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Consumer Reports

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    The Fees That Raise Your Electric Bill Even When You Use Less Energy

    You’ve done all the right things: Ditched your old appliances for energy-efficient ones. Installed a programmable thermostat. Switched from incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs or LEDs. Added insulation and sealed cracks around your windows and doors. And odds are that your local utility even encouraged you to make your home more energy efficient. But behind the scenes, their lobbyists are manipulating the system so that you don’t reap the full savings of the energy-efficiency measures you’ve taken. And it’s likely to get worse, according to “Caught in a Fix: The Problem with Fixed Charges for Electricity,” a report commissioned by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

    What’s happening? Some utilities have increased electric rates across the board. But a bill uptick could also be due to a utility trick called higher “fixed charges.” Stay with us here. This is a bit wonky, but important. There are two parts to your electric bill. The charge for the electricity you use, kilowatts per hour, and a mandatory “fixed charge” that every consumer has to pay before the meter even starts running. These per-customer fixed charges have historically ranged from $5 to $10 a month. But many utilities are trying to double or triple the minimum charge, which penalizes consumers who use less energy and reduces their ability to control and lower their bills by using less energy.

    Recent Proposals Regarding Fixed Charges

    Utilities Have a Jekyll/Hyde Relationship With Efficiency

    Many states mandate efficiency targets for utilities, which is a good thing. Lower energy demand means consumers don’t have to pay for as many new power plants or transmission lines and it can lower pollution-related health costs. While utilities have efficiency targets and are rewarded when you use less energy (that’s what’s behind the barrage of customer flyers for efficiency audits and upgrades), some utilities are warning that greater efficiency and the growing use of solar energy will set off a “death spiral” scenario where utilities will see lower revenues and profits. The logic goes that when customers use less energy and have lower bills, utilities see their revenue and profits go down; when utility revenues and profits go down, they will have to charge customers even more, causing more customers to migrate to rooftop solar and further decrease utility revenue.  

    No surprise, the “solution” to this doomsday scenario proposed by many utilities is to increase the mandatory fixed charge. But, as our report found, this doesn’t even solve the purported problem, and there are viable alternatives to raising fixed charges that address the revenue concerns of utilities.

    How Mandatory Fixed Fees Hurt Electricity Customers

    How fees affect your bill. With fixed fees for electricity, homes using less power can be hit with steeper bill increases. This example models the impact of increasing fixed fees from $9 to $25 per month, with a corresponding decrease in the charge per kilowatt-hour (kWh) used.

    Highlights of the 'Caught in a Fix' Report

    • Low‐usage customers are hit the hardest. Customers who use less energy than average will experience the greatest percentage jump in their electric bills when the fixed charge is raised. There are many reasons a customer might have low energy usage: they may be located in apartments or dense housing units that require less energy; they may have small families or live alone; they may have energy‐efficient appliances or solar panels; or they may simply be conscientious about saving energy.

    • Fixed charges disproportionately impact low‐income customers. In nearly every state, low‐income customers consume less electricity than other residential customers, on average. Because fixed charges tend to increase bills for low‐usage customers while decreasing them for high‐use customers, fixed charges raise bills most for those who can least afford the increase.

    • Reduced incentives for energy efficiency can raise costs for all consumers. Increasing the flat charge portion of the bill instead of the variable portion of the bill means that a consumer's efforts to save energy may not translate into a lower electric bill, which reduces the incentive to invest in energy efficiency or distributed generation, in which power is generated at the point of consumption rather than from a central location. With less incentive to save, customers may increase their energy consumption, and states would then have to spend more to achieve the same levels of energy efficiency and clean energy. Where electricity demand rises, utilities will need to invest in new power plants, power lines, and substations, thereby raising electricity costs for all customers.

    Helping You Save Money When You Save Energy

    The good news is that some states have recently rejected utility proposals to increase mandatory fixed charges, which is encouraging, but there are still many pending proposals. Consumers Union is delivering petitions from consumers urging their utility commissioners to reject higher fixed charges. You can sign a petition on the Consumers Union website. If you think that your utility may be raising fixed charges, make your voice heard by calling or writing to your utility commissioners. In the meantime, most consumers can still save money when they save energy.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Latest in Low-Maintenance Living

    Creating a beautiful home is always goal number one among remodelers. But making the place more functional is a close second. These days, the home that works the best is the one that requires the least amount of upkeep. That’s especially true among millennials, who are looking for move-in ready properties that promote “stress-free living.”

    Manufacturers are taking note with a slew of products and materials that lower maintenance without sacrificing style. Here are seven tips from Consumer Reports’ latest tests and surveys that will help you drive the low-maintenance living trend home.

    Interior Features That Count

    Choose a countertop that resists stains
    Natural stone, including marble and granite, makes for a beautiful countertop, but staining is an issue unless you regularly apply a protective sealant. A more low-maintenance option is quartz, an engineered material made from stone chips, resins, and pigments, that stood up stains in our tough countertop tests, as well as scratches, cuts, and high heat.

    Go for the least fussy finishes
    Stainless steel has dominated appliances for decades. The only knock against the material is that it can be prone to smudges and fingerprints. That’s creating a lot of interest in black stainless steel, which has a darker, matte finish than traditional stainless, and fends off smudges and prints. In a recent survey by Houzz, the home design website, nearly two thirds of respondents said they would consider black stainless steel.

    As for kitchen fixtures, our tests have found that faucets with a physical vapor deposition, or PVD, finish are best at resisting scratches; the protective coating comes in nickel, copper, pewter, bronze, gold, and polished brass. Undermount sinks provide easier cleanup, with stainless steel offering the best protection against stains, scratches, and impact from sharp objects.

    Trade in the carpet for hard flooring
    For all its softness underfoot, wall-to-wall carpet requires regular vacuuming, not to mention constant fretting over spilled wine and other would-be stains. That’s driving more interest in low-maintenance hardwood flooring. Budget permitting, it’s worth paying more for solid wood flooring with a factory finish. Besides adding extra protection, factory finishes are typically covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, though you’ll still want to put felt pads under heavy furniture to prevent scratching.


    Home Buying and Selling Advice


    Upkeep You Can't Ignore

    Maintain the mechanical systems
    Your home’s heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment is the engine that keeps things running. When replacing this equipment, use our survey data to find the most reliable manufacturer. For example, we have found American Standard and Trane to be among the least repair-prone manufacturer of gas furnaces.

    Installing central air conditioning is another upgrade that’s become more popular, since it eliminates the need to install and remove window AC units during the year. Finding a trustworthy contractor to install and service the system is essential. We recommend using a technician who is certified by a trade organization, such as North American Technician Excellence or HVAC Excellence.

    Don’t skimp on exterior coatings
    Our tests find wide variation in the performance of paints and stains that cover wood surfaces on a home’s exterior, including siding, fences, and decks. As a general rule, the economy grades of exterior paints don't weather as well as top-of-the-line products from the same brand. When it comes to stains, solid formulas typically hold up the longest, while clear stains provide the least protection. Semitransparent wood treatments are a good compromise if you want to see some of the wood grain but don’t want to have to refinish every year.

    Maintain the roof
    There’s a reason prospective buyers always ask about the condition of the roof. It’s the first line of defense against water damage, ice dams, pest infestations, and other potential disasters. Be on the lookout for cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near the end of its life. The flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys is another common failure point, so periodically have that area inspected.

    Keep the plumbing lines flowing
    Clogs and leaks can be enormously costly, and a good home inspector will be sure to spot them when you go to sell your home. A few simple precautions can really pay off. For example, using a toilet paper that scored well in our disintegration test will be easier on plumbing lines, especially in older homes. Similarly, some of the models in our toilet Ratings had trouble resisting drainline clogs in our simulated solid waste removal test.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Whirlpool Settles Dishwasher Fire Lawsuit With Offer of Rebates and Repairs

    It took six years but Steve Chambers finally got justice for a dishwasher fire that destroyed his KitchenAid model. When Whirlpool, which made the dishwasher, refused to investigate or to refund the cost of his ruined appliance, Chambers, of Frederick, Md., became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the company. This year Whirlpool agreed to a settlement that could benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of owners of KitchenAid, Whirlpool, and Kenmore dishwashers.  

    According to plaintiffs in the litigation, the electronic control boards of certain Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Kenmore dishwashers manufactured between October 2000 and January 2006 overheated, ignited, or emitted smoke, sparks, or fumes—and stopped working. They further charged that the defendants breached warranties, were negligent, and violated various state consumer-protection statutes.

    As part of the dishwasher fire settlement, the defendants deny that the dishwashers in question have any defect or pose any unreasonable safety or fire hazard. They also deny having violated any law or engaged in any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, any current or former owner of one of the dishwashers listed in the settlement website can receive a cash rebate from Whirlpool of 10 to 30 percent, depending on circumstances, when purchasing a new KitchenAid, Kenmore, or Whirlpool dishwasher.

    To find our whether a dishwasher you own or owned qualifies, you’ll need to match your model and serial number to the list included in the settlement website’s Court Documents section. Any overheating problem must occur no later than February 4, 2018, and a prospective claimant has 120 days from the date the dishwasher fire or related problem occurred to report it to the settlement administrator.

    Appliance fires are not uncommon, as we detailed in our 2012 report, “Appliance Fires Pose a Safety Concern,” which included mention of Steve Chambers and other homeowners who experienced dishwasher and other appliance fires.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why Chronic Insomnia and Other Sleep Problems Get Ignored

    Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder such as chronic insomnia—and this condition and others can bring persistent difficulty sleeping and subsequent trouble functioning during the day. More than 40 million don’t get properly diagnosed or treated, according to research published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

    Some people may be unaware of sleep interruptions, and often, “patients don’t bring their sleep to the attention of doctors because they don’t think it’s ‘medical’ or think they should tough it out,” says Matt T. Bianchi, M.D., Ph.D., director of the sleep division at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

    Past surveys have shown that medical schools have formally devoted, on average, less than 2 hours to sleep medicine, and doctors might not routinely discuss sleep problems at office visits. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that only 25 percent of primary care providers asked new patients about insomnia or other sleep issues, although many had signs of problems. Doctors might also find it hard to pinpoint which of the 60 sleep disorders is the culprit because symptoms may be unclear, and other illnesses and habits may affect rest.

    If you often have trouble falling or staying asleep, or can’t function normally, your primary care provider can help rule out illnesses that can affect sleep, such as depression and overactive thyroid, and might be able to zero in on the cause of your sleep problem. If not, a board-certified sleep specialist can conduct a detailed evaluation. Here we cover how three common sleep disorders are evaluated.



    Read our special report on why Americans can't sleep, which includes information on how to fall asleep the natural way, details on the problem with sleeping pills, and much more.
     


    Chronic Insomnia

    Affecting about 10 to 15 percent of adults, chronic insomnia is defined as trouble falling or staying asleep at least three times per week for three months or longer (Typical insomnia occurs less often or for a shorter period of time). If you are experiencing these sleep problems, your doctor will ask about symptoms and their effects—whether, for example, your partner says that you snore. He will also ask lifestyle questions and try to identify whether habits such as heavy caffeine or alcohol consumption, use of electronic devices close to bedtime, or medications could be contributing.

    If your doctor can’t get to the root of your insomnia, see a sleep medicine physician. This specialist might have you keep a sleep, exercise, and food and alcohol diary, and might order actigraphy testing, which helps track your sleep schedule with a wristwatchlike device. If the sleep medicine physician suspects another sleep-disrupting problem, he can order an overnight sleep lab polysomnogram. Here, as you sleep, electrodes record your brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, eye movements and blood oxygen levels. Sensors measure chest movement and the strength and duration of your breaths.

    Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, characterized by numerous brief pauses in breathing during sleep, can cause significant daytime sleepiness. Sufferers may also fall asleep at inappropriate times.

    An estimated 25 million Americans have OSA, with 12 million to 18 million undiagnosed. And research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that OSA may often be misdiagnosed as depression.

    To properly diagnose OSA, you’ll need a sleep lab polysomnogram or an overnight home sleep apnea test, where electrodes record breathing and heart rate, blood ­oxygen levels, and chest movements but usually not brain waves. This may not detect mild apnea and is prone to false negatives, so if results are negative but your doctor strongly suspects apnea, you’ll need a polysomnogram.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, which affects about 10 percent of American adults, causes leg sensations such as burning, a creepy-crawly feeling, throbbing, and an uncontrollable urge to move your lower limbs. That can make it hard to fall asleep and can wake you up.

    Doctors might mistake RLS for conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, back injury, and poor circulation. It can also mimic diabetic neuropathy. In one study, 81 percent of people with RLS reported symptoms to their doctor, but just 6 percent received proper diagnoses.

    You don’t need a polysomnogram to diagnose RLS unless your doctor can’t pinpoint which sleep disorder you have. A symptom history and exam should be enough, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

     

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    This Year's Highly Effective Flu Shot Is a Must for Kids and Adults

    Here’s a convincing reason to go get a flu shot if you haven’t already: This year’s vaccine is 59 percent effective against the strains of flu circulating this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which monitors flu shot effectiveness. Last year’s flu shot was less than 23 percent effective against the main strains of flu, so this year’s formulation appears to do its job more than twice as well.

    “If you haven’t bothered to get vaccinated because last year’s vaccine was so ineffective, that’s a mistake,” says Consumer Reports chief medical adviser, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D. “Flu season could last another month or two. A flu shot now can provide protection within two weeks and might make the difference between staying healthy or spending 10 days in bed, or even in the hospital,” Lipman says.

    Someone who is vaccinated may still get infected, but according to the CDC, their illness may be milder than it would have been without the flu shot's protection.

    But not everyone is getting the benefit of this year’s vaccine. According to CDC estimates, by the end of this year’s flu season only about 44 percent of adults and 59 percent of children will have gotten the shot.

    “All children 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against flu each and every year,” says William Schaffner, M.D., professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

    Yet a national poll released this month by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 59 percent of parents who did not get their children flu shots this season rate the flu vaccine less favorably than other childhood vaccines. And overall, the survey found that 35 percent of parents polled reported that they felt the flu vaccine was "less important" than other childhood vaccines. That could explain why flu vaccination rates lag behind measles, polio, and most other childhood vaccines.

    The poll also found that parents who don’t get their kids vaccinated against the flu believe that the flu vaccine is not as effective as other vaccines. That may be true in some cases: For example, two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing the measles. But vaccinating children against flu is crucial.

    “Although most kids recover from flu, each year flu kills children. Some of these children have underlying illnesses and are more vulnerable to flu, but some are normal, healthy children,” Schaffner says. It’s also important to vaccinate kids because when they get infected they produce even more flu virus than adults, “so they spread the flu virus readily to others,” he says.

    And a case of the flu can be severe. Each year it puts more than 200,000 people in the hospital and kills thousands. In fact, between 1976 and 2006, the CDC estimates that annual flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.

    Don’t have time to visit your doctor? How about stopping off at a drugstore to get the shot? Many pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens offer flu shots. They don’t require appointments and most will file with your insurance company. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Iron Your Very Best Clothes

    Despite all the no-iron shirts, pants, and other garments in our closets, you still have to iron occasionally to get ready for that job interview or your cousin’s wedding. Start with a dependable iron like the Rowenta Steamforce DW9280, $140, that was tops in our steam iron tests. Then learn how to iron tricky clothing from the pros behind Consumer Reports’ “How to Clean Practically Anything” and put the snap back in your collar and restore the pleats in your favorite skirt.

    Garments will turn out smoother if they are ironed when they are damp, so if possible remove them from the dryer or line before they are fully dry. Smooth out seams and pleats on garments, and pull linens back into shape immediately upon removing them from the dryer or taking them down from the line; even if they still need ironing, the job will be easier.

    If you can’t get to the ironing immediately, let items dry fully. Dampen them when you’re ready to iron, sprinkling them with water and rolling them in a towel to distribute the moisture; or use the spray on your steam iron as you go. Most modern irons use regular tap water and often the manufacturer's directions recommend against using distilled water. If your water is very hard, dilute it 50:50 with distilled water. When you are done ironing, empty the iron before storing it. Follow manufacturer's directions for cleaning the steam jets occasionally.

    When using starch, spray each item as you go, but allow a few moments for it to soak in so there’s no buildup on the iron’s sole plate. If you have a large quantity of clothes to iron, deal with the garments that need ironing at the lowest temperatures first, such as synthetics and silk; as the iron heats up, work on the wools, then the cottons, and finally the linens.

    Special Tips for Special Clothing

    Lace, silk, and wool. Press inside out. If that’s not possible, use a dry pressing cloth. Lower and lift the iron; don’t slide it back and forth. Prevent imprinting inside detail by placing a piece of brown paper or tissue paper under folds, seams, or darts.

    Sequined, beaded, or metallic fabric. Place it face down on a soft surface—such as a thick towel or two—and press on low.

    Velvet. Hold the steam iron about an inch or two above the fabric and slowly move it around, or hold the garment over a steaming kettle. You can also hang it in the bathroom and run a hot shower or use a fabric steamer—an appliance sold for this purpose. Many irons can now steam vertically.

    How to Iron Shirts, Blouses, and Jackets

    1. Start at the point of the collar, working toward the middle.
    2. Next, iron the yoke by arranging one shoulder over the narrow end of the ironing board. Then repeat the same process for the opposite shoulder.
    3. Do the sleeves next, working down from the underarm. A sleeve board is a big help with ironing. Then open the cuffs and try to iron them flat.
    4. Iron the back of the shirt next, slipping it over the wide end of the ironing board and shifting it as needed.
    5. Iron the two halves of the front. Or if the shirt doesn’t open, slip it over the ironing board.

    How to Iron Pants and Trousers

    1. If the pants have cuffs, unfold them and brush out any loose soil.
    2. Turn the waistband inside out and pull out pockets to iron them flat.
    3. Iron the zipper placket.
    4. On the right side of the garment, iron the waistband and the rest of the top. Repeat on the left side.
    5. Put leg seams together in the middle and fold pants the long way. Lay them flat on the board, then fold back the top leg. Iron the inside of the lower leg, then turn and iron the outside. Repeat with other leg.
    6. Iron the two legs together (all four thicknesses at once).

    How to Iron Skirts

    • Iron from hem to waist in long strokes, but press (lift and lower) when you reach the gathers.
    • Pleated skirts. Arrange pleats on the ironing board and hold them or pin them in place. Iron from top to bottom, but not directly over the pins.

    How to Iron Dresses

    1. Start with the lining.
    2. Continue to the top of the dress as if you were ironing a blouse. A dress that doesn’t open should be pulled over the end of a board; then iron the front and back.
    3. Lift and press underneath the collar, if there is one. Then press the collar itself.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Most Reliable Gas Grill Brands

    Most gas grills sold cost less than $300 and are used for about three years, on average, before winding up on the curb, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Some online user reviews lament a grill’s short life, with such comments as "Great while it lasts!" So for the first time, Consumer Reports surveyed nearly 16,000 subscribers to learn what they had to say about the reliability of the gas grill brands they bought.

    None of the nine gas grill brands stood out as the most or least reliable, but Coleman, Weber, and Broil King are less repair-prone than Char-Griller, Kenmore, and Member’s Mark (sold at Sam’s Club). Our survey estimates that by the time the Kenmore grills are three years old, 19 percent will need repair or have serious problems, while 23 percent of three-year-old Member’s Mark grills do. Given these repair rates, Consumer Reports cannot recommend these two grill brands at this time.

    For all the survey details, click the brand reliability tab in our gas grill Ratings.

    New Look for Our Ratings

    Consumer Report’s grill lab is buzzing these days as our engineers test dozens of newly purchased grills, including two dual-fuel models that allow you to cook with gas or charcoal (we’re testing gas performance only). And we’ve worked to improve our gas grill Ratings, giving you an even better indication of a grill’s performance. These changes alter the overall scores of the tested grills. Here’s what changed and what you’ll see in the gas grill Ratings:

    • Evenness performance combines the evenness scores when preheating, cooking on low, and cooking on high. A grill scoring excellent in evenness indicates that the cooking temperatures are the same, no matter where you put the food on the grill—so you won’t have to move the food around for it to cook evenly.
    • Preheat performance is a measure of how hot the grill is after 10 minutes of preheating and how that temperature compares to its maximum temperature. You can start cooking on any of the grills in our tests after a 10-minute preheat, but the lower the preheat performance score, the longer food takes to cook and it may not have the searing marks you like. When a grill scores excellent on this test, you can toss burgers on the grill and they’ll start sizzling. Otherwise, preheat longer.
    • Temperature range indicates how big a difference there is between the minimum and maximum temperatures. The greater the difference, the better the grill is at cooking a variety of foods at various temperatures. We also look at how low the heat can go. An excellent score means the grill provides a wide range of temperatures as well as being able to achieve low temperatures for cooking delicate fish.

    We also test and score how well grills do in indirect cooking, a way to slow cook meats using one or two burners, and for convenience.

    Recommended Grills From Our Tests

    Grills are grouped by the size of their measured cooking area.

    Small (18 burgers or less)
    Huntington 630124, $140
    Broilmate 165154, $200

    Medium (18 to 28 burgers)
    Nexgrill 720-0830H (Home Depot), $270
    Char-Broil 463433016 (Walmart), $170
    Weber Spirit SP-320-46700401, $600

    Large (28 burgers or more)
    Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB, $2,600

    See all your choices in our gas grill Ratings, and filter by size, price, and grill brands. And compare grill features by clicking the Features & Specs tab in the gas grill Ratings.

    Email questions to kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 03/04/16--10:00: How to Stop Water Hammer
  • How to Stop Water Hammer

    Some washing machines are noisy, and you learn to live with it. But when the plumbing pipes connected to the washer shake and rattle—known as water hammer—you can’t just tune it out. Consumer Reports found a fix for this problem. 

    Fast-closing washer valves cause water hammer. It can get so bad that it could possibly damage the pipes or fixtures attached to the pipes. "Not all washing machines create water hammer, and not all plumbing systems will experience water hammer from a washing machine with fast-closing valves," says Bernie Deitrick, a Consumer Reports engineer.

    But if your new washer does shake the pipes, first try an inline water hammer arrester with hose fittings. The $10 Sioux Chief Mini-Rester 660-HB Water Hammer Arrester (shown) solved the problem in our tests. If an arrester doesn’t eliminate the water hammer, reduce peak flow by partially closing the water-supply valves. The washer will fill more slowly but it will still fill to the right water level. Next consider a larger arrester or pressure reducing valves, but you’ll probably need a plumber to install those.

    Making Music Out of a Washing Machine

    Rattling pipes aren't music to the ears, but an album made from sounds entirely produced by a top-loading washer is. Take a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II top-loader and add the conceptual electronics duo Matmos, and the result is an album made solely of sounds from the washing machine. In the Ultimate Care II video, the settings knob grinds, water splashes, the machine chugs and clanks, and electronic beeps alert the wash is done. “The album is a disarmingly enveloping ride, with flickers of techno, noise and house music that dissolve into an unbroken, 38-minute arc,” wrote Nate Chinen in The New York Times

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 03/04/16--12:56: Curtain Cleaning Made Easy
  • Curtain Cleaning Made Easy

    Have you noticed the dust that's collected on your curtains in recent months? Use these tips for curtain cleaning from Consumer Reports' “How to Clean Practically Anything."  Before cleaning your curtains and draperies, read the care instructions carefully to determine whether you can wash them or whether you should have them dry-cleaned.

    When to Dry Clean
    Even if these window coverings are made of a washable fabric, the linings and seams could shrink in water. Play it safe and opt for dry-cleaning if you are in doubt. Definitely dry-clean curtains and drapes with stitched-in pleats, swags, or other elaborate ornamentation that may not withstand a washing.

    Special Fabrics
    You can freshen up velvet draperies without washing or dry-cleaning them; just brush them from time to time with a chamois cloth dipped in hot water and wrung out thoroughly. If silk curtains call for hand washing do so in lukewarm or cool water and use mild dishwasher detergent. Swish gently and never twist or wring.

    Sun Damage
    Constant exposure to sunlight can render even sturdy fabrics fragile. So when machine-washing curtains and draperies, use the gentle cycle, cool or lukewarm water, and mild detergent. If possible, hang on a clothesline to dry, or put them in a clothes dryer on a no-heat or delicate setting.

    Sheer Curtains
    Wash sheer curtains on a regular basis even if they don’t look dirty because by the time dirt appears they can be permanently discolored. Clean these fragile fabrics gently. Make sure they fill no more than half the machine, and let them soak for five minutes in cold water. Use a mild detergent and if you wish, a whitening agent. Turn the dial to rinse to drain the water, then run the machine on a gentle wash setting for just two to three minutes.

    Put the sheer curtains and a couple of terry-cloth towels in a dryer set to no heat for another two to three minutes. Rehang while still slightly damp, and pull into shape. If necessary, move an ironing board next to the window and iron the hems while the curtains or draperies are hanging, or use a hand held steamer or the vertical steam setting of a regular steam iron to smooth them.

    Routine Curtain Cleaning
    After the deep cleaning, remember to dust curtains and drapes regularly with your vacuum cleaner’s soft brush attachment or with a soft, long-handled broom with synthetic fibers (they’re much better than natural fibers at collecting dust).

    If you use a vacuum cleaner, set it for reduced suction so you don’t draw the fabric into the nozzle. You might want to place a stiff piece of plastic screen between the nozzle and the fabric to prevent that from happening, or secure an old nylon stocking over the nozzle with a rubber band.

    If you can take down curtains and drapes and rehang them with relative ease, occasionally air them outdoors on a clothesline or put them in a clothes dryer set to the no-heat or delicate cycle.

    Make Sure It’s Not Curtains for Your Curtains

    • Measure curtains before washing in case you need to stretch them back into shape. Be sure to remove hooks and any weights, and loosen the tapes so they lie flat.
    • Before doing the curtain cleaning, dust them by running them through a dryer set to the no-heat cycle. Or shake them out, lay them on a bed, and dust with the vacuum brush attachment.
    • Don’t overload the washing machine, and remember that curtains will become much heavier when wet.
    • If hand washing, don’t rub or wring the fabric; just agitate it gently.
    • Try to dry curtains over two parallel lines so wet surfaces don’t touch. Don’t let the curtains rest on wood, which could stain them.
    • Iron while damp along the vertical length on the side that doesn’t show. If parts of the fabric have already dried, dampen the entire curtain again to avoid water marks.
    • Stretch seams gently while ironing to avoid puckering, then spread the curtains out on a clean surface, such as a bed, and pull them to the correct size.
    • When curtains are dry, insert hooks and weights, and pull tape to correct width.
    • You might be able to save a step by hanging your curtains, then using either a handheld steamer or the vertical  steaming of a regular steam iron to smooth them.
    • Before rehanging the curtains, clean valances fixed to the wall. Vacuum an upholstery valance with the upholstery attachment and a wooden valance with the crevice tool; clean a plastic valance with a sponge dipped in a solution of liquid detergent and water.
    • Rehanging is easiest when one person stands on a ladder to insert the hooks and another stands below to make sure the curtains don’t drag on the floor.

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    Best Washers For $800 or Less | Washing Machine Reviews - Consumer Reports

    How much should you spend on a washer? You don’t have to pay $1,500 to get a washer that cleans well. Expensive washers offer a jumbo capacity and extra features, but if you don’t need to wash 26 pounds of laundry in one load and using your phone to check your laundry’s progress from Starbucks isn’t a priority, then take a look at these washers from Consumer Reports’ tests. They get the job done and cost $800 or less.

    High-efficiency top-loaders

    The HE top-loaders scoring very good in capacity can hold about 20 to 24 pounds of laundry; those scoring excellent hold around 25 pounds or more. Compared to agitator washers HE top-loaders typically clean better, use less water, and spin at higher speeds so more water is extracted and dryer time is shortened. But the high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing and normal wash time using the heavy-soil setting is usually 65 to 80 minutes. Shave about 15 to 20 minutes off by using the normal wash on normal-soil setting. It’s also known as the medium-soil or mid-soil setting.

    Consider: Kenmore 28132, $750, Kenmore 26132, $750, Kenmore 27132, $700, Kenmore 29132, $800, Maytag Bravos MVWB835DW, $680, and the Samsung WA48J7700AW, $650. They have large capacities—a few have jumbo—were impressive at cleaning, and are relatively quiet as you’ll see in our washing machine Ratings. But like most top-loaders most weren't so gentle on fabrics.

    Tip: Your laundry will tangle less if you wash similar items together and rather than dump everything into the machine at once, add a few items at a time and unbunch sleeves, pant legs, and socks. Before you put them in the dryer shake them out.

    Front-loaders

    The best we tested typically clean better than the best HE top-loaders and use less water. The models called out below scored very good in capacity and can hold about 20 to 24 pounds of laundry. Wash times range from 65 to 100 minutes using heavy-soil setting, so use the normal-soil setting and save about 15 minutes. Front-loaders spin even faster than HE top-loaders, usually extracting more water and reducing dryer time. 

    Consider: LG WM3170CW, $720, Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW, $750, Samsung WF45H6300AG, $800, LG WM3570HVA, $800, and Samsung WF42H5600AW, $720, and Samsung WF42H5000AW, $720. 

    Tip: A front-loader's high spin speeds might vibrate too much for the machine to be placed near a bedroom or family room, but keep in mind that concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors. You'll see vibration scores in our Ratings. 

    More choices

    Our washing machine Ratings give you all the details. We rate wash performance, energy- and water efficiency, capacity, gentleness, noise, vibration, and cycle time (normal wash on heavy-soil setting) and let you know if there's a matching dryer. Use our buying guide to compare washer types and features and if you have questions, email me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Kimberly Janeway 

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    How to Clean Your Small Appliances

    With their curves, knobs, and moving parts, small appliances can get gritty and dirty sitting on the counter. To keep them looking shiny and spiffy, follow a few simple cleaning rules and tackle each mess as you make it. For safety’s sake, always unplug the device before removing any parts for cleaning, and carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions. And of course, never immerse your small electrics in water. Here's how to clean your small appliances from Consumer Reports’ book, “How to Clean Practically Everything.”

    How to Clean Blenders and Food Processors
    Clean after each use. Although certain parts may be dishwasher safe—usually in the top rack only—their odd shapes can make them difficult to secure; hand-washing is therefore strongly advised. Remove the cutting or shredding blade from the bowl, and wash each part separately (to minimize the chance of injury or damage) using a mild detergent in hot water, followed by a thorough rinse in warm water.

    Use a toothbrush or a bottle brush to clean off any stuck-on food, but do not allow cutting blades to soak in water or to become obscured from view. Carefully wipe metal parts dry with a soft, clean towel; let plastic parts air-dry. Use a mild all-purpose cleaner or a soft cloth dampened with water or white vinegar to clean the motor base.

    How to Clean Juicers
    When cleaning a juice extractor, do not use your fingers or any metal utensils to remove pulp from the inlet chute, the cutting teeth, or the strainer. Use the handle of a spatula or of a wooden spoon to clear clogs in the chute. Clean the strainer and cutting teeth with a toothbrush or other firm-bristled brush.

    How to Clean Drip Coffee Makers
    Dried coffee oils can ruin the taste of even the best blend. After every use, wash the carafe and brew basket of an electric drip coffee maker in dish soap and water, then rinse and dry. Once the hot plate cools, wipe any coffee that may have spilled onto it and remove burnt-on stains by using a little baking soda on a damp sponge. To avoid accumulation of minerals in tanks and tubes, especially if you have hard water, occasionally run equal parts of water and white vinegar through the machine. Then run water through it a couple of times. (Check the manual first: Some coffeemakers will suggest a different ratio.) Or use a special coffee-machine cleaning solution.

    How to Clean Pod Coffee Makers
    Clean your coffee maker regularly. Mineral buildup and coffee residue slow brewing; they can also affect taste. Some models of pod coffee makers recommend using filtered or bottled water for brewing. Coffee maker owner’s manuals typically advise running a cycle of white vinegar through the machine every month or so; the process differs by model.

    Pod coffee makers have a similar process, though they might vary further. And Keurig, for example, sells a special Descaling Solution ($13 for 14 ounces), which it calls “the only Keurig-approved cleaning solution for Keurig brewers.” The one-year Keurig warranty excludes damage from using non-Keurig pods and accessories; that could include using another cleaning solution. But after the warranty is up, there’s no reason not to try white vinegar instead. As always, run at least one cycle of just water afterward.

    How to Clean Toasters
    It doesn’t take long for a toaster or toaster oven to become filled with crumbs, but fortunately most models come with removable crumb trays that make for easy cleaning. Before cleaning, make sure the device is cool to the touch. Place a plastic garbage bag or a few sheets of newspaper underneath the tray, then carefully slide it out, and shake off any crumbs or loose food. Use a damp, soapy sponge or nylon scrubber to remove any baked-on particles, rinse well, and dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. Make sure the tray is completely dry before reinserting it.

    If your toaster does not have a crumb tray, turn it upside down over the sink or garbage and shake out loose crumbs. Use a thin paint brush or basting brush—never a fork or metal utensil—to loosen any crumbs that may get caught.

    How to Clean Toaster Ovens
    Because they are typically used for broiling and baking as well as toasting, toaster ovens require more frequent cleaning. Regularly wipe down the exterior walls and the crumb tray with a sponge dampened with some water and a drop of mild dishwashing liquid, then wipe down with a damp sponge. Carefully slide out the cooking racks, and clean them in the dishwasher or let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes in hot soapy water. Use a damp, sudsy cloth to clean the glass door, wipe off any leftover soap with a damp sponge, and dry with a clean towel.

    The interior walls of most toaster ovens have a “continuous clean” coating that helps ward off stains and splatters, but which can be damaged by metal scouring pads and abrasive cleaners. To remove any burnt-on food from inside a toaster oven, use a polyester or nylon scrubber dampened with water, but take care not to touch the heating elements. Make sure all parts are completely dry before using the toaster oven.

    How to Clean Microwave Ovens
    Use a mild cleaner and soft cloth to clean the exterior. Wipe up any spills in the interior immediately. To remove cooking stains, wipe the walls and floor of the oven with a hot, damp cloth. Wash removable parts, such as the turntable, in hot water and dishwashing liquid.

    To mask odors, place a bowl of water containing 1⁄4 cup of lemon juice in the oven and run it on high for one minute. Remove the bowl and wipe the oven cavity, using the condensation that will have formed to clean it. Wipe stains using plain water. Repeat if necessary. Scrape off stubborn stains with a plastic credit card. However, never scrape the inner surface of the window as this might damage any microwave blocking finish.

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    How to Properly Stow Your Snow Blower

    Outside of a few pounding snow storms, El Niño kept this winter from being a rerun of last year's. And with spring in the air, you may be tempted to wheel your snow blower to the back of the shed and forget about it. Not so fast. If you take a few minutes now to properly care for your machine, next winter you'll be glad you did. Here’s what to do:  

    Spruce it Up

    Take the snow blower out in the driveway on a day that’s in the 40s or warmer and hose it down. Dirt and road salt from the caked snow tends to coat the auger, impeller, and auger box, and promote corrosion if left on the machine. Wipe your snow blower down afterward; you can try drying it with your leaf blower.

    Drain the Fuel

    Once temperatures rise, any fuel you’ve left sitting in the snow blower becomes your machine’s worst enemy. Even if you’ve used fuel stabilizer, the odds of starting up your snow blower next winter are best if you’ve siphoned out or run down the gas from this winter. Consider adding a few ounces of ethanol-free fuel, sold in Sears, home centers, and some outdoor-gear dealers, and running it dry again. After the engine cools, drain the carburetor bowl.

    Make Some Adjustments

    Control linkages on a two-stage snow blower tend to loosen over the season from vibration. (You know your drive cable is too loose when changing gears results in no change in speed.) Retighten cables if needed and firm up any nuts and bolts that have gotten loose. Inspect your engine’s pull cord by gently pulling it out to check for fraying. And if you haven’t already, stock up on some extra shear pins, which protect a two-stage snow blower’s engine and transmission by breaking if the auger hits something solid. Inspecting and perhaps swapping out the shear pins now gives you one less thing to do next winter.

    If you have a two-stage model, this is also a good time to adjust the skid shoes that keep the auger box’s lower edge from scraping against the pavement. (You can tell they need adjustment if there’s no space between the auger box and the ground.) A quick way to adjust them: Loosen the skid shoes on both sides (they’re the short plastic or metal rails on either side of the auger box), and place a piece of corrugated cardboard under the scraper. Set the shoes to ground level and tighten the bolts. 

    Check the Tires

    If turning your snow blower was cumbersome this past winter, it could be from low tire pressure. When they’re underinflated, which can occur over time, you’ll work harder to maneuver the machine and notice less traction. And if just one tire is deflated, the snow blower may lean a bit to one side. More obvious, though, is the scraping of one bottom corner of the auger box on the side with the deflated tire. The manual will specify the proper pounds per square inch. (Since tires will lose pressure over the summer, you can inflate them to a full two pounds over the recommended level.)

    Keep a Log

    Other maintenance tasks don’t necessarily need doing now, but if you pass on them, they should be done before next winter. These include changing the oil, checking and perhaps changing the spark plug—all of which should be outlined in your manual. By keeping a maintenance log, you can keep track of what needs doing when—and what doesn't. It will also keep you from doing certain tasks both now and later. 

    For Cordless Electrics

    If you have a cordless-electric model, follow recommendations in the owner’s manual to ensure that it will last as long as possible. These guidelines include not recharging batteries in freezing temperatures. 

    Need a Snow Blower?

    Mowers, tractors, and grills have replaced snow blowers in most stores, but you can find a few models—at dealerships if not home centers—if you want to save on a new model. Among the best snow blowers we've tested are the two-stage, 28-inch Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q and 30-inch Ariens 921032, both $1,300; the 24-inch, two-stage Craftsman 88173, $680; and the single-stage 21-inch Toro Power Clear 721E, $570. Read our buying guide for snow blowers before you shop, and call ahead to check what’s available.

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    Counter-Depth Refrigerators to Consider

    Refrigerators have gotten a lot bigger in recent years. That’s good for food storage, but not so much for space efficiency, especially in smaller kitchens, where a mammoth fridge might jut out 10 inches or more past the countertop. Counter-depth (also referred to as cabinet-depth) refrigerators are a slimmer option that provide a more streamlined look. And thanks to improvements in refrigerator design, some of the best examples in our latest refrigerator Ratings can hold a lot more food than previous generations.

    One point of clarification: though they’re called counter-depth, most models in this category are around 28 inches deep, so they do protrude a bit past the edge of the countertop. That’s unlike true built-ins, from the likes of Thermador and Sub-Zero, which typically measure 25-inches deep, the standard depth of a kitchen countertop (there are also some 24-inch and 26-inch models in our built-in refrigerator Ratings).

    We should also explain why not many counter-depth refrigerators make our recommended list. In a lot of cases, this is the result of less-than-stellar energy efficiency, which reflects electricity consumption (based on our tests) per cubic foot of measured usable storage space. The fact that counter-depth refrigerators are, on the whole, less spacious can drive down their efficiency and, in turn, their overall score. But that may be a worthwhile compromise if space efficiency is your top priority. 

    Here are 10 strong picks to consider from the various configurations we test.

    Best French-Door Counter-Depth Refrigerators
    It used to be hard to find a counter-depth refrigerator with French-door styling, but manufacturers have made more of an investment in the option. Best in class in our current Ratings is the GE Profile PWE23KMDES, $2,600, which delivers excellent temperature control and is also surprisingly energy efficient, given the challenges described above. GE has the only other recommended model at this time, the GE Cafe CYE22USHSS, $2,970, which is the first coffee-dispensing refrigerator, thanks to its built-in Keurig brewing system.

    Though it missed the winners podium, the counter-depth Samsung RF18HFENBSR is well priced at $1,250 and performed very well overall. The Kenmore Elite 74053, $2,800, is another impressive option.  

    Best Bottom-Freezer Counter-Depth Refrigerators
    The traditional bottom-freezer category in general has gotten smaller in recent years, which has meant fewer counter-depth models coming through our labs and into the Ratings. If you have your heart set on this configuration, our top point scorer is the Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart E522BRX5, $1,800. Temperature control, energy efficiency, and noise are all solid, though it’s lacking in convenience features—no ice maker, no water dispenser, no temperature-controlled meat/deli bin. Paying $500 more for the Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart RF170WDRUX5 gets you similar performance, plus an ice maker and external water dispenser.

    Best Side-by-Side Counter-Depth Refrigerators
    Two counter-depth refrigerators make our current recommended list in this configuration: the LG LSC22991ST, $2,200, and the Samsung RS22HDHPNSR, $2,400. Their overall scores are identical, with the Samsung proving slightly quieter in our tests. At 28 inches deep, the Samsung is also an inch shallower than the LG, which you’ll appreciate if space is super tight in your kitchen. The GE Cafe CZS25TSESS, $3,050, is another 28-inch deep side-by-side that earned solid marks in our tests, though not enough to be a considered a top pick.

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    The Big Appeal of Compact Washing Machines

    Compact washing machines are big on promises, including being able to wash up to 18 towels in one load. And our readers have been posting comments on ConsumerReports.org, urging us to test compact washing machines and dryers. “Not everybody lives in a big house,” wrote one reader.

    So the pros at Consumer Reports are putting compact washing machines to the test. We’re buying and testing eight to 10 front-loader compact washing machines and their matching electric dryers (some of which are ventless) from Bosch and other major brands. These machines are 24 inches wide and stackable.

    Our engineers have been developing test methods for compact washing machines and dryers. We plan to post test results on the first models in April, with more to come in early May.

    Small Package, Small Price?

    Just because these machines are small doesn’t mean you pay less—they cost around $800 to $2,000. The Bosch WAT28402UC front-loading compact washing machine (shown above, right) has a claimed capacity of 2.2 cubic feet and costs $1,400. The full-sized front-loader LG WM3170CW (shown above, left), with a claimed capacity of 4.3 cubic feet, earned a Very Good in our capacity tests and was excellent overall. It costs $720—about half the price of the compact Bosch. 

    Why are compact washing machines and dryers so expensive? One reason is that they represent only a small part of the market. We'll find out what else contributes to their price and report on those findings when we post our compact washing machine Ratings.

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    How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

    The simplest way to keep allergy symptoms at bay? Avoid exposure to the substances that provoke your sneezing, wheezing, and itchiness. But how? We looked at the research, spoke to leading experts, and reviewed our own product tests to determine what can help and what to skip when you're trying to allergy-proof your home. Read on to find out which of the five following strategies really work.

    Anti-Allergy Bedding

    Swathing mattresses, box springs, and pillows in allergen-impermeable covers can entrap dust mites and animal dander as long as you use covers that are made from woven fabrics, according to research studies. Non-woven covers are less durable and won’t protect you from dust mites long-term. Plus, their dimpled surface can allow a variety of allergens to collect there. So before you buy, check product labels for a fabric pore size (the size of openings in the weave) no greater than 6 micrometers or microns, and for words such as “woven fabric.” 

    Washing Bedding in Hot Water

    Researchers have found that washing bedding in very hot water (in some studies, above 130° F) will kill dust mites—ubiquitous, microscopic creatures that may provoke allergy symptoms. A hot water wash will also reduce animal dander (tiny skin flecks), another common allergen.

    But to avoid scalding, two leading organizations for allergy specialists recommend laundering linens at 120° F. Hotter water will kill only a few extra mites, says Jay Portnoy, M.D., division director, allergy/asthma/immunology at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. Many drown in the wash anyway, he notes, and a cycle in a hot dryer should do in the rest. But weekly laundering is a must to keep allergy symptoms at bay. 

    Using a Vacuum With a HEPA Filter

    Vacuuming regularly can help subdue allergens. Our tests of vacuums found that those with regular filters sucked up similar amounts of dander and dust as those with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. And some, but not all, were just as good as those with HEPA filters at keeping small particles from escaping from the vacuum and blowing back into the air. If you’re the allergy sufferer, give someone else the task of vacuuming. And avoid bagless vacuums, which can stir up dust when you’re emptying the bin.

    Purifying the Air

    Air purifiers are available in two configurations: portable models you can move from room to room and whole-house air filters, which can be used only in homes with forced-air heating and/or cooling. Typically, those are thin filters used in place of regular furnace or central air filters. Thicker models that may require professional modification of your heating and/or cooling system are also available. 

    Cutting the Humidity

    Keeping your home’s humidity to 30 to 50 percent on a constant basis minimizes the growth of moisture-loving dust mites and mold, Portnoy says. Because dehumidifiers should generally be used only in basements (they generate a lot of heat), a better strategy is running a properly sized air conditioner.  

    Our Top-Rated Tools for Fighting Allergies

    Air purifiers: Our top-rated portable air purifiers include the Honeywell HPA 300, $250, for large rooms and the GE AFHC21AM, $230, for medium rooms. The Honeywell did an excellent job of removing dust, pollen, and smoke from the air at high speed and a very good job at low speeds. The GE did a very good job at high speed and a good job at the lowest speed. The Lennox Healthy Climate CarbonClean 16, $100, and the Filtrete Healthy Living Ultra Allergen 4 MPR 1550, $29, both whole-house filters, were very good at removing dust, smoke, and pollen at high and low speeds.

    Vacuums: Look for models that scored well for emissions, such as the Kenmore Elite 31150, $350; Hoover Wind­Tunnel Max UH30600, $180; and Miele Dynamic U1 Twist, $450.

    Air conditioners: For a small room, our top-rated air conditioner is the GE AEM05LS, $210. It’s also a CR Best Buy. 

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2016 Issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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    Appliances Shrink to Fit Smaller Kitchens

    Small appliance manufacturers gathering in Chicago earlier this week for the International Home + Housewares show definitely got the memo about the surge in single households—roughly half of all American women are unattached and by 2025 there will be as many single-person households in the U.S. as there are homes with families.

    That shifting demographic was evident in the bounty of super-compact countertop appliances, aimed at the single set and their presumably smaller kitchens. One manufacturer's representative went so far as to call the mini appliances part of our “single lady line.” Though some of the products will appeal to bachelors, too, not to mention downsizing empty nesters or anyone looking to save space on the countertop. Here are a handful of our favorites. 

    KitchenAid Artisan Mini Stand Mixer

    From the brand synonymous with stand mixers, this 3.5-quart mixers represent the first downsizing of the appliance since 1962. “Particularly among millennials, urban dwellers and empty nesters we saw a desire for a smaller mixer that provides the same overall features of our larger models,” Derek Ernst, global marketing director for KitchenAid small appliances, said in the news release.

    The mini mixer is 20 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than its full-size counterpart, though KitchenAid says it has the same power. It can supposedly mix ingredients for 5 dozen cookies, compared to the 12 dozen cookies you’ll get from a largest mixer.

    The Artisan will be available in a wide array of colors worthy of the iconic KitchenAid brand, including empire red, honeydew, hot sauce, and twilight blue.

    Available June, $400.

    Aroma Mini Rice Cooker

    A lot of rice cookers on the market can steam 20 cups or more of cooked rice, enough for a small village. With their maximum capacity of 2 to 3 cups cooked rice, the latest mini cookers from Aroma are meant to feed a small household.

    The Aroma MRC-903 features one-touch operation, a removable nonstick cooking pot, and a handle design for meals on the go (soups, pastas, and even omelets are also possible in the cooker). Paying more for the Aroma MRC-903D gets you all the same features, plus programmable digital controls for white and brown rice and a keep-warm mode.

    Available now, $30 to 40.

    Bella 1.5 Quart Slow Cooker

    Forget about the Sunday pot roast or Super Bowl chili, but for smaller meals—morning oatmeal, say, or a small batch of yogurt—this mini slow cooker from Bella is up to the task. Features include a removable stoneware pot and tempered glass lid, both of which are dishwasher safe. The cooker will be available in multiple patterns, including rose quartz and serenity, named the 2016 colors of the year by Pantone.

    Available Fall 2016, $15.

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    Spiralizers Are the Perfect Gadget for Picky Eaters

    At least three major manufacturers unveiled spiralizers at the International Home + Housewares show in Chicago this week, making the handheld gadget a surprise 2016 hit—and an early candidate for the year’s hottest holiday gift. Each device has unique features, though they all deliver the same basic function of creating fun shapes out of fresh fruits and vegetables. That should appeal to people who entertain at home a lot, and to parents of kids who turn their noses up at zucchini, cucumbers, and other healthful foods when served the traditional way.          

    Cuisinart Food Spiralizer (available now, $30)  
    This mechanical model gives the forearm a bit of a workout, though Cuisinart says the adaption of its exclusive food processor blade technology to the spiralizer makes for easy operation. You can choose from three cutting options: thin or thick julienne, and ribbon slice. The blade-locking design eliminates contact with any sharp edges and the entire unit is dishwasher safe.

    Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Spiralizer (available in May, $40)
    This electric 3-in-1 spiralizer from Hamilton Beach lets you produce continuous ribbons or spirals of a variety of veggies, from zucchini noodles to homemade potato chips. The additional grating disk is designed for harder foods like Parmesan cheese and nuts. 

    KitchenAid Spiralizer Blade (available in April, $150)
    An attachment to any KitchenAid stand mixer, this new spiralizer is an upgrade to the brand’s original. It adds two new blades to the existing five, enabling up to 13 combinations of spiralizing, slicing, peeling, and coring. The angel hair zucchini noodle strands are pitched as a healthy alternative to flour-based pasta. Or enjoy seasonal garnishes made from paper-thin fruit spirals.

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    Sleep Deprivation May Cause Weight Gain

    Here’s another good reason to get more shut-eye and avoid sleep deprivation: skimping on sleep may give you the same kind of "munchies" pot smokers get—putting you at risk for weight gain. That’s because our brains naturally produce chemicals similar to those found in marijuana, called endocannabinoids.

    “These chemicals have appetite-enhancing effects. They drive eating for pleasure, and seem to cause us to select yummier foods that are higher in fat, sugar, and salt,” says University of Chicago sleep expert Erin Hanlon, Ph.D., whose study on the subject was recently published in the journal Sleep.

    “When we don’t sleep enough, there are higher concentrations of this chemical in our blood,” Hanlon says—and that could make the mid-afternoon allure of the cookie jar even harder to resist, which in turn can make you gain weight. “There is clearly a link between loss of sleep and an increase in the risk of obesity,” Hanlon says.

    To test the hypothesis that lack of sleep results in elevated endocannabinoid levels, Hanlon and her team recruited 14 volunteers and allowed them to sleep either a healthy 8.5 hours per night or just 4.5 hours per night for four consecutive nights in the University of Chicago sleep lab. (All the volunteers underwent four-day stints of both sleep patterns.) Hourly monitoring of their blood revealed that the endocannabinoid levels of the 8.5-hours-per-night group peaked around lunchtime and then quickly fell again about 2 hours later. On the other hand, endocannabinoid levels in the sleep-deprived group peaked around 2 p.m. and remained elevated throughout the afternoon and evening.

    Hanlon and her team then monitored the amount and type of food the volunteers ate. After both long sleep sessions and short sleep sessions, they consumed the same amount of calories at mealtimes. But between lunch and dinner the participants consumed around 600 calories in snacks after having a full night’s sleep, but a much higher 1,000 calories after the short sleep session.

    In addition, the short sleepers were less able to resist eating tasty foods and consumed nearly twice as much fat and protein than they did after the longer sleep sessions. “The increased snacking occurred at the same time that we observed the increase in endocannabinoid levels," Hanlon says.

    Lack of sleep didn’t just hinder the volunteers’ self-control. When questioned about how they felt, participants who were sleep-deprived reported stronger feelings of hunger than they did when they had slept 8.5 hours. The exact amount of sleep needed to avoid raising your endocannabinoid levels isn't clear, and is likely based on individual sleep needs, Hanlon says. But according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.


    More on Sleep



    Researchers and dietitians have long known there is a connection between lack of sleep and weight gain, but much of the research has focused on the chemicals leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol—other key chemicals known to affect our metabolism and hunger patterns. Hanlon’s research also monitored those chemicals, but it is the first to link lack of sleep and overeating to endocannabinoids. “Our study reinforces the importance of having good sleep hygiene,” Hanlon says. “Getting enough sleep is an essential aspect of maintaining overall good health.

    But getting enough sleep isn’t always easy. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 68 percent of Americans—an estimated 164 million—struggle with sleep at least once a week, and 27 percent of Americans have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights. If you are one of them, and feel the effects of sleep deprivation, consult our guide to falling asleep and staying asleep. It could help you avoid taking sleeping pills or using other sleep aids—and might help you shed a few pounds as well.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Best Matching Washers and Dryers - Consumer Reports

    Matching washer and dryer pairs are a popular choice although some don't make a great couple. Their coordinating style makes a statement, but you'll question how a terrific washer and a noisy dryer that's tough on clothes ended up together. Enter the matchmaker. Consumer Reports' tests found pairs that are worth a look.

    Now about the prices. The top-rated pairs are expensive. Blame it on rising manufacturing costs, larger capacities, stainless drums, and added cycles and features. Our tests have found that basic cycles can handle most laundry needs. So ask yourself if you want to pay extra for a bedding cycle or one for your jeans. 

    The washer and dryer Buying Guides highlight the advantages of each washer type and features. Use the Ratings selector to narrow choices and the Features & Specs tab to compare features. Our Brand Reliability offers helpful information and so do user reviews. If you have questions email me at kjaneway@consumer.org. 

    Full washing machine Ratings and recommendations.
    Full clothes dryer Ratings and recommendations.

    The Quietest Couples

    Consider machines that scored very good or better in our noise tests if placing near bedrooms. You'll know they're working but they shouldn't disturb you. Note that wash times are based on the normal wash cycle heavy-soil setting. You'll save about 15 minutes using the normal-soil setting.

    Many washers and dryers have a steam setting. We found it slightly improved a washer's stain removal. Steam removed more odors than dryers without steam, but left clothes wrinkled. The dryers highlighted here have moisture sensors, the most important feature. It turns off the machine when laundry is dry—that saves energy and is easier on fabrics. For more details see our Ratings of washing machines and dryers

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore Elite 41072 front-loader and Kenmore Elite 81072 electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and made our top picks. It has 14 cycles, offers excellent washing, was gentle on fabrics, and has a jumbo capacity—it fit about 25 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer excelled at its job and also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Wash time is 95 minutes. The Accela-Wash option offers comparable performance and saves 15 to 20 minutes. 
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide—2 more than usual—but can be stacked. Gas dryer is Kenmore Elite 91072, $1,100. 

    LG duos

    LG WM8500HVA front-loader and LG DLEX8500V electric dryer 
    Price: $1,450 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and both machines make the recommended list. They have jumbo capacities, each holding about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet for the washer, 9 for the dryer. The washer was superb at cleaning and gentle on fabrics and has 14 cycles; the dryer aced its job. 
    Consider this: It took 90 minutes to do a normal wash on the heavy soil setting, but the TurboWash option offers comparable wash performance in 15 to 20 minutes less time.
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide, two more than usual, but can be stacked. Only available in a graphite-steel finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX8501V, $1,550. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each 
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but both were impressive at their task and relatively quiet. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer fit 22 pounds of our laundry, was gentle on fabrics, and has 14 cycles. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting is 75 minutes. The TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning and saves 15 to 20 minutes.
    Need to know:  Machines can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $1,030. 

    Maytag mates

    Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC front-loader and Maytag Maxima MED8100DC
    Price: 
    $1,400 each
    Here's the deal: This recommended front-loader offers excellent washing and held 22 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet. It was gentle on fabrics and there are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was superb at its task and among the quietest tested. Claimed capacity is 7.3 cubic feet. Both machines are made in America.
    Consider this: The washer took 75 minutes using the normal cycle on heavy-soil setting.
    Need to know: Gas dryer is Maytag Maxima MGD8100DC, $1,500. Appliances can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. The newly tested white Maytag Maxima MHW8150EW front-loader was even slightly better in our tests and costs $1,350. It can also be paired with the Maytag Maxima MED8100 dryer. Matching white dryer is the Maytag Maxima MED8100DW dryer. 

    Maytag Bravos MVWB855DW HE top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB855DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each 
    Here's the deal: The washer made our top picks, delivers impressive cleaning, and was among the most water efficient of the HE top-loaders. It fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. There are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was impressive at its job and claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet. These machines are made in America. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 80 minutes using heavy-soil setting. This washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics, but that's true for most top-loaders. 
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide; dryer, 29. Gas dryer is the Maytag Bravos MGDB855DW, $1,100. 

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EW electric dryer
    Price: $1,450 washer, $1,300 dryer
    Here's the deal: These recommended models are top rated, excellent at their job, relatively quiet, and have jumbo capacities. The washer held 28 pounds of our laundry and was among the gentlest on fabrics. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet for the washer and 9.5 for the dryer. There are 15 wash cycles.
    Consider this: Normal wash on heavy-soil setting is 90 minutes. The SuperSpeed option saved about 15 to 20 minutes without affecting cleaning.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide and can be stacked. The matching electric dryer is shown in the ratings as ending in "EG" to indicate the tested model has an onyx finish; "EW" is white and listed here as it matches the tested washer. Gas dryer is shown in ratings as the Samsung DV56H9100GG, $1,400. 

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: Both made our top picks. The washer has one of the largest capacities tested and fit about 28 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. It offers impressive cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 15 wash cycles.The top-rated dryer was superb at drying and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 85 minutes, but the SuperSpeed option cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GG, $1,300.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP HE top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: Both are top picks. This washer has a jumbo capacity and can hold about 28 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. Washing was impressive and there are 15 cycles. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The dryer aced its job and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide. The waterproof cycle prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9000GP, $1,300. 

    Whirlpool pairs

    Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU front-loader and Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU electric dryer
    Price: $1,440 each
    Here's the deal: Both have a large capacity. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet for the washer and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer offers excellent cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 13 wash cycles. Normal wash time, on heavy soil setting, is 75 minutes. That's faster than most.The dryer was superb at drying and among the quietest tested.
    Consider this: These machines are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device that lets you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more.
    Need to know: Made in the U.S.A. Machines have a silver finish and can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8500DW HE top-loader and Whirlpool Cabrio WED8500DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,080 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive and made our top picks.The dryer excelled at drying. Both are relatively quiet. This washer fit 26 pounds of our laundry and was one of the gentlest on fabrics. There are 26 wash cycles. That's right, 26. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet for the washer and 8.8 for the dryer. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting was 80 minutes. 
    Need to know: Washer is 28 inches wide; dryer, 29. They're made in the U.S.A. Gas dryer is the Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8500DW, $1,180. 

    CR Tip

    Some HE top-loaders come with a warning not to wash waterproof items, or the manufacturer may suggest using the low-spin or no-spin mode to prevent the load from becoming unbalanced. That can cause the machine to shake too much, even damaging the machine and laundry area. Check the manual before you buy.  

    Impressive Pairs for $1,700 or Less

    All were impressive at cleaning or drying though most did not make our top picks. The dryers have moisture sensors, a must. Keep in mind that most improvements in performance and efficiency are on washers. If you're set on a matching duo pick your washer and then the dryer. For more details see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    Kenmore couples

    Kenmore 28132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 68132 electric dryer
    Price: $750 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is the least expensive and fastest of the top picks. It took 60 minutes using normal wash on a heavy-soil setting. There are eight wash cycles. Cleaning was impressive and the washer fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. This machine is relatively quiet, as is the dryer. The tested dryer was superb at drying. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect performance to be similar to tested dryer. Claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet.
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most HE top-loaders we've tested. The dryer is Energy Star-qualified and you will save some energy but extend drying time using the eco-mode.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, standard width, and yet capacity is jumbo. When shopping reach into the bottom of the washer to see if you can grab that last sock. Dryer is 29 inches wide.

    Kenmore 27132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 67132 electric dryer
    Price: $650 each 
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but the washer came close. It performed similarly to the Kenmore above and also has eight wash cycles and a wash time of 60 minutes (normal wash, heavy-soil setting). But capacity is slightly smaller. Claimed capacity is 4.8 cubic feet. We fit about 23 pounds of laundry. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 7 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders this one wasn't gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, dryer is 29. Gas dryer is the Kenmore 77132, $750.  

    LG duos

    LG WM3170CW front-loader and LG DLE3170W electric dryer
    Price: $720 each 
    Here's the deal: We first tested this washer in spring 2015 and found a software glitch that directed the washer to use so little water that it was unable to clean our laundry and left stains. LG said they would correct the software bug in washers in stock and in customers' homes. We bought a new LG WM3170CW washer in February 2016 and our tests found the problem has been solved, and cleaning was excellent. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet and it holds about 21 pounds of laundry. The dryer was excellent at its job and among the quietest we tested. Claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Wash time is 110 minutes using the normal wash, heavy-soil setting. Save about 15 minutes by using the normal-soil setting. The front-loader's price is half of some high-scoring washers, making it a CR Best Buy. 
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches wide, standard width, and can be stacked. Gas dryer is the LG DLG3171W, $820.  

    LG WM3570HVA front-loader and LG DLEX3570HV electric dryer
    Price: $800 washer, $900 dryer
    Here's the deal: They didn't make our top picks but the washer was excellent at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, and fit about 21 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet. There are 12 wash cycles. The dryer aced its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines were relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time on normal wash heavy-soil setting was 95 minutes. The TurboWash option cut wash time of full loads by 15 to 20 minutes and offers comparable wash performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches wide and stackable. They have a graphite finish. In the ratings the dryer model name ends with a "W" to indicate that the tested model was white. It costs about $100 less than the graphite finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX3571W in white or LG DLGX3571HV in graphite. 

    Maytag mates

    Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW front-loader and Maytag Maxima MED5100DW electric dryer
    Price: $750 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is recommended and a CR Best Buy. It offers excellent cleaning and energy- and water-efficiency, and was gentle on fabrics. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet and it fits about 22 pounds of our laundry. The dryer is Energy Star qualified and superb at drying. Our results are based on using the regular mode. The energy-saving option should provide comparable performance while saving energy, but drying time is significantly longer. Claimed capacity is 7.3 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Wash time is 75 minutes on normal wash heavy-soil setting, and this machine is relatively noisy. Consider that if placing near bedrooms or the family room. 
    Need to know: Machines are made in the U.S, 27 inches wide, and stackable. Gas dryer is the Maytag MGD5100DW, $850. 

    Maytag Bravos MVWB835DW HE top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB835DW electric dryer 
    Price: $680 each
    Here's the deal: They didn't make the top picks but are worth considering. The washer was impressive at cleaning and took 70 minutes using the normal wash heavy-soil setting. You'll save about 15 to 20 minutes using the normal soil setting. There are 11 wash cycles. We fit about 25 pounds of our laundry in this washer. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. This machine is relatively quiet. You'll hear it working but it shouldn't disturb you. The tested dryer was impressive at dryer and among the quietest in our tests. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect performance to be similar to the tested dryer. Claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet. The washer and dryer are made in the U.S. 
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics but that's true for most HE top-loaders tested. Our tests use the normal wash heavy-soil setting. Use the normal wash normal-soil setting and it will be gentler on fabrics.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, standard width, but capacity is jumbo. When shopping reach into the machine to see if you can grab that stray sock. Dryer is 29 inches wide. Both machines come only in white.  

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WA52J8700AP HE top-loader and Samsung DV52J8700EP electric dryer
    Price: $850 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive at cleaning and made our top picks. The jumbo capacity fit 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer was excellent at its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time was 75 minutes using the normal wash heavy-soil setting. The SuperSpeed cuts wash time by 15 to 20 minutes and cleaning is still impressive. However, the washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most top-loaders. This washer has Activewash, a water jet and built-in sink with ridges that enable you to hand wash and soak stained items before they go into the machine.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches, the standard width, yet capacity is very large. When shopping reach into washer to see if you can touch the bottom of the tub. The dryer is Energy Star qualified and using the eco-mode can save you some energy but extends dryer time. Gas dryer is Samsung DV52J8700GP, $950.

    Samsung WF45H6300AG front-loader and Samsung DV45H6300EG electric dryer
    Price: $800 each 
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive overall and came close to making our top picks. It was excellent at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, and relatively quiet. There are 13 wash cycles. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet, scoring very good in our tests. The dryer aced its job but is relatively noisy. Claimed capacity is 7.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Wash time is 80 minutes using normal wash on the heavy-soil setting. Save about 15 to 20 minutes using the SuperSpeed option and cleaning will still be impressive.
    Need to know: Machines are 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the Samsung DV45H6300GW, $900. 

    How We Test Washers and Dryers

    In addition to washing performance Consumer Reports' washing machine tests look at how gentle a washing machine is on fabric as well as its energy and water efficiency. We look at noise and vibration, and note cycle times using the normal wash, heavy-soil setting. As for our capacity scores, models scoring excellent fit 25 or more pounds of laundry; a very good capacity score means the washer fit 20 to 24 pounds, and good, about 15 to 19 pounds. 

    In our clothes dryer tests we run the machines with different sized loads and a variety of fabrics. We measure noise, capacity, and convenience. Models that earned excellent or very good capacity scores in our dryer tests can hold large loads as well.

    —Kimberly Janeway

     

     

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumer Reports Zeros in on Pressure Washer Safety

    When Consumer Reports recently issued a safety warning about the pinpoint spray nozzle available on most residential pressure washers, we hoped we could encourage manufacturers to replace the narrowest nozzle with one that produces a less concentrated spray. After all, pressure-washer injuries sent an estimated 6,057 people to the emergency room in 2014. But their response fell short of our expectations.

    Pressure washers are sold with either a set of interchangeable nozzles or an adjustable wand tip, both of which usually let users vary the flow of water from zero degrees, the finest, to about 40 degrees depending on the task. They’re inherently dangerous no matter which spray tip or setting you use. But Consumer Reports feels that the unnecessary risk of using a zero-degree nozzle—which concentrates the tool’s full pressure into a single, pinpoint blast—outweighs any benefits. Higher-degree nozzles get the job done; it just might take a bit longer.  

    Industry Response

    We suggested to manufacturers and the trade group that represents them, the Pressure Washer Manufacturers’ Association, that they remove the zero degree nozzle or setting from residential pressure washers. But the PWMA asserts that pressure washers are safe when operators follow instructions.

    “Manufacturers provide an operator's manual as well as on-product markings, which describe how to safely use the pressure washer,” the group said in a statement. It also said there are specific instances in which the zero-degree nozzle or setting is well suited.

    “Pressure washers are tools, not toys,” said Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of pressure washers, in response to our request. “Every pressure washer designed and manufactured by our company meets globally recognized, stringent safety standards and comes with instructions in the operator's manual and on the product itself. When used properly, our products, and more specifically any degree of spray angles, are safe and effective.” 

    AR North America, which makes electric pressure washers, initially told us that, based on our findings, the company would be “taking immediate steps to remove this nozzle tip from our electric pressure washer models, both current and future models.” However, that initial decision had not come from the top, and the company decided to maintain its current practices. “Like any power tool,” says Tom Sletten, director of customer service for AR, “there’s a certain amount of risk that the user takes, along the lines of a chain saw. If it’s not managed carefully, you can really do some damage.”

    As with the PWMA and Briggs & Stratton, AR outlined several appropriate uses of a zero-degree nozzle or setting, such as cleaning second-story siding or etching concrete with a concentrated spray. Moreover, Sletten explained that most of AR’s models come with adjustable nozzles rather than replaceable nozzle tips. Were they to follow Consumer Reports’ recommendation, AR would have to re-engineer the adjustable nozzles in certain models. Subsequently, the company will continue to outfit its products, depending on the model, with either zero-degree replaceable nozzles or adjustable nozzles with a zero-degree setting—and to rely on consumers to heed the manuals’ many safety warnings. 

    What You Can Do

    If you buy a model that comes with a zero-degree nozzle (it’s red) or you already own one, Consumer Reports advises you to get rid of it to reduce the chance of damaging property or causing injury to you, your family members, or anyone else who might use the sprayer. And if your pressure washer comes with a zero-degree adjustable setting, we recommend that you refrain from using it.

    To protect yourself, wear goggles, long pants, and sturdy footwear while using any pressure washer. And if you get even a minor skin break from a pressure washer, you need to consult a doctor as soon as possible because fluid from the pressurized spray can cause tissue damage without you knowing it. In the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System injury data we analyzed, 14 percent of the 6,057 estimated ER visits in 2014 attributed to pressure washers led to additional hospitalization, but only 2 percent were due to direct injury from a pressure washer’s stream. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “the seriousness of high-pressure injection injuries is generally underestimated,” and recommends immediate medical attention.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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