Buying a washer and dryer? Here’s everything you need to know

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

People don’t typically dream of buying a washer and dryer. After all, how many of us actually like doing laundry? The clothes pile up, they get washed, folded, put away, and before you know it, you’re doing it all again. What’s fun about that? A good washer and dryer can take some of the dreariness out of the whole process, though.

Like buying any big-ticket item, it can be a daunting experience. These appliances can easily run over a thousand bucks. Then the endless questions: Should you get a stacked set, top load or front load, and do you really need to start using HE detergent? This guide will take you through the questions you should ask, the difference in features, warranties, installation, and pitfalls to avoid.

Laundry room or bathroom closet?

The type of washer and dryer you get will depend largely on where it’s going to go in your home. For example, laundry might be allocated to a narrow closet in your home, making your only option a stackable. These units tend to be smaller, meaning you still might need to visit the Laundromat to wash big comforters. Dryers are available as gas or electric, so which you purchase will be a result of what your house supports. Many compact dryers are ventless, meaning they don’t need to send exhaust to the outside.

For those who have a basement setup or dedicated laundry room where there’s room to place them side-by-side, you’ll need to decide on the size and choose between a top-load or front-load washer. Standard washers are often (but not always) 27 or 27.5 inches wide. Their capacities range from 3.1 to 6.2 cubic feet. The majority are between 3.5 and 4.6 cubic feet. How much laundry they hold will depend on the style: a front-load washer will handle more clothes and does better with bulky items such as comforters than top-loaders with agitators. Compact machines are typically 24 inches wide and have up to 3.0 cubic feet of capacity, though they’re often closer to 2.2 or 2.4 cubic feet. You can generally fit between four and eight pounds of clothes in their drums.

Capacity is important when choosing an accompanying dryer as well. The first thing you’ll notice is that they hold more than washers. That’s because your clothes fluff up and take up more space as they dry. What you don’t want is a dryer that holds less laundry than your washer, otherwise you’ll be drying in shifts. To avoid this, just look for a dryer with about double the capacity of your washer. That might not be strictly possible with compact models: Bosch’s compact washers have 2.2 cubic feet of space, while their dryers have 4 cubic feet. As long as you’re pretty close to double the size, you shouldn’t have to overload your dryer.

No law says you need a washer and dryer from the same manufacturer. Mixing them up is fine.

Washer and dryers are big appliances. You might be wondering if you’ll be able to get them into your home easily. Doorways and hallways in most homes can handle items that can fit through a space 30 to 31 inches wide. Regardless of the type of machines you end up purchasing, be sure to account for an extra four to six inches behind the washer and dryer for the hook-ups, plus an inch or so around the sides and top for air flow and making them easier to remove. There aren’t standard measurements for height or depth, either, so you’ll want to make note of those as well. Don’t forget that your top-loader will need around 20 inches to lift, while a front-loader’s door needs 20 to 25 inches of clearance. Double check your choice of front-loaders are stackable, as not all of them are.

The Great Front-Load vs. Top-Load Debate

If you’re putting your laundry machines under a counter or stacking them, you’ll need front-loaders. If your space has room for either lids or doors to swing up or out, then you have a choice to make. There are pros and cons to each: Top-loaders are often less expensive, but front-loaders are more efficient, are gentler, and have been found to clean better. We have an in-depth guide comparing front-loaders and top-loaders, but the basics are below.

The washing bins on top-loaders are so deep that it may be hard for shorter people to reach the bottom to retrieve clothes. When perusing them in the store, open the top and see if you can touch the bottom. If you have to lean in too much and you find yourself on your tippy toes, a top-loader probably isn’t for you. Do you really want to stand on your toes to do laundry for the next 10 years?

Many top-load models today have foregone the inner agitator (the big spinning rod inside the machine) for a hollow bin. Some even have a stainless steel tub. The benefit of these is that they can handle higher spin speeds. Ultimately, this means it will take less time for your clothes to dry. Front-loaders still have greater maximum spin speeds, so they’ll make drying even more efficient.

Front-loading machines tend to be more expensive and have a ton of features, even on the most basic models. It can be hard to find one for under $600. Many of the new washers have sensors in them that you’ll want to be sure to wipe dry once in a while to keep them in good working order. Some models could potentially attract mold. This is an easy fix: either occasionally wipe the front area where water can accumulate or leave the door open. Yes, the light may stay on for a minute or two if the door is left open, but it shuts off.

Washing Drying App

The other issue to consider is bending down to open the doors. Of course, the manufacturers took this into consideration and offer pedestals the washer and dryer can be placed upon, making them taller and much easier to use. They typically have drawers underneath for storing detergent and fabric softener. Unfortunately, these are not included in the price and generally cost around $250 each. That’s another $500 to add to the expense of the machine. Occasionally, some deals offer a discount on the pedestals when buying the washer and dryer, but don’t count on it.

You can hire a local handyman or plumber to remove old appliances and install new ones.

Another thing to consider when buying a washer and dryer, whether stackable or front-loading, is the doors. Typically, the dryer door can be switched to open in a different direction. However, almost all washer doors will open left to right. Currently, only Electrolux machines can also change the direction in which the washer door opens. In newer construction homes, this wouldn’t even be an issue because of the way the washer and dryer hook-ups are installed. Older homes may have the hook-ups reversed; in which case you would want to be able to change the door on the washer so you can easily transfer clothes between the two machines.

Features, Features, and More Features

You can still get washers and dryers that have only a few wash and dry cycles. Getting one of these options will definitely keep the price down. Many of the newer models, especially front-loaders, come with so many options you’ll need to spend some time with the manual to learn about them all. Sales people will talk you through the highlights, but to know what all of those buttons and settings accomplish will take some time.

These are the features you’ll mostly likely find on the newer washer and dryers. As you read them, write down the ones that are most important to you. Trust us, this will make the shopping process infinitely easier.

Digital Display: Higher-end models tend to feature digital displays and a load of settings. No need to get overwhelmed; it limits the amount of functionality based on the initial wash or dry setting you select. For example, if you pick delicates, you won’t be able to choose the highest heat setting when you dry it.

Energy Star models: The days of getting a tax credit for purchasing one of these are gone. However, many still have manufacturer rebates that are worth looking into during the purchase process. The good thing about these models is that they actually are much more energy efficient. In the long run, it could save on water, electric, and gas bills if you do a lot of laundry. The first Energy Star dryers were introduced in 2015, and many have moisture sensors that help prevent “over drying.” Basically, they are supposed to shut off the dryer when your clothes are dry, not when the timer runs out. It’s a bit misleading, but high-efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not using a lot of energy. That symbol simply indicates the type of detergent you’ll need to use. If you’re looking to save water and electricity, look for the Energy Star label.

Steam: This feature steams your clothes, which can help with stain removal and creases. Don’t get too excited; it doesn’t replace dry cleaning. Depending on the implementation, you will either need to have an additional hook-up behind the dryer or add water manually through a dispenser on the machine. It’s also found on some new washers.

Wi-Fi-enabled: With this feature, you can use other IoT products (such as Nest) to control the washer and dryer. This might let you run the machine when energy prices are lower, for example. Many are also Amazon Echo- and Google Home-compatible, so you can ask your voice assistant if the dryer’s done.

Washing Machine Features

Hand wash: Simulating hand washing, this is an excellent option for delicate fabrics, bathing suits, and undergarments. You’ll still want to hang dry what you wash.

Extended spin: More than just an extra spin cycle, it’s great for items like towels and comforters. It gets out extra water, making bulky items easier to dry.

Extra Rinse cycle: An extra rinse will help remove excess detergent from the laundered items.

Temperature settings: This can adjust the hot and cold water as it enters the machine.

Stain Removal: Think of this as a pre-soak or pre-wash cycle. You’ll still want to use a stain remover, but this will improve the chances of removing the stain completely.

Favorite or Custom settings: If you don’t want to deal with the menu each time you put in a load, you can simply set one or more favorite options.

Automatic water levels: A great feature to help save on the water bills. Some models include sensors that can tell how full the machine is and adjusts the water accordingly. If you get one of these models, it’s a good idea to periodically wipe off the sensors with a towel to keep them in good working order.

Sanitation cycle: Ideal for people with allergies, this setting removes allergens and bacteria during a deep clean cycle.

Dryer Features:

Moisture Sensor: Like the sensors in washing machines that help tell how much water to use to fill the tank, these sensors can tell how damp the clothes are and adjust the drying time. For example, if you have a 30-minute drying cycle, but the sensors “sense” that the clothes are dry at 20 minutes, it will stop the cycle then.

Wrinkle Release or Refresh: We’ve all seen the commercial where someone is late to a night out, pops a wrinkled dress in the dryer, and sets the Wrinkle Release setting. Voila, five minutes later wrinkles are gone. That’s this cycle, but it doesn’t actually replace the need for an iron.

Extended Tumble: While the Refresh cycle is great, what if you could reduce a number of wrinkles your clothes got in the first place? This cycle will run a few more tumble cycles to help release wrinkles from clothing.

NSF Certified: This label ensures about 99 percent of bacteria is killed during the cycle.

Stainless Steel Drum: Why should washing machines have all the fun? Dryers also hopped on the stainless steel bandwagon. The material doesn’t easily absorb odors or get discolored. Another plus is that it reduces the static cling in clothes.

Drying Rack: Detachable racks that can be used inside the dryer, so you can dry delicate items without having to tumble them.

When and Where to Buy

Decided on a model that you want? Great! Now you just have to figure out when and where to buy it. Typically, September or October are good times to get a deal on a new washer and dryer, since that’s when the new models are arriving at stores. Also, many retailers will start their “Black Friday” specials earlier (end of October and November), so you don’t have to wait for better deals on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Occasionally, you might be able to save money by purchasing a “set” from the same manufacturer. Do your research and you might find that if you bought them separately, it might end up being the same price as the “combo deal.” No law says you need a washer and dryer from the same manufacturer. Mixing them up is fine. Just be sure that whoever services your appliances can handle both brands. If you don’t get them at the same place, you’ll need to schedule various installation appointments, which can take more time.

If you like shopping from the comfort of your own home, you’ll be glad to know that you can buy a washer and dryer online. Of course, the big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Sears offer in-store pickup options, delivery, and installation. However, installation isn’t available across the board. That’s one of the main differences of buying in-store versus online. The benefit of purchasing from a store is that they will provide installation (often for a small fee $50) and free removal of old appliances. They’ll also know about any additional cords you may need for installation. If you’re not sure what will be required, take a picture of your hookup area and bring it to the store with you.

You can also purchase washers and dryers from Amazon. The thing to be aware of is delivery and installation. Some models are available on Prime, so that’s a quick turnaround time and free shipping. What about installation? Amazon has launched Amazon Home Services, which is a bit like Angie’s List, where you can hire a local handyman or plumber to remove old appliances and install new ones. This is an added cost and isn’t available in all areas. Be sure to check this option out first before clicking the buy button if you don’t have someone who can install it.

Is a Warranty Necessary?

Most appliances come with at least a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Some warranties will even last up to three years. Stores will offer options to purchase an extended warranty. Don’t feel pressured to buy it that day; there’s usually a 30-day grace period. If you don’t buy it from the store, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Tons of local service providers also sell warranties.

Finally, read the customer reviews. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from someone else’s experience, especially if you see a recurring issue. Before getting too overwhelmed, make a list of what you absolutely must have and a budget. You’ll be surprised what you might find. Hey, you may even discover that you like doing laundry.

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