for about $720. 

There are other ways to save money and energy when washing and drying clothes. Portland General Electric recommends washing and rinsing laundry with cold water, or warm water instead of hot water. An independent test conducted by Sustainable Life found that cold-water washes worked equally well for all but stubborn stains.

When in doubt, presoak stained clothes for 15 minutes. Run full loads to cut down on costs and resources. 

Another big energy saver is hanging clothes outside or in a basement to dry the old-fashioned way.