Why don’t most modern washing machines last very long?

Question 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.


So arguably washing machines have increased in features, but not only have they not gone up in price but in effect they are less than half the price. There is no wonder they don’t last as long really is there? We can’t have it both ways.

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.


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 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.

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117 thoughts on “Why don’t most modern washing machines last very long?”

  1. Traxxion: Companies charge a premium price for their products when they have something both unique and perceived as high quality. Apple are a prime example, I agree they are very much overpriced, but that’s because they have almost a monopoly. What are the serious alternatives to an iMac or iPhone? Assuming they are products you desire they have few if any peers.

    Companies will always charge as much as they can get away with unless their marketing strategy is specifically based on low price. Miele also have a virtual monopoly on the higher end appliances in the UK and as you say they probably wouldn’t reduce prices if they started selling more. Chances are they’d just happily take the reduced production costs gained by economies of scale as extra profits. However, if the public demanded better appliances and more quality manufacturers existed then competition would bring down prices.

    Apple could not remotely get away with charging the prices they do, and having no discounted products unless enough of the public accepted those prices. Reluctantly many people accept the prices – otherwise they would be bust. A company cannot overcharge for its products without the public’s consent and compliance. If Beko suddenly put their prices up they would go bust because the public would shun them. You can only get away with very high prices if the product is good enough and there is a distinct lack of competition.

  2. I must be missing something here. The original poster says a machine at around £800 will last 2-3 times longer than a cheap one at £200. So whats the point of that then. 2-3 cheap machines at £200 a time or one that will last a similar time at £800. Makes no financial sense whatsoever.

  3. Clueless Weasel

    My understanding is that it’s not just about the cost.

    Perhaps there is an environmental impact to consider as well – the raw materials to produce 3 or 4 machines versus one. The Transport impact of 3/4 machines versus one?

  4. The thing is T, that even the Hotpoint washing machines at twice that price have the exact same quality of components in them. The extra cost only goes towards extra profits for them and extra “features” for the customer.

    If you ever get the chance to see, feel and use a Miele washing machine the difference is immense. It’s a similar kind of difference between a luxury German car and a basic Fiat Panda :)

  5. Hi T Curtis: I think I used the word “should”, I would never say it will. But to be honest, since writing the article I’ve discovered anecdotal evidence that some Miele owners are finding their appliance doesn’t last anywhere near as long as expected due to them being unlucky enough to suffer a breakdown where Miele quoted them extremely expensive amounts to fix. However, it should be a relatively rare thing to happen. There’s definitely no guarantee that paying a lot more for a washing machine will always prove to be the right decision.

    However, the principle is that the chances are much more in your favour that a high quality appliance is the best choice. As Clueless Weasel says (in an ironically clued-up way), there’s more to it than simple costs.

    It’s not just the environmental impact, but the more expensive washing machine will be much more sophisticated, and likely to use less energy etc. plus generally be more of a pleasure to own and use including being quieter and just washing better. Then you have the hassle and stress involved in replacing the washing machine 2 or 3 times which should be added into the equation.

    Most people tend to buy washing machines in a higher price range. You can easily pay £500 and more for a relatively poor quality washing machine with bells and whistles, which can work out considerably more expensive over the years to keep replacing.

  6. Hi washerhelp, Thanks for that. I must say regarding hotpoints, from my experience (2 owned) The drum and shaft bearing quality seem to be absolute rubbish. Around 2 and a half years on average and thats 2 washes a week. Then when you take them apart to replace them you look at the quality of the build in the machine and wonder how they even justify £250 + for the appliance. Only myself and the wife so you’d think they would last longer than that.My current ones just packed up so i certainly won’t be buying hotpoint again. Just as an afterthought, they never seem to get the clothes very clean regardless of the programme you set them on.
    all the best
    tc

  7. I found this article very interesting.
    From my own experience:
    I have had 3 washing machines, 2 Indisit which both lasted under 5 years before we had children, and a Meile W970 (£475 ex display) which has lasted 11 years is still going like new and has seen some considerable use since we now have 4 children.

    After owning I would have recommend Meile but Ive never had to order spares or realized how expensive they were. OBVIOUSLY THIS IS A MAJOR CONSIDERATION, I MAY HAVE JUST GOT LUCKY
    I did dry repairing one of the Indisit’s myself and found only after a short life pipe work and drum were not just full of wash power residue but it was a right rusty mess inside. The whole thing was falling apart, Decided even if Id fixed it I didn’t want to wash my clothes in it.

    I have also had the Meile apart on 3 occasions. Whilst the Meile does not suffer from rust the insides it will still get gunked up with powder residude/mould?and I feel its worth taking it apart every 3 to 4 years to clean out the pipes and power tray housing thoroughly. I have been impressed by how well designed the Meile mechanicals are, I particularly like the way the whole front hinges open for better access for repairs/ servicing.

    Personally I would not keep a machine for 20-30 years. Newer machines are more efficient on power and however good the machine is (even Meile’s) they still get clogged with 20-30 years of dirt all of which cant be easily removed.
    My personal take is if a washing machine (or for that matter fridge/dish washer) is of decent quality it should last 10 years, after ten years, accept you had your value from it and sell it on to someone for £100, It will probably still serve them better than a new £200 model.

    If you buy a £200 washer you need a new one in under 5 years and get locked into a cycle of panic buying when the old ones brakes you need a new one immediately no time to shop around, also have to pay to have the old junk taken away or scratch your car up/ do you back in taking it the tip. Best budget for around £500-£700 and research what you buy.
    I was planning to buy another Meile next time John Lewis do a 10% off white good day or I see one at a good discount, sell the old Meile as a working machine but I will now consider ISE-5/ISE-10.

    Some people may look at £500-£800 on a washing machine as extravagance. I know how much use our Meile has had. Its cost probably less than 10p a wash cycle.
    Even if you only use your machine once or twice a week, a washing machine is always wet inside
    If the materials are so poor it can become a rusty mess inside you would not want to wash your clothes in.

  8. I’m saving up to buy the ISE hot and cold fill washing machine. I’m more than happy to spend lots of money on it because I know it has a 10 year guarantee, is designed to last at least 20 years and when it needs repairs, it CAN be repaired and CHEAPLY repaired, compared to all other brands:

    It can also rinse properly, as you can configure it to perform 7 rinses. Perfect for people like me who have skin allergies. A cheap washing machine cannot rinse properly even when you select the extra rinsing option!

    @Traxxion You will NOT get a reliable and repairable appliance for less than the cheapest Miele or ISE. Most consumers see products like washing machines as being “expensive” at £300 and want cheaper prices and more features, so most manufacturers are giving the public what they want, at the expense of reliability and quality. The build quality of modern washing machines are appalling and flimsy and they don’t wash properly and don’t rinse properly at all. In the long run, you will save more money when you buy an “expensive” washing machine that can be made to last over 20 years – including repairs – compared to buying 5 or more cheap washing machines in that same time period. When it comes to anything you buy, it’s cheaper to buy a product ONCE – that lasts many years – compared to buying many of the same cheaper products.

    Do you really think that a cheap (£300 price range) washing machine could be made in Sweden (or in any Western country) to the same quality? Definitely not. Consumers demanding cheap washing machines will have to put up with poor quality and frequent replacements. It’s your choice.

    Apologies for any mistakes, I couldn’t sleep and now it’s very late! :P

  9. I totally agree!!!! I bought a Hotpoint washing machine and it lasted 18months. The matching dryer packed in after only 12 months and several repairs starting after 5 months ownership. I replaced the washer with the latest Hotpoint model at great expense and wouldnt you know the washing machine has packed in again after a grand total of 14 months ownership.
    Hotpoint used to be brilliant machines and these days they are not worth the cheap packaging they come in!!!!
    NOBODY TOUCH THEM IF YOU NEED A GOOD WASHING MACHINE

  10. Back to the original statment. The cost of badly designed goods, faulty goods, poor quality and repairs will cost the environment dearly. We have been making all these good now for 100years approx, like everything else we buy now. Cars etc.
    For “a few dollars more” and bit more thought in what we make and the consequences of failure considered, we would not be in this mess. Cars are given lifetime guarantees. (Not sure whos the car or the owner). Why cant we have lifetime guarantee on other products. This will hopefully inprove quality and save a lot of grief.

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