Washing Machines and Laundry: Tips for Making Laundry More Frugal


In honor of Earth Day, here’s a water-saving tip from Paamonim. Paamonim, which I wrote about here, helps Israeli families in debt avoid poverty, and its website contains many money-saving tips. Saving water and energy is not only a personal financial consideration, as natural resources belong to all of us.

Some older washing machines have an option of using half the amount of water, saving 30 liters a load. As an added bonus, clothes come out cleaner. The site mentions that machines manufactured within the last three years already set the half-capacity as the default option, but I believe my seven-year-old Electra works this way as well.

How do clothes get cleaner when using less water? It turns out that filling the drum of the machine is unnecessary. As long as the clothes are wet, the agitation does the job, and better. Loose water only gets in the way, and also creates a need for more detergent.

The current water crisis in Israel makes this a good time to revisit the long-time debate of American immigrants over whether a top-loading Maytag with the door on top is preferable to a European front-loader, standard in Israel. The top-loader works by filling its large drum with water, and a central agitator spins to clean the clothes. Standard front-loaders don’t need an agitator, so more clothes can fit into the smaller drum. The clothes agitate as the drum in a front-loading machine moves back and forth, capitalizing on gravity.

Seven years ago, my then 15-year-old Maytag gave out a few days before Rosh Hashanah, and I bought the Electra for a price comparable to a new Maytag motor. I’ve had only minor repairs so far, but it’s largely a matter of chance. They are supposed to last about five years.

Are the advantages of top-loaders worth the excess water and energy use?

Below I list the main reasons immigrants choose to import a top-loading American machine, typically a Maytag.

  1. Maytags last longer. That may be true, but they are much more expensive. Parts and repairs do tend to cost more. Of course, your smaller European machine will end up in a landfill faster.
  2. More clothes can fit into the top-loader. I did not notice a big difference, because the Maytag’s agitator is large and requires clothes to be stacked loosely. A huge amount can fit in a standard front loader, especially when using a regular cycle.
  3. The Maytag cycle is faster. This is true, and the switch to a front-loader requires a readjustment. But with planning you don’t need to sit and wait for laundry to finish—you can do other things. And the front-loader squeezes out more water so clothes dry faster, whether on the line or in a dryer. The length of the cycle also depends on whether you heat the water (see next point).
  4. Top-loading Maytags are connected to both hot and cold water faucets, allowing you to save money and energy on sunny days if you have a solar water heater. However, detergents today are designed to work well with cold water. Using cold water also shortens the cycle of the front-loader significantly, and extends the life of the machine. Front-loading machines attach to the cold water faucet and heat water according to the cycle chosen.
  5. Top-loaders are easier on the back since you don’t have to bend down. But a front-loader can be placed on a pedestal.

There are several major disadvantages to the Maytag:

  • They don’t clean as well (but may put less stress on clothes for the same reason).
  • They are too large for Israeli apartments, and may require being taken apart to fit through doors. They also require two faucets, not standard in Israeli laundry areas.
  • They use twice as much water, more detergent, and more electricity (factoring out the heating of the water)
  • Repairs and parts are expensive.
  • Newer model front-loaders automatically adjust the water level, based on the amount of clothes.

Update: Commenter Annie pointed out that a few models open from the top, yet operate like a front-loader.

More money and energy-saving laundry tips:

  • Don’t wash it it if it’s not dirty. Use smocks and aprons to protect clothes.
  • Always fill up the machine. Fill a front loader to the top, turning the drum to make more room. With a regular cycle (lower numbers) the machine can filled more tightly, as long as closing it doesn’t put stress on the door. Be gentle with the door as the hinges are a weak point, as are the knobs. When you empty out the wet clothes, there should be empty space in the middle.
  • Have enough clothes. If you are always doing a load because you run out of socks, buy more socks (or work out a system to keep them organized). You should have enough clothes to have something to wear when you are washing, plus something extra in case of emergency.
  • Don’t have too many clothes. They tend to fall on the floor and require rewashing, and it’s harder to find what you need.
  • Give family members their own distinctive towels. They are more likely to reuse them.
  • When visiting friends offer to bring your own sheets, or a sleeping bag. Take the sheets you just took off the bed for changing.
  • “Grey water” from the bath can be reused for laundry. Keep a couple of buckets in the shower and pour the used water into the machine through the opening for detergent while the water is running. I’ve noticed that my machine adds water to the first cycle in intervals. I add water until the water stops running, and try to be around for the second addition of water as well.
  • Use a minimum of detergent. If your laundry smells like detergent after washing, you’re probably using too much. The extra soap also clogs up your machine.
  • Skip the fabric softener. Or use less.
  • Treat stains right away.
  • Hang laundry to dry.

What tips can you share for more efficient laundering?

This post originally appeared on Green Prophet, and is reprinted with permission.

(Photo credit: mwri)


  1. Missnursing says

    Another tip I just adopted: forget the softener. It clogs the machines (the oils build up and then get black moldy too), pollutes our land (more unnecessary chemicals filtering downward), and is another (in my opinion, unnecessary) expense. If you hang outside, as you should these days, your clothes may be a bit rougher but believe me, in time you won’t notice the difference. Need the nice smell? Use perfume!

  2. mominisrael says

    Good tip. I’ve never used softener, only vinegar occasionally for smelly loads. I’ve also heard that hair conditioner is cheaper and serves the same purpose, but I’d rather do without either.

  3. When I was planning my Aliyah I heard terrible things about laundry here in Israel. But really laundry is not a big deal here (nor was it in the states). We moved into a furnished apartment and I am very happy with my Israeli (actually European) washing machine. It has a button where the laundry is done in 32 minutes. People told me the clothes wouldn’t be clean if I use that cycle but I decided to test it, and the clothes LOOK clean and SMELL clean, so that’s good enough for me. We bought a dryer here because the apartment didn’t have one, but I use it only for linens. I love my Israeli dryer-thingie. Actually, laundry is my favorite chore…

    I’ll try to do without the softener and see what the difference is. I like the smell.

  4. great post

  5. We’re in a not-huge apartment, and rather than knock out a closet to install a washer and dryer, we used the dishwasher slot in our kitchen to install a small washer/dryer combo machine.

    For the first three years here, we used that hand-me-down combo washer from a great-uncle (made by the company Malber) who had it for his tenants. They complained that it took forever. It did, but we used it until it gave out. I can’t say such positive things about it, though it wasn’t new when we got it (not sure how long they had it for). Drying sometimes had to be done in batches, and a washload took over an hour. Bleach sometimes stayed in the machine, so I learned the hard way to run a rinse-cycle after whites. My neighbors downstairs bought the same machine but new, and have been happy enough with it. I find that there’s a strong smell in the vestibule whenever they’re drying.

    My father sells appliances for 220v, so he was happy to guide us in choosing a better alternative. After the Malber died, we got a small Maytag front-loader and put a separate dryer into one of our bedrooms. I’m used to a smaller machine and I do laundry frequently enough that it’s not a problem. I imagine that in Israel I’d try to continue to use a smaller machine. My sister-in-law in Israel has a busy household and swears by the large American machines she has, but she’d rather not launder as often.

    Here in our co-op, our maintenance is a flat fee that is high, and includes gas, heat, water, and electric. Because I don’t see specific water and electricity costs on my bill, it unfortunately makes me less motivated to take cost-saving measures, like washing at night when rates are lower and hanging to dry. But for my own preference, I don’t put clothes that aren’t underclothes into the dryer. I feel like this way, there is less shrinking and color fading, so I dry these indoors on a drying rack. I do still dry quite a lot – towels, linens, underwear, undershirts, socks, and the grownups’ pajamas.

    Laundry – the never-ending story . . .

  6. God willing, we will be making aliyah this summer and buying a washing machine and a refrigerator and a stove will be necessary. I’m really into conservation, which brands are best?

  7. You didn’t mention top loaders that are not Maytag. I have had top loaders since I made Aliya. My first machine was a Crystal (Israeli company, manufactured in France) which lasted 17 years with only 1 minor repair. After that I got a Constructa (made in Spain, useless) and now I have a Bosch (EU made, no country specified, very good quality). The difference with these top-loaders as opposed to American-made is that the drum is on its side, therefore the machine is quite narrow (only 45 cm wide) and fits onto a small Israeli balcony. Also it does not have an agitator but works on the same principal as a front loader. All the new models now work on the water level as needed principal (though of course there’s no way to check).

    I also wash almost everything on 30 deg – it comes out as clean as at warmer temperatures and the cycle is much quicker, and I use the quick cycle for everything unless it’s really dirty.

  8. mominisrael says

    Baila–it’s always good to experiment with these things. You can start by cutting back on softener gradually.
    Ariela, thanks.
    Raggedy, that is some story. As for your SIL, I think there are advantages to doing smaller loads, and with the water crisis it’s hard to justify a Maytag top loader.
    Tikva, appliances have energy ratings. Refrigerators are marked T for tropical climate. Don’t buy more appliance than you need, stick to brands that are common in Israel. Don’t get a stove with a pilot light–use a chagaz instead. Make sure the gastop has a sensor.
    Annie, yes, I have seen those and they seem to operate like a front-loader.

  9. I’m in the US, but in California we are facing another summer of water shortage so I’m always looking for ways to cut back. Other than things you’ve already mentioned, I’ve found that pretreating stains is the best thing. i have a small booklet (I can’t recall where I got it) that tells you how to treat different stains. This has been a lifesaver for me and I can leave dirty clothing much longer instead of rushing to wash clothing motzei Shabbat because of assorted spills.

    For the dryer I’ve been using wool dryer balls. They are basically raw wool felted into a ball and scented with essential oils. They give a light scent and seem to dry the clothing faster. I also make many checks on the clothes as they dry and pull out stuff that is done. Unfortunately our Homeowners Association doesn’t allow clothing lines.

  10. mominisrael says

    Treating stains is a good tip too.
    Newer model dryers have a sensor to identify when the clothes are dry. Opening the dryer lets out the warm air, and I don’t believe that removing dry clothes helps other clothes dry faster. Putting a clean, dry towel in the load to help clothes dry faster.

  11. We brought a whirlpool top loader with us on aliyah (and a maytag dryer) ’cause we didn’t know better.

    Well i must say, in the last few years i was just waiting for that washer to die so i could justify replacing it with a european machine. (I felt guilty replacing a working appliance).

    It finally did 3 months ago – I could not be happier than with my new Siemens front loader. My clothing by far comes out cleaner (we always washed only on cold before due to always needing our hot water for showers, dishes, etc) and now with 30C, everything is so much better! Plus it dries way faster using 1000RPM! And i’m finding that with my 8kg machine, i fit as much or more than in that big old top loader. (and it was huge).

    And best thing – our water bill is down! So we’re saving water and our $$$ which justifies all the more things.

    Our Maytag gas dryer is still going strong but i try not to use it all the time and hope to get another 15 years out of it.


    • mominisrael says

      Hi Shoshana!
      Dryers are supposed to be easy to maintain, and last a long time.
      It’s true that for those that are reluctant to give up the space in their top-loaders, there are large front-loaders.

  12. I think the issue about larger machines is now mostly moot, since in Israel there are now very large european machines available (there are 8kilo and possibly even 10 and growing all the time)

    For the point of view of backs, with a back problem it seems to be that bending over a top loader is much more straining that squatting down to load a front loader.

    I find the possiblity to put the dryer on top of the washer very useful

    for Tikva, it is best to by appliances here so you can get service, guaruntee etc

  13. Mrs Belogski says

    i’ve been washing almost everything on 30degrees for some time now and it all seems to be just as clean.

    what I don’t understand is why having more clothes will enable you to cut down on washing. my kids have told me this, and while i can see it with eg school uniform when you need a specific item clean every day, i don’t get it with eg underwear. everything which is worn has to be washed and you need a clean set every day – why does having more mean you need to wash less? please enlighten me!

    • mominisrael says

      Mrs B: Maybe I wasn’t clear. Let’s say you have six undershirts, so it’s enough to was them every five days. But you have only four pairs of socks, you need to wash socks every three days. So you might want to own more socks. If you do laundry every day anyway, and aren’t particular about sorting, it matters less. It’s more of an issue when teens do their own laundry

  14. It is easy to avoid back problems with a front loader. I keep a small stool right in front of my machine and sit on that when loading or unloading the machine. Also, I store my detergent and stain remover inside the machine after I finish the laundry. Just a couple of tips that might help. I’d never go back to a top-loading.
    Mrs. L.

  15. Mrs Belogski says

    if you wash every day? ha ha! i have to do at least four loads everyday just to keep it under control! ( that’s including towels and sheets) pre-Pesach/Nine Days/Sukkos are about the only time we see the bottom of the laundry basket! This year i didn’t even manage it pre-Pesach…

  16. Mrs. B, i’m in the same situation, but i usually give up around wed or thursday. I should be doing 3 loads every day and I only have 3 kids!

    We brought a Maytag neptune on aliyah, which is a front loader that was supposed to save water. We had to leave it in our apt. in j-m when we moved to ranaana because it didn’t fit in our present apt, so we switched with the pple who are renting our j-m place.

    I’ve been using Europeans for the last two years. I don’t find my clothes are THAT much cleaner and I find I cannot get the dirty laundry under control.

    One thing i did just do is buy separate small hampers for the bedrooms in addition to our large hamper. I’m hoping this will help me stay more on top of things.

    I’ve never had the chance to line dry because we’ve never had a merpeset and our merpeset sherut now has an air conditioner in the place where you’re supposed to have lines. 🙁

    • mominisrael says

      It’s so annoying to be without outside clothes lines. Keeping up with laundry does get easier.
      Thanks for visiting and sharing your experience. A good lesson.

  17. we have a siemens front loader that we got used, it was 8 years old, we have had it for about six and a half, the only repair it required was to replace the thermostat. while we were waiting for a new one the technician wired the machine to run without shorting the electricity, but i could only do a load with cold water. i used to do it on 30c, but since i started doing it with cold i really do not see a difference in the clothes being more clean or not when the load is finished, so you can do a wash with cold water and save the energy of the water heating up to 30c, it takes less time too.

  18. I’m just getting around to catching up on your posts.
    The house we bought had very old machines that really needed replaced. We did so and both our water and electric bills camedown. The new American front loaders are huge. So I now run half the loads. They also use less water and I have noticed a drop in our water bill. Because of my allergies we are generous and about washing pretty much everything. I have thought about trying a month with more line drying to see how much I can save in electric. Perhaps when my kids are better at hanging laundry!

  19. I used a European machine for 5 years. I found that it did a better job than my old American top loader, but with much longer cycles and a much smaller capacity. (Because of the configuration of my kitchen the new large capacity European machines were not an option.) Since cycles were so long (2 hours to wash) I was doing laundry all the time.

    Now I have a HE American machine and love it. The cycles are not as short as my old top loader, but it has the capacity, the clothes get clean and it uses less water. I think the American machines are still larger capacity as when I left the UK the largest machines were 7-8kg not 10. But I don’t see the point of importing a TL Maytag when it’s so inefficient, and there is a better large capacity solution.

    Also, if you have the space you can get pedestals for front loading machines to raise them to a more comfortable height.

  20. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-an-high-efficiency-washing-machine.htm (Sorry it has to be a cut-and-paste — I forgot how to insert a link into a comment!)

    We have a high-efficiency machine (HE) too, and I actually didn’t realize it was an HE machine until the first time it was repaired. The repairman mentioned that we should make sure we are using the right detergent – the HE machines require HE detergent – I think this is because the HE detergent is formulated to create fewer suds. It can generally be found on similar sales as the regular detergents, so I haven’t found it to be much of a price issue with the special detergent.

    Also, he mentioned that you can generally use less detergent than is indicated on the cap (HE detergents typically have those very small caps, but there are 2X concentrated regular detergents with the small caps too, so it’s worth looking carefully at the label for the HE logo).

  21. If we are to weigh down the pros and cons of using top loaders and front loaders, we will end up confusing ourselves. Many families have lived with Maytag washers and they have passed down this tradition to the next generation. Both these washers have their own strengths and weaknesses. I guess we have to consider the fact that these are electronics and that they will break down sooner or later. For wise buyers, whatever washing machine you are buying, make sure you take advantage of extended warranty . Choose washers that directly approaches your laundry needs–not so much on impressive features, sophisticated technology, what-have-you. The simpler ones actually live longer than more sophisticated brand of washers.

  22. To conserve more energy and water, pre-treat stains first in your dirty laundry. This way, you do not have to use the hot wash cycle. The heating element of your washer usually uses up most of the energy in your washer. Also refrain from using too much detergent especially when you have a front load washers. These high efficiency washers produce too much suds that may require you to run an extra rinse cycle.

  23. Hi Mom in Israel. I fell on to your blog and have now “wasted” a couple of hours reading when I should have been writing. (My sons are 21 and 18). Anyway, I couldn’t resist telling you my laundry story. First of all we are still using the same Maytag washer that we brought when we make alyiah 21 years ago! And the amazing machine has never even been repaired. It just keeps on keeping on. As the water situation here gets worse and worse I’ve started using the rinse water from the washing machine to water our garden. If you take a look at my gardening web page http://www.dianabarshaw.com/gardening.php you can see how I do this. It is some work, but I enjoy doing it. Another important point is the amount of laundry detergent. For years now I’ve used only 2 teaspoons of detergent per full wash with no difference what so ever in the cleanliness of the cloths. Try using less and you will see for yourself.
    Best wishes,

  24. I just came across an article from Consumer Reports, “A washer for the washer?”.
    In essence it mentioned that “odor and mold continue to plague some front-loaders. Readers responded with: leaving the door ajar, using bleach periodically, and wiping down the rubber gasket after each load can help prevent buildup. But what if you ‘already’ have a problem?

    Some companies suggest a product “Affresh”, a tablet cleaner that uses oxygenated bubbles to get rid of the odor and residue. However, after testing, the residue still remained.”

    Don’t know if others have this problem and what remedies they have. This might be another good article to get responses?

  25. The Other Hand says

    Interesting what you say about stuffing the machine. Are you sure that it doesn’t strain the machine? Have you researched this? I tend to try to wait until I have a very full load of a particular type of laundry until I wash it, especially since my machine doesn’t have a half load button or a load sensor, but my husband is insistent that you must only fill a machine 2/3 full or you are placing a strain on the machine. I’m not sure what the manual for our machine says about that. We have a Bosch.

    • Sara, you could be right, but the machine seems to handle it well. I know that what your husband says is true of American machines that use an agitator. I can’t see how filling the drum is a problem as long as the clothes rotate freely. There is always quite a bit of space when I empty the wet load. But I am going to qualify what I wrote.

    • I’ve been stuffing our top loading May Tag for years with no ill effects, however, I don’t think they make washing machines like our 21 year old May Tag. From what I’ve read these old machines are equivalent to an industrial machine today.

  26. I know this post is old but was wondering whether you know if HE (high efficiency) wash powder is sold here. All the new machine in the USa (like the whirlpool duet washer and dryer am lusting after) are HE and need special detergent.

  27. I recently bought a laundry ball thru “groupon”. I am still unsure if it works or not but I only now add a small amount of detergent (about a 1/4 of what I used before), just to give a slight smell to the laundry. Also, for keeping the machine running well and having less sewerage problems, I add white vinegar in the softener dispenser.

    • Thanks Wendy. I’m pretty sure that the laundry ball is a scam. Try the same amount of detergent without the ball and see what happens. White vinegar is a good idea but not sure it’s necessary for each load.

  28. I just did some Googling and found this page. Big question: does anyone know where the heck to find explanations for all the symbols on washing machines here? I just bought a Crystal machine secondhand and cannot find ANYTHING online. How is it possible that I can’t even find a website for the company? Help!

  29. I realize this is old post, but I am wondering if you know if one can buy portable or mini washing machines in Israel. Thank you for any information you have.