By Christa Adams
Does your washing machine sound like it’s about to take flight with every load? Has its industrious rumble become wall-shaking thunder? And what about your dryer? Does it rattle instead of purr? Do your formerly fresh, crisp clothes now emerge moist or soggy? If you answered with a weary, wet nod, face it: their best spins are behind them. (Most washers and dryers have about eight good years before they wobble, whine, and leak.)
But finding a replacement is no small — or inexpensive — chore. Each of these machines can range from $500 to $2,000, making them some of the heftiest household investments you can make. Given this, it’s essential to know what to look for, avoid, and how to make the most responsible purchase — not just for yourself but for the environment.
To stack or not to stack
Stackable washer and dryer or side-by-side? That’s the first decision you need to make. If you’re working with a small laundry room, you might consider a stackable washer and dryer set. Measure your laundry room and make sure you have enough wiggle space for at least a 27-inch-wide washer (69 cm) and 6 to 8 feet of vertical clearance.
Front-load vs. top load
If you’re tight on space and need to stack your machines, top-loading washers won’t be much of an option. However, you have more choices if your room can accommodate lids or doors to lift up or out.
Front-load machines have a front door with buttons at the front. They’re great if you want to stack or place them under a bench or cabinet. Front loaders also tend to be gentler, use less water, are more efficient, and provide a more thorough cleaning.
Top load machines, however, have a lid at the top with controls at the back. These washers use an agitator (a central post that twists back and forth) or an impeller (a disc that rubs clothes against each other) to wash clothes and tend to be well-suited to large loads. Many have an option that lets you fill the wash basket with deeper water levels, ensuring a deep soak.
Considerations: If your space is small, front-loading machines that you can stack may be best for your household. They also take the prize if you want to reduce your carbon footprint. However, top-loaders might be the wisest purchase if you need to wash bulky items and large loads — especially if you have a big family.
Consider an all-in-one
If you really want to maximize your space and carbon footprint, consider a premium all-in-one washer and dryer. A washer-dryer combo combines a front-loading washing machine and a condenser clothes dryer into a single appliance without adding any extra bulk.
Pros: The washing performance is on par with the equivalent stand-alone. You can wash and dry your laundry without manual intervention while having the option to wash or dry separately.
Cons: They can only dry about half the amount they can wash. While this is great if you like to finish drying your laundry on a clothesline or rack, it can be annoying if you want everything dry in a single cycle. This is because drying clothes requires more cubical space than a washing machine. So, you might find yourself doing smaller loads or drying your laundry in batches.
Electric vs. gas dryers
Most U.S. homes are already equipped for electric dryers. Electric typically costs less than gas and doesn’t require a dedicated gas line to be installed, but it will dry somewhat slower. While the initial cost of an electric dryer is less, gas dryers are cheaper in the long run due to less electricity consumption.
Which dryer is more environmentally friendly? This isn’t an easy question to answer, but a general rule is that gas dryers produce less CO2 and use less energy. However, it also greatly depends on where your electricity comes from.
Does your utility provider generate electricity from burning coal or fossil fuels? If so, a gas dryer will be more eco-friendly because natural gas is a better heating source than electricity. However, an electric dryer is an eco-friendlier option if you have solar panels or receive electricity from a wind farm.
Consider water usage
If you’re anything like us and you’re cutting down on water usage, look out for washers labeled “High Efficiency” (HE). These machines use less water than older non-HE models and are becoming the standard. High-efficiency washers are an excellent choice for a more sustainable laundry room as they significantly save water and are often ENERGY STAR® certified. They use less energy and cost less to operate than standard washers. Plus, they’re available as top-load agitators, top-load impellers, and front-load models, so there is no need to compromise.
If you’re on a budget, fewer features will help keep the price low. But if you have wiggle room, think about what you’re looking for in a new washer and dryer. Consider what you like and don’t like about your current machines and what would be a bonus feature on a new one. Less noisy? Larger size? Wrinkle control? Smart technology?
These days there are even Wi-Fi-enabled washers and dryers that will alert you when your laundry is done and even let you pause. Talk about a bonus feature!
Consider your carbon footprint and make the best choice for you and your household. Whether switching to eco-friendly laundry strips, gas dryers, or HE washers, there are many ways to make your laundry room more sustainable.