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Top Washers

I want to buy an energy-efficient clothes washer, but I prefer a top-loader because of back problems. Are top-loading washers really much less efficient than front-loading washers?—Leslie L.

Front-loading washers are the most efficient, using about half as much water and detergent as a top-loader, but they are less convenient to load and unload.

There is a new design of top-loading washer, by Whirlpool and Sears, that is almost as efficient as a front-loader. Instead of using a large rotating agitator, it uses a wobbling washer plate and small agitator in the tub to move clothes through the soapy water. This design does not require the entire tub to fill with water and has a relatively fast spin speed.

This new top-loader design has a large capacity, up to 4.5 cubic feet of clothes. By doing fewer loads each wash day, less electricity is used overall to operate the motors, and less hot water is consumed. The drawback is, being a top-loader, the dryer cannot be stacked on top of the washer to save floor space.

Another top-loader option is a hybrid top/front-loader by Staber. It has a horizontal axis so it spins like a front-loader, but it loads from the top. The washer tub is housed inside an outer tub. There is a door on one of the inner tub sides to add and remove the clothes. It is pricey, ranging from about $1,200 to $1,700.

If you do not mind bending over and you want the most efficient and best cleaning washer, a front-loader is difficult to beat. With the tub on a horizontal axis, the tub has to be only partially filled and the clothes naturally tumble through the soapy water. Most models have a reversing rotation feature during the cycle so clothes do not clump together.

One advantage of a front-loader is you can stack the dryer on top of the washer to save space. If you already have a dryer, it will likely fit on top of any of the front-loader models.

Another advantage of the horizontal axis tub in a front-loader is that the tub is supported so that it can spin at a much higher speed, up to 1,600 rpm, during the rinse cycle. This high speed forces more soapy water out of the clothes. The fabrics in clothes last longer when there is less residual detergent in them. Also, more thorough rinsing is a plus for people with sensitive skin or allergies. You can select the number of rinses with the final high-speed spin cycle to remove the most water and soap residue. This also reduces the time required in the dryer, so even more energy is saved.

As with most appliances today, front-loading clothes washers are becoming smarter and more automatic. Instead of setting the water level dial depending upon the size of the load, the washer automatically senses the weight of the clothes and selects the most effective and efficient settings.

Another option is a combination front-loading washer/dryer. Put dirty clothes in it and remove clean, dry clothes a couple of hours later. These have a smaller capacity than wash-only models. These models do not have to be vented outdoors, so they can be placed anywhere near a faucet and drain.

The following companies offer efficient washing machines: Asko, (800) 898-1879, www.askousa.com; Equator, (800) 935-1955, www.equatorappliance.com; LG Appliances, (800) 243-0000, www.lgappliances.com; Miele Appliances, (800) 843-7231, www.mieleusa.com; Staber, (800) 848-6200, www.staber.com; and Whirlpool, (866) 698-2538, www.whirlpool.com.

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