Washing machines buying guide
As with any major home appliance, a good washing machine is a long-term investment that’ll give you years of service, so it’s important to make the right decision. Here’s what to look out for.
Types of washing machines
- Freestanding: These are the most common type of washing machine, and usually the first choice for anyone looking for something affordable. They come in a range of sizes (the standard being around 60cm in width), and offer drum capacities ranging from 5 Kg to 12 Kg. As well as traditional white, they’re sometimes finished in different colours, such as black or silver. The most popular freestanding washing machines are front-loading, though some brands such as Hotpoint and Whirlpool produce top-loading models too.
- Integrated: Integrated or built-in washing machines are a more stylish alternative to freestanding models. They allow you to cover the front panel in a veneer/wood of your choice, hiding them away so they blend seamlessly into your kitchen design. The choice of integrated washing machines isn’t as large as freestanding models, but there’s certainly enough to fit most peoples needs.
- Semi-integrated: With semi-integrated models only a portion of the washing machine is covered up. This gives them the benefit of being easy to use (since you won’t have to open a door to access the control panel) and also allows them to match your kitchen units. As with fully integrated washing machines however, they’re more expensive to install than freestanding models.
- Washer-dryers: As the name suggests, a washer-dryer allows you to wash and dry your clothes in the same appliance. While these are an excellent space saving alternative to having a separate tumble dryer, they’re perhaps less useful for families since you’ll only be able to wash or dry at any one time.
A washing machine’s drum capacity is measured by the maximum weight of clothes it can hold and wash effectively. A capacity of around 7 Kg will comfortably handle most family’s laundry needs. If your household is larger than average however, then a bigger capacity washing machine will save you from having to do multiple washes. The biggest machines on the market can take on a whopping 12 Kg or more of laundry at once.
A washing machine’s spin cycle helps shake off excess water from your laundry after the main wash. This is so clothes don’t come out sopping wet, reducing the time they need to hang or tumble dry. The quickest spin speeds on most machines range from 1200rpm to 1400rpm, which usually does a fantastic job.
Washing machines are quieter than ever these days, which is particularly good news if you live in a flat or a small house. The noise they make is measured with a decibel rating, with a score of 50 dB and below considered to be quite quiet. Noise usually goes up a bit during the spin cycle however, giving the washing machine a 70 dB to 78 dB rating, which is roughly equivalent to the sound a vacuum cleaner makes. Beware that decibels follow an exponential curve, whereby 3 dB equals a doubling in volume. So you do want to be very careful when choosing: 73 dB will sound twice as loud as 70 dB, for example.
As with any appliance, a washing machine with high energy efficiency means it’ll be cheaper to run. Energy efficiency ratings go from D to A+++, with the latter being the most energy efficient. Brands like AEG, Hotpoint, and Bosch all produce a wide variety of A+++ models. As a general rule of thumb though, the higher a washing machine’s capacity, the more expensive its running costs will be.
Features and Programs
The features washing machines offer vary from model to model, with the more expensive ones typically offering the most bells and whistles.
However most washing machines boast the following:
- Delayed start: A delayed start allows you to pre-set the washing machine to wash clothes hours after you’ve loaded it. This can be especially useful if you want the end of your cycle to coincide with your arrival home from work, after your favourite TV show, or whenever else is most convenient for you. The point of this feature is that when clothes stay wet for too long they may begin to smell, even after they have been washed. To avoid a rewash, use this feature and you'll be fine.
- Child safety: Many washing machines come equipped with child safety features to safeguard them from curious little hands. The most common type allows you to lock the control panel, so it can’t be fiddled with, while another keeps the door from closing.
- Quick wash program: A quick wash program is useful for tackling small loads of minimally soiled items, usually in less than an hour. This can prove invaluable when you discover the outfit you wanted to wear is actually in the laundry basket.
- Delicate wash program: Delicates usually include silk, wool, embellished or embroidered garments – or anything else that could be damaged with high heat and vigorous spinning. If you own clothes of this nature, a delicate wash program can save you a lot of hand washing or the dry-cleaner's bills.