Consumer Reports latest tests on washers show price drops of as much as 33% compared with a year ago. Along with the federally funded "Cash for Clunkers" rebates of up to $250 for qualifying models, consumers are benefiting from more energy and water efficient models that save money in the long run.
"Price on washers are more affordable, models are more energy efficient, and rebates enhance the desire to buy," said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. "There are tons of features available, but it's important to consult our ratings to see which features really make a difference."
With so many models and features to choose from, here are several tips from Consumer Reports to help you make the right decision for your needs:
Noise considerations. If the laundry room is near living spaces, check Consumer Reports noise and vibration ratings and look for models that offer silent, end-of-cycle signals and remember concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors.
Top- or front-loader? Most top-loaders with a center-post agitator cost the least and wash the fastest, but they aren't the most stellar performers and use more energy and water. Front-loaders generally use less water and spin even faster, making them the most efficient washer.
Focus on features. An auto temperature control blends hot and cold water to provide consistent temperature and wash performance on a given setting. Manufacturers claim that steam settings and allergen cycles clean better and remove allergens. Consumer Reports found that steam did clean stains slightly better, but machines with that option washed very well even with the steam option turned off. Steam settings might also increase energy use. To kill allergens, wash water needs to be around 127 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes.
Skip extended warranties. Consumer Reports surveys show they're usually not worthwhile.
Finally, don't look for improved energy efficiency from dryers. While washers have become more efficient, dryer technology hasn't changed dramatically in the past decade. The Department of Energy says that most use the same amount of energy, which is why there are no Energy Star models, and state rebates won't apply.
However, since high efficiency washers spin far more water out of clothes compared to their less efficient predecessors, using a newer washer means shorter run times for dryers, lowering energy costs as a result.
The full ratings of washers and dryers appear in the February issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale Jan. 5, 2010. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.
Tom Kraeutler delivers tips on saving energy each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. He is also AOL's Home Improvement Editor and author of "My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure."