In Consumer Reports’ recent tests of washing machines, LG’s WM0642H front-loader rattled the vibration test rig and sent this glass sliding. (Courtesy photo)
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OF CONSUMER REPORTS

Cleaning ability has little to do with price, according to Consumer Reports’ latest washing-machine tests, which revealed great values among top- and front-loaders.

Three top-loaders by Estate, GE and Maytag washed well and quickly for $500 and less. For a few hundred dollars more, shoppers can purchase front-loaders for better energy and water efficiency.

Whether shoppers are browsing the aisles or surfing the Web, CR notes that they need to be cautious of high-priced machines loaded with anti-vibration technology and allergen-removal cycles. Both proved to be little more than hype during testing. Front-loaders spin faster, drying clothes more quickly, but a new vibration test from CR found those higher speeds can cause pictures to rattle. Several front loaders’ overall scores dropped because they vibrated so vigorously.

LG’s premium front-loaders include an option that claims to achieve water temperatures above the 130 degrees recommended to kill allergens such as dust mites and germs in pet dander. But consumers can reduce their exposure to allergens and spend hundreds less by vacuuming more often; using dust-mite covers on mattresses, box springs and bedding; and replacing bedding with materials that resist allergens.

CR recommends that consumers in the market for an affordable washer check out top-loaders. They take less time per wash cycle than a front-loader, but tend not to be as energy or water efficient. Two CR Best Buys, the GE WJRE5500G (WW), $480, and the Maytag MTW5800T(W), $500, scored high and performed well without breaking the budget. Another option is the Estate ETW4400T(Q), $400, which is made by Whirlpool, a reliable brand.

Front-load washers can run a few hundred more than a top-loader, but they are more energy and water efficient. For consumers looking for an efficient front-load washer, CR suggests the GE WCVH6800J (WW), $900, and the Frigidaire Gallery GLTF2940F(S), $650; both vibrate less noticeably. CR also recommends the GE WBVH5200J (WW), $700, and the Amana NFW7200T (W), $600. Both are fine as front-loading washers, but because they vibrate vigorously, should only be installed on concrete slab or floor.

HOW TO CHOOSE: When consumers are looking to purchase a new washer, CR suggests keeping the following in mind:

* Top- or front-load? For better energy and water efficiency, CR’s experts recommend that consumers look for a front-loader. All front-load washers have a small mold problem, but if the washer is going to be located in a dry space, mold is less of a concern. Top-loaders are faster to finish, and many high efficiency models use less energy than standard models.

* Take the long view. Owners tend to keep their washers and dryers for about 10 to 13 years, so a high-efficiency model can end up costing the same as or less than standard models in the end.

* Be choosy about features. Auto temperature controls offer consistent water temperature and wash performance. In general, you might never need more than four or five wash cycles.

* Keep the old dryer. There is no reason to replace a working dryer because the technology has changed. But if it dies, get one with a moisture sensor. If it is near the bedrooms, make sure the end-of-cycle signal can be turned off.

* Skip extended warranties. Most washers and dryers do not break during the extended warranty period. When they do break, on average repairs cost the same as the warranty.

Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.