Washing machines are one of the hardest appliances to shop for. They're a pain to transport, the market is flooded with complex jargon and enticing "innovations" and, of course, there's the decision-making stress that comes with any large, expensive purchase.
The good news is that a high quality washing machine will last a very long time, so choose wisely and you'll have worry-free washing for many years to come.
Hot and/or cold water connections
Some machines need both hot and cold water to operate correctly, or may need a special connector or a sealing cap for the hot water inlet if you want to connect it to cold water only. A machine with a heater (front loaders only) can be particularly useful if you connect to cold only, as it still gives you the option of a warm wash should you need it.
For dual-connection models, many manufacturers recommend a lower maximum temperature than most hot water systems deliver – particularly solar hot water systems. You may need a tempering valve to reduce the temperature. Counter-intuitively, washers without hot water inlets will actually give you a greater range of temperature options as they're not limited by your household hot water system's 65 degree maximum temperature.
Stains are often set by hot water, so a cold-water fill and slow heat up to optimum wash temperatures helps the stain-removal process. Well designed dual-connection washers should fill with cold first then add the hot water.
If your hot water is a little slow in coming, it's worth remembering that most front loaders use small volumes of hot water for the main wash; for a dual connection, only 7–10L of hot water may be used to get a warm wash. So, depending on how far the water has to travel from the hot water source, the machine may decide it's taken in enough hot water before any actual heated water gets to your clothes! You can check on this by running the hot water tap in your laundry into a bucket and measuring how much cold water flows before it turns hot.
Some machines have "child-lock" functions – this could be either on the door to the washer so it can't be opened mid-cycle, or a program that can't be changed during a cycle.
In a house with children it's worth activating the door lock when the washer is inactive, although sometimes manufacturers recommended keeping front loaders partially open due to potential mould growth in the rim of the washer. If you're worried about curious kids playing with the washer, you might want to look into a child safety gate for the laundry.
Ease of use
When you're comparing models in store, consider:
Is the labelling on the controls clear?
Is the program selection straightforward and intuitive to set?
Does it have the features I need?
Will I actually use all the fancy features of a high-end model?
Is the lint filter easy to clean?
Are the detergent and fabric dispensers easy to use?
Is the door or lid opening large enough?
Does the door or lid open far enough?
Do I need these features?
Modern washing machines come with a bewildering array of features and technology. While many of them will give you better washing performance, don't pay extra for fancy features you'll never use.
Auto-sensing water level
This feature can help you save water, energy and time as the machine automatically adjusts the water level according to the size of the load and/or fabric type. Some machines also claim to adjust the washing action to suit the load size . We've found these can be less effective than we expect. Check the "water label" column (the manufacturer's claim) against the "water used" column in our test results to see how effective this is.
Delicates, or "Hand wash" programs
Some machines have an extra-gentle wash cycle for garments labelled as only suitable for hand-washing – including woollens, silk and cashmere.
Designed for lightly soiled and/or small loads, a fast-wash option reduces the length of the selected program or is a faster cycle in itself. Just how "fast" it is can vary from machine to machine. Fast-wash programs are great if you're in a hurry to get the washing done, but may not be suitable for large or heavily soiled loads.