Not so long ago you could count on most washers to get your clothes very clean. Not anymore. Our latest tests found huge performance differences among machines. Some left our stain-soaked swatches nearly as dirty as they were before washing. For best results, you’ll have to spend $900 or more.
What happened? As of January, the U.S. Department of Energy has required washers to use 21 percent less energy, a goal we wholeheartedly support. But our tests have found that traditional top-loaders, those with the familiar center-post agitators, are having a tough time wringing out those savings without sacrificing cleaning ability, the main reason you buy a washer.
With one piece of legislation the Feds have turned the once successful washing machine industry into a struggling one. With these new low-energy requirements, washing machine manufacturers are no longer able to produce products capable of performing their primary duty--getting clothes clean.
Let's call this new law NWMLB because I see some parallels to education.
NWMLB is a true unfunded mandate which requires washing machine companies to do something they've never done before--build low energy washing machines that work.
A high stakes accountability system is in place. Consumer organizations, like the Consumer's Union, test the washing machines to determine whether they pass proficiency benchmarks and issue accountability reports which employ a grading scheme that shows which company's products are making the grade and which ones are not.
Consumers will use these accountability reports to decide which washing machine they want to purchase. In a sense, all consumers have a "voucher" they can use to direct their purchasing dollars.
A company that is unable to produce a low energy washing machine that gets clothes clean will lose customers and will eventually go out of business unless it can turn around its failing ways.
Then there is the socio-economic problem. The companies are doing a pretty good job with their high-end washers. These expensive washers are getting clothes clean under the new energy regime; however, the low-end washers are still struggling to get clothes clean. The challenge is to get all washing machines, both rich and poor, to wash at a proficient level.
There's also a racial/ethnic component. The side-loader models are doing a much better job getting clothes clean with less energy usage. However, the top-loader models continue to struggle. Some think it's an inherent design flaw with historical roots.
There is, however, one big difference. You can be sure that in a few years, at least some washing machine companies will figure out how to produce a low-cost, low-energy washing machine that gets clothes clean.