Washing Machines

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 33 washing machine brands.

We also look at energy efficiency and water use, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Ebac and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying a washing machine:

  • Is it energy and water efficient? The energy usage of different models varies greatly. All washing machines for sale in the EU and UK must have an energy label which displays its energy usage. If possible, go for models that are A-rated and with a lower kWh figure. Also, climate change is leading to a hotter and drier UK, which is putting increasing pressure on our water supplies, so look for lower water usage on the label too.

  • Is it second hand? For a washing machine kept for 10 years, approximately 80% of its carbon emissions are from its manufacture and delivery. Buying second-hand therefore reduces environmental impact and will likely save you money too!

  • Is it long lasting? The average lifespan of washing machines has gone down in recent years, with cheaper models only lasting a few years. Go for brands that are designed to last – Miele claims its machines are designed to last 20 years.

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What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a washing machine:

  • Does it have a low energy rating? All washing machines on sale in the EU and UK must display an energy rating on a scale of A-G. Avoid models at the lower end of the range.

  • Is it too big? Only buy the size you need. Larger models use more energy and water, even if they are relatively efficient.

  • Does it need replacing? Manufacture and delivery count for up to 80% of a washing machine’s total carbon impact, so think carefully before buying another and ensure that it can’t be given another lease of life by repairing it.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The washing machine has become an essential feature of UK homes, with 97% of households owning one and using it an average of 230 times annually.

But as with all our household appliances there are hidden costs – particularly in environmental terms. This guide will examine some of the key ethical issues around washing machines, notably energy and water usage, and point you towards the most ethical and environmentally friendly brands on the market.

Should I replace my washing machine?

The first question you should ask yourself when beginning your quest for a new washing machine is this: Do I really need a new washing machine?

Although newer models are generally more efficient, most of a washing machine’s environmental impact comes from its manufacture and delivery. According to the climate scientist Mike Berners-Lee, “for a machine you keep for 10 years and use efficiently the manufacture and delivery of the appliances account for nearly 80 per cent of the total carbon footprint of each wash.” A new, A-rated model might gain you about 10% in efficiency, but Berners-Lee claims that “you will struggle to ever pay back the embodied emissions.”

So, the most environmentally friendly washing machine is probably the one you already own – unless it is a particularly inefficient model.

Buying second-hand

As a washing machine’s embodied carbon emissions account for so much of its total climate impact, buying second-hand is a good option – unless you buy a particularly energy-inefficient model.

If possible, picking up a high-quality machine second-hand is a great way to reduce climate impact and (hopefully) find a good bargain.

How long should a washing machine last?

According to the White Goods Trade Association, the average lifespan of a washing machine has dropped from ten years to under seven, and it isn’t unusual for cheaper models to only last for a few years. Cheaper models account for a large proportion of the market, with 80% of all washing machines sold costing under £500 and over 40% costing under £300.

The decision to go for cheaper models is understandable – why pay hundreds more for a washing machine when you could buy a cheaper one and also have a holiday? But purchasing cheaper models is likely to be a false economy for two reasons: 1) they are more expensive to run, and 2) they will likely need replacing sooner.

While cheaper washing machines may only last a few years, Miele states that its machines are built and tested to last the equivalent of 20 years, and they are also some of the most efficient on the market. It may be the case that investing in a top-quality washing machine works out cheaper in the long run.

Right to repair

The short lifespan of domestic appliances will hopefully soon be a thing of the past. As we reported in a previous issue (190), recently passed ‘Right to repair’ legislation aims to extend the lifespan of products such as washing machines by up to ten years. The new law will legally oblige manufacturers to make spare parts available so that appliances can be repaired instead of needing to be replaced.

Research by the European Environmental Bureau found that increasing the life of all the washing machines in the EU would save 0.25 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, the equivalent of taking 130,000 cars off the roads.

Large pile of broken washing machines
Image courtesy of Bundles-NL

How to recycle your old machine

Before getting rid of your washing machine, first check to see if it can be fixed and given a new lease of life. Either speak with an expert or try and do it yourself. The following websites might be a good place to start: ifixit.com and espares.com.

If you are sure you want to get rid of it, there are several possible options for recycling:

  • Recycling centre – take it to your local recycling centre. The website RecycleNow.com has a useful recycling locator that will tell you where your nearest recycling centre is.
  • Council collection – many councils will offer to collect old washing machines.
  • Charity and second-hand shops – some charities and second-hand/community recycling stores will offer a pickup service for donated goods.
  • Retailers – you may find that the retailer that you purchased your machine from also offers to recycle it. If you are buying a new model, this may also be offered by the company you are purchasing from. And some retailers will take your old machine even if you haven’t bought from them before.

When you are looking to recycle any goods, it is worth consulting recyclenow.com.

Energy efficiency

If you do decide to buy another washing machine, make sure you purchase one that is energy efficient. A product that uses less electricity will not only cost you less in utility bills, but will also result in fewer carbon emissions.

Fortunately, identifying the most energy-efficient machines is easy thanks to the EU/UK regulations that require suppliers of washing machines to display the energy efficiency of each model.

Energy label for washing machine
New energy labels from spring 2021 - look for the energy use in kWh / 100 cycles, as well as capacity, duration, water consumption, energy rating of the spin, and noise rating of how loud the final spin is.

Energy labels

We recently outlined the revised energy labelling system for domestic appliances. In March 2021 the energy rating system was rescaled and now ranges from A-G, where previously the highest rating stretched all the way to A+++. One of the aims of the new system was that the A category would be left empty initially, and B and C scarcely populated, in order to encourage suppliers to make more efficient products.

While we found this to be true for some products such as dishwashers, the world of washing machines is already awash with models in the new A-rated category. Out of the 33 brands covered in this guide, a third offered at least one A-rated model, with some brands offering many. These brands received an extra Product Sustainability plus point on the score table.

The new energy labels also require manufactures to state a washing machine’s weighted energy consumption per 100 cycles, expressed in kWh. The lower the kWh figure the more energy efficient a model is.

Which washing machine brands are the most energy efficient?

We found a number of brands that offered A-rated models, so there is plenty of choice when it comes to energy-efficient washing machines. Of these brands, Miele and Haier are worth highlighting as they appeared most committed to only providing energy efficient models: all six of Haier’s washing machines were A-rated, as were 16 of Miele’s 18 models.

The table below shows the number of models each brand has in their highest energy rating category, out of total number of their models on offer e.g. 2 of AEG's 14 models are A-rated.

 
Energy rating Brands and number of models
A AEG 2/14, Beko 7/56, Bosch 2/22, Candy 10/32, Fisher & Paykel 1/6, Haier 6/6, Hoover 47/92, LG 10/28, Miele 16/18, Samsung 13/29, Siemens 1/22
B Belling 1/1, Bush 2/15, CDA 1/3, Hisense 6/8, Hotpoint 8/56, John Lewis 1/7, Logik 2/6, Montpellier 4/9
C Indesit 4/28, Whirlpool 6/8, Zanussi 5/23
D Amica 2/5, Ebac 2/6, Gorenje 1/13
E Smeg 1/2
F Electrolux 2/2
G N/A – all brands were found to have at least one product rated higher than G

* Maytag was not included in the above table as the brand was primarily sold in the US and no energy labels could be found.
* The following brands still only displayed old energy labels at the time of writing, so were not included: Baumatic, IKEA, New World, Russell Hobbs, Sharp.

Energy saving tips - how to use your washing machine more efficiently

As well as buying an energy- and water-efficient washing machine, there are many other ways you can make your washing habits more environmentally friendly.

1) Washing at a lower temperature

Washing clothes at lower temperatures is much less energy intensive. According to Mike Berners-Lee, an 8 kg load of washing will result in approximately 590 g CO2e if washed at 60°C, but only 330 g of CO2e if washed at 30°C. The EU’s Ecodesign initiative (which still applies to the UK) means that, since 2013, all washing machines must have a 20°C option. Modern washing powders and detergents work just as effectively at lower temperatures.

2) Don’t do things by halves

Wait until you have a full load before washing. If you do have to wash a half load, you should select the ‘half-load’ option on your machine, if available.

3) Maintain your machine

Well-maintained machines last for longer. There are several things you can do:

  • don’t overload the drum as this could cause damage and make the machine less efficient
  • clean the machine’s filter every month
  • ensure pockets are emptied before washing to prevent items getting caught in the drain pump and clogging up the machine.

4) Wash less often

We don’t want to promote a lack of hygiene, but you should ask yourself whether an item of clothing actually needs a full machine wash. Washing clothes less often not only saves energy and water but will help clothes to last longer.

Several years ago, Fashion Revolution, a not-for-profit organisation, and several partners in the fashion industry launched The Care Label Project, a campaign “to inspire consumers to wash their clothes less, to avoid the harsh and damaging dry cleaning process and to use lower washing temperatures.” Visit their website for more details.

5. Avoid tumble dryers

Tumble dryers are very energy intensive. In terms of carbon emissions, it is much better to dry your clothes on the line or a rack than in a dryer. The figures given by Mike Berners-Lee in his book, ‘How Bad Are Bananas?’, clearly illustrate this point:

  • 8 kg clothes washed at 40°C, dried on the line: 540 g CO2e
  • 8 kg clothes washed at 40°C, tumble-dried: 2 kg CO2e (i.e. nearly 4 times more)

Microfibres and plastic pollution

Washing less frequently, at lower temperatures, with full loads and not using tumble dryers also help to reduce the shedding of microfibres (plastics from some materials) from our clothes. Find out more about microfibres and washing in this article by Friends of the Earth.

Saving Water

Why we need to save water

For those of us who live in Britain and are well-acquainted with its glorious dampness, the idea that we need to save water may seem strange. Yet, according to WaterWise, a UK NGO, reducing our water consumption is important because climate change, combined with population growth and changes in lifestyle, is putting increasing pressure on our water supplies.

We are already seeing the effects of climate change in the UK, with the ten warmest years on record having occurred since 2002. The UK Met Office’s projections depict a more extreme weather system: summers are likely to be hotter and drier, but with heavy rainfall also more likely. By 2070, it predicts that winter will be between 1°C and 4.5°C warmer and up to 30% wetter, while summer will be between 1 and 6°C warmer and up to 60% drier.

According to a recent report by the UK Environment Agency, if no action is taken between 2025 and 2050 over 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day will be needed for the public water supply to address the future pressures of climate change and a growing population. These pressures are faced by the whole of the UK, though water scarcity is most serious in the south-east, with the Environment Agency estimating that 50% of the additional need in 2025-50 will come from this region alone.

The Environment Agency recommends a number of measures to reduce stress on our future water supply, many of which are structural, such as reducing leakage and developing new supplies. It also highlights the importance of reducing personal consumption: “If each person reduced the amount of water they use, it would go a long way to meeting future needs. Reducing consumption is not about stopping people using water, but about reducing waste and using water wisely.”

How much water does a washing machine use?

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that the average UK household uses around 330 litres per day, which equates to 140 litres per capita but, in general, people greatly underestimate their water usage. WaterWise surveyed people in the UK to ask how much water they used in a typical day and found that many respondents didn’t know (37%) or estimated well below the average (24% estimated under 50 litres per day; 22% estimated between 50-99 litres per day).

Of a typical household’s water usage, clothes washing represents about 10% of the total, so based on the figures above, that amounts to approximately 33 litres per day on average. Buying a water-efficient washing machine is therefore an easy and effective way to reduce your water consumption.

The new energy labels for washing machines are required to show the weighted water consumption per cycle, given in litres, allowing you to easily compare the water usage of different models. Larger models are likely to use more water than smaller models, so don’t buy bigger than needed.

Washing machine with dramatic weather image in glass window

Ethical and environmental issues highlighted in the score table

Environmental reporting and Carbon management & reporting

Only two companies received our best rating for Environmental Reporting: LG and Samsung, while only one company, Ikea, received our best rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.

Smeg is worthy of note for its appalling effort (or lack thereof) in both these areas. In an email to Ethical Consumer, Smeg stated, “Although we don’t report carbon emissions, we do strive to reduce wherever possible.” If we stand any chance of meeting the Paris climate targets it is essential that companies monitor and report their emissions. Perhaps, as some sort of mild-mannered linguistic protest at Smeg’s inertia we should start using its name as an expletive – as was done by a young Craig Charles in the late-80s sci-fi series, Red Dwarf. Smegging smeg!

Conflict minerals and Supply chain management

Washing machines, like nearly all electronic devices, require conflict minerals such tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold. The issue of conflict minerals was addressed poorly across the sector, with most companies receiving our worst rating and losing marks in the Human Rights and Habitats & Resources category.

The only company to receive our best rating was LG (though it did lose a mark in the Human Rights column for other activity). Middle ratings were given to AB Electrolux, Ikea, Samsung and Whirlpool Corp.

Similarly, most companies were marked down for poor management of workers' rights issues in their supply chains. Only three received our best rating: Bush (Sainsbury’s), John Lewis and Miele.

Rent a washing machine

During our research we came across Bundles, an innovative company in the Netherlands which provided a low-cost washing machine rental service. The company, which has been praised by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is guided by the concept of a circular economy – the idea of which is to transition from our current system (in which products are used briefly and then chucked away), to one in which products have long life cycles and are recycled at the end of their life.

Bundles only offers Miele washing machines in its service because it sees Miele as offering the most efficient, durable, and easily fixable models. Renting allows consumers to benefit from quality, long-lasting products without the upfront cost. There appeared to be a number of washing machine rental services in the UK, but none had the same focus on sustainability as Bundles, or appeared as cheap. A gap in the market, perhaps?

And finally... the hidden power of the washing machine

At first glance, this humble domestic appliance does not appear to have any obvious revolutionary potential (beyond, of course, its ability to spin), but some have claimed that the washing machine played a vital role in women’s liberation.

An article published in 2009 by the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, even went so far as to argue that the washing machine had done more for the emancipation of women than the pill or the legalisation of abortion! Though why the Catholic Church thought anyone would take its views on women’s liberation seriously, God only knows!

The company behind the brand

Ebac was founded in 1972 and started out as a supplier of dehumidifiers, only launching its washing machine range in 2016. It is based in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and claims to be the only brand that manufactures washing machines in the UK. In 2012, founder John Elliot handed over ownership of Ebac to a trust, the Ebac Foundation, a move which the company claims ensures “Ebac will always remain in the UK, protecting British manufacturing forever”.

Purchasing goods closer to home is generally a good thing from an environmental perspective; however, Ebac received a worst Ethical Consumer rating in all applicable categories. The company even returned our questionnaire, but next to nearly every question was written “N/A” – as if questions about carbon emissions and workers’ rights were just not applicable to Ebac.

This is particularly concerning seeing as Mr Elliot, still director of the company, was also reportedly against the introduction of the minimum wage in the UK.

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See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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