Having a washing machine in your home is an indispensable convenience for many of us, especially in larger households. It beats lugging clothes back and forth to the laundromat, and it's sure better than heading down to the nearest stream with your washboard. But how much energy does a washing machine use? Depending on the type of washing machine and how it's used, the energy consumption may be significant.
With many appliances, the wattage alone can give you a pretty accurate estimate of its actual energy consumption. With washing machines, it's not quite so simple, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Washing machine wattages cover a huge range, from under 300 watts per hour for the most efficient models to over 1,500 for the real energy hogs. Your washing machine's age is a big factor, because modern washing machines are overall more efficient than older models. Energy efficiency standards for washing machines are tightened every few years; the most recent change went into effect in 2018.
To find out how many watts your machine uses, refer to its original documentation or look for the "UL" label somewhere on the machine. This may be a sticker or a metal plate, and it's usually located on the back of the machine, so you may need to move it away from the wall. If you have a model number, you may also be able to find this information by searching online.
You can calculate a rough estimate of what it costs to run your washing machine per hour by converting the machine's wattage into kilowatts. Your electricity provider bills you by kilowatt-hours (kWh), which is the number of kilowatts used in an hour. To convert to kilowatt-hours, divide your washer's wattage by 1,000. This is the amount of energy in kilowatts that your machine uses each hour. Check your last electric bill to find out your kWh rate, then multiply that figure by your machine's hourly kilowatt consumption. This puts you in the ballpark of what it costs to run your washing machine, but as you'll see, it doesn't tell the whole story.
When you run your washing machine using only cold water, the biggest electricity demand is from the motor that agitates and spins the drum. The other electrical components like pumps, automatic valves and digital control panels use only a tiny bit of energy. But when you bring hot water into the mix, the energy use skyrockets. Water heating can account for up to 90 percent of the total energy use in a hot water wash cycle, according to coldwatersaves.org.
There are two different ways for a washing machine to use hot water. If there is a hot water hookup near the washing machine, you can connect a hose to pump in hot water directly. That means the energy consumption of doing a load of wash is heavily dependent on the energy efficiency of your water heater.
Some washing machines have internal heaters, which come in handy if there is only a cold water supply in your laundry room. With these machines, your water heater isn't a factor, but the age and efficiency of your washing machine can make a big difference in the operating costs.
So if you're focused on saving energy and money, the simplest way to make progress is to always wash in cold water. And if you do insist on washing in hot water, make it a priority to upgrade to an energy-efficient, front loading washing machine. If you use a hot water hookup, it's also important to have a well-maintained, energy-efficient water heater.
No two washing machine models are exactly alike, but there are still two general rules to washing machine upgrades: newer machines are more efficient than older machines, and front loading washers are more efficient than top loading washers. This applies to both electrical and water efficiency.
So if you have an older model or a top loader, how do you know when it's time to upgrade? First, consider the recent changes in federal energy efficiency standards. Higher standards for both types of washing machines applied to appliances sold in 2015 or later, and in 2018, those standards increased again for top loading machines. So if you have a machine purchased before 2015, or a top loader purchased before 2018, you may be able to get a big efficiency boost by upgrading.
But since the average lifespan of a washing machine is around 11 years, it might be a little soon to justify an upgrade. That is, unless your washing machine has a wattage closer to 1,000 watts -- once you're in this range, the energy savings from a washing machine upgrade can go a long way toward offsetting the cost of a new machine that will be better for the environment and better for your clothes.
Need help finding an energy efficient washing machine? Look for the ENERGY STAR label at retail, or search the ENERGY STAR website for certified models.