HE washing machines are anything but alike

We sent this out a couple weeks ago to people who subscribe to our semi-monthly newsletters. A number of folks wrote back to say it was helpful. One guy described it as a rant. I forget the adjective he used to describe the rant. Anyways, here it is again:

wringerBack in Henry Ford’s day, it was easy to buy a car. Your only choice was the color, and that was black.

Back in your great-grandmother’s day, clothes were washed by smashing them on rocks in the stream. Your grandmother might have had a wringer washer, your mom a fabulous Maytag that lasted forever.

Today, you may be struggling with a High Efficiency washing machine that can predict the phases of the moon but cannot clean whites properly.

A few weeks ago on our Facebook page, a Barb B. from Virginia described her travails with her fancy new HE machine. Turns out gray water from the final rinse of the previous wash was re-used in the next wash. The clothes never had a chance to get clean.

Point is: you need to do your research when buying an HE machine, and spend time figuring out how to make the thing run properly. You can’t simply set it on auto and let it do all the thinking.

Plus, and you surely don’t need us to remind you how expensive HE machines can be, you generally get what you pay for.

We heard this from the buyer of a $529 HE, and I paraphrase: Basically, there’s simply not enough water to suspend and remove the dirt. The damp heap of clothes sitting at the bottom of the machine doesn’t move around because they’re not suspended in water. The just jiggle together as one pile.

dialWhat to do? Forcing a machine to run extra rinse cycles often does the trick. The tradeoff: a wash takes significantly more time than mom’s Maytag and uses more water.

Some efficiency, eh?

Sometimes, using less than the recommended amount of soap is effective. If you want to find out how much soap is being left in your clothing, try the washcloth test. After the machine has completed a normal wash cycle, take a washcloth and rinse it in a sink of water. You may be surprised how much sudsing is created from one wash cloth.

And how about mold and mildew on front loaders? That nasty stuff can cause all sorts of washing problems. Due to the rubber seal utilized to keep the water in, mold and mildew can grow around the inside seal and in the washer. Cleaning the machine on a routine basis should help, as well as keeping the door open in between uses — just make sure small children do not have access to the machine when the door is open. Also remove laundry promptly after the wash cycle is finished.

Consumer Reports continues to find huge differences in performance among the washing machines they test. Some models were mediocre or worse at washing, some were capable and efficient.

Long story short: you need to experiment with your HE’s settings. Here, then, are a few links, hints and facts we hope will be helpful if you’re considering an HE machine or trying to get the best out of what you bought. (Be sure to read through this comprehensive sheet from the American Cleaning Institute.)

  • Don’t overload. Add powder or liquid to the empty tub before adding laundry, and use much less than mom did.
  • Know that some HE washers spray or lightly shower clothes using re-circulated water from wash and/or rinse solutions.
  • Excess suds can cause problems in HE washers by “cushioning” – or even preventing – the tumbling action. This can impact proper cleaning.
  • HE detergents like Charlie’s Soap are formulated to hold soils and dyes in suspension in low water volumes, so they don’t re-deposit onto cleaned laundry.
  • Add fabric softener to the fabric softener dispenser so it gets dispensed at the right time. Follow the washer manufacturer’s use and care guide for proper use of the dispenser. (Use Charlie’s Soap and you’ll never need to add a softener.)
  • It is especially important to sort by color, because there is less water in HE washers and dye transfer can be a potential problem.
  • Excess suds can lead to residue buildup because they are not as easily rinsed away. Over time, they could lead to unpleasant odors, potential machine malfunctions or damage. The tumble action of high-efficiency washers creates more suds than the agitator action of traditional washers. But you can’t just use a smaller amount of regular laundry detergent. That would only compromise cleaning performance. That’s why HE detergents like Charlie’s Soap are recommended. They have a totally different formulation that cleans your laundry effectively in low-water conditions.

Finally, we offer this opinion from a free market advocate: How Washington Ruined Your Washing Machine.

–Charlie Sutherland