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How does design affect a washer's energy efficiency?

Front-load washers like the one shown above are becoming increasingly popular.
Front-load washers like the one shown above are becoming increasingly popular.
Andrew Olney/Photodisc/Getty Images

There's been a revolution in washer design in recent years, driven in part by a governmental push to make residential appliances more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Washers that bear the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star logo use around 30 percent less energy and a whopping 50 percent less water than washers produced even a decade ago. How are washing machine manufacturers making washer design and energy efficiency work together to clean clothes? After all, clothes washers just move water and textiles in a big tub. How do you change a process that's been pretty much a standard way to get dirt off of fabric for hundreds of years? Well, the answer isn't a revolution in the basic techniques of washing. It's more a series of refinements that use less water and energy to do the same job.

Traditional washing machines are made up of two tubs: an inner tub that holds the clothes in place and allows water to pass in and out via a series of holes, and an outer tub that keeps the water contained until it's evacuated in the spin cycle. The actual agitation occurs from the action of a center post that moves backward and forward, churning the water and clothes briskly to release dirt. The loosened dirt is held in suspension by the detergent until the water is later removed. A standard washer loads from the top and holds from 12 to 16 pounds (5.44 to 7.25 kilograms) of laundry and enough water to submerge clothing and other textiles completely during the cleaning process.

There are a number of ways this is an inefficient design. If the load becomes unbalanced, the machine can make a lot of noise or even jump around during the spin cycle. A standard washer can leave a lot of water in the clothes after the spin cycle has completed, too, causing the clothes dryer to expend more energy to do its job. Because each load is totally submerged (for most of the process, anyway), standard washing machines use a lot of water, too.

Utilizing a standard top-loading washing machine as a model, let's take a look at how design innovations are helping to make newer style washing machines more planet friendly. //]]]]> ]]>