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How to buy a clothes washer

Types of washers

Most consumers in North America buy clothes washers that load from the top called top-loaders. However, you can also buy washers that load from the front, called horizontal-axis washers or simply front-loaders.

Top-loaders

This is the traditional washer style in United States and Canada. The washer tub contains a central propeller-like agitator that works clothes through the water during washing and rinsing. The tub then revolves at high speed to "spin-dry" cleaned clothes. Top-loaders have a variety of models, price ranges, are easy to load, and use readily available detergent. However, they also use relatively high energy and water consumption.

Front-loaders

Front-loaders are considered new but they are actually only a refinement of technology that has been around for years in laundromats, on some domestic models and on all European imports. They contain no agitator. Instead, the tub revolves around a horizontal axis, like a dryer, cleaning by tumbling the load through the water. These models are energy-and-water efficient and they hold more clothes than top-loaders. The front-loaders fast spin speed also removes more water from clothing than top-loaders, cutting the drying time for further energy savings. However, these models do cost more due to heftier suspension systems, motors and door gaskets. Front-loaders also require specially formulated detergents that are not widely available yet. Their high spin speeds can also tangle your clothing.

How much does a clothes washer cost?

Clothes washer prices range from around $230 to $2,500. It goes without saying that you get your music for more money.

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7 things to consider when buying a clothes washer

1. Construction materials - All washers are made with steel outer cabinets. The least expensive models are coated with white paint. Some better clothes washers offer rust-resistant porcelain tops and the most costly machines boast stainless steel cabinets. Washer tubs on entry-level machines are made of porcelain-coated steel and the next step up is a plastic tub (on which some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties). Tubs on top quality clothes washers are stainless steel.

2. Controls - Most clothes washers feature knob and dial controls and a few models feature easy-to-use push buttons. On high quality washers, electronic touch pad controls are common. While these look neat and make maintaining the outside of the machine easier, they are more delicate than knobs and dials and cost several times more to repair if they do break. A good compromise, offered on some mid-line models, is push-button switches located behind smooth one-piece console covers. Choose a washer with controls that are easy to read especially, if the machine will be located where lighting is poor, such as in a basement or enclosed laundry room.

3. Energy use - The yellow energy-efficiency use labels required by law on all display models show the washer’s estimated energy consumption in kilowatt hours per year (kWh/year) and compare the model’s energy use to that of similar models. The labels also show the cost per year to operate the washer with both an electric and a natural gas water heater. Your actual operating cost will vary depending on your local utility rates and your use of the product. However, a higher initial "sticker price" is offset by the anticipated energy cost savings over the life span of the washer. Make sure you factor the cost to run the machine into your buying decision.

4. Warranty - A one- to two-year warranty on parts and service is standard.

5. Space - Measure the space available for a new washer and do not forget to measure the widths of any doorways leading to the location.

6. Size - Choose a washer that suits the amount of laundry you do per load, without having to pack clothes tightly. Match the washer and dryer tub capacity to avoid having to divide single wash loads into multiple dryer loads.

7. Types of clothes that you wash - Match speeds and cycles to the types of clothes that you will be washing most frequently. Remember, the more types of clothing you wash, the more speeds and cycles you need.

9 key features of clothes washers

1. Bleach dispenser — This automatically adds bleach solution to the wash water at the correct time during the cycle. The dispenser dilutes bleach before it touches the fabrics, eliminating the risk of bleach spots.

2. Hand wash cycle — This agitates clothes gently, prolonging the life of delicate items.

3. Extra long wash cycle or optional extra rinse — Most effectively cleans grimy work overalls, muddy or grass-stained jeans and diapers.

4.End-of-cycle alarm — This alarm sounds when washing is done, prompting you to hang permanent press clothing immediately to avoid ironing. This feature is especially useful if you are busy with something else while doing your laundry.

5. Timer — This lets you know how many minutes are left in the wash cycle.

6. Inline heater — This heater will increase the temperature of incoming household hot water up to 170°F. Hotter water cleans durable fabrics, especially whites, more effectively. However, some clothes washers with inline heaters require 240-volt electrical service.

7.Tub — Washers come in three basic tub sizes: small, medium and large. A tub capacity of 2.4 cubic feet is considered standard. However, tub capacity ranges from 1.7 cubic feet all the way to 2.8 cubic feet for front-loaders and 3.3 cubic feet for top-loaders. Tub capacity may not be easy to find on the machine so make sure to check the manual or to ask the salesperson.

8. Speeds and cycles — The motor speed affects how fast the agitator (or tub, in the case of front-loaders) moves. Cycles are the various combinations of water temperature, motor speed and the amount of time the clothes spend agitating. There are three basic cycles: regular, gentle and permanent press. Match the number of speeds and the type of cycles to the type of fabric that you are washing. These cycles combine different speeds, temperatures, and levels of agitation to clean specific types of clothing. Higher end models offer additional cycles and flexibility, but at a higher cost.

9. Water level and temperature — The water level settings allow the tub to fill with more water or less depending on the size of the laundry load. Four settings are standard. Most washers also offer three to four temperature settings, allowing for water temperatures ranging from cold to hot, depending on the type of fabric being washed. A few high-end clothes washers offer infinite water-level control and as many as seven temperature settings. Most washers will have three temperatures: Hot/Cold, Warm/Cold, and Cold/Cold. High-end washers will feature additional temperatures.

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