Can top-load washers be energy efficient?

There are old school washers and then there are really old school washers.
There are old school washers and then there are really old school washers.
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The advent of low-water, low-suds washers has brought lean, mean, energy-saving machines to laundry rooms everywhere. The price tag is considerable (high-efficiency machines can range from $500 to $1,600), but manufacturers tout the long-term energy and water savings. And we all know that the front-loaders are the darlings of design. So you get a good-looking washer and bragging rights about your lack of environmental impact. But what about that top-loading monster in your mom's garage? You know, the one that fills a basket with about 40 gallons of water. Is there any way that thing can be energy efficient?

 

What makes a washer energy efficient?

Top-load, high-efficiency washers are becoming increasingly popular.
Top-load, high-efficiency washers are becoming increasingly popular.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Energy-efficient washers use less water than regular washers, which also means less water to heat, so the savings show up on more than one utility bill. These washers, usually front-loading, use a tumbler to cycle the clothes through a small amount of water. They require HE (high-efficiency) detergent, which produces only a small amount of suds and means less rinsing for clean clothes. These washers have higher capacity tubs so you can fit more clothes in, meaning fewer loads.

How Traditional Top-loaders Work

Traditional washers are initially cheaper but will cost you more in the long run.
Traditional washers are initially cheaper but will cost you more in the long run.
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Traditional washers fill the tub with water and then use an agitator (that cylindrical device in the middle of the basket) to twist and turn the clothes in the suds until they're clean. Completely filling the tub uses up to three times more water than energy-efficient models, and the agitator takes up a lot of room, meaning smaller loads. Also, the spin cycle on a traditional top-load washer isn't as effective at removing all of the water, which means more time in the dryer. These conventional models will save you a few hundred dollars on the front end, but will cost you more in the long run because of additional water and power usage. (Not to mention the wear and tear on your clothes and linens.)

Energy Efficient Top-loaders

Top-loaders were the dinosaurs of the washing machine industry until manufacturers started making top-load models that were comparable to front-loaders. HE top-loaders save water and energy in much the same way that the front-loaders do. They use less water to get the clothes clean by tumbling the clothes into the tub. For top-loaders, this requires the clothes to be lifted up so they can tumble back down. Different machines use different mechanisms to do so, and in the end you use less water and there are fewer rinse cycles to boot -- another energy savings. Even better, HE top-load washers are generally even a little less expensive than their popular counterparts, so you can save a few bucks up front as well.

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Sources

  • "Better Laundry." Crossroadsappliance.com, 2010. http://www.crossroadsappliance.com/high_efficiency_washers.php"Consumer
  • Energy Center." consumerenergycenter.org, 2010. http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/washers.html"
  • Consumer Reports - Washing machines." mysimon.com, 2010. http://www.mysimon.com/consumer-reports/clothes-washers-buying-tips
  • Davis, Kim. "Top-Loading Washers: High Efficiency, Low Price."
  • howstuffworks.com, 2010. https://products.howstuffworks.com/top-loading-washers-high-efficiency-low-price-article.htm