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How we test washing machines

We’re picky about the washing machines we review – just as you’re picky about the appliances you buy. Truth is, the basic features of most are pretty similar these days, with a standard continuum of upgrades based on how much cash you’re willing to drop.

But tech is changing everything, even the ordinary washer. So we’re keeping an eye out for models with high-tech features and design elements that have the potential to actually make your life easier. We’ll get real-world use of those features and put together a big-picture look at the washer to let you know if it’s worth your money.

Look and feel

Before we toss in our first load, we take a hard look at the way the washer’s put together. Are there any unique design elements that will make your laundry room the envy (or laughingstock) of your neighborhood? Do the doors and controls feel solid and substantial, or were corners cut for expense or weight? Do parts rattle when the doors are opened? Do all the panels fit together nicely? Are there lots of seams that will make it hard to keep clean?

First load

Our tests don’t exhaustively hit every mode and feature, nor do we compare freshly laundered undershirts against the Platonic ideal of white; we just want to make sure that the washer does a passable job of its primary function. Realistically, load size, water quality, and detergent choice will make a bigger difference in how clean your clothes get than brand or whether it connects to the web.

The first real load will be a nice easy whites load, using the washer’s normal settings. Since typical whites are smallish items, it’s easy for the washer to balance the load so we can get some baseline measurements. We’ll time the load from start to finish, and if the washer provides any run-time estimates, we’ll compare them with reality. We’ll also record the sound from each load from our nearby home-theater test zone, about 30 feet away, since washers can make a wide variety obnoxious thumps, whirs, or beeps. Our observations will let you know if the unit is unusually loud – enough to disturb you while you’re watching Game of Thrones.

After the whites, we’ll take all the same measurements on a heavier mixed load of jeans, shirts and towels (aka, “the bachelor load”). This will let us see how the washer handles a harder-to-balance load, as well as how much noisier it is with metal bits from the jeans and the buttons on the shirts. We’ll throw in additional loads as needed, including real-world testing from the Digital Trends staff, and their evaluations. Does the machine’s automatic balancing feature deal with a large comforter and sheets (aka, “the bastard load”)? Can it handle the dirt and grime of our co-ed soccer team?

Next, we’ll test any unique cleaning features the washer might have. Is that steam-washing mode really any good at getting stubborn stains out? Does that jet-engine high-speed spin really make your dryer’s job easier? Are there dedicated dispensers for bleach or special oxidizing cleaning agents, and if so, do they actually dispense intelligently or just mix everything together with the detergent? Is there anything really unique, like integrated drying? We’ll give these features a workout and let you know if they’re worth seeking out.

User Interface

Digital controls on washers have settled into a pretty standard model – a large knob and some buttons — but occasionally some manufacturers push the envelope by doing something different. Higher-end models can include preset wash mode storage, timed wash cycles, and other niceties, but they can sometimes be confusing or downright difficult to use. Large LCD screens are sometimes replacing the more standard lights and segmented displays; sometimes they’re done well, sometimes not. Are there beeps and other audio feedback that are jarring or annoying? Are there different button sounds to choose from, or is the volume adjustable? We’ll run through all the different settings and let you know if there’s anything wonky or weird, and how easy and intuitive the washer is to work with.

Connected/Convenience features

Does the washer have a Wi-Fi connectivity option? Can it be remotely started or show wash status on your smartphone? Cry for help remotely in case of an off-balance load? Is there an integrated web browser on the front? Are there smart-meter features that allow for off-peak scheduling? This is the area where the most innovation is happening, so we’ll cut through the marketing hype and beat these features up hard to give you the real scoop on them.

Clean Up

Washers, by their nature, generally tend to keep themselves clean (at least on the inside), but things like liquid laundry detergent and additives can quickly gunk up the dispenser trays. Hair and lint can build up and get trapped in the front of the washer. Some manufacturers make design choices that make cleaning up more difficult than it should be, like non-removable dispenser trays, badly-placed seams, odd gaskets, or soft-finish plastics that mar easily from the occasional dribble. We’ll make sure to slop some stuff around while we’re testing (that’s how we’ll explain it, anyway) and see if it’s possible to get things back to like-new cleanliness without busting out a screwdriver and ripping the whole thing apart.

Final scoring

Our final score will bring together the results of all these tests and measurements to give you a simple recommendation, with highlights and lowlights. Sometimes a washer might be very well suited to a particular kind of consumer, but not for another. We’ll let you know what’s right for you.