Energy Source Builder

Efficiency Comes To The Laundry

Washing machines are now expected to do more with less--less water and less energy. Because they use less water, efficient washers also use less detergent and reduce the sewage treatment load.

Appliance manufacturers met the 1994 U.S. Department of Energy Standards by removing the option for hot water rinse from the regular cycle and using the tub capacity better. Although the 1999 standards haven't been set, it's not likely that the next jump in efficiency can be met with such minor improvements.

Utility companies providing electricity, water, natural gas and sewer services have begun looking to the laundry for ways to promote efficiency. A few utilities promote efficiency by offering rebates for efficient machines. This pressure for greater efficiency will cause major changes in washing machines in the next few years.

To get a glimpse of America's future laundry, you can look to Europe, where expensive energy and water have been driving efficiency improvements for many years. In Europe, more than 90 percent of washing machines are built on a horizontal axis (H-axis). Less than 5 percent of machines in the U.S. use the H-axis design, most of these are front loaders. Although other efficient technologies exist, it looks like H-axis machines will be a major player in tomorrow's market.

In the typical vertical-axis (V-axis) washing machine, the tub fills with water. Laundry floats in the tub, while an agitator circulates it through the water. H-axis machines hold water only in the bottom of the tub. As the inner drum rotates, the laundry tumbles. This cleans just as well--some say better--than V-axis machines with an agitator.

Less Water

V-axis machines use about 45 gallons of water for a full load or 3.5 to 5 gallons per pound of laundry. H-axis machines use from 30 to 50 percent as much water. The Swedish Asko models uses at most 17 gallons for a 6 pound load or 2.8 gallons per pound.

Using an efficient machine could save a household between 3,400 and 5,400 gallons of water per year.

Less Energy

Most of the energy used for laundry isn't consumed by the washing machine, but by the water heater serving it. So, reducing water consumption also saves energy. Over the course of a year, household energy savings can be 350 to 760 kWh of electricity.

Less Laundry Chemicals

Less water requires less laundry chemicals, such as detergent, bleach and softener. In a year, that could reduce detergent use by 40 pounds. It also means less work load sent to an individual septic system or community sewage treatment plant.

Faster Spin/Dryer Clothes

The typical V-axis machine spins at about 600 rpm. Many H-axis machines also spin faster--up to 1500 rpm. This forces more water out of the laundry, so the dryer needs less energy to finish the job. It's possible that dryer clothes from the washer could encourage consumers to sometimes use a clothes line instead of the automatic dryer.

Costs and Savings

Prices for H-axis machines start at around $700 for the U.S. made products from Frigidaire. Imported models range from $800 to $2,000. Compare that to V-axis machines which range from $400 to $750. Interestingly, the Frigidaire comes with some of the same zoomy control features as the top line, V-axis machines. So consumers already considering more expensive models may not spend much more to switch to the domestic H-axis machine.

To offset the extra cost of efficient washers, a few utilities offer rebates ranging from $60 to $120.

The financial benefits of saving water and energy depend on several factors, such as the number of loads and utility rates. Typical savings can range from $60/year to $120/year. From one-half to one-third of the savings come from laundry chemicals.

Benefits of H-axis

  • Saves water and energy.
  • Saves laundry chemicals.
  • Reduces sewage treatment load.
  • More accessible to children and people in wheelchairs.
  • Takes less floor space, because they can fit under a counter or be stacked with a dryer.
  • Less noise, because they don't have a transmission with all the gears.
  • Better able to handle unbalanced loads.
  • Often have more water and temperature settings.
  • Clothes last longer, because there's less wear.
  • Better wash performance.


  • Imported models tend to have smaller capacity.
  • Higher purchase price.
  • Longer wash times, although some products offer "rapid wash" option.

This article appeared in Energy Source Builder #33 June 1994,
©Copyright 1994 Iris Communications, Inc.

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