We run down some of the key findings from the score table above.
Eight of the brands that we looked at only produced washing machines with an A+++ energy rating – LG, New World, Fisher & Paykel, Haier, Grundig and Maytag, NEFF, Siemens.
Their products are marked [S] on the table, and they received a Product Sustainability mark for this. Almost all other companies produced a mixture of A+++ to A models.
Several of the companies we looked at acknowledged that their washing machines contained the conflict minerals tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold. However, all but four received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for their policies on this issue. Either the companies failed to address conflict minerals altogether, or their response was inadequate. This meant that they lost full marks under the Habitats and Resources and Human Rights categories.
The exceptions were:
Best rating: LG and Russell Hobbs
Middle rating: Siemens AG and Samsung
Similarly, most companies lacked any real discussion of toxics like PVC and BFRs. They all got a worst rating apart from Samsung which got a best.
There was a much wider spread on ratings for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. The companies that didn’t get a worst were rated as follows:
Best: Ebac, Belling and New World, Servis, White Knight, Gorenje, Daewoo, Smeg.
Middle: Miele, Baumatic, Candy and Hoover, AEG, Electrolux, Zanussi, Haier, LG
The amount of energy used on laundry has been steadily increasing for the past six years in the UK. In 2016, washing machines consumed 4.54 TWh, the greatest amount since 2008.
That is surprising considering the improvements in energy efficiency for the average model. Energy use per wash fell 27%, between 2004 to 2015, if looking at the average machine sold in the EU. Yet, most families still consume 179 kWh of energy washing laundryevery year – three times as much as running a laptop would use in the same period.
90% of the energy goes into heating the water up. So, washing at cooler temperatures – modern detergents are designed for this – and rinsing clothes cold makes sense. A wash cycle at 20°C consumes around 70% less electricity than one at 60°C. And even just lowering the temperature by 10 degrees and rinsing cold will cut energy use by over 40%.
More and more companies are producing smart washing machines that calculate the right setting for your load, thereby maximising efficiency. They use sensors to detect the volume and even, according to Bosch, the fabric type and soiling level of your washing.
Slightly bizarrely, washing machines currently carry EU energy ratings between A and A+++. It used to be A-G but increasing improvements and a reluctance among manufacturers to recalibrate has led to a proliferation of plusses.
This means that over half the machines purchased in the UK each year are A+++ rated, and a further 21% are A++. Only four brands looked at did not produce any A+++ models at all, and so these are probably best avoided: Baumatic, Servis, Flavel and IKEA.
Unfortunately though, the rating itself is not always the guarantee we might hope for. The average A++ model sold in 2015 used just 1 kWh less a year than the average A+ model sold! So, it’s worth looking at the actual figures for energy use, rather than just the class.
In fact, it is possible to produce washing machines with an energy efficiency that goes far beyond A+++ requirements. Some companies therefore add their own additional indicators, giving a percentage efficiency above and beyond the basic rating. We found models like this from AEG, Bosch, Haier, LG, Samsung and Zanussi.
For example, LG has several models that are rated A+++(-60%): this means that they are 60% more efficient than the minimum requirements for an A+++ rating. The extra percentage won’t be marked on the energy label itself, as it is not a formal system, but is advertised on the companies’ websites.
Sometimes equivalent claims are made in the product text itself. For example, Bosch specifies that some models are ‘30% more efficient than the best efficiency class’. This is perhaps a bit misleading: such claims and ratings use the minimum A+++ requirements as a baseline, so may be fairly comparable to other A+++ models. The actual energy consumption figures themselves (given in kWh) are still the best indicator of actual efficiency.
The energy label will also tell you annual water consumption, capacity, spin drying efficiency class (rated A to G) and noise emissions (for partial and full loads).
Save energy with hot fill machines
If you have an eco-system for heating your water – a low carbon, gas condensing boiler or a solar-heated water supply – then a hot fill machine could save energy. It uses hot water from your boiler, rather than requiring electricity to heat it once it is in the machine.
Most manufacturers argue that a hot fill won’t save you much: they say that modern washing machines use very little water, and low temperature, and that the first water from a boiler is likely to run cold or cool in your pipes anyway. Removing the hot fill, however, also makes manufacture cheaper – so this should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.
Unfortunately, ISE, which was our Best Buy for hot fill washing machines in the last guide, appear to have stopped trading. However, both Ebac and Fisher & Paykel now produce dual fill machines, which have a cold and a hot fill option. Ebac’s two dual fill models cost £450 and £530, and come with a 5- or a 10-year warranty respectively. All three of Fisher and Paykel’s models are dual fill and rated A+++, and they cost £550-800.