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What is the cost of a load of laundry in the US?

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Electricity and water rates vary widely across the country, and the costs of doing laundry shake out differently depending on where you live. In this post, we survey big cities all over the country to find out where a load of wash is the least (and most) expensive…and where investing in an efficient washer gets you the most bang for your buck!


All Washed UpIn our previous hit post on the exciting topic of laundry, we compared front loaders to top loaders and found out that it hardly matters how the thing loads – the decisive factor is whether it is EnergyStar-rated or not as far as saving money on laundry. 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. You can figure this out for your own household if you know your electricity rate (cents per kilowatt hour) and water charges ($ per 1000 gallons) – try it on our appliance search page.

We took the search nation-wide, comparing big US cities, and here’s what we found:

In cities like Phoenix 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. In cities like Houston and Philadelphia, water and power each account for about half the cost per load - 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 take their dirty laundry to Albany (easier said than done)! Chicago and Philadelphia have the cheapest load of laundry in the country, at less than half the cost of a New York load. If you think paying over a dollar per load isn’t much, think again: the average family does more than five loads of laundry each week.*

In addition, old washers are much less efficient than even the least efficient new ones, and guaranteed to cost you twice as much. The table below shows each city's cost difference between a new washer meeting the minimum mandated federal standard, labeled here 'Non-Energy Star,' and washers receiving EnergyStar's Most Efficient award. In some places, using the latter saves you about as much as it costs to do another load!

So where are those savings the highest? 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 amongst the highest. Buying a new machine there can save you a whopping 72c per load or $180 per year for a 5 load a week family.  It's in these cities that efficient washers most worth the investment - see the right-hand column, where savings per load are expressed as a percentage of the Non-EnergyStar load cost: the higher that number, the faster an efficient machine will pay for itself.

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)

City Washer Type Energy Cost Water Cost Total Cost Savings per load Savings per load in %
Albany Non Energy Star $0.40 $0.25 $0.66 $0.42 64%
Energy Star $0.25 $0.16 $0.42
Most Efficient $0.16 $0.08 $0.24
Atlanta Non Energy Star $0.32 $0.85 $1.02 $0.68 67%
Energy Star $0.16 $0.54 $0.64
Most Efficient $0.10 $0.27 $0.33
Boston Non Energy Star $0.48 $0.51 $0.99 $0.64 %64
Energy Star $0.30 $0.32 $0.63
Most Efficient $0.19 $0.16 $0.35
Chicago Non Energy Star $0.06 $0.21 $0.51 $0.32 64%
Energy Star $0.19 $0.13 $0.32
Most Efficient $0.12 $0.12 $0.18
DC Non Energy Star $0.35 $0.46 $0.82 $0.53 65%
Energy Star $0.22 $0.29 $0.52
Most Efficient $0.14 $0.15 $0.29
Houston Non Energy Star $0.32 $0.37 $0.70 $0.45 65%
Energy Star $0.20 $0.24 $0.44
Most Efficient $0.13 $0.12 $0.25
Los Angeles Non Energy Star $0.46 $0.37 $0.82 $0.53 64%
Energy Star $0.29 $0.24 $0.52
Most Efficient $0.18 $0.12 $0.30
New York Non Energy Star $0.69 $0.43 $1.13 $0.72 64%
Energy Star $0.44 $0.27 $0.71
Most Efficient $0.27 $0.14 $0.41
Philadelphia Non Energy Star $0.28 $0.30 $0.58 $0.38 65%
Energy Star $0.18 $0.19 $0.37
Most Efficient $0.11 $0.09 $0.21
Phoenix Non Energy Star $0.36 $0.29 $0.66 $0.42 64%
Energy Star $0.23 $0.18 $0.41
Most Efficient $0.14 $0.09 $0.24
San Diego Non Energy Star $0.55 $0.36 $0.91 $0.58 64%
Energy Star $0.34 $0.23 $0.57
Most Efficient $0.22 $0.11 $0.33
San Francisco Non Energy Star $0.41 $0.64 $1.05 $0.69 65%
Energy Star $0.26 $0.41 $0.66
Most Efficient $0.16 $0.20 $0.36
Seattle Non Energy Star $0.27 $0.81 $1.08 $0.72 66%
Energy Star $0.17 $0.51 $0.68
Most Efficient $0.11 $0.26 $0.36

By Veronique Bugnion, co-Founder ClearlyEnergy. You can find me on Google+

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