Coming clean on the latest washer technology

16 Jan

Our technology columnist is spinning happy about his modern new washer and dryer set. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 16, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

A while back, someone called me “old school” because I used the term “washing machine.”

Apparently, it’s “washer” now.

But I can be forgiven for being out of date. My Admiral washer and dryer set, purchased more than 20 years ago, has worked like a Trojan.

That is, until two weeks ago, when the washer refused to drain water. After much wringing of hands – not to mention water-logged towels – the decision was made to buy a new set. Yes, the old could probably have been fixed. But some quick research unearthed good post-Christmas sales and, more interestingly, real advances in technology.

After much shopping around, we bought the front-loading Whirlpool Duet set, with a 4.5 cubic foot capacity washer and 7.0 in the dryer (Smith’s Furniture, $1500). You can buy front loading sets starting at $1000, but we went with larger capacity drums and more features.

The set looks more like a piece of technology than a home appliance. Its purpose does not include flight, but it appears to be aerodynamically designed, and would be right at home in the space shuttle’s laundry room. And there are some real technological advances under that fancy exterior.

My first reaction, on inspecting the front loading feature, was: “Won’t it leak, eventually?”

Apparently not. If leakage were a major problem, it would spill all over the Internet (I did find some instances, but it’s clearly not a big issue, and is often caused by overloading or incorrect use of detergent). Front loaders do not use as much water as top loaders – the clothes are lifted and dropped into water, rather than immersed – and the water level seldom rises to the bottom of the door.

Of the many advantages of front-load washers, energy savings are perhaps most important. My old washer was rated at 81 kWh per month, or 972 per year. The new one is rated at an astounding 177 kWh per year.

The dryer is rated at 950 kWh per year, but the sticker is gone from my old appliance, so I can’t compare the two. However, the newer models are genrally more energy efficient.

The larger capacity is a major plus. According to one online review, you can wash 12 pairs of jeans in a single load. I can’t confirm that, but you can definitely do larger – and thus fewer – loads of laundry. As well, because there is no agitator, you can easily wash those extra-large items, such as a king-sized bedspread. And there is no guessing about how much water to use – two built-in sensors do this for you and adjust accordingly.

The spin function rolls at an amazing 1200 revolutions per minute (RPM), or 20 spins per second. This makes for clothes that feel damp, not wet, when they go into the dryer, reducing dryer time.

The washer and dryer can be stacked to save space, with the purchase of  a kit ($75). There wasn’t space in my laundry closet for stacking, but I did purchase the optional pedestals, which elevate the doors to a height that is easier on the back, and contain drawers with plenty of storage space.

The dryer has a water intake connection – surprising to some, perhaps – to support its steam feature, which is used to remove wrinkles from clean clothes. I gave it a try, by finding a wrinkled shirt in the closet (this was not hard) then crumpling it into a ball and sitting on it for 20 minutes. I tossed it into the dryer, selected the steam function, and waited.

Fifteen minutes later, and presto – a perfectly wrinkle-free shirt. Now that is cool.

Perhaps my favourite feature is the quiet operation of both appliances. My home office is adjacent to the laundry room, my desk a scant five feet from the back of the laundry closet, and there have been times when it sounded like that old washer was going to come thumping and spinning right through the wall. Not good when you’re trying to concentrate on writing. But the new set is amazingly quiet. I can’t hear a sound from either appliance, until they both beep at the end of their loads. This, alone, is worth the price of admission.

To sum up, if you have an old top loading washer that is in good running order, I suggest selling it now, while you still can. Then, do some research, shop around and invest in a good front-loading set.

You won’t regret it.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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