Washing machine spin speeds

Spin We pay a fair bit extra for a washing machine with a slightly faster spin. Is there an optimum spin speed, and anything faster is unnecessary? – Or is it a case of the faster the better? If it’s the latter, how come the spin speeds just keep creeping up 100 rpm at a time? Are they really struggling to get washing machines to spin faster, or is it just clever marketing?

Brief history of spin speeds

Over the years I’ve seen washing machine spin speeds steadily increase. When I started in 1976, most front loading washing machines spun at around 700 rpm or less. Then (circa 1976) Hoover brought out the A3058 washing machine, which they proudly announced was the fastest spinning front loading washing machine in the UK. Its top spin was 800 RPM. I remember it well because we tested it with a tachometer, and couldn’t get it to reach 800 rpm. We were told by Hoover that the 800 washing machine needed to bed in.

A couple of years later (around 1978), Hoover brought out the 1100 rpm A3060, which was the next, "fastest spinning washing machine". These two washing machines must have increased Hoover's market share as customers were attracted to the faster spins, which were welcome at that time.

However, later on, Hoover brought out a slower, 1000 spin washing machine. There is no logical reason to make a washing machine spin at 1000 rpm when you already have 800 and 1100 rpm. No fabric needs 1000 rpm specifically. But, you can price a 1000 spin washing machine in between the 800 and 1100, which makes a convenient new price point for marketing purposes and this is the main marketing use for spin speeds.

Are we being conned a little?

Did you know that although a manufacturer may produce lots of different washing machines, spinning at 800, 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300, 1400, 1500, 1600 and even 1800, many of these washing machines have exactly the same motors, and speed control modules inside? It’s not like a car, where a 1.6 litre car has a physically larger and different engine than their 1.2 litre model. A faster spinning washing machine often has exactly the same sized and build quality motor inside as the slower spinning version – even though it’s doing a lot more work.

Many washing machine speed control modules (PCB) are essentially the same part fitted through out a washing machine range. A common practice is to electronically disable a fast spin washing machine from spinning at its full design potential and sell it as a slower spinning machine (at a lower price). If fitted to a 1200 spin washing machine, a certain link is cut, if fitted to a 1400 spin washing machine a different link is cut producing a different top spin speed. The motors little different in costs to produce. It costs very little extra to produce a washing machine that spins at 1200 rpm than it does to produce one that only spins at 1000 but you can charge a more for it because it’s a perceived extra.

The point is to highlight that, as with most manufacturers (of anything), products are priced at values that relate – not to manufacturing costs – but according to perceived value by customer’s. In other words, if a consumer perceives that another model has more valuable features they will happily pay much more for it – even if the product costs little more to make.

So, how valuable are faster spin speeds? The difference between an otherwise identical 1200 and 1400 washing machine can be £100. Is an extra 200 rpm spin really worth £100? Another thing to watch out for is that some washing machines only spin at their top spin speed for a very short time (as short as 30 seconds), and some may only reach that top speed if the load very well balanced.

As far as I know there are no independent tests to show which spin speed is actually the perfect optimum, whereby anything faster involves increasingly diminishing returns. My personal feeling is that it is around 1100 – 1200 rpm. Even though I’m sure a washing machine spinning at 1800 rpm can be statistically proven to extract more water from laundry, but how noticeable is it? In the real world, I’m sceptical of its real value when put into context of the premium price charged, the extra noise, and the extra wear and tear on the washing machine parts.

Spin speed test

Experiment I tried a little experiment, admittedly not too scientific, but it may have value nevertheless. I wanted to see if I could perceive any significant difference between towels spun at different spin speeds, and whether there was any significant difference in drying times. Sophisticated tests have no doubt been carried out many times to show the exact amount of moisture removed by various spin speeds, but as a user I’m not interested in fancy statistics, I’m interested in practical effects. It’s all well and good saying one spin speed extracts 2% more water than another, but what does that mean in real life practical terms?

Here’s what I did –

  1. I found 3 identical towels
  2. I put a full load of mixed towels in with one of the identical towels. Then put the washing machine on a rinse and spin programme and manually altered the final spin speed down to 800 rpm
  3. I let the washing machine rinse and spin, then removed the just the test towel
  4. I put one of the 2 remaining identical towels in the washing machine and manually altered the final spin to 1100 and put it on the same rinse and spin
  5. I then took the towel out and placed the last one inside. I set the final spin to 1400 and let the last towel go through the rinse and spin programme.

Each time I took out one of the test towels I tried to accurately assess how dry it felt, and constantly compared all three as they became available. Finally, I hung all 3 towels out on the line on a sunny, but calm day and monitored them carefully.

Hand assessment:

  • The towel spun at 800 rpm felt wet and damp, but I could not extract a drop more water out of it with strong wringing by hand
  • The towel spun at 1100 rpm felt virtually the same, although I did believe it felt slightly less cold to the face
  • The towel spun at 1400 did feel less wet

Drying on clothes line assessment:

  • After about an hour the towel spun at 1400 was virtually dry. The one spun at 1100 was also almost dry but there wasn’t a lot in it, and the one spun at 800 felt like it needed another 10 minutes
  • The difference between the towels after an hour was that the 1400 towel was virtually bone dry, the 1100 towel was almost dry but very slightly damper and the 800 spin towel felt almost dry but slightly damp.
Summary:

If I routinely dried clothes outside it would take much longer to dry laundry spun at slower speeds and I could save money by going for a more modest spin speed which is likely to be quieter and more reliable too. If I routinely used a tumble dryer, I would expect to save something on drying costs if laundry was spun faster but after 1200 RPM there’s not much evidence that significant extra water is extracted. However, as a faster spins mean more noise, more vibration, more wear and tear, and more money to buy in the first place, the question is at what speed do the benefits start to get outweighed by the long term disadvantages?

For most people, an optimum spin speed would be the best to go for and I currently expect it to be approximately 1200 – 1400. I’m sceptical about the true value of washing machines spinning much faster.

UPDATE:

Since writing this article I’ve discovered evidence which appears to back up my theory about spin speeds. A manufacturer’s spin efficiency figures relating to tumble drying times needed to dry laundry spun at different speeds – Washing machine spin speed efficiency figures and drying costs

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Comments

  1. avatarAmy says

    My sister and I were discussing washing machines. She said in Europe (France), machines spun slower and were more energy efficient. I’m thinking that spinning faster is better for the motor because of inertia or some movement equation. Kinetic? An object in motion stays in motion? Which is better for the motor – faster or slower? Thanks!

  2. avatar says

    Energy efficiency in washing machines comes from water usage and how much they cost to heat up the water. The motor hardly uses much energy in comparison so I don’t think there’s much room to save much energy with the motors. I would have thought the faster they spin the more power they use. Slower is better because it’s quieter, and less wear and tear, but if too slow the laundry doesn’t get dry enough.

  3. avatarPamela Sweetland-Bell says

    I always prefer 1000 or less, makes ironing much easier, or no ironing at all.

  4. avatarmichael says

    Thanks for this article. I have two washing machines. One spins at 800 RPM and the other at 1600. I washed some towels in the slower-spinning machine and weighed them when the wash was done. It weighed 30 lbs. I put them in the second (faster) machine for a spin only. When done the towels weighed 20 lbs. (An extra 10 lbs of water was removed!) When the towels came out of the dryer they weighed 10 lbs.

    I tried to find out from my Gas and Electric company how much money I might save doing this on a regular basis. Unfortunately they wouldn’t answer me. (Glad to see your drying time comparison.)

    Even though I didn’t get an answer from the utility company I still follow this “wash in the slower and spin in the faster” machine process.

  5. avatar says

    Hello Michael, thanks for your comment. It’s good to see people experimenting, but to be honest something seems not quite right with those figures. Removing an extra ten pounds weight of water from laundry already spun at 800 which would usually leave them relatively dry (it would be difficult to wring much water out of them for example) seems remarkably high. I wouldn’t expect that amount of water to be in them at all even before they were spun. I just did a quick experiment myself and found that 1 pint of water weighed roughly one pound, so that would mean you got an extra 10 pints of water from laundry which had already been spun at 800 which seems impossible.

    I have another article you might be interested in about the difference in tumble drying costs after spinning laundry at different speeds, which shows that after 800 spin the laundry has normally around 70% residual dampness and after a 1400 spin it changes to 50% so there’s a 20% improvement (there are no figures for 1600). My article argues that in the big picture, it may work out better to spin laundry at more modest speeds :)
    Washing machine spin speed efficiency figures and drying costs

  6. avatarmichael adel says

    Andy,
    Thanks for the question. I believe the 800 rpm machine never got to full spin speed. You know how machines often try to spin but because of unbalanced loads it often fails. That might have happened in this case. (The machine in the basement so I didn’t get to watch or hear the spin cycle.)

    I will attempt another experiment and post the results.

    “you got an extra 10 pints of water from laundry which had already been spun at 800 which seems impossible.” I’ll try the experiment again and report back.

    What might have happened is that because of the heavy weight of the towels (and possibly unbalanced load) they didn’t ever spin at 800 rpm. My washing machine is in the basement so I didn’t get to hear/watch the spin cycle.

  7. avatarFran says

    There seems to be an emphasis on HIGH spin speeds. I am looking for a machine with a gentle, low and short spin speed for my delicates

  8. avatar says

    Hi Fran, even the fastest spinning washers have slow speeds and shorter spin times for delicates though I think 1400 is probably fast enough for cottons.

  9. avatarlynn says

    we previously had a hoover vision HD, which was 1400 spin and although working ok for washing when it spun it was making a heck of a noise (and getting on my nerves) which sounded terrible; so instead of getting it fixed we decided on purchasing a new machine.
    bought a bosch varioperfect 1200 spin last september. the spin seems to retain far more water than I expected since its only 200rpm less than the other and i end up doing the ‘aqua plus’ feature more frequently to extract more than I expected.
    not sure if its because I was used to the extraction on the previous machine or not that the bosch doesn’t seem to extract enough but with the engineer comments that if he comes out we will have to pay a £75 fee if nothing wrong with the spin speed I was wondering if there was anyway I could check myself if it was working at its full 1200 spin speed. how do they test these things? is there a gadget to check it with?
    many thanks Lynn

  10. avatar says

    Hello Lynn: I would expect an aqua plus feature to add more water on rinses to help rinse things like towels and sheets. I can’t see how it could be related to spin.

    There can be quite a difference between various washing machines in the exact way that they spin. For example, many cheaper brands boast really fast spin speeds but they only spin at that speed for a very short time. Some washing machines (especially budget brands, and sadly Bosch washing machines are pretty budget these days) have very sensitive out of balance protection and don’t even allow a full spin speed spin unless they detect the laundry is perfectly balanced.

    For the reasons above it is possible that a washing machine with a lower spin speed could extract more water than one with a higher spin speed. Drum design can also play a part in water extraction. It may be possible that the inner drum is just designed better to allow more water to be extracted. Then there is also drum size which can affect the amount of water extracted on spin.

    So for many reasons it is not always possible to compare spin speeds unless they are on the exact same brand and the same model range. Generally speaking if everything is equal there should not be a significant difference between a 1200 and 1400 spin but for the reasons mentioned above it is possible that other factors come into play to affect things which most people would assume are only down to the revolutions per minute.

  11. avatarRainer says

    Actually, manufacturers could and should be giving a figure in G’s (gravities, or acceleration) for spin-drying, because that figure will be a product of the spin speed and (drum-roll) ……. THE DIAMETER OF THE DRUM.

    A large capacity machine will get stuff drier at a given RPM than a smaller capacity one with a smaller drum.

  12. avatarjohn walker says

    Have you tried the weighting method at different speeds for 3 the same items? It should be more accurate than what you did here.

  13. avatar says

    Hello John. I believe Which? use a weighing method but I’m assuming they use highly accurate and sensitive weighing equipment which I don’t have. The problem with overly accurate methods is that they can often imply stronger relevance than they deserve. For example it may be technically accurate to say that spinning at one speed removes 10% more water than spinning at another speed, but what if that 10% only equates to half a thimbleful? Sales pitches can say by this machine gets 10% more water out even if it’s virtually insignificant.

    I wanted to try a real-world test to see if it felt any different and how much quicker they take to dry. To me, I’ve never been interested in statistics showing percentages that rarely give any proper context. It’s like when they say doing something doubles our risk of getting a serious disease when all it does is change it from 200 million to 1 to 100 million to 1, leaving it still incredibly unlikely but sounding really dangerous :-)

  14. avatarVincent Palmer says

    Great article as I am trying to determine the best specs for a new washing machine.
    I live in a household which relies on on spin drying before good old fashioned clothes horse near the radiator in the kitchen. The Zanussi/Electrolux Timeline 1400, 6kg present machine was excellent at expelling water from the wash when using the 10 minute ‘Spin’ after the 30 min quick wash cycle had finished. Clothes dried in several hours.

    I was asking myself the same question regarding drum size to rpm performance. Is it possible by going with a larger drum kg capacity the expelling of water is more laboured due to the a revolution taking longer on a bigger drum compared to the inertia of a smaller drum revolving faster?

    Although the same amount of clothes in a larger drum might help expel water for being less crowded in the drum in a 8kg instead of 6kg? It get’s technical in the details. Interestingly I compared ‘Water Remaining After Spin’ specs between a 1200 and 1400 rpm Bosch and the results are the same at 53% water retained. Assuming that’s what the spec means

    So I’m not sure which way to go for the best specs on spin to hand dry requirements. I’m not sure where the results are splitting hairs.

    Suggestions :-)

    Just to add the Zanussi sounds like the bearings are shot. Too much drum play and sounds like The Space Shuttle taking off in the kitchen. Another factor to consider is the need to spin again after each wash shortening the life of the machine?

  15. avatar says

    Thanks Vincent. Yes an extra full spin is definitely adding wear and tear to everything. It would be better to find a wash cycle that does the full spin at the end, you shouldn’t need two spins. On the other hand if the quick wash has a short spin cycle it won’t do much harm to do the full spin after compared with doing a longer wash cycle such as 40 degree cottons which has a full spin at the end. The 40 degree cottons should wash them better though.

    Washing machines with the same drum size and same spin speed can have different levels of dryness due to drum design and the fact that some don’t spin for very long on the fastest spin. It’s possible for 2 machines to spin at 1400 for example but one only achieves 1400 RPM for 30 seconds right at the end of a spin cycle and the other to spin at 1400 RPM right from the off.

    Check out Which? reviews for advice on which washers spin best (Why subscribe to Which?)

  16. avatarVincent Palmer says

    Thanks Andy, much appreciated. My mother was used to using the longer wash cycle that probably had the longer spin cycle. I thought using the quick 30 minute wash saved energy. I am amazed it’s not the case. I guess the quick wash is like a hundred metre dash up hill in the rain as far as the carbon footprint and drum agitation and water consumption.

    The longer wash is a stroll through the woods in light mist that takes at least an hour but you feel refreshed. :-)

  17. avatar says

    Hi Vincent, yes the only thing that saves any real energy is wash temperature. It’s only the heating element that uses any significant electricity. Most quick wash cycles are useless gimmicks and useful only to freshen up laundry that’s not actually dirty such as a shirt worn once for a few hours at the pub (with no smoking ban).

  18. avatarSummer says

    Hi Andy! It’s so good of you to respond to all of the comments on your posts. Thank you in advance!

    Last night we pulled out an old Kenmore HE2 (3.6 cubic feet) washing machine from our basement, and replaced it with a new LG 3170 (5 cubic feet). So far, I am really unimpressed with the LG — in particular, I am finding it leaves my clothes significantly more wrinkled than the Kenmore. This is a big deal for me, because I always hang-dry clothes, and think it’s reasonable to expect promptly & well-hung knit cottons to dry wrinkle-free. I loved our Kenmore: it spun the clothes nicely dry (dryer, I think, than this LG), was really gentle on fabrics, and did a great job at cleaning. Hilariously, the old machine is sitting outside, and we are considering hauling it back in and trying to repair after all the trouble of getting the new one.

    Two questions:
    1) Does the fact that the LG is wrinkling the clothes more mean that it is most likely harder on the clothes as well? (one is very annoying, the other is a non-option for me)
    2) If my cotton/normal cycle is wanting a “high” spin speed, but I always adjust it to “medium”, do you think I will be getting my clothes clean enough (ie. will the washing machine be designed to need it’s high spin speed, or, assuming it spins faster than is necessary, will “medium” be closer to what I want anyway).

    Appreciate your time!

    Summer

  19. avatar says

    Hello summer, sorry for the delayed reply. Badly creased laundry is usually caused by being spun too fast or too long. There may be a difference in the top spin speed and even the length of time it spins from your new one to your old. In theory, if both machine spin at the same speed and for the same length of time you shouldn’t get one increase in the clothes but not the other.

    Check out this article here just to discount all of the possible causes of creasing laid out there including the one about hot and cold hoses the wrong way round laundry comes out of washing machine badly creased

    Adjusting the spin to medium should only affect the spin speed the washing should be exactly the same. Therefore if reducing the spin speed down solves the problem that is the way to go.

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