5 things to know when buying a washer and dryer

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You know you’re in suburbia when neighbors brag about how long their washer or dryer has lasted. Twelve years? That’s nothing. How about 18? Several manufacturers say that these machines should last about 10 years before an expensive component goes. When shopping for a new washer or dryer, you’ll notice that a lot more cycles and features have been added, capacities are larger, and the prices might leave you rolling in the aisle. Here are five things you should know about today’s washers and dryers.

Longer wash times, but bigger capacities. Many front-loaders we tested were excellent at cleaning and high-efficiency top-loaders were very good, despite using a lot less water than conventional top-loaders. But that improved water efficiency means longer wash cycles. That’s why manufacturers have increased capacities, making it possible for you to do more laundry at once. The front-loading LG WM8000H[V]A, $1,350, has one of the largest capacities of the washers we've tested.

Bigger capacities can put laundry out of reach.
One way for manufacturers to boost washer capacity is to make the tub deeper in high-efficiency top-loaders, and some washers are also taller now. But after a petite staff member revealed her deep dive method of hoisting herself up and leaning into the washer to get her gym socks, and a few readers posted user reviews on our website noting tongs and reach tools as necessities, we got out our measuring tape and headed to the washer lab. Retrieving that sock from the bottom of the top-rated LG WT1101CW, $700 and a CR Best Buy, wasn’t a problem for taller people on staff but it was for shorter ones.

Washing waterproof items may do damage. This warning catches some people by surprise, and it should because even if you don’t hike or camp, you probably have a plastic liner for your shower curtain. High-efficiency top-loaders use a lot less water and spin faster than regular top-loaders. That fast spinning extracts more water so less dryer time is needed, but water can get trapped in waterproof items and when the spin cycle gets going, the load can become unbalanced and cause the machine to shake too much. And that can damage the machine and laundry area. Manufacturers’ instructions for washing waterproof items vary, but Whirlpool and Maytag, a Whirlpool brand, say their high-efficiency top-loaders, such as the Maytag Bravos XL MVWB750Y[W], $850, can wash waterproof and water-resistant items.

Moisture sensors are great, but pay attention to small loads. A dryer's moisture sensor detects how damp the laundry is and adjusts the drying time accordingly, preventing fabrics from being over-dried and possibly saving energy and money—an improvement over thermostats, which tend to make the dryer run longer. That’s one reason why you’ll often see thermostat models at the bottom of our dryer ratings. But dryers are designed to handle full loads, so when you toss in just a few items, the machine may shut off prematurely if the clothes do not touch the sensor frequently enough, leaving your laundry damp. You can prevent this by using a timed-dry cycle for small loads. For the top-rated electric dryer, take a look at the Samsung DV50F9A8EVP, $1,100, and the $720 Kenmore 8117[2] was impressive enough to be named a CR Best Buy. Both have moisture sensors.

High-efficiency dryer claims are just that. Drying laundry uses a lot more energy than washing it and when GE, Maytag, and Whirlpool started promoting high-efficiency dryers that could save energy, time, and money, we were interested. But don’t be dazzled by the claims. When we pressed the manufacturers, they said their comparisons were based on dryers that use thermostats instead of moisture sensors. But these sensors aren’t a new technology; your dryer might have them even if it’s not labeled high-efficiency. Specs are being developed for the first Energy Star dryers. In the meantime, we’re testing dryer energy use. When shopping, choose a dryer with a moisture sensor. To find out which models were the best in our tests, see our ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

—Kimberly Janeway

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