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 are 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 more for it because it’s a perceived extra feature.
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
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 –
- I found 3 identical towels
- 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
- I let the washing machine rinse and spin, then removed the just the test towel
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
If I routinely dried clothes outside it wouldn’t take that much longer to dry laundry spun at slower speeds. If I didn’t mind 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. Because 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.
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