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Washing machine energy ratings explained

Washing machine energy ratings explained - lead

Understanding the energy label system, and what exactly it tells you, will help you choose the best washer for you and the planet

There are two good reasons to seek out an energy-efficient washing machine: reducing your household’s carbon footprint, and saving money on your running costs. For many shoppers, the search for that efficient solution starts with looking at an appliance’s energy label.

The energy label system rates washing machines (and some other appliances such as fridge-freezers and dishwashers) on a scale of A to G for energy efficiency.

A-rated appliances are the most efficient based on the rating method used, while G-rated appliances are the least efficient on the descending scale. Simple, right?

Well, not exactly. The energy rating system indicates certain things about a washing machine’s energy efficiency – but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

This guide breaks down the facts about the energy label system, and provides guidance on how to use energy ratings to inform your buying decision.

Washing machine energy ratings explainedA-rated washing machines have become more widespread recently, as manufacturers have made adaptations that suit the energy label criteria.

What is the washing machine energy label system?

If you’ve shopped for white goods since 1994, then you’ve surely encountered an energy label. With their multicoloured scale descending from A to G (since 2021), these familiar labels must be displayed on every new washing machine sold in the UK. (The same goes for various other kinds of appliance.)

The labels were introduced by the EU to help citizens identify more energy- and resource-efficient appliances, meaning ones that use relatively little electricity or water.

Despite the fact we’re no longer in the EU, the UK still uses the bloc’s energy-label system – although patriotic shoppers will be pleased to note that a small union flag has been added to the upper-right corner of our labels.

Many of the washing machines being brought to market today are A-rated, and this has slightly diluted the usefulness of the rating system in its current form.

However, according to Richard Howarth, senior product manager (washers and washer-dryers) at Haier UK & Ireland, there’s a new type of energy rating to look out for if you want a washer that absolutely aces the test criteria.

“We are also now starting to see the designation A-X%. This would mean the product is X% more efficient than an A-rated model,” Howarth told Expert Reviews.

What information do you get from a washing machine’s energy label?

The most prominent spec on a washing machine’s energy label is its energy rating, which could be anything from A to G (but in practice, is rarely lower than D).

For washing machines, this rating is calculated by measuring the amount of energy the machine uses over 100 cycles of an “Eco 40-60” wash. The fewer kilowatt hours of energy the machine uses in this mode, the better its energy rating will be.

So, if you tend to use your washing machine in Eco mode at a 40℃ or 60℃ temperature setting, then the energy rating will give you a fair indication of how much energy the machine would consume, relative to other options with different energy ratings.

Washing machine energy ratings explained

However, you’ll need to look at a few additional performance specs to get a more rounded view of a washer’s energy-efficiency. Some of these are also featured on UK energy labels, including:

  • kWh per 100 cycles: This is the energy usage figure used to grade the appliance from A to G.
  • Maximum load (kg): The weight of laundry that can be washed by the machine in a single load.
  • Cycle duration on Eco cycle (hours:minutes): This is represented by a clock symbol.
  • Water consumption per cycle (litres): As with the energy rating, this measurement is based on ‘Eco mode’ performance.
  • Spin drying efficiency (A-G): This is an important factor for households that use their washer’s spin function often.
  • Noise emitted: This is given in decibels and also rated on a scale of A to D.

All of these details ought to be on display when you’re browsing washing machines in-store. And if you’re shopping online, you should be able to find a digital version of the same energy label via the retailer or manufacturer’s website.

You’ll also find a scannable QR code on a washing machine’s energy label, linking to more in-depth information on the machine’s performance.

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Should I pay attention to washing machine energy ratings?

Washing machine energy ratings explained

If a washing machine is capable of achieving a good energy rating, then this often indicates that there are efficient elements to its design.

“The key component would be the motor,” says Haier’s Richard Howarth.

“In our Haier models we have a direct motion motor which connects directly to the drum of the machine, therefore using less energy as no belt is involved like a traditional AC motor,” he notes.

Higher-capacity washing machines can use a relatively large amount of energy, while still achieving good energy efficiency relative to the amount of laundry you wash. This is reflected in washing machine energy ratings, which are adjusted for the washing capacity of the machine.

So, if two washing machines have the same power consumption but one has a greater drum capacity than the other, then the higher-capacity machine is likely to get a better energy rating than the smaller machine.

Another advantage to a larger drum is that you’ll be less likely to overload the machine – though you should avoid going too far in the opposite direction.

“Buyers should opt for a machine with an appropriate capacity for their needs,” says Vivien Fodor, laundry category manager at Hotpoint.

“Overloading a smaller machine can sometimes result in a less thorough clean, meaning you might require additional cycles, consuming more energy in the long run.”

Ultimately, choosing a washer with the right capacity might matter more than choosing a machine with a superior energy rating.

Washing machine energy ratings explainedMany people in the UK use a cooler wash setting than others in Europe – possibly because we need to wear more woolly jumpers. Source: AEG

View washing machines at Hotpoint

One major problem with energy ratings is that they’re based on wash programmes that many users rarely select.

Researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the habits of hundreds of washing machine users, and they found that Eco settings – like those used in energy performance testing – were used for only 15% of wash cycles.

Meanwhile, participants who were given a washing machine with controls that guided them more strongly to use an Eco setting consumed 15% less energy, per the report. (The research was published in March 2023, and you can read it at ScienceDirect.)

In a nutshell, we don’t use Eco washes as much as we could – and manufacturers could do more to encourage the use of these settings, which are the basis of the energy ratings you see on the energy label.

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Kenneth Watt, director of UK Whitegoods Ltd, is highly sceptical of the energy rating system.

“The big issue is that the testing is done in ideal conditions, with perfectly folded materials which the testers call ‘ballast’, in place of laundry,” says Watt.

“It’s not remotely realistic, and it encourages people to use lower temperature washes that don’t work as well while making a negligible difference in energy savings – we’re talking about a couple of pence,” he says.

Washing machine energy ratings explained

Most washing machine manufacturers appear to be more positive about energy labels, but some do recognise the limitations of the rating scheme.

“While energy ratings are important, quality of build is potentially as important,” says Sophie Lane, a product training manager at Miele.

“Miele is the only manufacturer in its branch of industry to test products such as washing machines and dishwashers for the equivalent of 20 years’ use,” she adds.

It’s worth noting that the EU regulation behind the current energy rating system is up for review before Christmas 2025, “in the light of technological progress”. This may lead to further changes to washing machine energy labels.

If our research is anything to go by, improvements could certainly be made to the well-intentioned energy label scheme – although it surely has a role to play in guiding buyers to more environmentally friendly appliances.

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