Whether your motives are environmental or financial, an energy-efficient washing machine can save plenty of resources in the long run: water, electricity, detergent, and most of all, money. Tons of washing machines come with an Energy Star sticker, but they aren't equally efficient. So how should you gauge efficiency?
What Makes a Washer Machine Efficient?
When the government assesses efficiency, they look at two scores called the Water Factor and Modified Energy Factor. These measure how much water and power a machine uses relative to its capacity.
For our purposes, we look at the yearly operating cost, factoring in power and water usage, to create an efficiency score (a lower score is better). The capacity is as important as the operating cost in this measure; a washer with a low yearly cost but a tiny capacity isn't giving you as much bang per cubic foot of washing as a larger capacity washer with a comparable yearly cost.
In general, front-loading washers are more efficient than top-loaders. A top-loader has to fill its entire drum with water, whereas a front-loader only needs to fill half the space, since it rotates the clothes and splashes the water around more. Top-loaders are also rougher on clothes. All of our most efficient washers are front-loaders.
One other thing to consider is how wet the washer leaves your clothes. High water retention means your dryer will have to work harder. In general, front-loading machines retain less water after a cycle than do top-loaders. To check a washer's water retention, go to the washing speed and performance section in any of our washing machine reviews.
Not only scoring quite well in our overall tests, the Frigidaire FAFW3801LW did amazingly in our efficiency test, costing only $28.58 per year to operate and scoring a 9.26 in our test. While it doesn't have a high capacity, its efficiency score was good enough to get this on our list. In general, most Frigidaire washers (for example the FRFW3700LW and FAFS4272LA quite as good as this one, but they do seem to be more consistently more efficient than almost everything else.
The Electrolux EWFLS70JIW (MSRP $1,499) is excellent at cleaning clothes, but with a price tag higher than the Whirlpool, you should remember the long-term benefits it provides. It earned a 5.91 efficiency score, which is effectively just as economical as the Whirlpool above. It has a slightly higher capacity (4.4 cubic feet vs. 4.3 for the Whirlpool), too. It's great at removing stains, but isn't always delicate on clothes. It cost $29.98 per year to operate.
Bosch Vision WFVC6450UC
The Bosch Vision WFVC6450UC (MSRP $899) has a more palatable price tag than the other models in this roundup, but it's still an efficient, effective washer. With a yearly operating cost of $29.95 and a capacity of 4.4 cubic feet, it's efficiency score is 6.73—still substantially better than all other models we've reviewed. Even with a lower efficiency score, the high capacity and low price tag make this Bosch a good buy.
Maytag Maxima MHW6000XR
This Maytag elegantly balances capacity, performance, and efficiency. Within its 4.3 cubic feet, we found an efficiency score of 6.50 and a year's use costing the user just over $30.