A watched load never ends
If you've just bought a new front loading washing machine or you've seen our washing machine reviews, you'll have noticed those cycle times creeping sideways. We've noticed it too – cycle times are getting longer and longer but the reasons are sound sometimes – it's to save on energy and water, while still getting your clothes good and clean.
Nowadays, your washing machine cleans your clothes by relying more on the chemical action of the laundry detergent than the mechanical action of the machine itself. This can be a good thing for your wallet and the environment, but it will mean a change in washing habits to accommodate the longer cycle time.
- You can take advantage of off-peak or time-of-use electricity pricing if you have the right electricity meter (smart meters). Washing overnight can cost less, especially if washing in warm or hot water. To get the most out of these longer 'normal' programs you ideally need a delay-start feature to start the program at the off-peak time, and/or a rinse hold option to prevent creasing or colour runs until the clothes are hung to dry.
- Many people still prefer to do their washing on one single day, rather than overnight, so it can be a bit of a drag for impatient washers – particularly if you're the type to forget the washing is sitting in the machine!
Crunching the numbers
Change in average cycle times
|Type of washing machine
||10 years ago
|Top loading washing machines
|Front loading washing machines
Interestingly, the minimum cycle time on a front loader has actually dropped – from 87 minutes a decade ago to 49 minutes today. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on smaller loads. If you put a full load into some front loaders, it doubles and sometimes triples the number (6 hours for a full load!). Luckily not many people fill their washing machines to capacity, though many think they do.
Some manufacturers are listening to consumers and making concerted efforts to keep the most-used program times as short as possible, while still offering intensive wash options for those who want it. On the other hand, some manufacturers are increasing the most-used program lengths and, although they offer fast wash programs, they're generally not recommended for full loads. With the increase in washing machine capacity, we also suspect some manufacturers increase program time to deal with the strain of a full load – 18kg can cause quite a lot of heat in a machine, so they probably need to stop and start to cool off from those maximum loads.
Have you got all day?
In one of our washing machine tests a washer ran for a whopping three hours and 10 minutes! This was definitely not a model for those who do all their washing in one morning. It also used a lot of energy compared to other machines, so its low purchase price may have caught some people out – because it sure would cost a lot to run! One reason it used a lot of energy is that although it was set to cold, it still heated the water to 30°C for 25 minutes during its first rinse cycle – and, although it had a 'fast' wash cycle, it was only recommended for use with half a load.
If cycle time isn't an issue for you or you like to wash in off-peak times, the increasingly lengthy programs shouldn't be too much of a concern – but if you're one of those who like to do things in one sitting, it might be worth looking at a top loading washing machine or fast-cycle front loader. Check out our washing machine buying guide for more details on what to look for.