Top-loaders ($350 and up) are easy to use―they don't require bending over. Front-loaders ($600 and up) use 65 percent less energy and a third less water, since their basins don't completely fill. However, new, pricier top-loaders ($900 and up) rival the energy efficiency of front-loaders.
- A machine that heats only the water it needs. "This is the most important thing that people overlook," says John O’Meara, manager of Standards of Excellence, an appliance showroom in San Rafael, California. The feature saves energy by heating only the necessary water, not the entire household water tank. In general, "washers made now are one-third more efficient than those made seven years ago," says Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, in Washington, D.C.
- A speedy spin cycle. The faster the cycle, the more water will be extracted, and the less time clothes will spend in the dryer. Look for "a high rpm [rotations per minute], which adds up to energy-efficiency," says Alex Cheimets, editor of applianceadvisor.com. Go for at least 900 rpm. To save even more energy, pair the washer with a dryer that has a moisture sensor, which shuts off the unit when the clothes are dry.
- Minimal water usage. Most conventional washers go through 40 gallons of water per cycle, so "if you do a load a day," says Audrey Reed-Granger of Whirlpool, "that’s more than 14,000 gallons a year." Check the labels; some machines consume as little as 14 gallons a cycle.
- Pedestals. Some washers (and dryers) can be equipped with pedestals ($100 to $200), which sit underneath the appliance and raise it for easier loading and unloading. Many include drawers for stashing detergent, bleach, and stain-removal sticks.
- An additional rinse cycle. This option, which dispenses extra water during washing, is great if you need to fight a stubborn stain or want to remove excess detergent that can irritate allergy sufferers or babies. But it will increase your water bill.