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Washing machines: buyers' guide

So you’re looking to invest in a brand new washing machine; you’ve begun to look online for your perfect make and model and narrow down your options. But with the huge variety available, all with fandangled features and special selling points, you’re feeling a little, well, lost.

If this sounds like you, fear not, as we’re here to guide you through the minefield of online washing machine shopping. This guide will help get you clued up on all the information and advice you need to make an informed buying decision.

Once you start getting a better idea of which factors will influence your choice – from style, programs and special features – you’re ready to start to compare deals and offers and read washing machine reviews. Then all that’s left to do is click and buy – good luck! 

Types of washing machine

Front loader: Front loading washing machine styles will have a door on the front of the machine that opens outwards towards you. This is the most common style and is readily available online. If floor space is important to you, the front loading machine should be your go-to as you can stack a tumble dryer above to save space in your kitchen.

Top loader: Top loading models are far less common than they used to be, but can be great if you have back or knee problems as they don’t require you to stoop or kneel down to access the door. Top loaders are far less economical than front loaders as the drum has to be totally filled with water whereas a front loader only requires a third of the drum to be filled.

Integrated machine: Integrated models are fully covered by a door or covering which blends in with the rest of your appliances or kitchen units. When the door is close the machine will be completely hidden.

Semi-integrated machine: Semi-integrated machines are front loaders that blend in with the rest of your appliances or kitchen units with a door or cover covering the majority of the machine (controls are the only things still showing)

Washer dryers: This type of washing machine is ideal if you’re low on space and don’t have room for separate washer and dryer. They’re also ideal if you only do small washes and don’t want to invest in a full-size washing machine.

A washer dryer has all the functions of a washer but can take longer to dry clothes thanks to the restriction on load size and its smaller drum – you’ll often need to split a load in half to adequately dry it.

Tip: Remember to measure your available space if your new machine is going in a tight spot or under a work surface.

Washing machine features

Spin speed: Of course, the optimum spin speed is a high one; it’s more economical and will produce dryer clothes. This is an advantage particularly if you use a tumble dryer as the clothes will need less drying time after washing. The only downside to a high spin speed is that it’s often noisier and costs more, so consider your budget when you’re comparing spin speeds.

Most machines have a minimum of 2 spin speeds: 1000-1800 rpm (for cottons) or 400-800 rpm (for synthetics and delicates). A machine will usually select a spin speed based on the wash program you’ve selected but some will have a variable feature that you can select yourself.

Drum capacity: Drum capacity is an important feature to look out for, especially if you live in a busy household with lots of washing to do! Large drum sizes – up to 9kg – are brilliant for bulky items, such as curtains and towels, or family-sized loads.

Fuzzy logic: Fuzzy logic is a new technology used to determine the weight of what is in the drum and adjust temperature, speed, water and time accordingly saving money and minimizing waste.

Steam clean: A steam clean setting is perfect for those amongst us who hate picking up the iron after washing a load; this setting ensures fewer wrinkles or creases and a deeper clean for your clothes.

Other features:

Selling points on modern washing machines can include the following:

  • Coin trap to catch buttons, coins, hairbands or pen lids.
  • LED display to show how long is left on the cycle. 
  • Low noise for integrated kitchen-living rooms
  • Large capacity drums for heavier items or bigger loads
  • Extra rinse program, which is great for items that absorb lots of water, such as towels. 
  • Freshen-up program, perfect for clothes that aren’t dirty but need a little rinse. 
  • Child locks to keep little hands from twiddling dials and pressing buttons
  • Anti-leak protection to prevent floodin
  • Anti-mould door seal technology to protect your clothes.

Washing machine temperature guide

30 degrees: Currently the recommended temperature for energy efficient washing, using your washing machine at 30 degrees rather than 40 will save you money and help lower emissions from power stations. For optimum results use detergents that are designed to be used on lower temperature settings.

40 degrees: The most common wash temperature, this is suitable for most everyday items: cotton, linen, viscose, acrylics, acetate and wool blends.

50 degrees: The next setting up, this is suitable for polyester/cotton mixes, nylon, cotton and viscose. Most find a 40 degree wash adequate but if you have any clothes that are particularly stained or dirty, you may want to set your washing machine to 50.

60 degrees: A 60 degree wash is suited to heavier items such as towels and bed linen, or heavily soiled items such as baby clothes.

90 degrees: This is the hottest setting on conventional washing machines and is suitable for white cottons and linens.

Washing machine programmes

With such a huge selection of programs and features on modern day washing machines it’s easy to get confused about what they all do and just stick to one. However, this may mean that you’re not getting the optimum results from your washing machine. Here’s our lowdown on the most common settings you’ll find on both high-end and cheap washing machines:

In general terms, a wash can be split into four broad categories:

  • Cottons, which need a vigorous cycle
  • Synthetics, which should be washed on a gentler setting
  • Delicates, which are similar to synthetics but need a gentler wash
  • Woolens, which need lots of water and little friction

Quick wash: This handy setting is perfect if you’re in a rush. The wash usually lasts from 50-70 minutes and is best for clothes that aren’t too dirty. Some quick washes can take only 30 minutes but in this case you’d have to reduce your load size to around 1kg-3kg

Delicates/woolens: This is the setting best suited to silk or wool-blend clothing which often bobble on a normal setting. Wash any items labeled ‘pure new wool’, ‘washable’, ‘pre-shrunk’ or ‘non-matting’ on the woolen cycle. All other wool items should be cleaned on the handwash setting.

Handwash program: Use the handwash program for delicates such as angora, silk and cashmere to prevent damage or shrinkage.

Economy wash: An economy wash is brilliant if you only want to wash a few items and don’t want to put on a full load. It also saves money by using less water and electricity.

Energy efficiency

Washing machines have an EU-rated energy efficiency rating from A-G, A being the most economical and G being the least. 

Some retailers also have top of the range washing machines: A+, A++ and A+++, that are even more efficient than A-rated models.

  • A+ models achieve up to 10% reduction in energy consumption compared with A models.
  • A++ models can reduce this by up to 20%.
  • A+++ models can save you up to 30% compared with A models. 

Manufacturers grade their own products and Trading Standards monitor standardized tests across the industry. Sometimes the more expensive the model, the higher graded it will be in terms of energy efficiency and the more energy-saving features there’ll be, such as timed delays and temperature settings or technology to adjust settings during the spin cycle. 

This isn’t to say that a cheap washing machine won’t be energy efficient; many cheaper machines will feature a pressure switch to gauge the size of the load and vary the amount of water needed, or they’ll have a half load setting for smaller and shorter loads.

What next?

Having narrowed down your search for the perfect washing machine to suit your needs refine your search further on our shopping pages with the settings in the left column. By narrowing down type, spin speed, capacity and energy efficiency, you can begin to compare models and styles. 

Select keywords or choose your budget to make sure you’re getting the best washing machine on sale to match your needs. After clicking a deal you'll be transferred to your seleceted retailer's website where you can click through to buy or simply check out the specs and compare prices. Compare online retailers’ delivery options and costs and be sure to check out reviews of the best washing machines you’ve shortlisted. 

Washing machine technology has come on leaps and bounds since the slow and heavy top loaders of yesteryear; who knows, in fifty years’ time we could all be using ultra-futuristic transparent machines!