Thursday, June 28, 2012

Washing Machines

We're looking at a kitchen remodel - we'll get the first round of quotes tomorrow.  And one big issue is the laundry equipment, because our kitchen is also our laundry.  Our washer and dryer are about 4 years old.  The washer is pretty good; the dryer has a stupid design flaw that has ruined some clothes, but I work around it.  Jim suggested we should replace the set.  The kitchen designer also suggested we should replace the set - with a Miele compact washer and dryer.  I checked this object out.  It's smaller that what we have (2.5 cu.ft. instead of 3.5); and Consumer Reports says it has twice the cycle length (95 minutes to 45 minutes). 

After looking around, I've realized that most washers and dryers on the market today, if they handle the same cubic footage as ours, are too big for our kitchen.  They're 5-9 inches deeper, and 3-9 inches taller.  Taller is important because I use them as a working platform to fold clothes, and I'm only 5' 5 1/2" tall.  A washer top 40" high is too high for me to work comfortably on.  No, folks, bigger isn't always better.  We probably don't need the 3.5 cubic feet day-to-day, but it does mean that we don't have to take Jim's sleeping bag to the laundromat.

So I'm looking at "compact" washers, which handle 2.5 cubic feet more or less.  These are small enough to fit in our kitchen.  There aren't many of them, and the two top brands seem to be Miele and Bosch.  Which brings me to the evaluation part.  How do I tell what to buy, and whether Miele really is a good idea?  I have three sources:  Consumer Reports, online customer reviews (including CR), and the verbal evaluations of local merchants who sell and service them.

Consumer Reports doesn't rate small washers.  It only rates the big honking 4 cubic foot models.  So all I can use there are the brand ratings, and the remarks of people who've bought the big boys.  CR isn't even rating Bosch these days; a search brings up an old review page on a Bosch model with customer comments.  It rated a large Miele (which has since been discontinued), but it doesn't give a brand reliability rating.

For both Bosch and Miele, the online comments (and not just at Consumer Reports) are deeply split.  People who buy these machines either ADORE them or HATE them.  And the haters tell stories about  leaky machines and slow, rude customer service response which don't encourage me.

The local merchants who sell the brands say they're both good and neither brand has unusual reliability problems.  But then, they want me to buy from them.  The guy who sells Miele did say that he doesn't service them because Miele does all its own service. Maybe it's a good thing I've been learning German.  The woman who sells Bosch says they service them and they don't have a lot of calls; I've been buying appliances from this store for years, and I kind of trust them.  The guy who sells both Miele and Bosch says he thinks Miele is a little better on not needing service. 

I got curious and checked the user comments on the Whirlpool Duet and the LG washer, both very highly rated by Consumer Reports.  Interesting - they too had the split between "I love it" and "I'll never buy another one."  I'm concluding that online comments on washing machines aren't as useful as I've sometimes found when researching computer equipment.  With any luck on a computer review, you'll get someone who has done a detailed technical analysis.

Given that all the machines on the market today are either (a) too big for my space or (b) smaller capacity than I now have, and given that all of them seem to feel that 75 minutes and up are an appropriate length for a laundry cycle, I don't see any good choices.  I'm actually considering keeping the old Frigidaire, even if the dryer does occasionally tear up a sweater.  On the other hand, eventually this too will die and then I'll have the same problem all over again.

But this raises the question:  how do consumers (that would be us) determine whether these expensive pieces of equipment are with the four figures that most of them cost?  Consumer Reports is the only independent evaluator I know, and from what I read in the customer comments, even a washer they rate highly in their really exhaustive tests is as likely as not to leak water all over the floor, or tie the towels in a damp soggy knot because the load was unbalanced, or drip soap down the front of the machine.  My crappy old Frigidaire is compact, washes really well, never takes more than 45 minutes on a load, and usually spins things really dry.  I don't see an advantage in upgrading because of the risk of getting a lemon.

Or am I letting myself by bulldozed by a very small number of vocal discontents?  Any of my friends have any opinions on washing machines?


  1. Anonymous10:09 PM

    Which did you choose? Are you happy with your choice?!

  2. I got the Whirlpool Duet 3.5 cubic foot model with Allergen cycle, and the matching dryer. The model numbers change but that's the description. It was physically the shortest model, 36" high, a good work surface. For height reasons I passed on the pedestal they try to sell you.

    I'm happy with it. It seems to clean stuff better than the old Frigidaire, and the longer wash cycle (roughly 60 minutes for the normal cycle) is offset by a really high spin rate, which puts things out quite dry to start with, and a 35 minute dryer cycle. The Frigidaire dryer cycle was more like an hour and was less reliable at getting things, well, dry. Also the old washer regularly failed to spin small delicate loads dry; I've only had that problem once with the Whirlpool, it's much more reliable at getting the loads balanced (assuming you load it properly with the big stuff at the bottom).