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The average American family washes nearly 400 loads of laundry per year, and with that many dirty socks in your future, you want to make the job as easy as possible. But with so many washers and dryers on the market, how can you be sure you’re choosing the right model? Relax. Chris “Newf” Long, one of the Home Depot’s How-To Experts, clears up (and cleans up) any confusion.
Top-Loading vs. Front-Loading Washers: Which Is Right for You?
When it comes to choosing between a top-loading or front-loading model, there are three major factors to consider.
Space: "A front-loading washer can usually have its matching dryer stacked on top, saving significant floor space compared to top-loaders," Long says. "Compact stacked front-loaders are also available, as are all-in-one front-loading combinations that both wash and dry in the same drum."
Convenience: "For many people, a top-loading machine can be more convenient," according to Long. "Easier to load and unload without kneeling, you can also add clothes during the wash cycle, which you cannot do with a front-loader. Switching to a front-loading washer will also require a change in habits. Newer low-suds HE detergent must be used, and in much smaller amounts than many are used to. Routine attention to simple maintenance is also necessary to prevent mold issues."
Cost: "Front-loaders typically cost the same or more than high efficiency top-loaders. Standard top-loaders with agitators in the drum are the cheapest to buy. The trade-off here is in efficiency." He adds, "Over the life of a washer, a higher priced model may well be cheaper to own once energy and water usage is factored in."
Gas or Electric Dryers: Which Is the Better Buy?
If you’re choosing between a gas and electric model, it’s not so much about the cost of the machine, but the cost of the energy that powers it.
"In areas where natural gas is available, its cost per unit of energy is usually much lower than electric power. Even though gas dryers cost slightly more to buy than electric ones, they are much more popular anywhere natural gas is available." Long adds, "When using a dryer, it’s easy to let it run longer than necessary. Some models have a moisture sensor in the drum which allows the dryer to automatically shut off when the clothes are dry. This can really save money and is easier on your clothes as well."
How Do You Find an Energy Efficient Model?
The Environmental Protection agency awards Energy Star to qualifying energy efficient products, which in the case of washing machines means that they use about 37 percent less energy and use over 50 percent less water than regular washers.
"Most appliances on the market will have a large yellow U.S. government ENERGYGUIDE label. This contains an estimate of the yearly operating cost on a graph which depicts the range of costs for similar models. An appliance that meets the government Energy Star standard will have a square Energy Star logo printed on the lower right corner of the label," Long says. "Please note that clothes dryers do not currently have either the label or logo. This is simply because most dryers use similar amounts of energy to do their job."
Washer-Dryer Combos: Are They a Good Buy?
The washer portions of these machines come in both front-loading and top-loading versions.
"Beyond the obvious space savings, installation is easier since no 240 volt power, gas line or venting is needed," Long says. "These are especially good for one or two person families. These are also quite efficient, though not EnergyStar rated due to the dryer. It’s a matter of fitting the right model to each person’s needs."
Washer and Dryer Maintenance: How Can You Make Sure They Run Efficiently?
While washers and dryers don’t require much care, Long says some routine maintenance can help extend the life and improve the efficiency of your machines.
Washer: "A yearly cleaning of the water inlet screen while you are checking the hose condition is a good idea," he says. "Replace the rubber supply hoses every five years. Occasional use of bleach or products like Afresh or Tide Washing Machine Cleaner will keep the insides clean."
Dryer: "The enemy is lint. Cleaning the lint trap after every use keeps air flow up. The vent behind the dryer will eventually build up lint over time. This needs to be taken apart and cleaned out periodically. How often depends on the length of the vent, the number of turns and the material used. Homedepot.com has a help project guide on installing dryer venting!"