Front Load Washing Machine – worth the hype?

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My wife and I deliberated for some time before taking the plunge on buying a front loading washing machine.  We have two small children plus a dog, and figure we do (well, she does) about 200 loads of laundry a year.  With our conventional top load washer, which takes about 45 gallons of water a load, 200 loads is about 9,000 gallons of water.  Our new front loader uses about 12 gallons, saving 6600 gallons of water per year, which since we’re on city water, costs about $100.  And it spins more water out, so the dryer doesn’t have to work as hard, so I’ll be watching to see if the power bill goes down.  And even if it doesn’t for me, it will for our water utility – according to a California study, up to 19% of all electricity is used to pump water.

As you probably know, there are a bunch of incentives for Energy Star appliances flying around right now, too.  That was pretty confusing to us, but we went to our locally-owned appliance store and they had it all sorted out, and even filled out the paperwork.  We also made the decision not to buy a new dryer.  My reasoning was that a dryer is pretty much a dryer; there’s no magic to that function, it’s going to take energy to dry the clothes no matter what.  Plus I have rigged up a filter so the warm air from the dryer stays inside and warms up the house in the winter (an arrangement which my wife hates, by the way, because even with the filter, some dryer lint still escapes and makes a mess, but it really does work).  It is looking like my reasoning about the dryer may have been flawed, however, because our new washer, which has a 4.2 cubic foot capacity, can handle about twice as much laundry per load as our old dryer, even though they are physically about the same size.  Since the clothes fluff up, you need about twice as much dryer capacity to handle the same amount of clothes, so you’re going to need a ten foot tall dryer to match up with some of these high capacity washers.

So, what did we buy?  We looked at loads and loads of models, before settling on a base-level Bosch because it was a good deal and had very good ratings for water and energy efficiency.  We’re pretty happy with it.  If there’s any downside, it’s that all the buttons are on the front, where our two year-old  loves to push them mid-cycle, which has we’re-not-sure-what effect, but clearly does something.  And the cycles do take longer, which isn’t that big of a deal if you plan for it.  However, I would say all the hype about the front loaders being loud is misplaced – the thing is incredibly quiet, way quieter than our old top loader (the loudest thing is the incessant beeping when it’s done – it’s like a microwave gone berserk).

One unfortunate aside is that the front loaders seem to be in a capacity war, each one claiming more cubic feet of laundry capacity than the next.  This turns out to be a meaningless stat.  It’s a manufacturer’s stat, something that sounds good but has no real benefit – like saying ‘my car has a straighter antenna’.  In practice, washer capacity doesn’t mean much.  In fact, it might be that you’d like to have a lower capacity one.  What you find with the front loaders is, since they don’t have an agitator, they rely on the clothes tumbling against each other for cleaning, so you can’t run a load with just a couple things.  Also with a smaller load, the washers often have a harder time balancing themselves to reach those super-fast spin speeds they tout in order to wring the water from the clothes, which ostensibly makes for shorter drying times. So in practice it might actually be better to have a smaller capacity washer.

Have you taken the plunge to a front-loader?  What’s your experience been?  Any other appliances we should be thinking about?

There are 5 comments

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  1. plumbing fitting

    It may be a wise decision to replace the connection hoses during washing machine installation. This is not necessarily a required step, especially if the hoses appear to be in good shape, but the hoses can eventually wear out and will require replacement at some point. Doing this process during the washing machine installation can prevent the need for another maintenance project down the line and can also prevent leaks from worn out hoses.

  2. K

    Do you have issues with mold or mildew that I read up a lot on the internet regarding FL's? I am in the market for new washing m/c for my new home and I am confused. I wouldn't actually be confused except for the fact that my builder offers a wooden plank in the laundry room that goes across the washing m/c and dryer – which can be a worthy space for keeping stuff and folding clothes and even ironing if need be (even though it wud be a little too high for ironing) and this is possible only with FL washer. I currently have a Kenmore Elite Oasis TL and am very happy with it. I can keep the washer dryer open and even wipe the wetness off the rubber gasket every time but is it going to be a headache having to do that and will I have mildew problems no matter what I did?

  3. Ibo

    This is a great piece! I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing. It’s fun to read and I learned quite a few things.

  4. Martin Grohman

    Pete – thanks for the comment. No, we still haven’t sprung for a new dryer! I did just last night change the air outlet back to send heated air outside again, since summer seems to officially be here. The issue with your dryer reminds me of the first couple times we added just one or two things to the washer and they came out dripping wet – we had to learn that it can’t just wash one or two things.

  5. Pete Vollmar

    I liked your blog a lot. I did wonder if you ended up buying a new dryer after all. You should be able to hook up the same heat diverter to a new one. I have noticed that on my front loading LG dryer that the heat sensor is a little flaky. We keep ending up with damp cloths even though the dryer is heating during the cycle. I may have to call for service. The manuals are not much help. One other thing, make sure you clean out the filter on the washer once in a while. I did not realize that the new style washer’s had a filter until I had an issue.

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