energy efficiencyDoes a load of laundry cost you more than a cup of coffee? That’s not a question many can answer, yet depending on where you live the size of your household, laundry can be expensive … or not.

As far as saving money on laundry, the decisive factor is the age of your washer and whether it is EnergyStar-rated or not. That’s because heating the water accounts for about 80% of the energy washers use. The most efficient machines also use the least water – less water to heat means less money spent on energy…and since we’re also paying for the water, efficiency has a double dividend. This is especially true in urban areas, where municipal water and sewer rates tend to be higher.

Considering power and water costs, however, makes for a trickier picture when it comes to finding savings: a city’s power price relative to other areas can be very different from its relative water price - but both determine how much a new washer can save you compared to an old model.

Taking the search nation-wide, here’s what I found:

In New York City and Los Angeles, electricity accounts for the majority of the cost per load – in DC and San Francisco on the other hand, water is the more expensive component. Check out the price breakdown for those cities in the table below.

Overall, New York is the most expensive place to do a load of laundry because both power and water prices are relatively high: smart New Yorkers should wash their dirty laundry in Albany (which is of course easier said than done)! If you think paying a little more than a dollar per load isn’t a lot, think again, the average family does more than five loads of laundry each week*. In addition, old washers are much less efficient than the least efficient new ones, and guaranteed to cost you a latte!  Chicago and Philadelphia have the cheapest load of laundry in the country, at less than half the cost of a New York load.

For each city, we calculated the cost difference between a new washer meeting the minimum mandated federal standard, labeled here Non-Energy Star, and washers receiving the Energy Star Most Efficient award.  

Since the efficient washers use much less water, their impact on your pocketbook is greatest where water is most expensive. In other words, switching from a non-EnergyStar machine to a super-efficient one saves you money everywhere, but it saves you relatively more money in places where water costs the most.

Seattle and Atlanta are the perfect examples: their power prices are among the lowest (even lower than cheapo Chicago!), but their water prices are highest. Those are the cities where a new machine can save you the most – a whopping 72c per load or $180 per year for a 5 load a week family. At that rate, the incremental cost of an efficient washer pays for itself rather quickly.

So to sum up: buying an efficient washing machine is worth it, but it is especially worth it if you pay a lot for water … or do a lot of laundry! Here’s to clean clothes!

(* official DOE numbers set the number at 392 load per household per year … but that just seems to be a lot)

CityWasher TypeEnergy Cost  ($)Water Cost ($)Total Cost ($)Savings per load ($)Savings per load (%)
Energy Star$0.25$0.16$0.42
Most Efficient$0.16$0.08$0.24
Energy Star$0.16$0.54$0.64
Most Efficient$0.10$0.27$0.33
Energy Star$0.30$0.32$0.63
Most Efficient$0.19$0.16$0.35
Energy Star$0.19$0.13$0.32
Most Efficient$0.12$0.12$0.18
Energy Star$0.22$0.29$0.52
Most Efficient$0.14$0.15$0.29
Energy Star$0.20$0.24$0.44
Most Efficient$0.13$0.12$0.25
Los AngelesNon-EnergyStar$0.46$0.37$0.82$0.5364%
Energy Star$0.29$0.24$0.52
Most Efficient$0.18$0.12$0.30
New YorkNon-EnergyStar$0.69$0.43$1.13$0.7264%
Energy Star$0.44$0.27$0.71
Most Efficient$0.27$0.14$0.41
Energy Star$0.18$0.19$0.37
Most Efficient$0.11$0.09$0.21
Energy Star$0.23$0.18$0.41
Most Efficient$0.14$0.09$0.24
San DiegoNon-EnergyStar$0.55$0.36$0.91$0.5864%
Energy Star$0.34$0.23$0.57
Most Efficient$0.22$0.11$0.33
San FranciscoNon-EnergyStar$0.41$0.64$1.05$0.6965%
Energy Star$0.26$0.41$0.66
Most Efficient$0.16$0.20$0.36
Energy Star$0.17$0.51$0.68
Most Efficient$0.11$0.26$0.36