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Laundry Costs Calculator

Case A Case B
Your machines
Washer Type
% of washes in
 Hot/Warm/Cold  ? 
"Cold" wash temp  ? 
Incoming water temp.
 (see map)
Water heater type
Dryer Type
Utility rates
Cost of electricity
  (per kWh)
Cost of gas ($/therm)
Cost of water
   ($/1000 gallons)
Cost of Detergent
  make your own for 2¢/load
Loads per week
Cost per load, washer
Cost per load, dryer
Total cost per load $ $
Cost per month $ $
Cost per year $ $

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Some assumptions: 106°F hot, 88°F warm, regulated by washer.
Washers are U.S. style (w/both hot & cold supply lines). See other assumptions & sources.

How much does it cost to run a washing machine?

Last update: January 2016

The lowdown

Laundry is one of the easiest areas to reduce energy costs in.  Here's where the waste is:
  • Water heating.  As much as 90% of the energy used by washing clothes goes just to heat the water!  So you can save a bundle just by changing the temperature setting. (~$150/year)  We wash in cold almost exclusively.
  • Inefficient washers.  Non-Energy Star top-loaders use ridiculous amounts of water and energy.  Front-loaders and Energy Star-rated top loaders use about 3/4 less energy and water than those made around 1992.  I cover them in more detail below.
  • Drying water-laden clothes. Most washing machines leave far too much water in the clothes, making the dryer run much longer. Front-loaders get more of the water out of your clothes.  You can also use a Spin Dryer to extract water from your clothes before drying.
  • Unnecessary drying.  Dryers account for up to 90% of laundry energy.  Ditch the dryer and just hang your clothes up to dry. There's 100% energy savings to be realized here.  (See more on dryers & dryer costs.)
Of course you can always run around the house naked, too.  Then you'll have less clothes to wash.

Heating the water is most of the energy use

If you wash in hot, then up to 90% of the energy is going just to heat the water.  You can save a bundle by just just lowering the temperature.  Front-loaders use less water than top-loaders, and thus require less energy to heat it, but it's still around 85% of energy going to heat the water even in a front-loader.  Here's how energy is used depending on the temperature selected:
Price per load (electricity), based on water temperature

Wash/Rinse Setting

Electrical Use
Cost per load
Cost per year

Hot / Warm

4.5  kWh

Warm / Warm

3.5  kWh

Hot / Cold

2.8  kWh

Warm / Cold

1.9  kWh

Cold / Cold

0.3  kWh
Table is electrical cost only (excludes the cost of water, often 22¢/load).  Top-loading washer.
Electricity @ 15¢/kWh, water heated electrically.

See how this was calculated and how to misquote this site.

Lessons to be learned here:

    • Wash in cold! To put in perspective how wasteful hot water is, washing your clothes in hot instead of cold for a year, wastes more electricity than leaving the refrigerator door open 24 hours a day for a year. Heck, even washing in warm instead of cold wastes that much energy.  (Fridge open 24/7: 143 watts x 14.4 extra hours day x 365 days/yr. = 752 kWh.)  Hot water shrinks your clothes, anyway, and fades and wears your clothes out faster.

    • Always use cold water for the RINSE cycle. Using warm or hot water for the Rinse cycle doesn't get your clothes any cleaner.

    • If you feel that warm water doesn't clean as well for you as hot, then just use a warm pre-soak. Soaking clothes in warm water is usually just as good or better as hot water with no soak.
    • Some models raise cold water washes to a minimum temperature, saying that detergents work better at that temperature. (e.g., One Maytag model I found ensures a minimum of 70°F.)  Some machines which have minimum cold water temps allow you to turn that feature off, so you can use regular, unheated cold water.  If you don't want to pay to heat your cold-water washes, make sure the next washer you buy doesn't have a minimum cold-water temp, or at least lets you override it.  Or if your washer doesn't heat the water itself, then just turn off the hot water supply line.  The tables on this page assume that cold water washes are completely unheated.

    • On most U.K. washers (and I suspect European and Australian washers), the lowest wash setting is 30°C/86°F, which is warm, not cold. (source)  What's more, the washer itself heats the water, so you can't override this:  the washer is always going to heat up your cold water a little bit -- and you'll be paying for it.

    • If you must wash in hot or warm water frequently, use a front-loading washer.  They use about 2/3 less water, so you'll be paying a lot less to heat that water.

Front-loading washing machines are the way to go

  • Front-Loader vs. Top-Loader  (Annual Cost)

    Gas Heater Electric Heater
    How you typically wash Top-Loader Front-Loader Top-Loader Front-Loader
    100% Hot $168 $87 $252 $138
    50% Hot/Cold, 50% Cold/Cold $134 $67 $176 $92
    50% Warm/Cold, 50% Cold/Cold $122 $59 $148 $76
    25% Hot/Cold, 75% Cold/Cold $117 $57 $138 $70
    100% Cold/Cold $101 $47 $101 $47
    Includes energy + water + water heating costs. Based on LOTS of assumptions! See how this was calculated.

    Front-loading washers use 40-75% less water and 30-85% less energy than typical top-loaders. (source)  They cost about $100 more than top-loaders (starting around $500), but they can often save $100/year or more.  (Use the calculator at the top of this page to estimate the savings for your particular situation.)  In Europe, almost all washers are front-loaders.

  • Your clothes will also last longer with a front-loader, because they gently tumble your clothes instead of jerking them around with an agitator -- but they still get your clothes just as clean as a regular washer.

  • Front-load washers squeeze more of the water out of your clothes, so you'll spend less to dry your clothes.

  • Since front-loaders lack the central agitator, it's easier to wash large items like bedspreads, rugs, and sleeping bags.

  • Front-loaders sold in the U.S. generally have both hot and cold water connections, so your home water heater is doing the water heating.  European front-loaders generally have only a cold water connection, so the washer heats the water, electrically. U.S. front-loaders do mix the water to the proper temperature, same as with top-loaders.  Old U.S. top-loaders just took the incoming hot & cold water blindly without regulating it.
  • Wikipedia has a good comparison of top-loaders to front-loaders.

  • If you really prefer top-loaders, there are some Energy Star models that rival front-loaders for miserly water and energy use.  Unfortunately, the EPA's list of Energy Star washers doesn't bother to mention whether each washer is top-load or front-load.  The only Energy Star top-loader I'm aware of is Fisher & Paykel's "EcoSmart" washer.   If you know of Energy Star top-loaders, please let me know.

  • The question everyone wants to know is, "Will a front-loading washer pay for itself in increased savings?" We have the answer to that question below.

Front-loader economics:

  • Front-loaders cost about $100 more than top-loaders, but common savings are $100/yr.  The only time a front-loader won't pay for itself is if you already use cold water almost exclusively, and you do a lot less than the average 7.5 loads per week.
  • Use the calculator at the top of this page to figure the savings for your particular situation.  You'll find that whatever you're paying to run an old top-loader, a front-loader will cut your costs roughly in half.
  • If you can sell your old washer for anything, that makes an upgrade more affordable.
  • Some states (such as Oregon) offer tax credits or rebates for the purchase of a front-loading washer.
Energy and water costs are going up fast, often much faster than the general rate of inflation.  Front-loaders are already an awesome deal, but they will likely be even more important in the future.
  • If you're wary of switching, remember you could save ~$150/yr. by switching from hot washes to cold.

Home-made washing machines

There is nothing magical about a washing machine!  It forces water and soap through your clothes and that's it.  You can get nearly the same results from washing by hand.  And you don't have to wash for as long as a washer does, because you can push the water through your clothes a lot more effectively than a machine does.

The design I like best combines a 5-gallon bucket and a plunger.  Low-tech, and effective.

But what if you've got a large family and lots of laundry to do?  Well, then you've got lots of people to help with the laundry, right? :)

By the way, I did find a couple of very small, low-tech washers, like the hand-cranked WonderWash, and the electric-powered Wonder Washer.  Because of the tiny capacity, they're not a replacement for a regular washer, but they could be good for RV's, camping, or washing small items in a home that doesn't have its own washing machine (saving you a trip to the laundromat).

Calculating the cost-per-load of laundry (top-loader)

To get the total cost per load for a washing machine, we add the costs for water, electricity, and water heating.
  1. For water, we'll figure 40 gallons for a standard top-loading U.S. washer, and the national average of $5.44 per thousand gallons, which gives us $0.22 per load for water.
  2. For electricity to power the washer, we'll figure 0.256 kWh times a sample cost of 15¢/kWh, which gives us $0.04 for electricity.
  3. The water heating calculations are tricky, so I'll just show the effect in the table below.  (You can look at my sources to see how it was calculated.)  The table below includes the $0.26 cost of base electricity + water.
Total cost per load of laundry (electricity + water + water heating)

Wash / Rinse setting

Electric water heater
Gas water heater

Hot / Warm


Warm / Warm


Hot / Cold


Warm / Cold


Cold / Cold

See how this was calculated, and how to misquote this website.

By comparison, a front-loading washer would cost only 12¢ to 24¢ per load for gas, and 12¢ to 39¢ per load for electric.

Your actual cost for all of the above will be different (!), according to your actual local rates for electricity, water, and perhaps gas, and your local groundwater temperature.  Use the calculator above with the proper figures for your situation to estimate your cost more accurately.


 Energy Star washers

The EPA awards an Energy Star logo to washing machines with a minimum better-than-average efficiency. (Don't confuse this with the EnergyGuide label, which appears on all washers.) Most front-loaders qualify for the Energy Star designation, and most top-loaders don't.

Here's the EPA's list of Energy Star washers -- though helpfully, they don't bother to list which ones are front-loaders and which are top-loaders. Any volunteers to research which Energy Star washers are top-loaders and let me know?

BTW, you can also download an Excel spreadsheet on the Energy Star washers if you'd like to sort the columns.

Crappy U.S. label

Better EU label

Energy Use labels

All major U.S. appliances carry an "EnergyGuide" label, to give consumers an idea of how efficient an appliance is compared to similar models.  (Don't confuse that with the EnergyStar logo, which is awarded only to very efficient appliances.)

The Energy Guide label leaves an awful lot to be desired.  The ones in the European Union are much more helpful.  You can see a comparison at right.

Note that the U.S. labels include the energy required to heat the water, but they don't make that clear on the label, which results in a lot of confusion. For example, one unsuspecting consumer's blog post made the mistake of counting the energy used for heating the water twice, because she didn't know that the figure she found for the machine's energy use already included the energy to heat the water.


Shame on washing machine manufacturers for not publishing specs

No U.S. washing machine manufacturer bothers to publish energy and water use per load specs in their user manuals or on their websites. Most of them don't even bother to tell you the temperature they use for Hot and Warm settings.  The websites & manuals generally do have a "Specifications" listing, and sometimes even a "Detailed Specifications" listing, but somehow they don't consider the amount of electricity or water used to be a relevant specification of a washing machine!  These ridiculous omissions are unfair to consumers—and for me, it means it took several extra hours to compile the data for this page trying to hunt down good figures. Every single American manufacturer I checked out failed to publish propers specs. Those manufacturers are:
  • General Electric (GE)
  • Frigidaire
  • Kenmore (Don't know for sure that their manuals don't have proper specs, since, unlike other manufacturers, they don't let you download manuals directly from their site, which is a problem in and of itself. Instead they force you to go to some other site, which forces you to register before you can download. I tried that, but the registration form was broken, so I was stuck.)
  • Maytag (they have a stupid Flash-based website means it takes forever to go from page to page)
  • Whirlpool (stupid Flash animation means you have to wait for the home page to load, and there are too many problems with their survey form to recount here)
  • Samsung (Cumbersome, slow, annoying Flash animation on every damn page. Slowest website of all I tried, and many of the others were already pretty damn slow.)
  • Amana (User manual is a ridiculous sixteen-megabyte download! And even with a whopping 16 megabytes of data, there's no mention of the energy or water consumed by their product.)
  • Speed Queen (A downloadable marketing brochure does list the gallons per load. That info isn't on their website or in their user manual, and kWh and gallons per cycle can't be found anywhere.)
  • KitchenAid (Owned by Whirlpool. EPA says they make some Energy Star washers, but I couldn't find any washers at all on their website.)
  • Crosley

Most foreign manufacturers whose products are sold in the U.S. also fail to provide proper specs:

  • Bosch (Germany)
  • Electrolux (Sweden; "Frigidaire" in the U.S.)
  • Fisher & Paykel (New Zealand)
  • Haier (China)
  • LG Electronics (Korea)

So, shame on washing machine manufacturers for keeping consumers in the dark about how much water and energy their products use.

Make your own laundry detergent

You can slash your soap costs by 90% by simply making your own soap. Trent at The Simple Dollar offers a recipe for homemade laundry detergent that costs around 2¢ per load.  That a whole lot less than a jumbo bottle of Tide Bleach Alternative which clocks in at 20¢ per load.  And since it looks to be a low-sudsing recipe, it ought to work fine in HE washers.

I'm glad I now have a good context to link to The Simple Dollar, because it's a fantastic guide to keeping your costs down, but more importantly, it gives valuable life lessons for financial security.  So I hope you'll check out The Simple Dollar.

Below are questions I've received and answered about how saving on the use of laundry appliances.

Questions I've answered about washing machines

Everyone says to run appliances like washing machines and dishwashers at night to save money.  Is electricity cheaper at night? -- Melissa, Appomattox, VA

Not usually, but it depends on how your utility company charges you for power. Some utilities charge less for evening use, and you can check your electric bill or call your utility company to find out for sure. It could also pay to run appliances in the evening when the air conditioning is off if your utility company has a demand charge.  See the next answer.

Does it raise your electric bill to run two appliances at the same time rather than one after the other?  Like, say, the washer and the dryer or the oven and the dryer?  We have an all electric house and were trying to save money on our electric bill.  Christie

It depends on whether your utility company has a separate demand charge in addition to the consumption charge. The demand charge based on the maximum amount of electricity you draw at any one time. This chart from Wisconsin Electric illustrates the concept. The shaded area is how much electricity you used, and you know you get charged for that. But the black bar on top is the demand, how much energy you "demanded" at any given point throughout the day. If your utility company has a demand charge (ask them), then you can save money by spreading out your electrical use throughout the day. Running appliances one after the other rather than at the same time would reduce your demand. And better yet, running them when you're not using much electricity for other purposes (such as at night when the air conditioner is off) will reduce your demand even more.

You say I'll save money by washing in cold, but shouldn't I wash in hot to kill germs? -- Eric

No.  The hot water in washing machines isn't typically hot enough to kill germs, so there's effectively no difference between hot and cold. (PubMed)  Second, if you put your clothes in a clothes dryer then the air will get up to 125-135°F, much hotter than a hot-water wash. (GE)  Third, if you line-dry your clothes (something I've strongly encouraged for years), then the sun acts as a natural disinfectant. (National Geographic)


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All advice is given in good faith. We're not responsible for any errors or omissions. Electricity can kill you; if you're not competent to work on your electrical wiring then hire a professional to do it.
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