Saturday, August 23, 2008

Laundry Adventures

Many moons ago I posed the following question.

Anyone interested in reading about . . . my adventures with my new front-loading super efficient washing machine?
To which I received the following answer.
Um, me!
So here we are.

When we were negotiating the terms of our purchase of our current abode, we tried to buy the washer and dryer off the sellers. They declined. This was a good thing. Why? Because it gave me the opportunity to purchase a new super-efficient washer and a new as-efficient-as-these-beasts-can-be dryer.

The Washer
Consumer Reports rated the LG WM0642H excellent in water efficiency, gentleness, energy efficiency, and capacity, and very good in washing performance and noise. It received a rating of 81 out of 100, which was the highest rating for front loading washing machines (the highest rated top loading washing machine received a 75). The average user rating at Consumer Reports was 3 1/2 stars out of 5. CR's GreenerChoice's site gave the WM0642H its highest score.

When browsing through consumer reviews of the LG WM0642H the biggest complaints were noise, a mold or mildew problem from water remaining in the door seal, and the length of a wash cycle. In fact, my sister-in-law, who is not Rebecca, had a similar front loading washing machine and returned it because she felt like an airplane was taking off in her laundry room every time she used it.

Ours runs almost entirely silently. Some of the folks in the CR consumer reviews suggest putting noisy machines on stable mats, but we didn't bother. And I can't imagine how anything could make it much quieter than it already is. The only noise-oriented issue is the adorable little song it plays when a load is done. It sounds like the ice cream truck has arrived in the laundry room. And if that bothered me, or if I was less amused at how it bothers my husband, I could easily turn that feature off by pressing the Beeper button (shh, don't tell him).

As far as the mold/mildew issue is concerned, I wipe down the washer door opening, door seal, door glass, and inside the rubber seal after every load, as directed in the Care and Cleaning section of the manual. Also, when I'm done with my washing for the day I leave the door open, as suggested by CR. Having done this since day one, I have noticed zero mildew/mold or smelliness.

Regarding the cycle time issue, the manual says
The cycle time displayed may appear much longer than that of a top-loading washer. The displayed time is for the complete cycle, rather than just the agitation portion of the cycle, as is typically shown on a top-loading washer.
Well, yes, but I doubt the folks at Consumer Reports relied solely on the displayed time to determine the length of the cycle. Frankly, I don't care how long the cycle is so long as I have a display that accurately tells me how long I have and an adorable little song at the end of a cycle, so I can plan my day around my laundry a little better. One thing that you could do to reduce the length of your cycle is sort your clothes by soil level. Unless you're a manual laborer, it's highly unlikely that your work clothes are anything more than lightly soiled. Another cycle time reducer is increasing your spin speed. Unless you've got delicates, permanent press, or a comforter in the wash, your spin speed should be High or even Extra High. The manual notes that
Washing time can be reduced significantly for small or lightly soiled loads by selecting the Speed Wash cycle and setting the Soil Level button to Light.
I haven't tried the Speed Wash cycle yet as I'm not really ever in a hurry of any type. But now that David has some work clothes that are not the same thing he walks the dogs in, I might give it a try, just for you, Gentle Reader.

As far as usage goes, I've washed everything from dog-hair covered comforters (on the special Comforter cycle) to a sweat encrusted Tilley Hat (on the special Handwash cycle), all with great success. The manual even has a whole page-long chart describing what fabric types should be washed on what cycle. I've been looking at the Perm. Press cycle on washing machines for a LONG time and never realized it was for "dress shirts/pants, wrinkle-free clothing, poly/cotton blend clothing, and tablecloths." A good 90% of the time I just pop it onto Cotton/Normal cycle and switch the Wash/Rinse Temp. from Warm/Cold to Tap Cold/Cold, thinking it will save the planet from heating my wash water to warm (though see the gas usage comparison below). If I really wanted to get fancy, I could store a Custom Program that would set it to the Cotton/Normal cycle with the Wash/Rinse Temp. set to Tap Cold/Cold with the touch of only one button (as opposed to two). But I like playing with the buttons. They make such happy sounds.

In my perfectly age appropriate no need to get all judgey I-want-to-have-a-baby crazed state, I am particularly excited about the Sanitary Cycle which is apparently for, "Heavily soiled underwear, work clothes, DIAPERS, etc." I TOTALLY want to be that mom whose kids wear cloth diapers that she washes herself. I don't know why. I even have a now-defunct website all about cloth diapers on my main list of bookmarks. A quick reminder: I do not now, nor will I in the next year, have a baby. It's one of those aspirations that should have me looking for a Sanity Cycle.

At first I was a little intimidated by the laundry product dispenser array, pictured at left. But I read the two whole pages in the manual dedicated solely to the dispenser and that boosted my confidence. Plus I only use detergent in my main wash, which really does make life quite simple. If I ever decide to get fancy with the pre-wash and the liquid bleach, I'll let you know how it goes. Oh, yeah, and most importantly, us he detergent, i.e. detergent designed specifically for high efficiency front loading washing machines. Apparently using inappropriate detergent can lead to the smelliness issues described above. I imagine it would also leave your clothes wicked crusty. Consumer Reports rates Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated With Bleach Alternative With Color Clean HE highest among HE detergents (actually it scored 2 points higher than the highest scoring conventional detergent, so there). We've been using Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated Original HE, with great success. CR's GreenerChoices suggests consumers
[a]void NPEs in laundry detergents. Nonylphenol ethoxylates, also known as NPEs, are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as toxic to aquatic plants and animals. Some detergents still contain those chemicals because they cost less. But in our tests, the performance of NPE-free detergents was rated very good to excellent.
A number of HE detergents do not contain NPEs. Unfortunately neither Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated With Bleach Alternative With Color Clean HE nor Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated Original HE are on GreenerChoices list, so I'm thinking they might contain NPEs.

The Dryer
The LG DLG5988 is the top rated dryer at Consumer Reports. But that's not what we have. We have the LG DLG5966, which is the closest model number we could find. Scientific, not really, but we're doing the best we can with what we've got. Also, you might notice that the controls are on the front of the dryer while the controls are at the back of the washer. Aesthetically pleasing, not really, but we're doing the best we can with what we've got.

We had hookups for either gas or electric for the dryer. We went with gas because according to GreenerChoice's, CR's environmental site,
gas dryers are generally cheaper to run and have a lower environmental impact, contributing about 60 percent less carbon dioxide. Gas dryers cost about $50 more than comparable electric models, but the savings in fuel costs should more than make up the difference.
GreenerChoices gave a very similar model LG dryer its top score. Though given the results of our gas usage comparison below, I'm not so sure that this particular gas dryer is all that more efficient than the standard model we had in our rental in Indiana.

Again, the dryer operates completely silently except for the adorable song when its done drying, which I could turn off by pressing the Damp Dry Beep button for 3 seconds, but shh, don't tell my husband. One time my husband thought the dryer suddenly got really noisy and was shaking the whole house, but it wasn't the dryer. It was an earthquake. So while I'm screaming and running for a door frame (which I have since learned is the WRONG thing to do; instead you should hide under a desk or table); he's sauntering up to the laundry room and turning off the dryer. Anywhoodle, the dryer is quiet. To my knowledge, it in no way sounds like or causes earthquakes.

Another handy page-long Cycle Guide chart in the manual conveniently explains all the options matched to the appropriate fabric types. A difference I would like to note is between the Sensor Dry cycles and the Manual Dry cycles. The Sensor Dry cycles are what makes this dryer more efficient than dryers without sensors. They stop the dryer when your clothes are dry rather than when some random clock runs out or when a thermostat hits a certain temperature. So you don't waste energy overdrying or running extra cycles due to underdrying. The trick is, some stuff it doesn't sense well. For example, pillows may read on the surface as dry when the interior is still damp. The key thing to remember when your pillows come out damp after the initial Sensor Dry cycle is DO NOT try to run them through another Sensor Dry cycle. The sensor thinks the pillows are already dry. So the cycle will stop after just a few minutes. This will drive you crazy. Well, it drove me crazy, until I realized I needed to run the pillows through on a Manual Dry cycle, specifically Time Dry, in which the time, temperature, and other settings can be set manually. Yay, dry pillows! That is the only tricky thing about this dryer. Otherwise I've dried everything from comforters (no special Comforter Cycle, like on the washer, but Cotton/Towels Cycle did fine) to unmentionables (Delicates Cycle), with great success.

Energy Usage Comparison
The LG WM0642H (i.e., the washing machine), is Energy Star rated, which means that it's better for the environment because it uses less energy than standard washing machines. In fact, its little Energy Guide yellow label says that its Estimated Yearly Operating Cost (when used with a gas water heater) is $10. That's right $10 per YEAR. Pretty cool, huh? Its estimated yearly electricity use is 135 kWh. Huh, that math doesn't add up based on the amount of money we pay per kWh here in CA. Ah, I see, the fine print says this is based on a 2007 national average electricity cost of $0.1065 per kWh. National average? What, are utility companies paying people to use electricity in other parts of the country? But the point is the cost range of similar models is $10 to $71 per year, so this baby is at the bottom. It is the most efficient. Cool, no?

Unfortunately for the purposes of consumption comparison, the most efficient aspect of the washing machine cannot be monitored effectively as the condo association pays our water bill. So really more of our condo dues are going to pay for other people's inefficient appliances, which is quite aggravating. Don't tell my husband. Add that to our wall-sharing neighbor's intense subwoofers and, well, we can't afford to move, so just don't tell him.

Also, unfortunately for the purposes of comparison, I don't have ready access to my gas and electric bills from July to August of 2007, what with that being two moves ago.

But if I compare August through September of last year at our place in Bloomington, Indiana, with whatever the heck standard washer, dryer, and refrigerator to July through August of this year at our current residence with our fancy new washer, dryer, and refrigerator (more on my super awesome and efficient fridge in another post), here are the results:

In Bloomington we used 0.65 therms of gas per day. In California we used 0.7 therms per day. Huh. That's not such a radical improvement, in fact it's not an improvement at all. We have the same gas-powered appliances here: the water heater, the furnace, and the dryer. And we didn't have the furnace on in either place for the months at issue. Does our water heater here suck that much worse than the water heater in Indiana?

In Bloomington we used 66.12 kWh of electricity per day. In California we used 41.75 kWh of electricity per day. Wow, that's a pretty impressive improvement. Especially considering we still have a bunch of conventional light bulbs that we're waiting to burn out and replace with CFLs. But of course the cost of those kWhs is A LOT higher in California than it was in Indiana. Comparing the bottom line: I paid $0.10/kWh in Indiana. I pay $0.18/kWh in California. (2007 national average electricity cost of $0.1065 per kWh, my ass!) Yeah, that's about twice as much money. Well, doesn't that make me glad that I have a super efficient washer and more efficient than most dryer? Yes. Does that gladness outweigh my rage at the electric company? Hmm . . .

How much do you pay for electricity?

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Thalia said...

I'll have to check our per kWh charges here.

I am coveting your washer (and dryer, but the washer is the one that is making my knees a bit weak). I may have to chew on it a bit when I see it.

Sarah said...

I really would like to know what you're paying for electricity. I figured mine out by dividing the TOTAL bill by the kWh because California has this crazy scaled system so the amount you pay for your first X number of kWh is less than what you pay for your second X number of kWh and so on. And really, I don't care how the electric company breaks out the fees and taxes. I want to see at the end of the day how much does a kWh cost me. Any thoughts on my methodology?

There will be absolutely no chewing on any of my appliances. Though you are welcome to do a little dance to the end of cycle song.

Brad said...

Wow, this is a great review! You made an excellent choice in purchasing this washer as I believe it is the best value in a frontload washer on the market.

When you start to use the sanitary cycle, you will love it. When I had a frontloader, I used the sanitary cycle on all of my whites. T-shirts, towels, socks, all of them. Never used any bleach, but I never had a problem with dinginess or stains not coming out, and the whites always looked like new when I took them from the dryer.

Rebecca said...

Our electricity costs approximately 7 cents kWh. I think you may have a calculation error. This doesn't include taxes and distribution costs. Now, we may have particularly low costs since our electric company is not for profit, but I still think it seems wrong that your costs are 100 times what ours are. We use about 1200 kWh per month (looking at past bills) but that was when we also had gas in addition to electric. I looked at our bill from last summer. Interestingly, our bill used to have the price per kWh listed on it, but now you have to calculated it or else go to the website to look it up.

Sarah said...

Wow, isn't my face red. Thank goodness we have mathematicians on staff!

Indeed, I calculated my cost per kWh incorrectly - I believe I divided my charges per period by my average daily usage. Hence, WAY bigger number than it should have been.

So I've gone ahead and divided my kWh Usage by Charges This Period (which include taxes and stuff) and come up with different numbers, which I've edited the blog post to reflect.

Thank you, Rebecca!