The efficiency of a front loader for a fraction of the cost.

Mar 6, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent washing and spin drying; highly efficient with water, electricity, and time; retro-cool technology.

Cons:Manual involvement with the wash cycle, however this is a minor issue.

The Bottom Line: If you want a high-efficiency washer without a high price, and don't mind getting your hands wet, buy it. If you prefer an automatic cycle, see the other Danbys.

I've been using the Danby DTT-420 for over a month now, and I'm delighted. Unlike the previous reviewer, I think this is an excellent machine, as long as you're willing to learn how to make the best use of its design.

It does require some manual intervention: you transfer the clothes manually back and forth between the wash tub and the spin tub. However, in return you get water savings equal to or better than a front-loader at about half the price, significant electricity savings, and some overall time savings in doing the laundry. Other pluses include: Greater flexibility than a conventional washer (for example, extra rinses for people whose skin is sensitive to detergents), without need to "program" the settings into an onboard computer. Utter mechanical simplicity: far fewer things that can get out of order. And, unlike most imported compact washers, the Danby DTT-420 has a conventional agitator, not an impeller/pulsator. Last but not least, it's retro-cool.

Approximate dimensions are 30" wide x 19" deep x 36" high at the highest point. Washtub interior is about 16" x 14", x 18" deep. High water level is at 14" deep, therefore about 1.8 cubic feet of usable (underwater) capacity. Spintub is about 8-1/2" diameter x 14" deep, or about 0.46 cubic feet. The difference in the capacities of wash and spin tubs is not an issue as will be explained below.

Construction is largely of industrial-strength plastics including the chassis. This means the structural components including the tubs, will not rust; though it limits hot water to a max of about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The cabinet is sheet steel though somewhat light-gauge since it carries a lighter load. Weight is about 70 lbs. (half the weight of older twin-tubs), which I easily carried into the house with a simple handcart, and is easily moved around on its four built-in casters.

There are three separate motors, each matched to its specific job: one for the washtub agitator, one for the spintub centrifuge, one for the water discharge pump. Power consumption with everything running is 500 watts, but the duty cycles of the various systems are such that actual power consumption is much less.

The controls consist of rotary knobs; from left to right: Wash time 0 - 15 minutes, Wash select Gentle / Normal, Spin time 0 - 5 minutes, and Drain select Wash-Rinse / Drain (the latter feels slightly looser than the others but that's because it's basically a mechanical linkage to the drain and the pump switch). The washtub is marked with three waterlines. Low is about 10 gallons, medium is about 12-1/2 gallons, and high is about 15 gallons. The spintub comes with a plastic insert that you use to cover the load and prevent socks etc. escaping during the high-speed centrifuge action; yes, you really do need to use this.

Fresh water comes in via a non-pressurized hose connection from the kitchen or bathroom faucet; you turn the faucet on to fill and off when full (there is an overflow drain in case you forget). This is another bit of manual intervention, but it also eliminates the need for high-pressure fittings and solenoid valves: fewer things that could get out of order. Used water is discharged through a hose into your sink (or into your graywater recovery system if you have one).

The washing action is quite clever and does an excellent job of cleaning, which is the key criterion for a washing machine in the first place. Instead of a constant back-and-forth motion, the agitator turns one way, pauses, turns the other way, pauses, and repeats. This also means the motor runs intermittently, which contributes to its energy efficiency.

In the "gentle" setting, it turns 1 full revolution clockwise, which takes about a second; then pauses for a second; then turns about 1/2 revolution counter-clockwise; then pauses for a second; and repeats for as long as the timer is set. This produces a kind of punctuated rollover movement; I don't think it's gentle enough for cashmere sweaters and other truly delicate items you'd wash by hand, but it's quite good for everything else except blue jeans.

In the "normal" setting it turns 1-1/2 revolutions clockwise in about 1-1/2 seconds; then pauses a second; then 1 revolution counter-clockwise in about one second, then pauses a second, and repeats for as long as you've set the timer. This doesn't sound much different than the gentle cycle, but if you watch it running, you'll see it is, quite! I think this cycle may be a bit too vigorous for some light-duty fabrics, but it does a fine job for everything else, including blue jeans.

So, depending on how you sort your loads, you can use either setting and get good cleaning. Loads with light shirts and no jeans, use "gentle." Loads with blue jeans and no light shirts, use "normal." As with any compact washer, the smaller dimensions of the tub mean you want to mix your jeans with other clothes so they can move around freely.

Unlike some compact washers, the Danby twin-tub doesn't have a problem with water splashing on the floor. Occasionally a few drops splash during the normal wash setting, though you can prevent this by keeping the lid closed when it's running. Do not switch the wash setting from "gentle" to "normal" while the agitator is in motion; this can cause it to turn a few full revolutions in one direction without a pause, which can cause a decent splash.

Actual capacity: It's rated at 10 lbs. However I have never seen a washing machine that will hold more than about 60% of its rated load in dry laundry, including commercial-grade front loaders at the laundromat (maybe all these manufacturer ratings are based on wet weight?). I expected the Danby would wash about a 6-lb. load (dry), and this it does with no strain; occasionally 7 lbs. depending on what's in the load.

The spinner is a 1400 - 1600 rpm centrifuge (twice to three times as fast as your normal top-loader's spin), similar to the type you can easily pay $450 for as a separate appliance. Even on the 2-minute setting, clothes come out nearly dry, which saves time (and energy) in the dryer, about which more below.

The spinner is rated at 4-1/2 lbs, or about half a rated full wash load. In fact I found I can get as much as 6 lbs. of mixed laundry into the spinner, but this is a no-no because it probably overstrains the motor. The best bet is to split a wash load into two separate spin loads. It's easy to learn to overlap cycles so you can spin one load while washing the next, and this helps save time compared to a conventional washer. I was also pleasantly surprised to find I can easily get an entire full-sized light blanket into the spinner, though getting a heavier blanket of the same size in there was a bit of a stretch.

When loading the spinner it's important to keep the load balanced. Pressing the clothes down lightly as you load them is helpful, but don't press down heavily as the bearings are probably not designed for excessive vertical pressure. If your load is offbalance enough that the spinner knocks against the sides of the tub, open the lid immediately to stop it, and then repack the load. Considering the fact that this is doing the work of a separate $450 appliance for a fraction of the cost, occasionally repacking a load is a minor tradeoff.

Noise: Fairly quiet. The wash timer ticks away, with periodic tick-tocks as the motor-reversing switch operates. The agitator makes an intermittent "whirr!" followed by the "sploosh" of water during the pauses. The spin timer also ticks away while the spinner winds up like a quiet version of a jet turbine until it's humming along. The rear panel of the machine can pick up vibrations; I found this was easy to permanently stop by unscrewing it, running some duct tape over the edges (top edge and both side edges), and screwing it back into place. The screws are only held by the sheet metal cabinet, so don't over-tighten them. In any case, it's quiet enough that apartment neighbors probably won't hear a thing.

How it's used: according to the instructions:

The process is significantly different than your normal "press a button and walk away" automatic washer. Yes there's a learning curve, but it's not difficult.

Make sure the "drain" selector is switched to "wash/rinse." Fill the washtub with water, add detergent, add clothes, select "normal" or "gentle", and set the wash timer. Three minutes for touch-up washes (e.g. bath towels), six minutes for most normal washes, 9 minutes for larger loads, and 12 - 15 minutes if your clothes are really dirty (e.g. from working or playing outside).

After the wash cycle is over, switch the Drain selector to "drain," and drain the wash water. Move half the load to the spinner, spin for 2 minutes. Then move the other half of the load to the spinner, spin for 2 minutes. While this is going on you can turn the Drain selector back to "wash/rinse" and re-fill the washtub with rinse water.

Next, rinse the load: put the entire load back in the wash tub, set the timer (6 minutes are usually sufficient), and let it agitate. After that, drain the rinse water, and spin each half of the load.

If you need a second rinse, repeat the process. After you do your final rinse, spin the clothes out for five minutes (or less for certain fabrics) and they will come out almost dry.

It's more complicated to read about than it is to actually do it. After a few washdays, it will start to become second nature.

As for the earlier reviewer's comment about "babysitting the washer:" Most people aren't about to leave the house with a conventional washer running (the day you try it is the day you come back to find suds all over the floor). While you're washing clothes, chances are you're doing other household chores, or you're on the phone or internet, or reading a book or watching TV. You can still do those things when using a twin-tub; you just have to get up occasionally to move the load and set a timer.

How it's used if you really want to save water and electricity:

Strangely enough, Danby's instruction booklet doesn't cover some of the more interesting possibilities for conservation, which suggests they don't quite understand why these machines are so popular in some parts of the world. Most North Americans aren't familiar with twin-tubs, but these tricks are well known in places where twin-tubs are popular (Australia and other places with ongoing water shortages, and England and Asia).

These methods basically come down to re-use of washwater and rinse water for two loads each, the use of soak-and-spin methods to reduce water usage during intermediate rinses, and the re-use of rinse water as the wash water for the next two loads.

Re-using wash and rinse water is perfectly sanitary as long as you're not washing diapers or similarly-soiled garments, or items worn by people with contagious illnesses. A front-loader uses a low ratio of water to clothing weight; re-using water for two loads in a twin-tub ends up with the same or better ratios. That is, the second load going through the twin-tub is washing in water of the same quality as that which is present for each load in the front-loader.

One version of soak-and-spin that's popular in England (and presumably in other places) is to put the clothes in the spinner, spin out the wash water, then pour in enough water to soak them again, spin them out again, and repeat until the water coming out the discharge hose is reasonably clear. The conservation benefit is that the water going through each time is less than would be used in a full-tub rinse. I've tried this method and found that it can induce a serious off-balance in the spinner since the clothes shift each time and the water doesn't soak through evenly.

The version that works for me is to put a little water in the washtub (a few inches deep), and then move the clothes back to the washtub to get soaked (without using the agitator, which would be over-strained without enough water for clothes to circulate freely). Then move them back to the spinner, which enables balancing the load properly each time.

Also, the final rinse water from the first two loads, can be used as the wash water for the second two loads. Final rinse water is basically clean, with no dirt, very little detergent residue, and a little bit of lint which will get removed by the lint filter during the wash cycle. I've found that my version of soak-and-spin, followed by re-use of the final rinse water for the next two loads' wash water, gets my water consumption down to about a third below what would be the case with an expensive front loader. Pretty good, especially the next time we have a drought.

For energy conservation, the clothes come out of the spinner so dry that I've been able to put them through the dryer in half the time (e.g. 30 minutes instead of an hour). I've also found I can hang-dry clothes overnight to the point where they're completely dry, or at most only need 15 minutes in the dryer. This is easily a good 30 to 35 KWH of electricity conservation per month.

Even in damp or humid weather, 24 hours' hang-drying indoors gets the load completely dry. This wasn't possible with the slower spin on my conventional washer, and it frees me from using the dryer except on rare occasions. Total savings from this, 35 - 45 KWH per month.

The makers of one of the spin-dryer appliances show that it will pay for itself in a year due to reduction of dryer usage. The Danby twin-tub offers similar performance, so it should pay for itself as quickly.

Notes about detergent and rinses:

Detergents logically compete on cleaning ability, so detergent makers tend to recommend using more than is really necessary (and of course this doesn't hurt sales either!). They are less concerned with how much water it takes to rinse all the detergent out, and since detergents are formulated to be non-irritating to the skin, for the majority of users it doesn't matter if there's a bit of detergent left in the clothes at the end of the wash.

This gives you a bit of leeway to adjust detergent use relative to water consumption. In any conventional washer, a regular cycle of two rinses should be sufficient to get all (or almost all) of the detergent out. In a twin-tub, one soak/spin plus one full rinse should do the trick. If you find you need more rinses than this, chances are you can adjust your detergent levels down a bit without any sacrifice in cleaning quality. Over the long run this will also save you some money.


Twin-tubs were introduced in the 1950s and were most popular in England and Europe from the '50s through the '70s. The Danby machine somewhat resembles one of the 1950s models, with rounded lines but with all the controls conveniently on top (rather than on the front). If you like a retro-style kitchen, it will fit right in. Chances are your friends will think it's cool, and some may want to try it.

Notes about the rating:

Ease of use gets a 5 by comparison with earlier twin-tubs, though clearly a fully automatic-cycle washer is easier to use because it doesn't require manual involvement beyond loading and unloading. Durability gets a 5 because the mechanism is so simple it should last a good long time as long as it's not abused. Ease of cleaning gets a 5 because you can wipe it down with a damp rag and washers don't get that dirty in the first place. Style gets a 5 because it's harmonious and unobtrusive, even though practical devices aren't designed primarily for looks. If epinions had a rating for functional performance and a rating for ecological sustainability (hint!) it would obviously get a 5 on both of those points as well.

In closing:

If you want a compact washer that does a great job and saves water, electricity, and time, and you don't mind getting your hands wet, DTT-420 is the one to buy. If you prefer a conventional automatic cycle, check out their DWM-99-W. Danby has already made quite a name for themselves with their front-loader; I expect DTT-420 will also catch on pretty quickly as more people find out about it.

More about the reviewer:

I don't work for Danby and didn't get any compensation from anyone for writing this. I wrote this review to provide a more objective and balanced view of a machine that could become very popular once people recognize its advantages. See also my user profile.

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