I’ve been writing about the poor quality of many modern washing machines since 2000. As a long-time repairman I’d witnessed the gradual slip between people keeping them running as long as possible to all too often throwing them away at the first breakdown – unless it could be fixed for a pittance. Since then it’s become a serious environmental issue.
The public usually gets exactly what the public wants. The majority of people don’t want more reliable washing machines – they mostly want cheaper washing machines. They might say they want more reliable washing machines, but only if they aren’t expensive, which can’t happen.
If this wasn’t true – how come hardly anyone buys a Miele compared to how many buy Indesit, Beko, Candy, Servis, Hotpoint etc? Most people know a Miele washing machine is substantially better quality and likely to last at least 2 or 3 times longer than a Hotpoint or Indesit but they won’t buy one – because they are “expensive”.
This isn’t an advert for Miele, I mention them because I don’t know of any other washing machine that is anywhere near as well built available in the UK. I use the word “expensive” reluctantly, and in quotes, because they are only relatively expensive. £800 is what a washing machine of that quality should cost these days – if not more.
They only appear expensive because other manufacturers constantly undercut the quality so much they can sell much cheaper and make them look expensive. Instead of bravely maintaining quality but seeing their washing machines rise in price, most manufacturers have found themselves constantly having to reduce quality and cut corners to keep their appliances competitively priced.
Reduced build quality
This trend has got progressively worse, to the point where they regularly redesign parts, ditching tried and tested designs in favour of cheaper new production methods designed to cut manufacturing costs.
Most appliance manufacturers have been making washing machines for many decades, and could 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.
To be fair, it would be a very brave manufacturer to maintain standards and become a lot more expensive. But Miele seem to manage OK producing better quality but more expensive appliances. I’m sure there is room in the market for something in between the average washing machine and a Miele.
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 over a dozen years later in 2008, a Hoover 1600 spin 6Kg washing machine cost as little as £211.
In 2019 Hoover’s 1400 Spin 7Kg capacity washing machine is just £234. That’s a faster spin, and much bigger drum for almost half the price compared to almost 25 years ago. Moving manufacture to cheaper countries is part of it, but these prices can only be achieved by also reducing quality and repairability.
Note: I give Hoover as an example only because I had more knowledge of their old prices as a previous Hoover Agent. All manufacturers are the same. If prices had stayed the same (not even gone up as you’d expect) then that £400 washing machine from around 1994 should cost £775.55 in 2019.
Going back further..
In 1973, a basic Hoover washing machine was £94.88, that’s equivalent to £1,192.74 in 2019! (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, (even accounting for advances in production techniques) it should cost much more like £600+ and with extra features and technical advances it should easily be £800+.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a more expensive appliance will last longer
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. However, do not assume an expensive washing machine has to be high build quality – are more expensive washing machines better quality?
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. Currently almost every washing machine available is virtually the same machine inside, with hardly any difference in quality, repairability and even design.
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 the 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.