What Are High Efficiency Washers?

Front load wahser
Favourite Boy/Moment/Getty Images

After the wash tub and wringer washer came the standard top loading washing machine that remained the only type of washing machine available in the United States for several generations. In the mid-1990s the United States Department of Energy produced new standards for energy consumption for household appliances including washing machines. As the leading appliance in the use of water in every home, changes had to come for the automatic washer.

What Are High Efficiency Clothes Washers?

High efficiency or HE washers have been the standard in Europe for many years. They have been a part of the United States market for more than a decade but have become even more popular as consumers are drawn to their water and energy saving capabilities.

The first thing you'll notice when you go appliance shopping is that are two types of high-efficiency washers. One has a door on the front and the other has a lid on top like the old standard washer. The next thing you'll notice when you open the door of either type is that there is no agitator sticking up in the middle. The washer drum looks nearly empty. 

Water Usage and Conservation

These washers use 20 to 66 percent less water than traditional agitator or standard washers. Nearly eighty percent of the operating cost of a washer goes to heating water. Lower water use means less water to heat and energy use can be 20 to 50 percent less offering long-term savings and environmental benefits.

High efficiency washers are more expensive than standard washers and the purchase price should be weighed against the operating costs for your family. You can save money by choosing models that have fewer options like steam cycles.

How HE Washers Operate 

Due to their design without a center agitator, high efficiency washers are more gentle on clothes.

The cleaning action is more gentle and helps prevent stretching and pulling that can distort clothes.

High efficiency washers - both front loading and top loading - use a tumbling system rather than an agitator. In front-loading models the tub rotates clockwise and then counterclockwise to achieve the tumbling motion. In top-loading machines clothes are cleaned in a shallow pool of water and the washer uses a gentle spinning or rotating plates or disks in the bottom of the tub to achieve the tumbling action.

Rather than refill the washer drum with water during the rinse cycle, both types of machines spray clothes with a high pressure stream of re-circulated water during the rinse cycle.

Clothes may seem dryer when removed from a high efficiency machine because more water is removed during a high speed spin cycle. This reduction of water will save energy during the drying cycle.

Most high efficiency washers have a sensor system that detects the size of the load of laundry. This adjustment will help save natural resources and money.

Since there is no center agitator taking up space, high efficiency washers can accommodate full-sized loads and even extra large loads like comforters and quilts cutting down on the number of loads you need to do.

High Efficiency Detergents

One of the most critical steps to operating a high efficiency washer successfully is to purchase detergents specially formulated for these washers to get good results. High efficiency detergents are formulated to be low-sudsing and quick-dispersing. High efficiency detergents hold soil in suspension so it is not re-deposited onto clean clothes even in the low volume of water.

Using a traditional detergent will result in too many suds that will prevent the tumbling action needed for cleaning. The excessive suds can overflow the washer and actually cause permanent damage.

Many users complain about musty odors and mildew growth in high efficiency washers. Excessive detergent residue or fabric softener residue is the culprit. This residue which also traps laundry soil is the perfect food for mildew growth. Using a cleaning cycle at least once per month, regulating how much detergent is used (never more than two teaspoons per load) and leaving the door ajar after each load to allow moisture to evaporate will prevent this issue.

Always look for the he symbol on the detergent box or bottle. Some pre-treat products may still be normal to high sudsing and their use should be limited in high efficiency washers. However, this is changing as more homes convert to high efficiency washer. Read the labels. 

High efficiency detergents can always be used as a presoak or stain remover.