According to Energy Star, the average American family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. An estimated 76 million top-loading washers with agitators, 25 million of which are at least 10 years old, are still in use across the country. Washers manufactured before 1998 are significantly less efficient than newer models. Together, these inefficient washers cost consumers $2.8 billion each year in energy and water.
Dryers are no better. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that they account for over 4 percent of total residential energy use in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that all residential clothes dryers in the United States annually consume about 43 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 445 million therms of natural gas, leading to carbon dioxide emissions of 32 million metric tons.
As you can see, there is room for improvement. Here are four efficient ways.
Energy Star Rated Appliances
At the moment, dryers do not qualify for an Energy Star rating because until recently, the efficiency of dryers sold has not varied appreciably. New technology such as heat-pump dryers, which we’ll get into later, have been introduced in some markets, and Energy Star is in the process of establishing a dryer specification.
Washing machines do earn Energy Star ratings. Energy Star -certified clothes washers cost about $85 to run each year. They use about 270 KWh of electricity, which is 20 percent less energy than a regular washer. They also use 15 gallons of water per load, about 35 percent less than standard washers’ 23 gallons. Over the machine's lifetime, that's a savings of 27,000 gallons of water.
The WF9000 by Samsung, to become available this spring, was named the “Energy Star Most Efficient 2014” and features high-efficiency LED lighting in both the washer and dryer drums for better illumination and additional energy savings.
The 5.6-cubic-foot capacity washer’s large drum size allows for a greater load than its standard counterparts. It also utilizes SuperSpeed technology that washes faster without sacrificing performance. As a result, wash time is cut to 30 minutes, saving more than three hours a week, based on the Department of Energy’s standard of seven and a half loads per week. Samsung’s PowerFoam technology predissolves detergent into a powerful yet gentle foam that infiltrates fabrics more thoroughly. It also comes paired with a 9.5-cubic-foot capacity dryer that has a variety of features including Eco Dry. Eco Dry automatically adjusts the time and temperature inside the dryer for optimal energy savings.
The DirectDrive Motor is key to LG receiving the Energy Star Most Efficient designation, as it saves consumers 60 to 91 percent more energy per load of laundry than typical washing machines. The motor is attached directly to the drum, limiting energy loss. The company’s ColdWash Technology also allows consumers to reap the energy saving benefits of using cold water, without losing the cleaning power of warm water. This technology uses cold water and enhanced washing motions (made possible by the Direct Drive Motor) to penetrate deep into fabrics.
“Since ColdWash can be used with any cycle, that can add up to big energy savings of up to $900 over the life of the washer,” says David VanderWaal, senior director of brand marketing for LG home appliances.
As said by Energy Star, if every clothes washer purchased in the United States this year was certified by Energy Star, we would save 540 million kWh of electricity, 20 billion gallons of water and 1.4 trillion BTUs of natural gas every year, resulting in energy bill savings of about $250 million, every year.
Energy Star-certified washing machines also have a greater tub capacity, which means consumers can run fewer loads to clean the same amount of laundry. These appliances clean using sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a stream of water. Many have sensors to monitor incoming water levels and temperature. They also rinse clothes with repeated high-pressure spraying instead of soaking them in a full tub of water.
Lastly, they are available in front-load and top-load models.
Top vs. Front Loaders
One of the first options decided upon is to go with a top-loading or a front-loading machine. My husband says he prefers front loading washing machines because he enjoys the show. There are, however, more significant differences between the two.
According to Consumer Reports, typical top loading machines use more energy. They hold only about 12 to 16 pounds of laundry and use the most water. Most are relatively noisy, and their loads can become unbalanced. The best front-loaders clean better and more efficiently than the best high-efficiency top-loaders, without necessarily costing more. Most can handle roughly 17- to 24-pound loads. And faster spin speeds than high-efficiency top-loaders typically mean better moisture extraction in the spin cycle, reducing drying time and energy consumption.
“A perfect illustration of this is the difference between a traditional top-load washing machine with an agitator, and a high-efficiency Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer,” says Bob Bergeth, general manager of builder sales at Whirlpool Corporation. “The front-loading Duet saves up to 70 percent more energy and uses 70 percent less water compared to a top-load washer manufactured before 2004, using the normal cycle.
Another plus of the front loader is that many can be stacked with a dryer to save floor space.
If you are of the same mindset as my husband though, just think about how much more exciting it is to watch a front-loading machine than a top loader.
Washing With Your Phone?
Almost anything can now be connected to a “smart” device. Clothes washers and dryers are no exception. The Whirlpool 6th Sense Live Technology and LG Smart Access Laundry smartphone apps “talk” with some of their appliances.
Using this technology, consumers can be notified of what cycle the smart washer is on, energy consumption, when clothes are finished drying, etc. These appliances can not only be connected to the Internet, but to the developing Smart Grid to delay cycle times to when flexible Time of Use smart grid rates are cheaper.
“With this technology, homeowners can save money by operating their appliances when off-peak electrical rates apply,” says Bergeth. “Doing this makes our electric grid more efficient, saves the consumer money and reduces the need for power plants to generate more electricity.”
You might ask why homeowners need to keep tabs on the washing machine cycle while on the go. They can’t do anything about it if the cycle finishes while they are out, right? Well, let’s say someone starts a load of laundry in the washer and puts a handful of items in the dryer. After the cycle starts, the user needs to run a quick errand that turns into an all-day affair. The Whirlpool Smart Front Load Washer with 6th Sense Live technology has a FanFresh option, which keeps clothes fresh up to 16 hours. This means no stinky, wet clothes that have to run through the cycle AGAIN.
If that same person needs to stop home for a wardrobe change before going out to dinner, he can use the quick refresh steam cycle on their Whirlpool Smart Front Load Electric Dryer with 6th Sense Live technology, which uses steam plus tumbling to relax wrinkles and remove odors in a handful of items so that they are ready-to-wear in 15 minutes. The dryer also includes a wrinkle shield option assistant and remote start/pause.
With LG’s Smart ThinQ laundry pair, users can download custom cycles and convenient remote monitoring on the washer and dryer’s touchscreen display or via the Smart Access Laundry app.
“This type of technology is especially attractive as connectivity becomes more of a priority in our daily lives, especially as it allows consumers to manage essential tasks from anywhere,” says Bergeth.
Whirlpool’s laundry pair with 6th Sense Live technology operates via Wi-Fi, so installing Ethernet connections in the laundry room is unnecessary. The LG Smart ThinQ Washer and Dryer require wireless Internet service as well as a 3G or 4G smartphone service.
The LG WT6001HV washer and DLEX6001V dryer are $1,599.99 while the DLGX6002V dryer is $1,699.99. The Whirlpool frontload washer and dryer with 6th Sense technology are $1,699 each, which is about $500 more than their non-smart counterparts.
“So far, we’ve found that these appliances are appealing to early-adopters,” says Bergeth. “As smart appliances are embraced in greater numbers though, economies of scale will kick in and will likely bring prices down.”
The estimated yearly operating cost for the washer is $16 when used with an electric water heater, and $11 when used with a natural gas water heater. Its estimated electricity use is 155 kWh. While this electricity usage is slightly more than that of the non-smart washer ($13 for electric water heater and $10 for natural gas water heater), the potential to save energy comes from using the laundry pair’s delay features, which run when electricity rates are lower.
Heating Up Dryer Sales
As mentioned earlier, dryers aren’t yet efficient enough to be Energy Star rated. However, companies like Whirlpool, LG and Samsung are moving in the right direction. Each have a wide assortment of dryer models that have moisture sensing systems. LG and Samsung use Sensor Dry, which automatically senses the moisture in the load and shuts the dryer off when the selected dryness level (very dry to damp dry) is reached. Whirlpool has three built-in sensors that read incoming air temperature and outgoing air temperature while monitoring moisture levels inside the dryer. When everything is perfectly dry, the machine automatically turns off, saving time and energy and helping to prevent over drying.
LG also has heat-pump dryers, which recycle the hot air after removing the moisture from it. This is unlike standard dryers, which generate heat using electricity or gas, and then vent that hot air out into the environment, wasting a lot of energy. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that dryers lose 20 percent to 25 percent of their heat through the dryer vent. LG’s TrueSteam and Eco Hybrid lines use the heat-pump technology for optimum energy efficiency.
Before you keep the laundry room as an afterthought, just think about one key component to the sales process—moms. They care about these features … a lot. No one wants to disappoint mom. Now if only they made washing machines that could sense when there is something in there that shouldn’t be and dryers that don't eat socks.