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Laundry equipment

The typical household in America cleans and dries 400 loads of laundry in a year. Up to 90% of the energy used to wash clothes is used to heat water, and the energy use of dryers is directly related to the moisture content of the clothes; these two factors illustrate the energy-saving opportunities in a typical laundry room.

Maintenance and repairs

Older washers and dryers may require periodic maintenance to keep them operating properly. Here are a few things to check for:



MEF, WF, & washers - Clothes washers must meet minimum efficiency standards in order to be ENERGY STAR labeled:

  • Modified Energy Factor (MEF) is a measurement of the energy efficiency of the waster, taking into account the electric energy, the energy to heat the water, and the size of tub. ENERGY STAR washers must have an MEF of 2.0 or greater.
  • Water Factor (WF) is the measurement of how much water a particular model uses, related to the capacity of the machine. ENERGY STAR washers must have a WF of 6.0 or less. 
  • Clean the tub of your washer every few months (or more often if indicated by odor or stains). Special cleaning products can be used in place of detergent and run through a complete cycle. Check with the manufacturer for recommendations.
  • Inspect water and drain connections periodically for leaks. A buildup of rust or minerals at connections or stains along the side of the washer or on the floor indicate a leak.
  • Replace water supply hoses that connect to washers every 3-4 years. The hoses can become brittle and susceptible to failure, leading to a flooded basement or laundry room.
  • Pumps and motors have a limited lifetime; repairs or replacements may eventually be needed.


  • Clean the dryer lint screen before each load. Lint restricts airflow and increases drying time and energy use.
  • ONLY vent dryers to the outside! Venting into the living space or attic will lead to high levels of moisture. In a basement it can lead to significant mold and mildew issues; in an attic it will lead to wet insulation, rot, and ice dams. Venting a gas dryer into the living space is also dangerous to the occupants because of flue gases from the combustion process.
  • Only use smooth, rigid, metal ducts for the dryer exhaust; connect sections with sheet metal screws and metal foil tape to prevent dangerous leakage of flue gases into the living space. Flexible ducts restrict airflow and trap lint, increasing drying time and energy use. Inspect periodically for leaks or separations.
  • Inspect the outside exhaust vent monthly to insure the flapper is operating freely and no lint is blocking the opening. If the flapper sticks, lubricate the hinge or replace the vent. Poorly sealed exhaust vents can also be a source of air leakage and energy loss.
  • Belts that drive the drum can stretch or break, necessitating adjustment or replacement.

When is it time to replace?

The expected lifetime of a washer and dryer is about 12-14 years, depending on model, use, and maintenance. Replacement opportunities include:

  • Costly repairs. If an estimate for repairs exceeds several hundred dollars, it might make sense to look at replacement instead—depending on the age and condition of the rest of the appliance.
  • High energy usage. A 10-year-old washer may cost you $135 more in energy costs annually than a newer ENERGY STAR model.

Shopping tips

When evaluating a new washer, look closely at these features:

  • Sizing. Select the size of your washer based on your family and laundry needs. One that is oversized will lead to running smaller, less-efficient loads or waiting for enough laundry to run a full load.
  • Top versus front-loading:
    • Front-loading washers generally use 10-20 gallons less water than top-loaders, saving both water and energy to heat the water.
    • Front-loaders require less detergent; usually a special High Efficiency (HE) type.
    • Front-loaders spin at a much higher rate of speed (1,000 rpm or higher), wringing much more water out of the clothes. This significantly reduces the energy required to dry the clothes.
    • Front-loaders are frequently gentler on laundry, due to the tumbling action of the clothes, rather than the movement of the agitator in a top-loader.
    • Top-loaders are generally cheaper to purchase, initially; when factoring in energy savings, however, the purchase price will be offset over the life of the appliance.
    • Top-loaders are generally easier to load and unload for many people. Front-loaders, however, can be mounted on stands or have the dryer stacked on top to save floor space.
  • Efficiency. Choose an ENERGY STAR model. Modified Energy Factor (MEF) is a measure of energy efficiency that considers the energy used by the washer, the energy used to heat the water, and the energy used to run the dryer. The higher the MEF, the more energy efficient the clothes washer. Water Factor (WF) measures water efficiency in gallons of water consumed per cubic foot of capacity. The lower the WF, the more water efficient the clothes washer. Both MEF and WF are listed on the ENERGY STAR website.

When evaluating a new dryer, look closely at these features:

  • Sizing. Match the size of your dryer to the size of your washer.
  • Electric versus gas. Although gas dryers may cost slightly more (for similar size and features), your choice may depend on the  availability of certain fuels (and their connections) in your home.
  • Features. Dryers with sensors evaluate the moisture content of the laundry and reduce drying times. This is far better than using a timed cycle, which may overdry clothing, wasting energy and potentially damaging clothes. Options for temperature settings allow for optimal use with different fabrics. Additional features, such as wrinkle-reducing cycles and drying racks, may not add significantly to energy use, but may be important convenience considerations.
  • Efficiency. An efficient washer (with a high spin rate) will wring most of the water out before you put the clothes in the dryer—reducing drying time and energy use. New ENERGY STAR standards for dryers are scheduled to be released in 2013.

Efficient use

Follow these suggestions to keep your laundry energy usage to the minimum:

  • Wash and dry properly sized loads. Too small, and you may be wasting energy; too large, and you may strain your equipment or get unsatisfactory results.
  • Wash laundry in cold water (most detergents are now designed to work well in cold water). Occasionally, some heavily soiled loads may benefit from warm water; hot water washes/rinses should be used for bedding, to reduce allergy issues from dust mites.
  • Lower dryer temperature settings to allow for longer "air tumble" times between "heating" times. Along with limiting heat damage to clothes, this will also save some energy; it will lengthen the amount of time to dry a load, however.
  • Set your dryer to "less dry" and hang clothes to air-dry the final amount. This method can also reduce wrinkles and eliminate ironing for many clothes. (See sidebar for caution about indoor drying.)
  • Air-dry clothes outside to reduce dryer usage.

Why not dry your clothes by hanging them in the basement?

Hanging clothes on lines or racks in the basement—especially in the winter when the house is dry—seems like a logical, energy-saving approach. But caution is appropriate, and here’s why:

A typical load of laundry may contain several gallons of moisture. As it leaves the clothing, some of it will move to nearby cool locations (like a basement foundation wall or window) where the vapor will condense. Because this surface is usually cooler than the surrounding air, evaporation may be gradual—slow enough to encourage the growth of mold and mildew or cause damage to window frames, etc. Condensation or frost on walls or windows is a sign of too much moisture in the air; make sure you are not trading small energy savings for a potentially damaging solution.