QUESTION: My skin is sensitive to detergent residues in clothes and I need to buy a new clothes washer. What clothes washer design is the most efficient and provides the best cleaning and rinsing?
ANSWER: Front-loading clothes washers provide the most thorough cleaning and rinsing. Some models even have allergy rinse cycles for people sensitive to detergents. Over its lifetime, a new front-loader can save over $1,500 in water, detergent and energy costs as compared to a standard top-loader.
With a front-loader, the washer tub rotates on a horizontal axis (like a clothes dryer). This tumbles the clothes through the sudsy water up to 50 times per minute for superior cleaning. The typical top-loader model just swirls the clothes slowly through the water.
Since the clothes tumble through the water in a front-loader, the tub has to be only partially filled with water for effective cleaning. These designs use 30% to 50% less water and 60% less detergent than a top-loader. This saves water and energy and reduces pollution in our rivers.
One front-loader uses a unique "hydromatic" cleaning process. The agitator fins in the tub are designed like ladles too. First, the tub rotates slowly for 5 seconds as fins lift the sudsy water and it falls onto the clothes.
For the next four seconds, it stops and lets the clothes soak. Then it spins faster for 5 seconds to agitate the clothes through the water. This cycle repeats every 17 seconds. Another model reverses the tub rotation every 13 seconds. This improves cleaning and reduces tangles and wrinkles.
Very thorough rinsing is a plus with many front-loaders. Some of the European models have up to five separate rinses per cycle. This virtually eliminates all the detergent residue and dinginess from your clothes.
With the horizontal axis tub, front loaders can spin as fast as 1,500 r.p.m. (revolutions per minute). This extracts more water and detergent residue. A typical top-loader spins at about 700 r.p.m. High-speed spinning also reduces the required time in your dryer, another significant energy savings.
Front-loaders are smaller (only about 27 inches wide) than top-loaders because the large agitator is not needed. Since the door is in the front, you can stack the dryer on top of the washer to save floor space.
Some models have built-in water heating elements so you only need to run a cold water line to it. The top-quality European front-loaders have built-in shock absorbers for vibration-free spinning and are very quiet.
Write for Utility Bills Update No. 630 showing a buyer's guide of front-loader washer manufacturers, cleaning cycles, features, operating costs and prices, and a listing of the most efficient standard top-loaders. Please include $2 handling fee--cash or check.
Send your requests to James Dulley, c/o Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.
What to Do About Solar Window Crack
Q: Several years ago, I built a solar window heater that you recommended. It works great, but the clear acrylic plastic cover is starting to crack. What should I do to fix it?
A: You'll have to replace the clear acrylic plastic cover. You apparently installed the acrylic cover too tightly or did not allow for clearance holes. Once tiny cracks start in acrylic, they tend to grow until the entire piece is shot.
Acrylic, like most plastics, expands and contracts a lot with temperature changes. Use some type of compliant weatherstripping below it and make large clearance holes at the screws to allow for this expansion.