Pros: Excellent performance with on-board heat, high capacity, many extra options
Cons: Price, horizontal control panel, availability
Thinking of trading in your old top-loading washing machine for a new front-loader? Many Americans, around 15 percent of new washing machine buyers, are doing just that. Front-loading washing machines have been popular in Europe, Asia, and at laundromats for many years. Still, here in the states, European and Asian front-loading washers were slow to catch on. Some of the reasons were because of their limitations on capacity and their scant availability. Also, many overseas washers with internal water heaters run on the European standard 240 volt electrical service, a capability that did not translate well to the North American market.
Yet the market for the front-loader slowly increased. Domestic companies like Maytag and Kenmore began offering large, domestically produced front-loading washers. Discerning consumers enjoyed the more efficient machines and told their friends about their superior cleaning performance and their gentle handling of fabrics. Sales of the European produced front-loaders continued as a sort of niche market, but choices in large format, full-sized machines from European manufacturers was nil. That was until 2004, when the German firms of Bosch/Siemens introduced the Nexxt washer and dryer. They were full-sized units meant for the American laundry room, and built right here in the United States in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in New Bern, North Carolina.
Choices: The Nexxt washing machines are offered in two levels, the 3200, and the 6400. The 3200 is the base machine, the machine I am reviewing here, and the 6400 is the premium washer. The cost difference between the two units, despite the numbering sequence, is not double, but only a couple of hundred dollars more. The extra price buys a couple of more options, and a 200 RPM increase in maximum spin, but for the most part they are very similar.
Differences from the Top-Loader: While there are some excellent and very gentle top-loading washers on the market, the differences between front-loaders and top-loaders are extensive. First, the basic operation of the wash cycle of a front-loader is to force dirt from the clothes hydraulically. Most top-loaders use a centrally located agitator, which swirls the clothes around in the wash water, and often mechanically wrenches the clothes while doing so. The front loader most often uses a drum with paddles, and as the drum rotates, it meaningfully sloshes the wash into the detergent laden pool below, and forces the wash water through the fibers of the fabric ever-so-gently. More advanced front-loaders also have a detergent delivery system in the paddles of the drum that shower the clothing below with the detergent solution while the lower paddles manage the clothes in the top-bottom center of the drum.
Front-loaders rinse clothes in the very same fashion as they wash them, and the process is very efficient. As a rule, front-load washers also spin faster than top-loaders, and they manage to extract more water from the wash load. This lightens the load on the clothes drying equipment, and saves energy, it can however, be hard on clothes in its own right. Differing from top-loaders, however, the front-loader does not fill its tub with water. This offers a very significant savings in water usage. Even though they use less water, it is my belief that most front-loaders offer a more complete rinse of laundry than most top-loaders.
Description of the Bosch Nexxt Washer: The Bosch 3200 is a full-sized washing machine, with a tub capacity of 3.03 cubic feet. This capacity equates with a large capacity top-loading washing machine. The machine is as tall as a standard top-loader, but on the Bosch available pedestals is eight inches taller. The effect is that of very tall machines, but not to worry, because you won't be reaching over the top and into the machine to move the laundry. The machine features a plastic tub with a stainless steel wash basket configured with three Archie paddles (paddles that not only agitate clothes, but also distribute the detergent mix on to the top of the clothes as part of their function). The control panel is front mounted and more or less horizontal. It features an LCD display for timing, a rotary knob for cycle selection, and six easy press buttons for other options. For safety, the 3200 magnetically locks its door during operation. Still, if you need to add that errant sock or underdrawers, you can still do so by pausing the machine. Of course, it is not recommended that you add clothes after the wash cycle.
The Nexxt washer ships complete with braided, reinforced water connections, and a full drain pipe with wall attachment.
The door of the washer is substantial and opens to the left of the operator. With the matching dryer, which has a door hinged to the right, the movement of laundry from the washer to the dryer takes little effort. The washer and dryer are paired very well to one another, and the dryer has cycles programmed in it to keep you from having to wait on the dryer to finish before you unload the washer, a kind of sychronization. The two machines are very well matched.
Operation: Although appearing a bit complicated, choosing a wash cycle with the control panel is simple. The rotating knob chooses the cycle you want. There are cycles for permanent press, regular/cottons, and then there are the delicates, hand wash, wool, active wear and quick-mix cycles, all tailored for the fabric choice. there is also a manual control section, where you can force the machine to drain, soak or spin. There are also six easy-touch buttons on the machine to add options to your wash cycle. By pushing the bleach cycle, you add a cycle that introduces the bleach at the proper time to your wash load. You can add an additional rinse to your cycle by pushing the "rinse plus" button. You can do a profile wash by invoking the "power wash" feature. You can also adjust the spin speed in four gradients if you so desire, there is "max", "reduced", "gentle", and "no final spin". A red LCD display informs you of time left in cycle, time left until a delayed wash is started, and any error codes that may befall the machine. Red status lights of "door locked", "wash", "rinse", "spin" and "finished" tell you where the machine is in its operation.
Cycles: For cottons, there are four cycles, and they differ by wash temperature, there is cold, warm, and hot, plus an additional temperature boost, the final cycle heating the wash water to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. For permanent press there is "cold", "warm" and "hot". Then there are the cycles I mentioned above for wool, delicates, active wear and hand wash, all with customized washing profiles for those fabrics. Finally, there is the quick mix, a warm, quick wash for generally sturdy fabrics, a cycle that would work with most anything you have in your laundry basket that's not delicate or special in some way. You are still recommended to sort laundry by weight and color, however. You'll notice the machine has no setting for load size, that is because it has sensors to adjust the wash water to exactly the correct amount. This is an automatic function that requires no input from the operator.
Adding Detergent/Softener/Bleach: Adding wash chemicals is simple and done through the dispenser array underneath a cover on the upper left side of the control panel. The "funnels" for the products are large and easy to use, and they also come out and come apart for easy rinsing in the kitchen sink should the mood hit you. Water is pumped up into these containers to bring the product into the wash load, so very little if any accumulates. Detergent is mixed into the wash load using the Archie paddles, and it is done very thoroughly, with no chance of spotting or marks from detergent overload.
Performance: This machine does an excellent job on laundry, and far exceeded my expectations. Its gentle but thorough wash cycles have provided results that I did not expect. After its 1000 RPM spins, clothes emerge just slightly damp, so they dry very quickly inside the dryer. The machine is simple to use and so very effective on laundry. The slightly tilted tub drains water and makes removing laundry a snap. A window in the door of the washer allows you to monitor the activity within, and offers peace-of-mind that everything is going OK.
Special Features: There are two things I feel are special about this washer, the "power wash" and the "temperature boost", both dealing with the unit's ability to heat water onboard. The "power wash" is simply a profile wash, it starts the wash load in tap cold water and slowly heats it to 155 degrees in order to make the best use of the enzymes in the detergent. The "temperature boost" does something similar, but uses supplied hot water to get things started. The "temperature boost" is what I use on my white items. Both cycles work great.
Downsides: The front-loader, this one included, may take more time than you are used to. A "power wash" may take over two hours (due to the slow heating of a 110v element). This machine definitely takes more time on just about any cycle you can name as compared to my old top-loader. Still, there is something about this machine that has me doing laundry almost every night. Maybe it's because it cost so much money that I don't like it to sit idle! That's not really the reason, though. I truly enjoy using this machine and I am very satisfied with the results.
Another thing to consider is choice of detergent. You must use high efficiency (HE) detergent in this machine to get optimum results. Using a lesser amount of regular detergent to retard sudsing will offer you clothes that are not as clean as they should be. Always use HE detergent in this washer. I recommend Tide liquid HE. Fortunately, HE detergent will not cost you more money than the standard fare, and there are several esoteric HE detergents available, just search around a little on-line to find them.
Noise and Comfort: The Bosch 3200 Nexxt is supremely quiet in its wash cycles. You can't hear it three feet away. I am of the opinion that the noisiest thing about this machine is the drain pump. The drain pump runs a few times a cycle, and is usually associated with the spin. The 3200 may also vibrate a little with the spin depending on how well the machine has balanced the load (which it does automatically). Sometimes I never even notice the spin, and sometimes, on more unbalanced loads, the machine shakes pretty good. An important point: be sure to level the machine with a spirit level to minimize vibration. I wouldn't trust the installers with this, I'd double check their work. Leveling the machines, be they with or without pedestals, is fairly simple.
Warranty: Bosch offers a full one year limited warranty on parts and labor, a two year limited warranty on just parts, two years on the motor, and two years on electronics, labor not included. I'm not one to usually buy a service plan, but on this unit I did. It cost $79 dollars to extend the parts and labor of this unit to six years through the Lowe's retail chain. With this much electronic gear and the price of this unit, I didn't hesitate. One service call could easily exceed $79, and with parts and labor, it could go much, much higher.
Bottom Line: This is a very good, American made washing machine that offers the operator numerous choices about wash cycles. The cleaning performance of the machine is unmatched, and far beyond the performance of most top-loaders. The unit is sufficiently handsome and I find it easy to take pride in ownership of this washer. It is supremely quiet in most modes, but occasionally the drain pump may make itself known, especially if the load sensor takes a while to balance the laundry in the drum.
This is a great machine that will offer satisfaction to even the most extreme laundry aficionado.
See my review on the Bosch Nexxt 3300 dryer here:
Here's to clean laundry!