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Needed: A washing machine that washes

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

I need to buy a new washing machine. I guess I'm out of luck.

I refer to a fascinating article written by Mark Thornton for Mises Daily, part of the Ludwig von Mises Institute website ( ).

Thanks to the government, you see, washing machines aren't what they used to be -- and they're getting worse.

It wasn't long ago -- prior to World War II -- that folks washed their clothes by hand or used clunky hand-cranked machines.

During the postwar consumerization boom, labor-intensive clothes washing was made easy by automatic electric machines.

In 1956, Wisk, the first liquid laundry detergent, offered a vast improvement over the soaps Americans had been using to clean their clothes.

Competition among detergent and washing-machine makers continually improved the quality of both.

To be sure, clothes washing had become so easy and effective, even clumsy oafs such as I could do it with little effort.

But our government is unwittingly reversing our washday advances.

Thornton cites a 1996 Consumer Reports test of 18 washing-machine models. Thirteen were rated excellent, five as very good.

In fact, any decent detergent and any machine would get your clothes nice and clean back then.

In 2007, Consumer Reports tested 21 models. Not one of them was rated excellent. Seven were rated as poor, the rest as mediocre.

What's worse: Consumer Reports found that in most cases, the clothes were as dirty after washing as they were before!

True, some high-end front-loading machines fared slightly better, but they are much more expensive and, the report found, have issues with mold.

Why are newer models so much less effective than 1996 models• The federal government.

It set energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. A decade later, the Department of Energy made those standards significantly more stringent.

To meet the new standards, machine manufacturers began abandoning the traditional top-loaders in favor of front-loading washers, which use less water and, therefore, less energy.

But that also results in less rinsing -- the mother's milk of getting clothes clean!

"The easy stuff like sweat is mostly removed, but all the tough stuff like grease and body oils largely remains," writes Thornton. As a result, people using the new machines end up doing multiple loads with higher water levels or washing the same clothes two or three times -- all of which defeats the government's energy- and water-saving goals.

Sam Kazman, general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writes in The Wall Street Journal that "when the Department of Energy began raising the standard, it promised that 'consumers will have the same range of clothes washers as they have today,' and cleaning ability wouldn't be changed. That's not how it turned out."

Imagine that: a government mandate having an unintended consequence.

So here I am, looking to replace an old washing machine, and I learn that the old, worn-out one will still do a better job than one that's brand-spanking new?

I better hoard some 100-watt incandescent bulbs before the ban on incandescents takes effect, so I have enough light in the laundry room to see how unclean my clothes are.

Or maybe I can find some old shop that refurbishes washers made before 1996 -- assuming it's still legal for somebody to operate such a business.

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