If you're trying to save money and be kinder to the environment, a good place to start is your laundry. From the type of washing machine you own to the amount of laundry detergent you use, there's always a corner to cut somewhere! When you know how to make the most of what you have, it'll be like finding pants-pocket money every day.
Front loaders almost always use less water and need less detergent than top loaders. If you prefer to wash in warm water, they save on energy too. Most front loaders cost more to buy than a top loader, but because of these savings when they're in use they should save you on running costs – and be kinder to the environment. Sometimes it's about playing the long game.
If you already have a top loader and buying a front loader isn't on the horizon for a while, try switching to cold water washing to save money and energy.
Washing machines have to carry a label that shows their energy rating: this is a series of stars, plus a number that tells you the overall kilowatt hours (kWh/per year) it uses to run.
Some manufacturers separate the kWh into warm and cold washes, but they're only required to give you the warm-wash figure. It's also worth noting that where a washing machine doesn't have an internal heater (mostly top loaders) – ie, it uses your domestic hot water supply – the figures on the energy label include an estimate of the energy used by your hot water service to heat the water it uses for washing, as well as the energy directly used by the machine itself.
To calculate the annual running costs of your machine, multiply your electricity rate (for example, 30c) by the washer's kWh (for example, 600kWh). Using the example figures, the machine's running cost is $180 for the year.
The more stars, the more energy-efficient the machine. However, you can only compare star ratings between machines of the same capacity. A bigger washing machine may have more stars than a smaller one (because there are inherent energy savings in a larger load), but it will probably use more power overall in a year.
Keep in mind that a five-star energy rating isn't a guarantee of five-star performance in other areas, and that we don't necessarily test the program that's used for the energy label: we select a 'normal' cold wash – whereas energy labels often use a warm program and 'eco' options, because most Australians wash in cold water these days, and we want our testing to reflect what you'll experience in your laundry at home.
Wash in cold water
We find in our testing that there's little difference in wash performance between washing in warm or cold water, especially if you're washing non-whites. If you use a hot or warm wash, choose a cold rinse – it uses less energy. But if you wash in cold water, you'll need to do a hot wash regularly to clean your machine.
Try to always wash a full load
It takes as much energy and water to wash a full load as it does a half load, unless the machine has special sensors or half-load setting options. And most of us only load our washers to half-full, so break out the bathroom scales to see just how much your washer can actually handle – you may be quite surprised.
Pre-soak or pre-treat heavily soiled items
That way you won't have to wash them twice.
Unplug your machine when it's not being used
Some machines have a 'standby' mode, which means they're still using energy even when not in use.
If your machine has energy-saving features, use them
These can include a 'fast wash' program for lightly soiled clothes or water-saving programs.
Here are the basics but you can also check the water efficiency scores and water usage for machines in our tests.
- Front loaders use less water than top loaders
- Automatic load-sensing or reduced-load functions can help save water
- Reuse the wash and/or last rinse water on your garden
- Check the water-efficiency label, which is a guide to how efficiently different models use water, and
- If you use a greywater system to recycle water for use in your garden, make sure you use a garden-safe laundry detergent.
Washing in cold water is still an energy-efficient way of washing, but using solar hot water in your washing machine for warm-to-hot washes can save a significant amount of electricity and carbon emissions.
To use a solar hot water for washing, you need a washing machine with a hot water connection. Finding front loaders with a dual hot and cold water connection can be difficult.
Manufacturers leave off dual connections in front loaders because:
- the majority of the population prefers to wash in cold water. Washing machines with internal heaters only heat up a small amount of water to the set temperature as needed, so it's more energy efficient than drawing hot water from an electric hot water heater. Solar, heat-pump and off-peak electric hot water heaters are exceptions, and drawing from a gas hot water heater is about the same as the machine heating the water itself, and
- most front loaders use small volumes of hot water for the main wash: generally about 15-20L in total; for a dual connection, only 7–10L of hot water (60°C) may be used to get a warm 40°C wash. So, depending on how long your pipes are (and how far your machine is from the hot water source), you may end up with cold water in your machine anyway. You can check this by running the hot water tap in your laundry and measuring how much cold water flows before you get hot water.
Tips for using solar-heated water in washing machines
- Many stains are set by hot water, so a cold fill and slow heat up to optimum wash temperatures helps the stain removal process. But if a dual connection washer is designed well, it should fill with cold first then add the hot water, so check for this feature if you're in the market for a new machine
- Hot water entering the machine must be no hotter than 60°C, so a tempering valve may be needed for solar hot water heaters if there isn't a temperature controller already fitted, and
- Using hot water for rinsing can cause more creasing, so it's not generally recommended.