What do the energy labels on washing machines mean?

Energy Labels The energy labels on washing machines have several ratings, which this and related pages explains and comments on. This first page looks at the energy efficiency rating, which is not a good indicator of an washing machine’s environmental credentials at all.

Energy efficiency rating

washing-machine-eco-label We should all know by now that A is the best and G is the worst. But it doesn’t tell us how much better or how much worse each rating is. It’s not much use saying one thing is better than another without saying how much better.

How much difference is there between an A and a B? It simply says “more efficient” at the top, and “less efficient” at the bottom. By that indicator £100 could be at the top of a chart (A) and £99 could be second (B), but there’s only £1 difference.

You might think that even if A is only slightly better than B it’s better to have the A isn’t it? But not if the B or even C is a much better washing machine. And what if the difference between an A and a B is only £10 a year but the A costs £50 more?

Soon after these ratings came out most washing machines quickly started to rate well on them, and often using trickery (Washing machines not delivering right temperature). As is so often the case, any target results in them being met at any cost – often costs which totally outweigh the whole point of the targets in the first place.

The eco labels have had to be updated several times and they’ve had to add A+, A++ and even A+++ to try and compensate for the fact that almost every washing machine ended up with an A rating, making a mockery of the system.

Save-water This has probably come about because people have been focussing on other aspects, which has left rinsing as a low priority. Two explanations spring to mind. Firstly, the focus on using less and less water is clearly impacting on our washing machine’s ability to rinse effectively.

Whereas modern detergents can facilitate efficient and effective washing results at lower temperatures and with less water, no such product is currently allowing effective rinsing with much less water. Good rinsing needs plenty of water which is in direct opposition to the current environmental concerns and clamour to be the washing machine using the least amount of water.

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Eco Labels
Eco Labels

The second explanation I can think of is that the eco-labelling system which awards ratings for energy efficiency, spin efficiency and wash efficiency do not appear to take into account rinse efficiency. As such, manufacturers aren’t being judged on how well their washing machines rinse, only on how well they wash and how well they extract water on spin. I’m speculating at this stage, but I can’t see how so many washing machines could be awarded an “A” wash efficiency rating if the tests took into account how well the clothes were rinsed. Presumably, as long as all stains are removed and laundry looks “clean” no one bothers about how much soap detergent residue is left.

It might be a good idea to create a fourth category, “rinse efficiency” on the eco labels, or at least include the rinse efficiency as part of the wash efficiency test.

Allergies Ultimately if customers don’t notice an issue then it could be argued that it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it doesn’t for most people, but it surely does to anyone sensitive to wash detergents and with allergies and a lot of people are. There were 581 comments added on this topic from such people before I had to close comments to prevent it being endless.

The current situation is that to anyone keen to buy a washing machine with good rinsing I have no washing machine to recommend because none of the companies producing the best, and the most reliable washing machines currently supply one that rinses above average according to Which? (although this could easily change and you would need to check out the latest to be sure.

Are Which? wrong?

Are Which? being too critical? Are Which? applying too stringent a rinse test? I must admit I’ve not had many complaints from people saying their washing machine isn’t rinsing properly and my own Miele washing machine, which although a Which? Best Buy, didn’t receive a “good” rating for rinsing yet it appears to rinse perfectly well as far as we can see.

In fact I remarked to my wife that my clothes don’t smell of detergent like they used to in the old washing machine and deduced that it rinsed much better. However, neither of us have any reactions to washing machine detergent.

The thing about Which? is that they are totally independent. They work only for their subscribers interests and are actually a registered charity.

They don’t make any money by recommending any product because they want to be seen as 100% unbiased. They are highly respected and I expect they test products fairly. They do charge companies to use their Which? Recommended logo though!

I suspect Which? are right and that modern washing machines don’t generally rinse very well because of the reasons I speculate about above.

Whether it matters or whether it will change depends on whether enough of the public are bothered, or even notice. The 581 comments added to this article below show that many people do find this a big issue.

Which? research

NOTE: Which? do rate some washing machines as satisfactory for rinsing and even a couple are rated as good, although unfortunately the few rated good (so far) are not so good on reliability.

Which? are constantly reviewing washing machines so if rinsing is particularly important to you it makes sense to become a member and see all the buying advice. I can’t print their advice for copyright reasons.

Causes of poor rinsing

There are some common causes of poor rinsing even in washing machines that do rinse well that it might be useful to point out.

Anyone experiencing poor rinsing problems where washing comes out with detergent residues or white powder streaks should read this –
White streaks or residual washing powder after washing

Modern washing machines that are good at rinsing?

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3 thoughts on “What do the energy labels on washing machines mean?”

  1. Just bought a new indesit washing machine A+++ rated. Like most we rarely use anything other than the 30 mins 40c wash with modern detergents being so good.
    however when i looked at the other options i was suprised that some where over 4 hrs (265 mins for 60c cotton wash – suspiciously this is the one that energy ratings are based on), which makes me wonder do the manufacturers build in ridiculous soak times to extend the wash times? This wil use the same energy (W) as a wash without these down periods, but the increased time will reduce the power consumptions (kWh) that are measured as a funtion of energy over time.
    I really cant believe a washing machine would need 265mins to wash anything, or am i just being a cynical old hector (that ages me!)

  2. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Garry. They only do the test for energy usage on the 60° cotton wash, which is very seldom used by most people.

    If they only tested for energy usage I’m pretty sure the cotton wash time would be much more in line with the 60° wash before these eco-labels came out. However, part of the label also tests the wash performance. Chances are the extended wash times are to get better results in the wash performance. To be honest it is going to cost exactly the same to heat up to 60° no matter how long they take to go about it. However some washing machines don’t even get up to 60° which is another story altogether (washing machines not heating to the right temperature )

    So if there are long periods where it is not heating up the water this is going to cost very little in electricity. The motor does not use much energy compared to the heating element. So longer wash times don’t impact the energy usage so much as the wash efficiency and performance.

  3. Thank you for your explanation. It clarifies much of the confusion I recently endured when seeking to purchase a new washing machine.
    This was not helped by the salesman who, although having around 20 machines on display in the store, in comparison with the 90-plus on the company’s website, was intent on stressing the benefits of some of the most expensive A-rated models, and seemed unable to explain exactly just how much less it would cost to use one of these models each year, in comparison with a B-rated machine that cost over £200.00 less. While on-line sources suggest around £10.00 or so, for an average family, with just two people in our household, aged 78 and 84 respectively, it seems difficult for me how such a minimal level of saving will justify a total expenditure of well over £500.00. Nevertheless, my wife was impressed by the salesman’s patter, and as she is the one that will be using the machine, she was persuaded that this was the model that we should purchase.

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