Buyer's Guide: energy-saving washing machines

Buyer's Guide: energy-saving washing machines

Our choice of washing machine can make a big difference to our carbon footprint. Deco’s Kay Hill guides us through the features we should be looking for

Siemens i-Dos IQ700 WM14Y890GB.

Many of us use washing machines on an almost daily basis. Which isn't advised, of course, as the idea is that we save up dirty laundry for a big weekly wash. However if we choose a machine with a short wash (ie a 15 min option) and a 30 degree setting, we can feel less guilty about using it through the week. 

The washing machine is probably the most indispensable gadget in the modern home, with 96 per cent of UK households now owning one, according to the Office of National Statistics. With such wide penetration, you might think it's difficult for manufacturers to persuade customers to upgrade to better models, but with 2.6 million machines, worth £834m, sold each year, it seems the lure of more sophisticated programmes is doing the job.

One of the major ways manufacturers are creating demand is by improving the environmental aspects of their machines. EU regulations mean washing machines must be labelled with their energy efficiency and spin effectiveness (in the past they were judged on washing efficiency as well, but all machines are now required to meet the A standard), as well as their annual water usage, based on an average use of 220 varied loads a year.

Perhaps surprisingly, washing machines do not use as much energy as dishwashers or tumble dryers. Which? suggests that top energy efficiency-rated machines cost a mere £9 a year to run (based on four 40°C loads a week), while a standard machine costs around £35, equating to a saving of £130 over five years.

James Osborne, white goods product manager at Haier UK, points out: 'An A+ appliance will save you up to 25 per cent of  energy compared to an A-rated product, while an A+++ machine will save you up to 60 per cent,'  so if you are in the position to buy a new machine, clearly a higher energy efficiency rating is better for the environment, as it will reduce the carbon footprint of your weekly laundry.

However, you always need to consider the total lifespan of a machine, and with energy savings being relatively small, if an older machine is still working effectively or can easily be repaired it may ultimately be better to continue using it if you don’t wash vast amounts of clothes each week.

Let's hope she's not starting up the machine for just that towel..Samsung Ecobubble WF1124XAC model is A+++ for energy efficiency,

Let's hope she's not starting up the machine for just that towel..Samsung Ecobubble WF1124XAC model is A+++ for energy efficiency, with A for washing and for spinning. 

'With more people in the UK having a water meter at home, upgrading to a laundry product which uses efficient levels of water is one of the quickest ways to control household bills.' Sian Rees, Miele

Energy usage isn’t the only environmental factor to consider – water is also a precious resource that needs to be conserved.  The compulsory EU label shows the amount of water used for 220 loads a year - the Neff W7460X0GB, for example, uses 8,140 litres a year to wash 220 loads of 7kg, costing around £15.50 in metered water. For the same number of loads, a 7kg machine using 12,100 litres would cost £23 a year, while a supersize drum like the 12kg Samsung Ecobubble using 17,160 would cost £32.60 annually, although it’s worth bearing in mind that if you buy a machine with a larger drum you may need fewer washes a week. 

It’s also worth looking for machines that offer eco-conscious fuzzy logic, which reduces water and programme time when it senses a small load. Sian Rees, Laundry Category Manager at Miele, says: 'Consumers are now more aware of the effect that their lifestyles have on the environment and are keen to take steps to reduce the use of energy and water where they can. With more people in the UK having a water meter at home, upgrading to a laundry product which uses efficient levels of water is one of the quickest ways to control household bills.'

We are conditioned to think bigger is better, and manufacturers are increasingly building machines that handle larger loads within the same footprint. For big families this can save time and energy over washing multiple loads, but it may not be the best choice for all, since a 7-9kg drum is big enough to cope with the average size family’s washing requirements. (For the record, 7kg equates to around seven duvet covers or 70 pairs of knickers.)

Spin speed is also an important environmental factor, according to Friends of the Earth's book How Can I Stop Climate Change? 'It's worth choosing the highest spin speed you can (1,400 rpm +) because an A-rated spin cycle will leave 3 kg of dry clothes with no more than 1.3 kg of water. By comparison, a wash from a C-rated design would take much longer to dry on the line because it will still hold up to 1.89 kg of water. It may take a little more energy to spin your clothes but this would be considerably less damaging than having to leave the heating on for an extra few hours to get your clothes dry.'

Some top-end machines offer steam functions which can improve washing performance and reduce water consumption. LG Home Appliance Marketing Communications Manager Dawn Stockell explains:  'Steam is the most intense form of cleaning because steam molecules are 1600 times smaller than water droplets, which allows them to penetrate right into the fabric and remove far more dirt than a normal wash. Our LG Steam Direct Drive will reduce water consumption by as much as 19 per cent when compared to a similar non-steam LG machine and up to 29 per cent when compared to a conventional 8kg capacity washing machine.”

Finally, even the most eco friendly washing machine is only as good as the person who is using it. For optimum use fill the machine to capacity (but don’t overfill), wash at a lower temperature (30°C is adequate for many loads, and some machines offer a 15°C wash, which combined with a liquid detergent can still wash lightly soiled clothes effectively) and make the most of free drying with a clothes line or airer.


Green for Go: Washing machines which combine A++ or A+++ energy efficiency with water-saving technology. 

Amber for Caution: Extra large drum machines – these can save energy and water if you are in a large family and have to do huge volumes of laundry; in a smaller household they may less eco-friendly than a 7-9kg model.