Laundry and Energy Efficiency

About 70-90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes towards heating the water, so washers that use less hot water also use less energy. Meanwhile, dryers are the most energy-intensive “white good” in the house, so it pays to use them efficiently.

Buying a New Washer

When purchasing a new clothes washer, consider the following:

1. Resource-Efficiency
First, look for the ENERGY STAR to identify clothes washers that require less water, electricity, and drying energy. But note that listed products vary considerably in energy and water consumption. Clothes washer energy efficiency is indicated by the Modified Energy Factor (MEF), which accounts for dryer energy and water heating energy associated with the use of the washer. The Water Factor (WF) indicates the number of gallons needed for each cubic foot of laundry. Within ENERGY STAR products, you want to select a washer with the highest MEF and lowest WF you can find given your budget, capacity needs, and other considerations as explained below.

2. Front- vs. Top-Loading Washers
In general, horizontal-axis (usually front-loading) washers are much more efficient than conventional vertical-axis (top-loading) washers with agitators. This is because front-loading washers don’t have to fill the tub completely with water. New top-loading designs that use sprayers to wet the clothes from above can also achieve substantial energy and water savings compared to conventional top-loaders, but they may not clean clothes as effectively, according to Consumer Reports.

3. Water Level Controls
Most conventional clothes washers use approximately 40 gallons of water for a complete wash cycle. Large capacity resource-efficient models use less than 25 gallons per cycle; small and medium-sized models may even use less than 10. All front loaders and many of the higher-efficiency top-loaders feature advanced electronic controls to adjust the water level automatically according to the size of the load. If the models you are considering do not have these controls, choose a machine that lets you select lower water levels when you are doing smaller loads. For a given temperature cycle, energy use is almost directly proportional to hot water use. The lowest setting may use just half as much water as the highest. In general, you’ll save energy by running one large load instead of two medium loads. Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not publish the actual water use of their machines in different settings, so it is difficult to compare one brand to another.

4. Wash and Rinse Cycle Options
Choose a clothes washer that offers plenty of choices for energy conserving wash and rinse cycles. Wash and rinse temperatures have a dramatic impact on overall energy use—a hot water wash with warm rinse costs 5 to 10 times more than a cold wash and rinse.

5. Faster Spin Speed
Faster spin speeds can result in better water extraction and thus reduce the energy required for drying. Mechanical water extraction by spinning is much more efficient than thermal extraction (heating clothes in a dryer). Front-loading washers and redesigned efficient top-loading machines generally spin at a faster speed than conventional top-loaders.

Buying a New Dryer

Dryers are not regulated by the government so there is no requirement to display the EnergyGuide label on clothes dryers and no ENERGY STAR program for them. From an energy perspective, it makes little sense to replace a well-functioning dryer before the end of its useful life — typically 12 or 13 years. Higher spin-speeds in very efficiency washers are designed to remove more water, reducing drying time. That said, the features on a dryer as well as the ways you use and maintain it can have a big impact on energy use.

Gas vs. Electric
In terms of energy use, the performance of electric and gas dryers does not vary widely. For general information about the implications of fuel choice, see our water heating page.

Automatic Shut-off
The major energy consideration is whether the dryer uses termination controls to sense dryness and turn off automatically and, if so, the sensing mechanism used. You can save a significant amount of energy by buying a model that senses dryness and automatically shuts off rather than counting on you to estimate the time it will take. Most of the better quality dryers today include this feature. The best dryers have moisture sensors in the drum for sensing dryness, while others only infer dryness by sensing the temperature of the exhaust air. The lower-cost, thermostat-controlled models may overdry some types of clothes, but even these are much better than timed-dry machines.

Energy Saving Tips

* Optimize Load Size
It is important not to underload or overload either your washer or dryer. Most people tend to underload their washers rather than overload — particularly with conventional top loaders

* Use Lower Temperature Settings
Use cold water for the wash cycle instead of warm or hot (except for greasy stains), and only use cold for rinses. Experiment with different laundry detergents to find one that works well with cooler water.

* Use Energy-Saving Features
If your dryer has a setting for auto-dry, be sure to use it instead of the timer, to avoid wasting energy and overdrying, which can cause shrinkage, generate static electricity, and shorten the life of your clothes.

* Reduce Drying Time
If you can’t air-dry your laundry, save on drying time by drying similar fabrics together, drying multiple loads in quick succession (to take advantage of residual heat), and make sure to clean the dryer filter after each use.

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