Google picks the ads, not me. I don't
endorse the advertisers.
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
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
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
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:
load (electricity), based on water temperature
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
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
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 70Â°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
On most U.K. washers (and I suspect European and
Australian washers), the lowest wash setting is 30Â°C/86Â°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 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.
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
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-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
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
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.
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
Calculating the cost-per-load of
To get the total cost per load for a washing
machine, we add the costs for water, electricity, and water
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
For electricity to power the washer, we'll figure 0.256
kWh times a sample cost of
15Â¢/kWh, which gives us $0.04 for electricity.
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)
By comparison, a front-loading
washer would cost only 12Â¢ to
24Â¢per load for gas, and 12Â¢ to 39Â¢ 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 abovewith 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
BTW, you can also download an
Excel spreadsheet on the Energy Star washers if you'd
like to sort the columns.
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
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
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 consumersâ€”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:
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
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
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
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.)
Most foreign manufacturers whose products are sold in the
U.S. also fail to provide proper specs:
Electrolux (Sweden; "Frigidaire" in the
Fisher & Paykel (New Zealand)
LG Electronics (Korea)
So, shame on washing machine manufacturers for keeping
consumers in the dark about how much water and energy their
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
for homemade laundry detergent that costs around 2Â¢ per
load. That a whole lot less than a jumbo bottle of Tide
Bleach Alternative which clocks in at 20Â¢ 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
Below are questions I've received and answered about how
saving on the use of laundry appliances.
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.
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. â€”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 125-135Â°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