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. Bought a Bosch WFF2000 new in 1995 – it has been badly abused – often on more than once a day – often dreadfully overloaded – one set of bearings and the drain pump replaced are all the repairs it has needed, not bad for 17 years hard work. It’s just broken down again, and this time bearings and the spider both need replacing. The spider, although bolted to the drum, is not available as a separate part, and the drum is now obsolete. I’m tempted to just get it welded up, but instead have bought the same model second hand (£10 on ebay!) and will be using my machine as a donor. We just couldn’t bear to be parted with this great machine. We will be a bit more gentle with it in future…

  2. I think you are wrong to say that Miele and other top branded machines will last longer. Yes, the machine looks better, and yes they may take more knocks without plastic trims breaking but Ive had one. TWO heater elerments, a door seal, and a set of drum bearings later, I sold it on e-bay for £40..!! The truth is, these machines break down and cost just as much to repair as the cheapest Beko washer. Is it really worth paying the extra for a machine that they ‘SAY’ is top quality..?? Id say the answer is NO.. Its better to buy a middle of the road machine and treat it with care. You wont feel so bad about taking it up the tip when the time comes..!! (or when you simply get bored looking at it)

  3. Hi David: The article says “likely to last” longer, not that they will. I also point out the potential downsides (i.e. very expensive repairs) in another article I wrote which this article links to.

  4. I have a hoover electron 1100 deluxe (energy control series, it roughly 20 years old) i bought it when i was 23, second hand 13 years ago for £100. What a bargin! it has worked great for years, only a few weeks ago (My first repair since purchase) it stopped spinning, because it had been so good i didn’t run to replace it instead got a local engineer, it turned out the belt had worn out, i got it replaced, the whole repair and call out cost me just £40.
    I’m online now to see if i can find a manual to the washing machine (as it was bought second hand no paper work). I am trying to be as eco friendly as possible so I’m interested in finding out it’s energy usage, whether it uses hot/cold water, is it environmentally friendly? all these questions I never really thought about until the repair (as a back up to the machine not been repairable i did look at current models which seem to be energy and environmentally friendlier).
    I am confused on what to do as my washing machine is the best serving/lasting yet with energy prices rising is it the best in today’s economy? I would appreciate any opinions on this dilemma of mine.

    Harmmi

  5. I find it sad that people write off so many things without even attempting to repair them (or at least know why it failed so they can be careful wth the next one); but if I’m honest, I also benefit from that attitude…

    My house has two Hoover washer dryers (Nextra 6 series), bought for a princely total of £30 from a well-known auction site. The first cost me a tenner minus just over a quid (the amount I recovered from the sump hose) as it wouldn’t drain and the owner didn’t want to spend £ getting it looked at and then potentially ££ on parts. Honestly? A flat blade screwdriver, some old towels and about 15 minutes was all it took, and even if they still somehow missed the fault, they’d be no worse off for trying! The second cost me £20 and I can’t remember what the fault with that was (think it might have been no heat on drying) – again, it needed no parts replacing, just 45 minutes to remove the fan intake ducting and flush out all the mouldy lint blocking the air flow, then reset the thermal cut-outs.

    Just this weekend I picked up a Hoover condenser dryer that was tripping the mains – not sure how it had happened but the metal support bar for the front panel had been bent downwards, possibly from excess weight on top of the machine, and was shorting against the mechanical timer’s motor terminal. Again, no parts needed to rectify (though I have also wrapped the bar in insulating tape where it had been shorted) and I now have a fully working dryer.

    All of my white goods have been bought second hand, usually needing at most, very minor work like the above to restore them to full operation. As above, my laundry room equipment cost me £50 for the lot, excluding travel to pick them up, so on that basis, long live the throw-away society!

  6. We have a Mielle washing machine and it’s been a whole bunch of trouble. It’s almost 9 years old. but today I’ve been told it now needs a new motor at a cost of well over £400. Almost the price of a new washer. This is the third serious problems we’ve had with it over it’s lifespan. It’s now going to be consigned to the scrapheap. I thought we were buying the Rolls-Royce of washing machines when we purchased this but it’s proved to be no better than any other make. Once more no third party repairer around our are wants to touch a Meille machine. They say they can’t get the parts and they are difficult to fix. We’ve been stung so many times by Mielle’s £117/hour call out charge just to find out what the problems is, and then the price of spares are just ludicrous. We’ve probably spent over the price of the machine when new just to keep it going. Meille’s customer support has been pretty poor, and their response time to getting a service engineer out quite appalling and you’re pretty much forced to use their costly service engineers which are only registered third party engineers at that. This last time it’s took almost two weeks to get an appointment and I had to kick up a fuss as I did not want to pay another damn call out charge after having them out just several weeks ago.

    Washing machines are an essential tool of our modern lives but, like most appliances these days, they just are not build to last. Really a washing machine should last 10 years plus and they should be guaranteed for that long. I wouldn’t mind paying more if I had a 10 year full guarantee but it’s going to need government legislation to achieve that and force manufacturers to make better quality appliances. In reality, you’re probably better off buying cheaper machines and just replacing them when they fail. It’s the sad truth. I won’t be buying another Mielle.

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