I hate to have to tell you this but your washing machine is going to break down. Maybe in a week, maybe in a decade, but the rinse-cycle-reaper calls on them all eventually. So you need to accept there's no such thing as an appliance that will last forever, but for a longer lasting machine, look for a washer that's easy to repair and maintain.
Replace vs repair
Our disposable society conditions us to accept expensive products with ever-shorter lifespans because when they fail it's presented as an opportunity to 'upgrade' to the latest model. We may justify this on environmental grounds as new appliances are more energy efficient, yet fail to take into account the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposal.
What if there was an alternative? What if appliances lasted longer because they were cheaper to maintain than to replace? And what if your washer was easy to recycle when it can no longer spin cycle?
Most of us remember a jaffle maker, clothes dryer or some other appliance that was older than time itself, yet seemed like it would outlive everyone. Part of that longevity was because most repairs could be carried out easily without special tools.
But peel back the 'no user-serviceable parts inside' sticker on a modern appliance and you're confounded by hidden joins, proprietary/security fasteners and completely sealed components. While part of the reason for this is to protect unqualified consumers from the risk of electrocution or other injuries, it can be confounding for qualified professionals as well. Some manufacturers even try to restrict third-party professional service technicians from accessing repair information for their products.
As today's manufacturing processes prioritise faster, cheaper assembly over repairability, products cost less to make (and buy) but are harder (and more expensive) to repair. At its worst, a minor problem could potentially require complete replacement or disassembly if the issue hasn't been considered during the design process. This increases the complexity and cost of repair and tips the scales in the direction of throwing out an otherwise good appliance and buying a new one.
Looking for a new washing machine? We test the latest models in the CHOICE labs. See which washers we recommend in our washing machine reviews.
What's design for disassembly?
It's a design philosophy that takes into account the need to dismantle a product in order to repair or recycle it. It means considering which components may need to be replaced during a product's life and by whom, and how repairs can be made easier. It also considers the use of recyclable components and materials, and how products can be made easier to dismantle for recycling. It impacts which materials, surface treatments and fasteners are used, and may mean modifying designs so commonly replaced parts are easy to access, and avoiding composites or permanent joins in favour of removable fasteners that don't require proprietary tools.
What does it mean for me?
You won't notice a difference when your washer's working well as the philosophy has little effect on performance, but you'll feel it when something eventually goes wrong.
Service technicians will tell you there are big differences between brands when it comes to ease of access for repairs, and therefore how long a repair will take and how much it costs. Most breakdowns tend to be caused by a limited number of parts and components, so if those components can be accessed reasonably easily then your washing machine will be faster and cheaper to repair than if they're not. Often this difference comes down to whether or not the manufacturer has adopted design for disassembly.
So how can you tell if a washer's been designed for disassembly? Unfortunately there's no uniform, internationally recognised method to assess design for disassembly. Salespeople are unlikely to know, and you don't usually get to talk to service technicians as part of the purchase process.
But as a general rule, you're more likely to encounter design for disassembly in brands from countries with 'extended producer responsibility' laws, such as Japan and members of the European Union. These laws make manufacturers responsible for taking their products back at the end of their useful life and either recycling or disposing of them. It gives them a big financial incentive to make products that last longer and are easy to disassemble as this saves them money.
So while they may cost a little more upfront, appliances built to a design for disassembly philosophy are generally faster, easier and cheaper to repair so they'll last you longer, which saves you money in the long run. This also means we'll use fewer natural resources, and put less waste into landfill so it's better for the environment. It also means that when your service technician smiles upon seeing your European appliances it's out of practicality, not snobbery.
Video: Michael's machine
This member's CHOICE Recommended appliance was built to last, it's still going strong after 45 years:
Why don't we include this in our reviews?
Our washing machine reviews tell you which washers perform the best to help you make the right choice for your household, but it's not possible for us to dismantle each one to critique its design.
Instead we ask you, our members, to tell us about your experiences with your own washing machines in our reliability survey. The results show how each of the brands perform on reliability and customer satisfaction. While this isn't a direct indication of design for disassembly principles, brands are more likely to score well on user satisfaction if their products are easy to repair and they think about the customer experience for the lifespan of their appliances.
Design for disassembly and extended producer responsibility are relatively unknown concepts in Australia so there's little incentive for manufacturers to adopt them here. But as awareness and consumer demand grows, we may see more manufacturers embracing the philosophy.
If you just want a washer with the lowest possible purchase price then you're well covered by our current market, but if you're prepared to pay a little more for a washing machine that will last longer, will be easier to live with and will save you money in the long term, then let manufacturers know. Ask questions, vote with your wallets, and the next appliance you buy may be the last one you need for quite some time.