The spin cycle
First, they came for the light bulbs....Sam Kazman:
Efficiency standards for washing machines aren't as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.Oh my! Several...hundred pairs of virtual soiled underwear were sent? Must have made for a shitty day at the Undersecretary's office. But we have to admit, as the saying goes, this truly is what democracy looks like these days! The nanny state picking up after we discard our soiled underwear. And, being the fierce advocate of personal responsibility that he is, I would guess that even Sam Kazman would agree that no one should have to pick up Sam Kazman's droppings.
Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don't fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy. But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don't let you toss in a wayward sock after they've started.
The situation got so bad that the Competitive Enterprise Institute started a YouTube protest campaign, "Send Your Underwear to the Undersecretary." With the click of a mouse, you could email your choice of virtual bloomers, boxers or Underoos to the Department of Energy. Several hundred Americans did so, but it wasn't enough to stop Congress from mandating even stronger standards a few months later.
Of course Sam Kazman's whole point is that they just don't make warshing machines like they used to in the old days:
In 2007, after the more stringent rules had kicked in, Consumer Reports noted that some top-loaders were leaving its test swatches "nearly as dirty as they were before washing." "For the first time in years," CR said, "we can't call any washer a Best Buy." Contrast that with the magazine's 1996 report that, "given warm enough water and a good detergent, any washing machine will get clothes clean." Those were the good old days.And what does Consumer Reports have to say about all this? In response to an earlier similar article by John Tierney in the New York Times, which actually quotes Sam Kazman, Consumer Reports responds:
In 2007, only one conventional top-loader was rated "very good." Front-loaders did better, as did a new type of high-efficiency top-loader that lacks a central agitator. But even though these newer types of washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders, overall they didn't clean as well as the 1996 models.
We can’t say whether energy-efficient washers are spurring Americans to do more laundry. But we can confirm that Tierney's interpretation of Consumer Reports’ washer tests is misleading. Consider what he says about top-loading washers: "To comply with federal energy-efficiency requirements, manufacturers made changes like reducing the quantity of hot water. The result was a bunch of what Consumer Reports called 'washday wash-outs,' which left some clothes 'nearly as stained after washing as they were when we put them in.'" That is, indeed, true for the biggest duds in our latest washer report. But we also recommended a dozen top-loading models online with very good washing performance for as little as $500.No fucking way. That's how societal progress is achieved? I'm just going to make a wild guess here and say that neither Kazman nor Tierney ever bothered to pick up the phone and call someone at Consumer Reports for more information.
Tierney also notes that back in 1996, Consumer Reports said "any [top-loading] washing machine will get clothes clean," whereas now, only some manage that feat. But that face-off compares apples to oranges: Our testing and scoring protocols for washers are significantly tougher than they were when Bill Clinton was in the White House. Explains Mark Connelly, Consumer Reports’ Deputy Technical Director:
"As an organization that tests both performance and energy efficiency, Consumer Reports has seen product performance improve or remain at high levels, while energy efficiency standards have become increasingly stringent over the years. Washing machine performance has actually improved while dishwashers and refrigerators performance has remained at high levels."
Tierney's column also neglects to mention that the latest Energy Star standard for washers, requiring that machines use 11 percent less energy and 20 percent less water, just took effect in January. Consumer Reports often sees a drop off in performance as manufacturers adapt to tougher rules. But the products almost always improve, whether you're talking cars, low-VOC interior paints—which now top our Ratings—or even energy-efficient washers.