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Washing Machines - CHOICE # 388

  • 2009.02.16

Washing machines with child safety protection features are obviously a choice deserving serious consideration of households with young children.

In a test, the Consumer Council has evaluated 18 models of washers on their performance, as well as their safety.

All but one samples were designed with child protection features. Amongst them were front loaders (8) and top loaders (10) of both the European and Japanese types.

To the curious young children at home, washers may sometimes be mistaken as a potential toy - and safety trap. Intermittent reports of children in drowning accidents involving this product is of a major concern to parents.

Concurrently in the course of the test, the Council conducted an assessment on the latest child protection features in washing machines.

In general, the European (horizontal axis) type models were judged to be able to provide a better overall safety protection design.

First, the lid is securely locked and cannot be opened whilst in operation - until the wash cycle is completed.

Second, the drum is filled with less water thus a lower risk of drowning.

Third, especially in the European top loaders, the lid and the opening of the drum are of a design and size small enough to prevent a child from accidentally falling into the machine.

The Japanese (vertical axis) impeller type top loaders, on the other hand, usually provide a bigger opening, and a full drum of water.

Amongst these Japanese models, 2 were equipped with child locks enabling the top lid to be latched against opening upon activation by the user - much like the European models.

The majority of the remainders used a "beep-and-drain-later" protection, under which the lid could still be opened (to facilitate the addition of more laundry) but an alarm would be set off and the mechanical movements stopped. If the lid remains opened after 5 to 10 seconds, the water would be drained off automatically.

The one model without any child safety safeguard had a relatively smaller lid.

Despite these safety features in washers which consumers are urged to activate, they must not let their guard down: always keep an eye on young children while the washer is in operation, and ensure they do not get close to the machine by themselves.

By and large, all washer models were found to give satisfactory performance in cleaning, rinsing and spinning, and some models with minor deficiencies in safety. In general, all models are considered safe to use under normal operation.

The samples were rated overall on a 5-point scale based on their washing performance (50%), spinning (10%), environmental protection in terms of savings in energy, water and noise (20%), safety (10%), convenience in use (10%).

On environmental concerns, Japanese type top loaders were found to use less energy as against European type models which are usually equipped with heater to warm the washing water.

But, on the other hand, they used more water per kilogram load than European type samples.

Meanwhile, the Council has conducted a market survey on 15 samples of washing machine cleaning agents. Washers need regular cleaning to remove the soil and residues - and organic substances emitting unpleasant smell - in the drum or tub.

It was found that 5 of the samples bore no ingredient list, user instructions, suggested dosage and soaking time, 4 of the 5 also bore no safety warning. Consumers are advised to refrain from buying or using products without clear user instructions.

For washing machines with high temperature programmes, regularly run a hot water cycle with an empty tub can also help clean the washer. Alternatively, vinegar can also be used for the purpose.

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