Low-Maintenance Appliances: Washers and Dryers

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Washers and dryers probably shouldn’t be expected to last as long as refrigerators and cookstoves because they have more hardworking movable parts. At any rate, the modern versions don’t last as long without major repair. Maytag’s older wringer-washers lasted 20 years, easily, with good care. Maytag’s reputation for durability was made with that machine, not their modern automatic appliances. I don’t mean that their automatic washers and dryers aren’t considered among the best, but in maintenance terms they can’t hold an agitator to the old wringer type. Alas and alack, Maytag no longer even makes a wringer-washer. No one wants to take the time to feed clothes through a wringer except the Amish who are trying to find a way to manufacture washers like the old Maytags themselves now that they can’t buy them anymore.

It is not Maytag’s fault their new models, or anyone else’s, last only 10 years or so on the average. It’s the nature of the beast. New washers are asked to do more, faster and better, than the wringers. Some repair workers suggest that the reason Maytag’s washers may last longer even now is because of an ingenious use of belts that break before anything major wears out when a moving part is jammed or overloaded. At any rate, surveys reported in The Durability Factor, edited by Roger Yepsen indicate that while Maytag’s washers and dryers head the list for durability, their lead is very slight over Whirlpool, Gibson, Westinghouse’s front-loading models, and GE. Maytag ranks first in least number of service calls by only .1 percent over GE products, and Maytag dryers required more service calls than GE, Whirlpool, or Frigidaire. (However, I must mention that while Frigidaire has overall poor showings in the surveys mentioned, at home our Frigidaires have performed very well. Our washer worked faithfully for 15 years until it needed to have its water pump repaired, and our Frigidaire dryer has run for 17 years without any repairs. Both appliances have far exceeded the survey average.)

Careful Use Means Low Maintenance

What experience teaches, if repairmen don’t, is that low maintenance on washers and dryers is much more a matter of how the appliance is used, not what brand name is on it. Compact washers and dryers do not last as long as full-sized because people overload them more frequently. The single most devastating practice with washers is overloading. Some people just can’t discipline themselves not to do it. They want to get the washing finished too fast. If the tub’s load limit is 18 pounds and they have 28 pounds more to go, they shove it all in. Careful owners whose machines last far longer than the average do just the opposite. They will back off and put in two small 14-pound loads, adjusting the water level indicator to low or small. Following this procedure can save you the cost of at least two washers in your lifetime, so long as you follow a few other easy rules.

For example, don’t use more soap than specifications call for. The same person who overloads wants to oversoap, too. The soap bubbles into places it isn’t supposed to go, carrying scum with it to gum up timer switches, etc.

Rust is another major destroyer of washing machines. If the washer sits in a wet basement, the bottom and/or back will rust so badly that the repairman can’t remove it except with cusswords and a hacksaw. Scratches on the sides or nicks in the porcelain top will give rust a place to get started. Wiping the washer off with a dry rag after each use helps immensely. A dry laundry room floor helps more. (Keeping the door of the washer open so that any water inside evaporates instead of sitting there inviting rust, will help, too.) Look for warranties, like Maytag has, of five years against rust on the zinc-coated steel sides and porcelain tops. Porcelain on both inner and outer tubs is so far superior to plastic as to be well worth the cost.

Choose a washer that allows you to select whatever water temperature best suits the fabric being washed. Cold water washes and rinses are often practical and cut down on energy costs. Many people I know rarely use hot water at all anymore—just warm and cold.

If you throw a couple of sneakers alone in the tub, expect one to jam the agitator eventually. Happens all the time. (Washing a sneaker along with a few towels or other clothes is much better.)

Dryers should last longer than washers (which is one reason you might not want to buy one of those over-under combination washer- dryers). There are minor breakdowns—a thermostat goes out, a drive belt breaks. But if you burn out a motor in less than 12 years it is probably your own fault. As with washers, overloading shortens the life of dryers.

New dryers allow you to select more precisely the drying temperature you desire, another possible cost-cutting feature. Some models have automatic sensors that monitor dryer temperature continuously and shut off the heater when it is not needed, another good energy saver. Lint traps on dryers need regular cleaning, and so models with traps that are handy to remove and clean out are an advantage.

The best dryer for low maintenance is of course the clothesline. Our dryer has lasted so long because we dry outside at least half the year. The smell that sun and wind give to sheets and clothes is a greater reward than the money saved or time “lost.” If you want to make hanging wash out faster and more convenient, rig up a clothesline on pulleys—one pulley on your deck or porch, the other high on the side of a nearby building or tree. You may not have a proper tree or other elevation handy, but if you do and you don’t take advantage of it, you’re missing out on an easy clothesline.

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