Energy efficiency labels could mean A+++ rated machines are now rated C. We explore what this means for you.
The new labels, which help consumers measure performance and compare the efficiency of different machines, will start to appear in shops from March this year.
Currently, the best washing machines are rated A+++ (some even higher). But the new labels do away with anything ‘better’ than A and reintroduce lower ratings of E, F and G.
The new system could mean a washing machine that rates A+++ today may rate no higher than D or C.
That’s not to say the machine has become less efficient. But the new labels raise the bar, making a top rating harder to achieve.
The new labels will also provide information on machine water consumption, how noisy it is, the duration of a benchmark cycle, and how wet clothes are when removed.
There is crucial information that these new labels don't feature, however - read on for all you need to know about this change, why it's happening and what it will achieve, and what needs to happen next...
There are a couple of important reasons for these changes to energy ratings labels.
Firstly, the EU has rightly committed to tackling urgent environmental challenges like climate change and water consumption.
The European Green Deal is a roadmap for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050.
Resource efficiency lies at the heart of the strategy, encouraging innovation in new technologies that can perform the same function – but consume fewer resources and minimise environmental impact.
Household appliances may not seem like an obvious place for reductions but in the UK a typical washing machine accounts for 9% of household water use and consumes, on average, 166KWh of electricity a year (based on an 8kg A++ rated machine running 220 cycles at 40°C).
Across Europe, the EU estimates that the new energy labels on washing machines and washer dryers will deliver annual savings of:
2.5 TWh electricity (equivalent to Italy’s energy consumption in 2010)
800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions
Reduce water consumption by 711 million m3
The second reason for the new labels is that so many appliances now achieve a top rating that consumers struggle to tell the difference between the good and the very best machines, causing confusion and undermining trust in the labels.
ROLLING BACK THE YEARS
Energy labels were first introduced in 1994.
The colour-coded stickers rapidly became a trusted mark of performance with 85% of people saying they’ve been influenced by them when shopping for a new washing machine.
As shoppers increasingly opted for the most energy efficient products, achieving a top rating became more important for manufacturers.
By 2010, so many washing machines rated as A, or better, that the EU was forced to introduce new ratings of A+, A++, and A+++ to keep up.
Today, some manufacturers even make ‘super declarations’ like A+++ -65%, meaning the model is 65% better than the top rating!
The EU has realised the current energy labelling system is no longer working as intended. Instead of driving efficiency gains, the labels have become a sales tool.
They also ignore wider environmental issues which need to be addressed.
It’s also become clear that some of the top performance ratings have been achieved using wash cycles which are rarely used in practice, and some which are not even available to consumers as standard wash programmes.
The new rules aim to ensure that both testing and performance properly reflect how washing machines are used in the home.
Getting a top rating
Your washing machine uses more energy heating water than it does doing anything else during a wash cycle.
So, washing machines can appear to be more energy efficient simply by using cooler water.
But, to get clothes acceptably clean when using lower temperatures, they must be washed for longer. In testing, five or six hour wash cycles (in some cases longer) have become common for manufacturers aiming for the highest energy efficiency performance.
What’s more, when we do the laundry at home, washing machines rarely achieve the stated water temperature.
The new labelling rules address these issues in two important ways:
There will be maximum time limits imposed on wash cycles, depending on machine size and how full you fill the drum
Machines must reach and maintain the stated water temperature for at least 5 minutes
To ensure this happens, every washing machine must have a new, mandatory, wash programme called Eco 40-60. This will be the cycle used for testing AND it will be the default programme when you first switch on the washing machine at home.
It will also be the ONLY programme on the machine that can be called “Eco.”
The tests recognise two other important changes in our washing machines and how we use them:
We are buying bigger washing machines with greater drum capacities
We tend to fill our machines with fewer clothes, washing more frequently with half and quarter-full loads (partly because this ensures the best wash outcome)
The EU is putting much more emphasis on these smaller wash loads, and the maximum wash times are directly connected to how much we wash. For example:
A full load in a 10kg [capacity] machine will have a maximum wash time of just under 4 hours, while a 6kg [capacity] machine washing a quarter-full load, must take no longer than 2 hours 36 minutes
The amount of water a machine uses is also capped relative to its capacity. For example:
A 5kg capacity machine will be able to use a maximum of 8.3 litres of water per kilogram of laundry while a 13kg capacity machine will be allowed a maximum of 4.6 litres of water per kilo of washing
Other changes include:
- The new labels will feature a QR code which shoppers can scan to access more detailed information
- They will include details about how well the machine spin dries your clothes - how wet they are when they come out of the machine - and noise levels during spinning
- Wash programmes that may have previously been called “normal”, “daily”, “standard” or “regular” will no longer be allowed to be called this as the EU felt it would draw people away from Eco cycles
- All machines must have a 20°C cold wash cycle clearly identified on the programme selection
While there is no information about detergent on the label, the user manual must have details about the best type of detergent and softener for each programme, the correct use of detergent, and the consequences of using too much...
There is also an intention for us to keep our washing machines for longer. Therefore all manufacturers will have to make spare parts available, for each model, for a minimum of 10 years.
WHAT THE NEW LABELS DON’T INCLUDE
The new labels don't, however, tell you everything about a washing machine and its environmental credentials.
Nor can they tell you how well a machine will wash your clothes, or how much it may damage them.
For any machine to receive an efficiency label it must meet a minimum level of wash performance and rinsing.
But the detergent used in machine testing is very powerful and would clean most things, regardless of the machinery or cycle used.
A powerful detergent will hide differences in wash performance and potentially exacerbate any damage caused during washing, especially at 40°C.
Clothes shrinking, fading and getting otherwise damaged in the wash have a huge environmental cost, shortening the life of garments and speeding up their journey to the trash.
A cotton T-Shirt takes 2,700 litres of water to make...
Imagine the environmental benefits of each one looking better and lasting longer because of a gentler, low temperature wash using less detergent?
This needs to be an important consideration for the EU when it next revises the rules in 2024.
One technology that does not feature in the new rules, but is very likely to be included in the future, is microfibre filtration.
Microfibres which are released from our clothes when we wash them are polluting the environment, and are already found across the food chain.
They are also inside us.
Currently only France has legislated to mandate this technology in household washing machines.
From 1st January 2025, all new washing machines sold in France must contain microfibre filtration.
It’s highly likely this could be introduced at EU level, with implications for the UK too.
AND THE COST?
Perhaps the most immediate implication of introducing the new testing rules and efficiency labels could be the retail price of machines.
Toughening the rules and testing process will mean that some entry-level washing machines will no longer meet even the lowest efficiency rating.
Hardware will need to be upgraded, and made smarter, to keep pace with the rules. Much, if not all, of that cost might be passed on to consumers.
That said, we will all make significant long-term savings in the cost of energy, water and detergent as a result.
It is widely agreed that action must be taken to lessen our impact on the environment; to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming, to minimise harmful emissions, and to protect our water resources for future generations.
Huge environmental gains can be made by simple changes to the technologies we all use every day – like washing machines.
There may be a small cost to pay for those advances today.
But, they will help us all enjoy a long, healthy future in a secure and clean environment.