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Are new washing machines made as well as they used to be?

Quality The short answer is no, most are a long way from the quality of the past but I think most of us realise this now. You can still buy high quality washing machines (e.g. Miele washing machines), but they seem very expensive compared with most "normal" ones because dumbing down of quality over the last 20 years has kept their prices artificially low.

Several previously trusted household-name manufacturers have also been taken over by foreign companies, who then substituted the old washing machines with their own but kept the old brand name. The washing machine changed its quality, but kept the original name. (related: list of who makes which washing machines)

Reduced build quality

Instead of bravely maintaining quality and seeing their washing machines rise in price many manufacturers have found themselves constantly having to reduce quality and cut corners to keep their products competitively priced. This trend has got worse to the point where they now routinely redesign their washing machines from scratch, ditching tried tested and reliable designs in favour of cheaper new production methods and cheaper suppliers of parts.

Most appliance manufacturers have been making washing machines for many decades, and should have developed incredibly reliable ones by now. Instead they are selling new washing machines that still suffer the same faults their previous models suffered from over 10-years ago. Instead of their appliances becoming better with time and experience, they get worse, or at best stay the same.

Most current washing machines are way too cheap

It might not seem as though they are cheap, but compared to what they should be if standards had been maintained they definitely are. For example, Hoover used to sell a 1200 spin 4.5Kg washing machine at over £400 in the 1990s, yet in 2008, a Hoover 1600 spin 6Kg washing machine cost as little as £211. Even now in 2013 their current 6Kg drum 1200 spin washing machine is available at only £215. That's inflation in reverse and it's achieved in large part by reducing quality and repairability.

So in around 20 years a basic Hoover washing machine has increased in features, but reduced from over £400, to almost half the price. When inflation is taken into consideration it’s probably only a quarter of the price.

Going back further..

In 1973, a basic Hoover washing machine was £94.88, in today's prices that's £973.29 (Source Inflation calculator). Today – over 40 years later a similarly basic model but with faster spins and a bigger drum can be bought for £220. That's equivalent to just £21.47 in 1973. So in 40 years, the price of a basic washing machine has dropped (in real terms) by nearly 80% which is absolutely staggering.

An 80% reduction in cost is impossible without reducing the quality and longevity of the product. If you want to produce a washing machine made as well as the Hoover was in 1973 it would cost much more like £600+ and with extra features and technical advances it could easily be £800+.

Top quality, extremely well built washing machines are still available and they are every bit as reliable as they used to be – if not more so. They just usually cost between £600 and over £1000 (warning be careful of assuming an expensive washing machine has to be high build quality – are more expensive washing machines better quality?).

A quality washing machine should last a good 15 – 20 years, but only a few manufacturers produce such appliances. Most manufacturers prefer to sell to the mass market in vast quantities, but it's getting harder for them to compete on price and they've dug themselves into a big hole.

Summary

Consumers relentlessly batter down prices by rewarding those who can do it £5 cheaper and punishing those who can't by not buying them. Too many consumers focus on price over quality and choose faster spins and more features over solid build quality and repair-ability. The majority of consumers swap over to cheaper brands if the one they always had goes up in price. There's a limit to the savings to be made by clever, innovative production methods. Inevitably manufacturers had to resort to cutting down the length of the mains cable and hoses, reducing the quality and sturdiness of the main casing, changing metal parts to plastic etc. and reducing the quality and repair-ability of components in order to satisfy the demand for cheap prices.

Choosing a washing machine

5 tips for buying a new appliance

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Comments

  1. avatar Dan Wall says:

    Had problems with Tricity Bendix drum bearing after 2 & 1/2 year, Electrolux replaced complete drum cost €140 labour. Another 2 & 1/2 and bearing gone again. Machine has only light use, 2 in household

  2. Tricity Bendix are obsolete in the UK but they were a decent budget machine and were very cheap.

  3. Not arguing with the central tenant of the article, but keep in mind most technology related products (like cars, washing machines) do get better and cheaper as time goes on. This is probably the most universal generalization you could make about all products. Again – not arguing with this article..I just think it is highly questionable assertion to say that something can’t have gotten 80% cheaper over many decades and not be the same quality – it’s just not true.

  4. Hi Ben. Sadly it is true, which is why the article was written. Don’t forget I’ve repaired them since 1976 so I’ve seen it very much at first hand. I agree with the principle of what you say and it’s true that some products have become much cheaper and more reliable but that’s usually new products coming to market – rarely established ones invented decades before.

    For example, an article in the Guardian says in 1970 a brand new Mini car cost £600. In today’s money (using the same calculator I used for my article) that’s £7,865.04 but mew ones start at at least £15,000. So if we do the same maths £15,000 for a new Mini now is equivalent to £1,144.30 in 1970. A new mini now costs the equivalent of twice what it did in the 70s but doing the same maths with a washing machine finds a new washer is 80% less than it was before.

    I know it’s very much an inexact science and it’s a very simplistic test but new washing machines are now a small fraction of what they cost in the 70s when I first started working on them and I can testify they are also a mere shadow of the quality they were then. Some of the reduction in cost is definitely down to better production techniques though – that’s for sure.

  5. I do agree here with the decline in quality of washing machines and find your articles very interesting. Obviously I’m not experienced enough to know the full knowledge of the history of quality in washing machines but it is an interest of mine and always has been, I guess because I still happily own a quality product. I have a Hotpoint 5kg 1200 spin machine from 1996 a WM model I inherited from my Gran and ok not much but it does mean the world to me because it first interested me in washing machines and I dread the day it breaks because it has carried on working for years with minimal repairs apart from a new motor years ago and new carbon brushes last month and the bearings are beginning to fail but it carries on regardless and I’m proud of this longevity and obviously resent this to many new machines with poor quality. I like ignoring all the recommendations of switching to more energy efficient appliances because they don’t matter if the appliance is still working after this amount of time then why stop using it.

  6. Thanks Ben. I agree about scrapping perfectly working appliances being counter-productive, I wrote an article about it here – Do we really need to dump our old inefficient appliances to save money and the world?

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