In honor of Earth Day today, I’d like to talk about the important Middle East issue of saving water. One organization based in Israel called Paamonim, which I’ve wrote about here, helps Israeli families in debt avoid poverty, and among its tips offers many money-saving ideas. Saving water to save money and energy is not only a personal financial consideration, but a global issue, as natural resources belong to all of us.
Today I want to talk about water savings in washing machines — the brands which are used in Israel and possibly favored around the Middle East.
Some older washing machines, you might not know, have an option of using half the amount of water, saving 30 liters a load. As an added bonus, clothes come out cleaner. The Paamonim site mentions that machines manufactured within the last three years already set the half-capacity as the default option, but I believe my seven-year-old Electra works this way as well.
How do clothes get cleaner when using less water? It turns out that filling the drum of the machine is unnecessary. As long as the clothes are wet, the agitation does the job, and better. Loose water only gets in the way, and also creates a need for more detergent.
Loading from top or bottom?
The current water crisis in Israel makes this a good time to revisit the long-time debate of American immigrants over whether a top-loading Maytag with the door on top is preferable to a European front-loader, standard in Israel.
The top-loader works by filling its large drum with water, and a central agitator spins to clean the clothes. Standard front-loaders don’t need an agitator, so more clothes can fit into the smaller drum. The clothes agitate as the drum in a front-loading machine moves back and forth, capitalizing on gravity.
Seven years ago, my then 15-year-old Maytag gave out a few days before Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year), and I bought the Electra for a price comparable to a new Maytag motor. I’ve had only minor repairs so far, but it’s largely a matter of chance. They are supposed to last about five years.
Are the advantages of top-loaders worth the excess water and energy use?
Below I list the main reasons immigrants choose to import a top-loading American machine, typically a Maytag.
- Maytags last longer. That may be true, but they are much more expensive. Parts and repairs also cost more. Of course, your smaller European machine will end up in a landfill faster.
- More clothes can fit into the top-loader. I did not notice a big difference, because the Maytag’s agitator is large and requires clothes to be stacked loosely. A huge amount can fit in a standard front loader, especially when using a regular cycle.
- The Maytag cycle is faster. This is true, and the switch to a front-loader requires a readjustment. But with planning you don’t need to sit and wait for laundry to finish—you can do other things. And the front-loader squeezes out more water so clothes dry faster, whether on the line or in a dryer. The length of the cycle also depends on whether you heat the water (see next point).
- Top-loading Maytags are connected to both hot and cold water faucets, allowing you to save money and energy on sunny days if you have a solar water heater. However, detergents today are designed to work well with cold water. Using cold water also shortens the cycle of the front-loader significantly, and extends the life of the machine. Front-loading machines attach to the cold water faucet and heat water according to the cycle chosen.
- Top-loaders are easier on the back, but a front-loader can be placed on a pedestal.
There are several major disadvantages to the Maytag:
- They don’t clean as well (but may put less stress on clothes for the same reason).
- They are too large for Israeli apartments, and may require being taken apart to fit through doors. They also require two faucets, not standard in Israeli laundry areas.
- They use twice as much water, more detergent, and more electricity (factoring out the heating of the water)
- Repairs and parts are expensive.
- Newer model front-loaders automatically adjust the water level, based on the amount of clothes.
More money and energy-saving laundry tips:
- Don’t wash it it if it’s not dirty. Use smocks and aprons to protect clothes.
- Always fill up the machine. Fill a front loader to the top, turning the drum to make more room. With a regular cycle (lower numbers) the machine can really be stuffed, as long as closing it doesn’t put stress on the door. Be gentle with the door as the hinges are a weak point, as are the knobs.
- Have enough clothes. If you are always doing a load because you run out of socks, buy more socks (or work out a system to keep them organized). You should have enough clothes to have something to wear when you are washing, plus something extra in case of emergency.
- Don’t have too many clothes. They tend to fall on the floor and require rewashing, and it’s harder to find what you need.
- Give family members their own distinctive towels. They are more likely to reuse them.
- When visiting friends offer to bring your own sheets, or a sleeping bag. Take the sheets you just took off the bed for changing.
- “Grey water” from the bath can be reused for laundry. Keep a couple of buckets in the shower and pour the used water into the machine through the opening for detergent while the water is running. I’ve noticed that my machine adds water to the first cycle in intervals. I add water until the water stops running, and try to be around for the second addition of water as well.
- Use a minimum of detergent. If your laundry smells like detergent after washing, you’re probably using too much. The extra soap also clogs up your machine.
- Hang laundry to dry.
What tips can you share for more efficient laundering?
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(Photo credit: mwri)