This is a consumer page on laundry. For more resources related to laundry, visit the laundry topic page.
About 70-90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes towards heating the water, so washers that use less hot water also use less energy. Meanwhile, dryers are the most energy-intensive "white good" in the house, so it pays to use them efficiently.
Part 1: Buying a New Washer
Part 2: Buying a New Dryer
Part 3: Energy Saving Tips
To find the most efficient clothes washers, download the list of qualifying products from the ENERGY STAR Web site (link to excel file in the upper-right) and sort by "Volume," "Modified Energy Factor," and "Water Factor" to find which products meet our recommendations (below). You may need to check product literature and other consumer resources for guidance on reliability. For a quick search by manufacturer, here's a direct link to the list in html. To identify the most efficient products, prices, and where to buy locally, see the Top Ten USA listings.
When purchasing a new clothes washer, consider the following:
First, look for the ENERGY STAR to identify clothes washers that require less water, electricity, and drying energy. But note that listed products vary considerably in energy and water consumption. For the highest efficiency products, look to Top Ten USA or the ENERGY STAR "Most Efficient" designation. Clothes washer energy efficiency is indicated by the Modified Energy Factor (MEF), which accounts for dryer energy and water heating energy associated with the use of the washer. The Water Factor (WF) indicates the number of gallons needed for each cubic foot of laundry. You want to select a washer with the highest MEF and lowest WF you can find given your budget, capacity needs, and other considerations as explained below.
2. Front- vs. Top-Loading Washers
In general, horizontal-axis (usually front-loading) washers are much more efficient than conventional vertical-axis (top-loading) washers with agitators. This is because front-loading washers don't have to fill the tub completely with water. New top-loading designs that use sprayers to wet the clothes from above can also achieve substantial energy and water savings compared to conventional top-loaders. An increasing number of top-loading washers qualify for ENERGY STAR, but high-efficiency front-loaders continue to outperform even the best top-loaders.
3. Water Level Controls
With the latest federal standards, large capacity washers can use no more than 30-40 gallons of water for a complete wash cycle. . High-efficiency models—including many large-capacity models--now use less than 20 gallons per cycle and a number of models may even use less than 10. All front loaders and many of the higher-efficiency top-loaders feature advanced electronic controls to adjust the water level automatically according to the size of the load. If the models you are considering do not have these controls, choose a machine that lets you select lower water levels when you are doing smaller loads. For a given temperature cycle, energy use is almost directly proportional to hot water use. The lowest setting may use just half as much water as the highest. In general, you’ll save energy by running one large load instead of two medium loads. Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not publish the actual water use of their machines in different settings, so it is difficult to compare one brand to another.
4. Wash and Rinse Cycle Options
Choose a clothes washer that offers plenty of choices for energy conserving wash and rinse cycles. Wash and rinse temperatures have a dramatic impact on overall energy use—a hot water wash with warm rinse costs 5 to 10 times more than a cold wash and rinse. Cold wash cycles generally clean clothes perfectly well and are in fact recommended for many fabrics.
5. Faster Spin Speed
Faster spin speeds can result in better water extraction and thus reduce the energy required for drying. Mechanical water extraction by spinning is much more efficient than thermal extraction (heating clothes in a dryer). Front-loading washers and redesigned efficient top-loading machines generally spin at a faster speed than conventional top-loaders.
It can be difficult to find out which dryers are the most efficient. Dryers are not required to display the EnergyGuide label, and there is no ENERGY STAR program for them (although there is a program in development). That said, the features on a dryer as well as the ways you use and maintain it can have a big impact on energy use.
Gas vs. Electric
In terms of energy use in the home, the performance of electric and gas dryers does not vary widely. However, when including the energy used to convert and deliver electricity and natural gas to the home, standard gas models use much less energy—about one third as much as comparable electric models—translating into reduced fuel use as well as lower CO2 and other pollutant emissions, Gas dryers are typically less expensive to operate than electric models, but savings vary depending on energy costs in your area. Electric ignition is required for all new gas dryers, eliminating the standing pilot lights found on older models as well as the associated energy waste and safety concerns. One downside to gas is the potential introduction of combustion byproducts in your home if the unit is not vented properly. For general information about the implications of fuel choice, see our water heating page.
The major energy consideration is whether the dryer uses termination controls to sense dryness and turn off automatically and, if so, the sensing mechanism used. You can save a significant amount of energy by buying a model that senses dryness and automatically shuts off rather than counting on you to estimate the time it will take. Most of the better quality dryers today include this feature. The best dryers have moisture sensors in the drum for sensing dryness, while others only infer dryness by sensing the temperature of the exhaust air. The lower-cost, thermostat-controlled models may overdry some types of clothes, but even these are much better than timed-dry machines.
Optimize Load Size
It is important not to underload or overload either your washer or dryer. Most people tend to underload their washers rather than overload — particularly with conventional top loaders
Use Lower Temperature Settings
Use cold water for the wash cycle instead of warm or hot (except for greasy stains), and only use cold for rinses. Experiment with different laundry detergents to find one that works well with cooler water. Lower temperature settings can also save dryer energy. Recent research shows that new dryers use significantly less energy to dry most typical loads on low-heat than on high-heat, even though the dryer runs longer. If you aren’t in a rush, let the clothes run longer on low-heat. This will save energy and is gentler on clothes.
Use Energy-Saving Features
If your dryer has a setting for auto-dry, be sure to use it instead of the timer, to avoid wasting energy and overdrying, which can cause shrinkage, generate static electricity, and shorten the life of your clothes.
Reduce Drying Time
If you can't air-dry your laundry, save on drying time by drying similar fabrics together, drying multiple loads in quick succession (to take advantage of residual heat), and make sure to clean the dryer filter after each use.
Check the Dryer Exhaust Vent
Check the outside dryer exhaust vent. If you have a conventional exhaust vent, make sure it is clean and that the flapper on the outside hood opens and closes freely. If the flapper stays open, cold air will blow into your house through the dryer and increase heating costs. Better yet, replace the outside dryer vent hood with one that seals tightly.
Page last updated December 2012