Lights out for cold

When the water began pouring out the door of our ancient washing machine onto the kitchen floor, I finally accepted that it was time to buy a new one. During a previous, failed round of shopping for a washing machine, I was put off by all of the conflicting claims about the efficiency of different washing machines and the confusing range of options. Did I want steam cleaning? Would a hot-water inlet save electricity? But I relaxed when I realized that none of these complications really matter. Any washing machine with an A rating from the EU will be relatively efficient in its use of water. And if you wash in cold water, electricity consumption is practically a non-issue.

I discovered to my surprise, however, that this revelation does not suddenly make choosing a washing machine simple. At the first appliance store I visited, the basic Bosch washing machine that I wanted to buy did not have a cold-water option. The lowest temperature allowed was a warm 30 degrees. To buy a Bosch machine with a cold-water option, I would have to pay R2,700 more. The basic machine is efficient, with an A rating, but even at the lowest temperature setting, I would at least double my energy consumption compared to my old, inefficient machine on cold.

I also encountered a lot of resistance from salespeople about cold-water washing. The usual line is that the washing powders work better in warm water. This may be technically true but practically irrelevant. What I know is that in any line-up at school, my children’s white socks and white shirts look brighter than most of the others. My theory is that any advantage warm or hot water may have in removing grime is countered by the grey tinge that the whites pick up from colours that bleed, even if the wash is largely separated into light and dark loads. Besides, the latest Skip packaging says “works just as well in cold water.” The fact that our washing dries in the Highveld sun also makes it brighter than tumble-dried laundry.

At another store I did find LG and Samsung machines that allowed independent temperature settings, including cold. Both LG and Samsung get top marks for their washers in recent quality ratings by J.D. Powers. I chose the Samsung because its dimensions fit better under our kitchen counter.

I wish I could say that my new Samsung washer (model WF8500NHW) is the ultimate choice for cold-water washing, but I have encountered two disappointments in using it. The first is that each time I turn the appliance on, it resets to 60 degrees. I must remember to change it to cold before each wash. The second is that on one useful wash cycle, synthetics, it refuses to go to any temperature other than 40 degrees.

These obstacles are surmountable. We have become accustomed to washing on the longer, cotton cycle and resetting the temperature each time. My Watts Up meter tells me that I’m using less than 0.2 kilowatt hours per wash, which is a fraction of the consumption for a hot wash in the most efficient machine available. But I would advise anyone in the market for a cold-water washing machine to ask a lot of questions or watch a machine in action before handing over your money.