I have a confession: We moved back to a house with a traditional washer and dryer and I’m loving it! The environmentalist in me loved our energy efficient set, but the rest of me groaned at the long washing and drying times that larger loads never seemed to make up for. We’ll be moving again and I see a potential washer/dryer purchase in our near future. This made me wonder, what are the pros and cons of traditional washing machines vs high efficiency machines? Here’s what I discovered.
High Efficiency Washing Machines (Front and Top Loading)
How they work: High Efficiency (HE) washing machines (and front loaders) are designed to use less water and spin faster, so drying time is cut. HE dryers are less impressive, mostly changing the drying time and amount of heat used.
- Higher capacity, sometimes as high as 25 lbs.
- Use less water.
- Get clothes cleaner than traditional washers.
- Front loaders are easier to stack.
- Can often accommodate larger items, like comforters.
- Steam wash options for stain removal.
- A good environmental approach to cloth diapering – in theory.
- Long term energy and utility savings.
- Wash cycle times are longer. This can be 30 minutes or more, depending on the cycle you choose.
- Prohibitive cost. Some of the best HE machines are also the most expensive.
- Balance is important in HE machines and clothes can become tangled if loaded improperly.
- Clothes still need to be sorted, so larger capacities might not be very helpful for all families.
- More bending is required for front loaders. You can purchase lifts to mediate this issue, but at a cost of around $250.
- Water can get trapped inside, causing a musty smell and sometimes mold. This can be mediated by leaving the door open between washes, but this isn’t always practical with children.
- HE washers often need to be “tricked” to agitate and add enough water to properly clean cloth diapers, so this means more washes and longer cycles.
HE Washers are Best for: Homes with multiple loads of laundry a week can combine like-items into larger loads and wash less often. HE machines are also great for clothes with lots of dirt, stains, etc. The benefits are definitely environmental, cleaner laundry, and long-term costs savings.
My Experience: While I love the idea of combing loads of laundry into larger loads, this creates more sorting on the other end. I prefer to keep everyone’s clothes sorted in the washer to save time when it comes to folding and putting away. If my child’s clothes are all in one basket from the dryer, it’s easier (and quicker) for them to assist with folding and putting away. HE machines also tend to make doing laundry an all-day or every day process. 45 to 60 minutes in the washing machine makes it challenging to focus on laundry for a set period of time. Throw a load of cloth diaper laundry detergent with extra rinses into the mix and I felt perpetually behind.
The Bottom Line: I want to love HE machines, but…I think I might love HE washing machines more when I don’t have loads of cloth diapers in the mix every other day.
Traditional Washing Machines (Top Loading)
- Many affordable options.
- Shorter wash cycles – sometimes by as much as 30 minutes.
- Can use regular and HE detergent.
- You can add clothes mid cycle.
- Often intuitive to operate.
- You don’t need to do as much bending to add clothes, as compared to a front loader.
- Musty smells and mold are not often problems.
- Cloth diaper laundry takes less time and requires less “tricks” to get the right amount of water and agitation.
- More water used.
- Less expensive up front, but higher utility costs.
- Don’t clean as well.
- Clothes come out wetter, so longer drying times required. (I found that my HE dryer took a long time to dry clothes anyway).
- Smaller load capacity at about 8 lbs and often doesn’t fit comforters.
- Can’t be stacked to save room.
- Harder on clothes.
- Wash cycles are not as adjustable, so you can’t fine-tune them as well to fit your needs.
Traditional Washers are Best for: Homes with a smaller up-front budget. If you appreciate a more intuitive, less adjustable system, then a traditional washer is more your speed. They are also great for families that separate laundry by person or for people who prefer shorter wash cycles.
My Experience: Traditional washing machines are easier everyday in a practical sense for my family of six. I like that I can get several loads into the washer and dryer in a short time and move on to the folding and putting away, without it being a never ending cycle of laundry.
The Bottom Line: I’m enjoying my traditional washing machine for now, but we’ll see what the future brings, especially when I see my utility bill.