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"Front-loading clothes washers wash/rinse better, cost less to use"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration showing several front-loading clothes washers and the washing cycle.

Dear Jim: I want to buy a new energy efficient clothes washer, but I would prefer a top-loader because of back problems. Are top-loading washers really much less efficient than the large front-loading washers? - Leslie L.

A: Front-loading washers are the most efficient design, using about half as much water and detergent as a top-loader, but they are less convenient to load and unload. I use one at my own home and it is difficult not to drop some clean clothes on the floor when unloading it. If you have a bad back as many elderly do, unloading heavy wet clothes can also be a problem.

There is a new design of top-loading washer, by Whirlpool and Sears, which is almost as efficient as a front-loader. Instead of using a large rotating agitator, it uses a wobbling washer plate and small agitator in the tub to move clothes through the soapy water. This design does not require the entire tub to fill with water and has a relatively fast spin speed for a top-loader design.

This new top-loader design has a very large capacity, up to 4.5 cubic feet of clothes. By having to do few loads each wash day, less electricity is used overall to operate the motors in the washer and less hot water is consumed. The only drawback is, being a top-loader, the dryer cannot be stacked on top of the washer to save floor space.

Another top-loader option is a hybrid top/front-loader by Staber. It has a horizontal axis so it spins like a front-loader, but it loads from the top instead of the front. The washer tub is perforated and hexagonal in shape. It is housed inside an outer tub.

Both tubs are made of stainless steel. There is a door on one of the inner tub sides to add and remove the clothes and a door on the top of the unit. When the inner tub rotates through the outer tub which is full of soapy water, this water flows in the holes in the inner tub and through the clothes. It is bit pricey ranging from about $1,200 to $1,700.

If you do not mind bending over and you want the most efficient and best cleaning washer, a front-loader is difficult to beat. With the tub on a horizontal axis, the tub has to be only partially filled and the clothes naturally tumble through the soapy water. Fins inside of the tub also catch some of the water and shower it down over the tumbling clothes. Most models have a reversing rotation features during the cycle so clothes do not get clumped together.

One advantage of a front-loader is you can stack the dryer on top of the washer to save space. This, along with high energy efficiency, is why they are extremely popular in Europe's typically smaller homes. If you already have a dryer, it will likely fit on top of any of the front-loader models.

Another advantage of the horizontal axis tub in a front-loader is the tub is supported such that it can spin at a much higher speed, up to 1,600 rpm, during the rinse cycle. This high spin speed forces more soapy water out of the clothes during each cycle. The fabrics in clothes last longer when there is less residual detergent in them. Also, more thorough rinsing is a plus for people with sensitive skin or allergies.

Just as tumbling the clothes cleans them better, it also rinses out the soap more effectively when the fresh rinse water comes into the tub. You can select the number of rinses (up to five) with the final high-speed spin cycle to remove the most water and soap residue. This also reduces the time required in the dryer so even more energy is saved.

As with most appliances today, front-loading clothes washers are becoming smarter and more automatic. Instead of setting the water level dial depending upon the size of the load, the washer automatically senses the weight of the clothes and selects the most effective and efficient settings. These also have manual overrides in case you prefer a particular setting.

Another option is a combination front-loading washer/dryer. Put your dirty clothes in it and remove clean, dry clothes a couple of hours later. These have a smaller capacity than wash-only models. By using a condensing dryer design, these models do not have to be vented outdoors, so they can be placed anywhere near a faucet and drain.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 444 - buyer's guide of 12 front-loading and combination washer/dryer manufacturers showing model numbers, max. load capacities, max. rinse spin speeds and settings, pre-programmed washing cycles, water usage per load, hook-up, dimensions, features and photos and prices of many of the models.

Dear Jim: We are having a new driveway put in and I am thinking of installing a concrete one this time. I have heard there are ways to make it look nicer than just plain concrete gray. How is it done? - John F.

A: You will probably be much happier with a durable concrete driveway. Concrete is maintenance-free, but a lot more expensive to install. Giving it a more decorative look should not increase the cost a lot.

Colorants can be added to the concrete to produce a wide array of colors. The concrete company can show you the options. Various surface textures can change the appearance or it can be given a brick or stone look.

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