How to buy (and properly use) a front loading washer
May 9, 2005
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line The bottom line is ready to do another load of laundry.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. If that's the case, then too many reviews complaining about the quality of front loading washers, is the mother of this essay.
I'd like to address a few common threads that I find in these reviews and by talking to people that have a front loading washer. There are a few things you need to know before buying a front loader.
I have used and owned front loading washers for about 35 years. They are pretty much the only type of washers available in Germany (where I was born and lived until about 20 years ago) and the only time I ever had a top-loading machine was when I first got married and we couldn't afford anything else.
Here's what I have learned about these machines.
NOT ALL FRONT LOADING WASHERS ARE ALIKE:
Just because the door opens on the front, does not mean that this is a true front loading washer. True front loaders don't agitate - they spin.
NOT ALL FRONT LOADING WASHERS WILL SAVE ENERGY:
There are a few "super large load" models out there, that will use a larger amount of water than usual. I am thinking specifically of the DUET washers. These models might offer a small savings on your water bill and electricity, but nothing significant in the long run. I'm not saying these are bad washers, they just won't save you as much.
NOT ALL FRONT LOADING WASHERS NEED TO USE "HE" DETERGENT
HE or High=Efficiency detergent is recommended by some manufacturers for their front loading washers. I found this not to be true. Instead of pouring it on top of the clothes, like in an agitator model, the front loaders will distribute it through a dispenser. The detergent is then mixed with water and distributed to the clothes by water pressure. This distributes the detergent more evenly and everything gets the same amount, instead of the better part of the detergent just soaking into the clothes that are in the top layer of your machine.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Size is one of the best features of front load washers. Because the drum does not take up as much space as an agitator model, these machines are a bit smaller than agitator models (with the exception of DUET washers,which are about as big as a midsize refrigerator). This makes them easy to fit into small laundry areas and apartments.
Front loading washers should have a stainless steel tub. Stainless steel does neither corrode nor rust. Enameled steel will eventually break down by frequent exposure to bleach, detergent and softeners.
The outside of these machines is almost always made from enameled steel that is available in several colors. Just pick what fits in best with your decor or taste.
Some front loaders now offer laminate tops for their machines. If you like it buy it, but it has no impact on the overall quality of the machine.
This is where you have to be especially careful. Control knobs and dials should be made from sturdy plastic that is easy to grip and use. I personally prefer dial-type controls over electronic ones, but this is just my preference. Make sure the dials turn easily and don't seem so flimsy that they crack or break off. I have owned about eight different models and brands and have never found a control knob that broke off, but had several that cracked.
Your front loading machine should have enough settings to accomodate your laundry needs. Three are the absolute minimum. One for delicates like wool or silk, one for regular items like cotton/lycra blends or light cottons, and one for heavy-duty items such as denim or thicker materials. In order to make your front loader more efficient, you might want to look out for a "HEAT BOOST" cycle. This feature will heat your wash water to about 140 degrees and get your whites whiter and brighter WITHOUT THE USE OF BLEACH. I can't even remember when I have last used bleach for my laundry.
If you are buying a washer/dryer combination, also look for the appropriate drying cycles. It doesn't make much sense if you have a delicate setting on the machine, but not on the dryer portion of this machine.
Some machines get pricier the more cycles they have. Think about what you really need and forget about the rest. I have and would again, pay a bit extra for the HEAT BOOST setting.
On some agitator models I have owned and used, noise was a significant factor. Because the loads frequently shifted, the entire machine started either walking across my laundry room floor, or started banging the clothes around in the drum.
In a front loader this problem does not exist. There is nothing to knock the drum out of balance. Most machines on the market today also have a noise reduction system that makes them whisper quiet.
Some models offer an end-of-cycle buzzer, just like a dryer. This is a nice touch, but completely optional.
Some "super capacity" washers claim that you can wash 15 pairs of jeans in one load. Tell me when the last time was that you had 15 pairs of jeans to wash at the same time? I don't think I even own 15 pair of Jeans.
The average front load washer holds about 12lbs of laundry. That's comparable to an agitator type model. It is perfectly okay to fill the tub completely, but leave a little room at the top and loosely layer the clothes, don't cram them all in.
A front loader is built for speed. The average machine uses about 35RPM for delicate cycles and 50RPM (or higher) for regular cycles. This is enough. There is no need to have the laundry spin so fast, that water does not have time to penetrate it.
Spin cycle speeds of 800RPM or higher are completely adequate. You don't want to race your laundry, you just want to wash it.
The Speeds for the washer should either be available in the owners manual or from the dealer. Look at them before you buy.
LENGTH OF CYCLES:
Wash cycles in front loaders might be a bit longer than in agitator models. That is because the spin cycles are longer, getting your clothes much drier. Often there is also an extra rinse to make sure even the last bit of detergent is rinsed out of the clothes. Some machines offer the extra rinse as a manual feature, you have to select this cycle after the regular washing is done, others make it part of the wash cycle.
Most front load washers offer optional pedestals. This raises the washer up by about 8 - 10 inches and makes it easier to load. It is however completely optional. One brand machine offers a pull-out pedestal and you can store things like dryer sheets, fabric softener and so on in there. Great idea, but most of the pedestals retail for $100 or more. Unless you have the money to spend just don't. A little bit of bending over when loading the washer hasn't hurt anyone.
DO BUY THE PEDESTAL IF YOU SUFFER FROM DISEASES LIKE ARTHRITIS, HAVE BACK PROBLEMS OR ANY OTHER CONDITION THAT MAKES BENDING OVER OR STOOPING PAINFUL OR IMPOSSIBLE.
Several models of front loading washers are convertible to built-ins. Just like a built-in dishwasher, they can be mounted underneath a countertop. This gives you lots more workspace in a laundry area. It is not uncommon to find washers underneath kitchen cabinets if you go to some european countries. They are attractive enough to be displayed and it saves a load of time, not having to run back and forth.
I've often found myself doing laundry while cooking dinner. I just emptied the washer between stirring the stew and setting the table.
HOW TO PROPERLY USE A FRONT LOADING WASHER
Before I tell you how to properly use this washer, let's assume a few things.
Assumption #1: You have properly connected all hoses and installed a 220V outlet if this was necessary. Some european brandnames like MIELE or BOSCH, require this outlet. Most american models like GE or KENMORE do not.
Assumption #2: You have a few days worth of laundry to be washed and you have detergent and fabric softener on hand.
Open the door of the washer. This is done by either just pulling on the door, or by activating a latch on the door.
Sort your laundry as usual and place it into the tub. Use the layering system, don't cram it in there in big blobs of laundry. One piece on top of the other. Leave a bit of room at the top.
Shut the door. Do not add detergent or softeners directly to the laundry, they will not distribute evenly.
Detergents and additives get added through a dispenser, either in the control panel or on top of the machine, depending on brand and model. Typically there are three compartments - one for detergent, one for liquid fabric softener and one for bleach. I have never used the bleach one in mine, the clothes come out clean without it as long as I use the Heat Boost feature. Regardless of whether you have this feature, the amount of bleach you need is significantly less than in agitator models.
Select the appropriate washcycle and turn the machine on.
YOU CAN ADD LAUNDRY TO YOUR MACHINE AFTER IT HAS STARTED WASHING. BUT YOU HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL IT GOES INTO A PUMP CYCLE AND PUMPS THE WATER OUT.
Most machines let you add clothes after the cycle has started. Some models do this via a "add clothes" dial or button that you push, others will just have you wait for the time when the water is first pumped out of the machine. I have never seen a front loader that did not have a safety door latch, so the door does not open while water is in the tub.
The spin cycle will have you believing that your clothes were never washed to begin with. Rotating clothes at 800RPM does that. I have found that often smaller items like boxer shorts, handkerchiefs and even wash cloths are almost dry when I remove them from the washer. Denim is less wrinkled and most permanent press garments are really permanent press in these types of machines. No touch-up with the iron required.
Spinning the clothes dry means much less time in the dryer and additional energy savings.
You are now ready to dry your clothes in a conventional dryer, or, if you have a washer/dryer combination model, to switch to your dryer settings.
I prefer front load washers over agitator models. There is nothing to tear or break down the fabric of my garments and clothes come out generally cleaner and dry faster.
For me the energy savings are not substantial, but our electric bills have been lower since we purchased our last model the MIELE NOVOTRONIC. I wash about eight to ten loads of laundry a week and have also seen a savings in detergent use. I use a regular detergent like ERA or TIDE, because I will not spend the money on HE detergents and also can seldom find them in the store.
Washing in a front loader is a bit different, but with time you will get used to it and (hopefully) like it.
If interested, here is the link to my MIELE NOVOTRONIC REVIEW.