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Consumer Reports

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    Can a stick vacuum match an upright for cleaning?

    Stick vacuums weigh only about five pounds, and half of those tested by Consumer Reports cost $75 or less. So who wouldn’t want to use a stick vacuum instead of a bulky canister or upright? Especially if these little machines can deep-clean carpets, which is what Dyson and Shark are suggesting with some of their latest pitches. We're putting their claims to the test comparing the lightweight—but rather pricey—models to full-size uprights.

    According to Dyson, the company’s cordless Dyson DC59 Animal, $500, “sucks up as much dust as a conventional vacuum." With a powered brush, the $550 Dyson DC59 Motorhead goes further with a claim that it "out-cleans the top five best-selling full-size vacuums across carpets and hard floors."

    Not to be outdone, Shark describes its corded Shark Rocket HV302, $180, as an "ultra-lightweight vacuum with upright cleaning power." Its package also takes aim at Dyson, saying the Shark “deep-cleans carpets better vs. a full-size Dyson.” A footnote explains the claim specifically refers solely to the Dyson DC40. In our tests, the Dyson DC40 Multi-Floor offered among the worst carpet deep-cleaning of any full-size upright tested, so Shark isn’t saying much. But it looks good on the box.

    The bottom line: There's small print in all of the claims. In our tests we found that a stick vacuum can work great for general pickup of visible debris on carpets or bare floors. But for cleaning what you can’t see in a carpet, nothing beats a full-size vacuum, particularly the best bagged uprights.

    We're continuing our testing but should you need a vacuum now, be sure to see our Ratings of 130 canister, upright, small, and robotic vacuums. First, though, check out our vacuum buying guide.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 06/25/14--11:59: 5 steps to cleaner dishes
  • 5 steps to cleaner dishes

    Today’s dishwashers use less water and energy than older models but that doesn’t mean they skimp on cleaning. Of course, even a top-performing dishwasher can turn out iffy dishes if you don’t follow a few good practices. Here are five tips from the experts at Consumer Reports.

    1. Load it right. Face the dirtier sides of dishes toward the spray. Put items with baked-on food on the bottom rack, angled toward the spray. Use silverware slots if your dishwasher has them. And put plastics on the top rack.

    2. Use a good detergent. Top performers from our dishwasher detergent tests include Cascade Complete ActionPacs, 29 cents per load; Finish Powerball Tabs, 18 cents; Finish Gelpacs, 21 cents; and Finish Quantum Powerball Capsules, 24 cents.

    3. Add a rinse agent. Even if your detergent is a “complete” or an “all in one” product, a rinse agent promotes better drying, less spotting—and less work.

    4. Factor in hard water. With the wrong detergent, hard water can leave a white film on your glassware after six cycles. To remove use Lemi Shine Original, 31 cents per ounce, or Finish Power up Booster Agent, 40 cents.

    5. Scrape don’t rinse.  Pre-rinsing dishes wastes water. But if you insist on doing it, don’t also use the tough power-scrubbing cycle.

    Top dishwashers from our tests
    The winner of our dishwasher tests was the Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,350, which was even quieter than Bosch. But the Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, $730, earned a CR Best Buy for its combination of value and performance. The KitchenAid KDFE454CSS and Thermador Topaz Series DWHD640JFM, both $1,500, were also impressive and made our list of dishwasher top picks.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 smart upgrades for your kitchen

    The kitchen has always been the heart of the home. More and more, it's the brains as well, thanks to the emergence of smarter appliances, fixtures, and design practices. Here are five upgrades to consider if you're remodeling the kitchen—or just looking to improve its form, function, and feel.

    A home for all your electronics. So-called charging stations are one of the fastest-growing features of today's kitchen—and with good reason. Think about how many electronics you're using in the kitchen at any one time, maybe facetiming on your tablet while you download the evening's dinner recipe on your laptop. We see homeowners incorporating charging stations into island countertops or tucking them into a cabinet drawer (made easier by electric outlets with built-in USB ports). There are also freestanding stations that can be kept out on the countertop, space permitting.

    Appliances that cut down on guesswork. In the last year, we've tested convection steam ovens from Cuisinart, Thermador, and Wolf. One feature we love about these appliances is their ability to cook dishes on their own, often more quickly than a conventional oven. For example, they turned out an evenly browned chicken, without any basting from our testers, in about 40 minutes, or half the time required of a conventional electric oven.

    We're also seeing more cooking appliances with Wi-Fi capability, including the GE PT9050FSSS electric wall oven. That's helpful if you want to preheat the oven from the backyard or other part of the house. "Technology is actually freeing up the cook from being in the kitchen,” says Shelia Schmitz, editor of Houzz.com, a home design website.

    Countertops that care for themselves. If your last countertop was made of granite, you probably had to seal it often, or else put up with staining. That's not the case with quartz, which rivals granite's popularity—and just beats it out for the top spot in our countertop Ratings. Besides its sealant-free resistance to staining, we like quartz's diverse design options, from bright colors to lookalike natural stones.        

    Streamlined islands. Speaking of islands, they continue to benefit from design refinements and helpful accessories. In multi-cook kitchens, adding an induction cooktop to the island creates a second work station. Induction is tops for speed and responsiveness in our tests, and these cooktops are particularly suited to island installations, since their smooth tops are relatively easy to keep clean.

    One super smart (albeit pricey) model to consider is the Thermador CIT36XKB, $5,000. You can place a pot anywhere on the surface and it adjusts automatically to the pot's shape and size, accommodating up to four items—three can be large stockpots.

    Smart faucets. Who knew the kitchen faucet could see so much innovation? One of our recent favorites is the Kohler Sweep Spray faucet, which replaces the familiar circular pattern spray with a wide, forceful blade of water. That makes it easier to rinse pans and other large items, in addition to spraying down the sink when the dishes are done.

    We also like InSinkErator’s 3N1 hot water faucet, which gives you hot, cold, and near boiling water in a single tap. The Italian-designed faucet must be paired with the InSinkErator stainless steel Instant Hot Water Tank and Water Filtration System or a new high performance steaming hot water tank. 

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on twitter)

    Kitchen Planning Guide

    More ideas and inspiration. Find the products and projects that will make your next kitchen remodel a success in the Kitchen Planning Guide.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    More top grills just in time for the Fourth of July

    Fast, even preheating and impressive high and low heat cooking helped put three more gas grills on Consumer Reports recommended list—and one is from Costco. Here’s a glimpse at each, along with common grilling goofs and ways to avoid them.
     
    Large grills. A big grill usually has a large main cooking area, but not always. So we measure the area and then group grills based on our measurements. Grills in our large category have room for 28 burgers or more. Our latest tests found that the Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB has the biggest cooking area of the recommended grills, and tops our gas grill tests. But at $2,600 it’s also the most expensive. Preheating was fast and even and high heat was impressive. The temperature range was superb, and so was low heat and indirect cooking. This grill has five main burners and is loaded with features.

    You’ll find many of those features and five main burners on the Kenmore Elite 3358. This top pick performed similarly overall to the Napoleon but is $1,600.
    Tip: If food sticks to the grill grates or won’t sear properly be sure to fully preheat the grill next time you use it.

    Midsized grills. These can fit about 18 to 28 burgers. Excellent high and low heat, impressive indirect cooking, and fast, even preheating put Costco’s Landmann 42172 on the recommended list. It’s $460 and comes with a grill cover. But the temperature range is so-so on this three-burner grill and there’s no side burner or long-burner warranty. Too bad, since burners are the most replaced part.
    Tip: Grills can flare up when cooking fatty foods such as salmon or rib-eye steaks, some grills more than others. So don’t overcrowd the cooking surface. Keep about 40 percent of the grates empty so that when flare-ups do occur, you can move the fatty foods to a cooler or nonflaming section.

    Top grills from our tests. For more winners, see our full gas grill Ratings and recommendations. Grills often go on sale around the Fourth of July so look online for deals and use the results of our tests of dozens of gas grills, including small and portable models, to help you find one that fits your cooking style and your budget.
     
    —Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't be taken in by fake sales

    Some retailers try to attract customers by making them think they’re getting a deal on mostly anything they buy. That’s why there are so many sales that seem to running all the time. And some actually are, in violation of consumer laws.

    For instance, in a recent settlement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby agreed to change it advertising practices, contribute $138,600 in supplies to nearly 700 upstate New York public schools, and pay $85,000 in civil penalties and other costs.

    In an investigation that started in 2013, Schneiderman said his office found that the chain advertised 30 percent and 50 percent off its custom framing, furniture, and home decor products for more than 52 consecutive weeks, in violation of the state’s law against false advertising.

     “Ultimately, a permanent sale is no sale at all,” said Attorney General Schneiderman said in a prepared statement.

    For more, read "Advertising Tactics That Bug Americans the Most." Also check our retail store buying guide.

    In its Guides Against Deceptive Pricing, the Federal Trade Commission says that in making comparisons between discounted and regular prices, the regular prices should be based on “the actual, bona fide price at which the article was offered to the public on a regular basis for a reasonably substantial period of time.”

    Unfortunately, shoppers repeatedly have sent retailers the message that the sales work. When JCPenney adopted an everyday low price strategy in 2012, customers decided to shop elsewhere, which led to the ouster of the retailer’s chief executive.

    What to do

    Don’t be misled by the sea of sale signs on view at many retailers. Just because something's on sale doesn’t necessarily mean anything. For instance, in past shopping trips to Kohl’s, we saw “sale” items priced as high as or higher than the manufacturer’s suggested list price. In one case, a set of T-Fal cookware marked down from $199.99 to $159.99 was still $10 more than T-Fal’s list price and $32 more than we would have paid on Amazon.com. So comparison-shop, starting with a web search and the product name and model.

    Anthony Giorgianni

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 dishwasher features you can't live without

    Anyone shopping for a dishwasher for the first time in years could easily become bogged down with the endless list of features that populate today’s models—particularly the more expensive ones. But in Consumer Reports tests we found that you don’t have to pay a lot for fine washing, quiet operation, and lots of capacity. Here’s the bottom line of what matters most:

    Soil sensor. All but a handful of models we’ve tested have a sensor, which adjusts water usage and cycle length by how soiled your dishes are. But while most models without this feature are barebones units costing $500 or less, its inclusion isn't necessarily determined by price. The Viking Professional VDB451[SS], $1,950, and the similar Viking FDB451, $1,800, lack a sensor, too.

    Quick cycles. Today’s dishwashers offer many more cycles than the minimum of three (china, normal, and heavy) we recommend. But a quick cycle that can handle a lightly soiled load in as little time as 20 minutes—a fraction of the usual 2 to 3-hour normal cycles we measure—is increasingly a must for busy households with frequent guests. Some, like the top-ranked Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,350, have a one-hour quick cycle that also uses more water and energy though for a normally soiled load.

    Adjustable upper rack. Most models hold cups and glasses on the top rack, plates on the lower rack, and silverware in a basket. When you can adjust the upper rack up or down an inch or so, you get more leeway to fit items such as tall glasses. The majority of models in our testls, including all our dishwasher picks, offer this flexibility. Some, including the $730 Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, let you remove the rack altogether for unloading drinkware near where it's stored.

    Flatware slots. Holders over the utensil baskets with slots for individual spoons, forks, and knives inserted one-by-one can seem quite a hassle when you’re in a hurry to load or unload. But items held in these slots tend to come out cleaner, more thoroughly rinsed, and dryer than if they're bunched together in a way that promotes nesting of similarly shaped utensils. Most tested models, including all our picks, come with ample flatware slots.

    Cycle-time indicator. Unless you run your dishwasher while you sleep, it's helpful to know how much time is left to a cycle you’re running. Fewer new models, however, display remaining cycle time in hours and minutes. Some, particularly with hidden controls, display (or project onto the floor) only a light indicating the machine is running. While any indication is a plus for extra-quiet models, we'd prefer a more detailed indicator of remaining cycle time.

    Check out our dishwasher buying guide if you’re in the market for a dishwasher and haven’t bought one in some time. Then see our Ratings of almost 180 models, including six newly tested models from GE, KitchenAid, and LG.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Turn your gas grill into an outdoor pizza oven

    What if you could turn your gas grill into a gourmet pizza oven for about $150? The BakerStone Pizza Oven Box is supposed to do just that, and fast, turning out pizzas in two to four minutes. The grill pros and pizza master at Consumer Reports put these claims to the test. Here's what happened.
     
    Here’s the deal: The porcelain-enameled steel box is big and weighs 27 pounds. You place it on top of your grill grates—the grill must have three or more burners. The box houses a refractory stone cooking chamber and traps the hot air, using it to cook the pizza. We placed the box on a four-burner gas grill and after preheating it for 30 minutes baked eight 12-inch pizzas in quick succession. We also cooked pizzas using a pizza stone on another four-burner gas grill.

    The results: The pizzas took about four minutes to bake in the box and less time to devour. Some staffers didn’t see a big difference between the pizzas cooked in the box and those cooked on the stone, but our pizza master has used his own wood-fired pizza oven at home and in restaurants for the past 20 years. He pointed out that the box turned out pizza with crispier crusts and nicely cooked toppings.
     
    You can buy the BakerStone Pizza Oven Box at Amazon.com, Costco, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, among other places. Need a gas grill to go with that box? See our Ratings of dozens of grills. Look for a large or midsize model with four burners or more.
     
    —Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best summer wine for your party

    In a search for great summer sippers, our experts tasted dozens of white wines and found several that were very good and more that were good. All of the very good choices cost $20 or less; one is a Consumer Reports Best Buy at $6 per bottle.  

    The types

    Pinot grigio (in Italty) or pinot gris (in France and the U.S.) tends to be simple, as wines go. White blends are, for the most part, lean, delicate, and more subtle than other fruity white wines. Both types are refreshing, thirst-quenching, and palate-cleansing, which makes them a perfect choice for a summer day.

    They are often consumed alone or paired with light snacks such as cheese and crackers or veggies and dip, or with simply prepared seafood, sushi, or lighter pasta dishes.

    Check our reviews of more than a dozen red and white wines, from cabernet sauvignon to white blends.

    Our recommended pinot grigio, Ca Montini ($15), has floral, apple, and grassy flavors and is dry. Among the four recommended white blends, 14 Hands has hints of tropical fruit, juicy fruit, apple, and ripe peachy notes.  

    Bottom line

    Check our wine Ratings for a white blend or pinot grigio that sounds good to you. As you read, note that "structure" in white wines is a combination of alcohol, sweetness, and acid; "nose" is what you taste, which can be very different from nose.

    All of the white blends are 2012 vintage. A newer vintage of the same wine should taste quite similar, but be careful when buying an older one because most whites are best consumed within a year or so.

    A version of this article also appeared in the July 2014 issue of Consumer Reports.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best places to buy the best paints

    Whether you’re painting a bedroom or the front door, you can’t go wrong buying paint at Home Depot. In Consumer Reports paint tests, interior and exterior paints sold at Home Depot clinched many of the top spots. But if you shop at Ace or Lowe’s you can find winners there too. Because you’ll probably use more than one finish for your project, we’ve grouped the best paints from our tests by retailer for easy one-stop shopping.

     

    Home Depot

    Most of the best exterior paints we tested still come from Behr, making Home Depot your destination if you’re painting your house or deck. Our paint tests also found that the Glidden Premium Satin sold at Home Depot is generally a better bet than the Glidden Endurance Plus at Walmart. We also got superb results with Behr interior paints.

    Exterior paints

    Interior paints

    Ace

    Ace’s Royal Exteriors Satin and SemiGloss are two good reasons to go to the nationwide hardware chain for your next can of exterior paint. But so-so results for the flat version after the equivalent of nine years outdoors kept it off our winners’ list. Ace’s upscale Clark+Kensington line was impressive in our interior paint tests.

    Exterior paints

    Interior paints

    Lowe’s

    Valspar’s self-priming interior paints sold at Lowe’s offer excellent hiding and are better than most paints at resisting mildew. Its exterior semi-gloss is our top-rated paint of that finish and a good choice for outdoor trim.

    Exterior paint

    Interior paint

    More great paints to consider. Paints from Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, and California Paints also made our list of top-performing paints. To find a store where they’re sold near you, check their websites.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Can swimming pool water make you sick?

    Q. Can I get a bacterial infection or virus from a public pool or water park? 

    A. Yes. Poorly maintained pools and other water facilities may harbor bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can lead to ear infections, colds, pneumonia, or stomach illnesses.

    Before you jump in, check to see whether the pool looks clean (you should be able to see the bot­tom), the pump and filtration equipment are working (you should hear them humming), and the pool walls feel smooth, not slimy. Also ask employees about the chlorine and pH levels, which should be checked at least twice per day. Chlorine should be 1 to 3 parts per million; pH between 7.2 and 7.8 ppm.

    Learn more about pool safety and how to prevent swimmer's ear. Then find out how water workouts can help your heart.

    This article also appeared in the June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Bidding on penny auction sites is risky

    Florida has become the latest state to reach a settlement with the defunct penny auction website ArrowOutlet, which it accused of rigging auctions to get more money from customers.

    Florida residents have until Aug. 16 to make a claim (PDF) for a piece of the $425,000 in consumer restitution Attorney General Pam Bondi obtained from the online auction site, which shut down in 2012. The state accused the site of using an “auto bid” script that artificially inflated the number of bids required to win a given auction.

    To obtain restitution, Florida residents or those who were residents when they did business with the site must submit a receipt, credit-card statement, canceled check, or other documentation showing the amount they spent purchasing bids on the website. The maximum amount each person will receive depends on the numbers of claims made and the amounts requested.

    Penny auction sites advertise what seem like amazing deals. To bid, you click a bid button and when the clock runs out, the last and highest bidder wins the item at the final price, which can be very low. That’s because bidding starts at or near $0, and each bid raises the price by usually just a penny or two. So an item that gets 1,000 bids in one-penny increments sells for $10, even if it otherwise would cost you hundreds. Participants can bid many times during a single auction and even set the site to bid for them automatically within set limits. But unlike with traditional auctions, bidding isn’t free. You must buy bids up front—usually for 60 cents or so each. And any bid money you spend is gone, whether or not you win.

    Florida officials said the auto bid script that the Massachusetts-based ArrowOutlet was using was designed to place bids at certain intervals, thereby prolonging the auction, increasing the number of bids purchased and used, and preventing actual users from winning the items.

    In January 2013, Attorney General Rob McKenna of Washington announced that his office had reached a $120,000 settlement with ArrowOutlet, including $50,000 in consumer restitution.

    Read our investigative report on penny auctions.

    Penny auctions are risky

    Even without software designed to cheat participants, penny auctions are risky because relatively few people end up paying the extremely low prices the websites advertise. The terms of use at the penny auction site DealDash says it best: “By registering and using DealDash you understand that you are likely to spend more money than you may receive in merchandise value. Most customers using the site gain less in merchandise value measured in monetary value compared to the amount of money spent bidding to win auctions. Do not buy bids or spend money on the site if you cannot afford to lose the money.”

    On DealDash and other sites, you can at least partially offset the value of losing bids by buying the item at full price, using the “buy now” feature. Do that at the penny auction site DealDash and your losing bids will be returned to you so you can use them again. At Quibids, you can apply the value of the losing bids to the item’s full purchase price.

    But even then, you may not be getting a great deal. For instance, we found a patio heater with a “buy now” price of $167 on DealDash for $96 on Amazon. A Nikon digital camera with a buy now price of $650 on Quibids was on Amazon for $597.

    What to do

    Don’t be taken in by ads promising electronics, jewelry, home and garden items, and more at amazingly low prices. Instead, think of penny auction sites as gambling, not shopping. If you want to try a penny auction site, do so for entertainment only, and be prepared to lose money. Don’t bid on anything you don’t want, and even then, make sure the full “buy now” price is competitive with prices you can find elsewhere for the same product. Read the site's terms and conditions, lists of frequently asked questions, and tips and advice. Before doing business with a penny auction website or any company you don’t know, check for a report at the Better Business Bureau. And find out what others are saying by using a web search with the business name and such terms as “reviews” and “complaints.”

    Anthony Giorgianni

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Long-lasting LEDs include winners from Walmart

    Too bad price doesn’t offer a clue as to how well an LED will do once it’s in your lamp—it would make choosing LEDs a lot easier. In Consumer Reports latest lightbulb tests a $50 Switch LED performed about the same as a $10 LED from Walmart, and both were impressive enough to make the list of recommended lightbulbs. Here’s a look at some of the best LEDs from our tests after 3,000 hours of testing.
     
    Winners from Walmart. An LED uses about 80 percent less energy than the incandescent it replaces. We tested three types of LEDs from Walmart and all were excellent yet cost less than most, making them CR Best Buys. The Great Value 60W Soft White A19 Dimmable LED is $10 and replaces a 60-watt incandescent. This LED casts a bright, warm yellow light and is supposed to last 25,000 hours. That’s about 23 years if the bulb is on 3 hours a day. It was very good at casting light evenly in all directions.


    The top-rated Great Value 65W BR30 Soft White Dimmable LED is $16 and a CR Best Buy. Use it in place of a 65-watt flood/reflector light if you like a bright, warm yellow light. The Great Value 90W PAR38 Soft White NonDimmable LED, $25, provides white light and replaces a 90-watt flood/reflector incandescent. Both LEDs are claimed to last 25,000 hours.
     
    New brands in our ratings. Who isn’t making LEDs these days? LG, Samsung, and 3M do, while Ikea has its brand, and so does Home Depot and Lowe’s. LEDs from MaxLite and Switch are new to our Ratings. The dimmable Switch 100 Bright White LED is top rated. It replaces a 100-watt incandescent and is claimed to last 25,000 hours. But at $65, it’s the most expensive bulb in the Ratings and it casts a bluish white light. The dimmable MaxLite 10-Watt BR30 is $11 and a CR Best Buy. It provides a white light and is meant to replace a 65-watt flood/reflector incandescent.
     
    Before you shop check if your utility offers rebates for Energy Star LEDs and CFLs then check for the Energy Star on the bulb package. Our lightbulb Ratings include dozens of LEDs and CFLs, including recommended LEDs from Cree, Feit, GE, Philips, Sylvania, and TCP.
     
    —Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on Twitter)

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    Best low-cost laundry deteregents

    Even if you’re not a fashion plate, you probably own a small fortune in clothing, not to mention linens, towels, and the like. But if you use one of the best low-cost laundry deteregents from our tests you don’t have to get soaked keeping those washables looking new. Some of the top stain fighters in our latest detergent tests were among the least expensive. We also found several suds that were duds—in every price category—and so-called detergent-less laundry systems that barely made a dent. Here are the details:

    Warehouse clubs win big. Tide hangs on to the top spot among detergents suitable for all machines and those formulated for conventional top-loaders. But a Member’s Mark, a Sam’s Club exclusive, and a Kirkland Signature (sold at Costco) did very well overall for about half the cost, and both can be used in all machines.

    Can a bargain Tide compete? Procter & Gamble has added its own budget detergent to the Tide family—Tide Simply Clean & Fresh, described as “tough on odors and easy on your wallet.” At 11 cents per load it’s cheap.

    Pods and packs are still dangerous. More manufacturers are coming out with single-load detergents, those convenient packets that eliminate the need for measuring. None made our recommended list this year. Keep those enticing packets out of the reach of tots. Since they went mainstream in 2012, poison-control centers have received more than 20,000 calls concerning incidents involving children 5 or younger. Get more details on the risks associated with pod laundry detergents.

    Why being green still isn't easy

    There’s no federal standard for such terms as “natural” and “earth-friendly,” but that doesn’t stop marketers from using them. Dubious claims aside, no green detergents made our winners’ list, in part because they often do without optical brighteners and grime-fighting polymer compounds.

    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org to get all the details.

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    Protect your ears from noise pollution

    Fireworks, jackhammers, and ambulance sirens can be painfully hard on your ears. But the risk to your hearing from everyday activities might be greater than you think. Someone whose day includes a workout at a noisy gym while listening to music with in-ear headphones, lunch at a noisy restaurant, a subway ride, a few hours of mowing the lawn, and a night out with friends at a dance club can easily end up with a dose of noise exposure that over time can be damaging.

    Loud noises can temporarily or permanently damage the microscopic hair cells in the inner ear that convey sound to the brain. Those cells can bounce back from an occasional assault, such as a rock concert. But if you live a habitually loud life, some of those cells might eventually stop working for good.

    Hearing loss might progress for many years before you become aware of the problem. It usually starts with a loss of soft consonant sounds such as "f" and "sh," making speech more difficult to understand.

    How much noise is too much?

    Some ears can withstand loud noises better than others, and individuals' exposures are variable and difficult to track. Noise is measured in decibels, with 0 being the quietest sound a person can hear, 60 a normal conversation, and 140 (fireworks or a gunshot at close range) a level that can cause immediate, permanent damage.

    Every additional 10 points on the scale represents a doubling of perceived loudness. At loud volumes over long periods, an increase of even a few decibels adds to your risk of hearing loss. If the noise around you makes it difficult to carry on a conversation without shouting, it's too loud.

    What you can do

    The more you're exposed to loud noise, especially for extended periods, the greater your risk of hearng damage. Above 85 decibels you should use hearing protection. For example, if you're going to spend time operating a 90-decibel lawn mower, wear earplugs or earmuffs. Foam earplugs can reduce your noise exposure by about 20 decibels.

    Our tests have shown that noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones and insert-type rubber-tipped earbuds, properly sized to fit your ear canals, can be good at blocking background noises that lead to higher listening volumes. Just don't use them in places where you need to stay alert, such as city streets and airports.

    Does hearing loss interfere with your daily routine? Take our quiz and find out whether you might need a hearing aid.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Beat the heat and reclaim your kitchen this summer

    With temperatures rising, it can be hard to keep your cool in a hot kitchen. The refrigerator is working overtime and cooking on the range or running the dishwasher just adds more heat to the room. But with a few tweaks to your appliances and your routine you can keep the kitchen comfortable and even save energy in the bargain. Here’s how.

    Clean the refrigerator coils. To keep your refrigerator humming, make sure the front grill is free of dirt, which improves airflow to the condenser. Likewise, clean the condenser coil with a brush or vacuum and make sure the door closes tightly by washing the door gasket with a mild detergent and water. There should be a few inches between the refrigerator and the wall so air can circulate. Finally, decide what you want before you open the door because when you do up to 30 percent of the cooled air can escape.
    Cool-running refrigerator. The French-door Samsung RF261BIAESR, $2,100, costs only $48 per year to run compared to other bottom-freezer models that can cost up to twice as much.

    Air dry the dishes. Only run your dishwasher when it’s full and plan to run it at night when temperatures dip and possibly your electricity rates as well. Try letting your dishes air dry; if you don't have an automatic air-dry switch, turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse and prop the door open slightly so the dishes dry faster.
    Dishwasher with this feature. The GE Profile PDT750SSFSS, $1,100, has a power dry on/off feature. In our tests this dishwasher had superb washing and efficiency, along with special bottle-washing jets on the top rack.

    Downsize your cooking. Not only is it cooler, but cooking with a microwave is more energy-efficient than cooking on a cooktop or in an oven. When using the stovetop, match the size of the pan to the heating element. Consider using an electric pan, toaster oven, or convection oven for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster or convection oven uses one-third to one-half as much energy as a full-sized oven.
    Speedy toaster oven. Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $150, has quartz and ceramic heating elements that cook more efficiently than conventional coil-heated ovens and don’t require any time for preheating.

    Change the lightbulbs. Switch from incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs that run cooler. Only about 10 to 15 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light—the rest is turned into heat. Turn the lights off when you leave the kitchen.
    Energy-saving lightbulbs. Our top-rated replacement LED for a 60-watt incandescent is the Samsung A19 60-Watt Warm White, $16, but we just named a $10 Great Value bulb from Walmart a CR Best Buy.

    Get out and grill. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen all together by cooking on your grill. Today’s gas grills often feature side burners for side dishes and enough space to accommodate an entire meal. The best grills in our tests offer top-notch indirect cooking so you can grill a wider variety of foods.
    Grill with this feature. Our top-rated midsize grill, the Weber Spirit SP-320, $600, has three main burners and one side burner.

    Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to take photos that will sell your house

    Used to be that curb appeal was the best way to get home buyers in the door. But now most people start house hunting online where they can click through slide shows of dozens of houses without leaving their own. Photos that are blurry, poorly lit, or show a cluttered room can discourage prospective buyers from touring the home in person. Here’s how to make your home look its best when you’re putting it on the market on a real estate website.

    Declutter and depersonalize. Before getting out the camera, get busy cleaning. Get rid of all the clutter—the stacks of papers, mounds of clothes, and piles of toys. If your counter is covered with small appliances, put away as many as possible. Remove personal items such as a banner with your child’s name on it from his bedroom. Remember that the buyers want to imagine themselves living there not you.

    Consider staging. If you’ve already moved out of your home, it may look too empty. Either leave a few key items behind such as the living room furniture and dining room set or consider hiring someone to stage your home with furnishings that fit the style of your house. Whichever you do, make sure everything is neat and clean and that any eyesores, like the leftover cable wire, have been hidden.

    Don’t forget the outside. Now’s a good time to clip your hedges, mow the lawn, and weed the garden. Clear the yard of bikes and scooters and put your garbage can out of sight. If your front door has seen better days, give it a fresh coat of paint in a contrasting color. Clark + Kensington Semi-Gloss Enamel, $33, sold at Ace is our top-rated paint for trim.

    Get the right camera. Next talk to your realtor about who will be taking the photos—you, her, or a pro. Photography lessons aren’t required to get a realtor license so you may want to invest in a good camera yourself and take your own photos because a smartphone or basic point-and-shoot camera won’t cut it.

    Terry Sullivan, the photo guru at Consumer Reports recommends getting an advanced camera for shooting real estate because they have a larger sensor than you’ll find in a phone or a basic camera.  “What that means is you can capture great photos in lower light, which can be quite common in interior shots,” says Sullivan.

    The three cameras he recommends are all top camera picks including the mirrorless SLR-like Samsung NX30, $850, the Canon EOS Rebel T5i SLR, $750, and the advanced point-and-shoot Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, $1,300, which has a nice long zoom. “An obvious upside to the SLR and mirrorless SLR-like cameras is that you can buy other lenses for them that dramatically improve your photos,” says Sullivan.

    Count your pixels. Before taking any photos, check the real estate websites where you plan to list your home for photo size and other specifications. If the photos are too small, they’ll be blurry when enlarged. Typically, horizontal shots work better than vertical.

    Plan your shots. Once your home is ship-shape, start snapping. You’ll want to take photos of all the main rooms as well as the exterior, yard, and possibly your neighborhood if it’s near a park or other attraction. Several real estate websites we checked recommend taking your photos in natural light during the day. You may have to photograph over several days to catch every room in the best light.

    Capture the highlights. In addition to photographing each room, take close-up shots of any features you want to highlight such as a fireplace, granite counter, stainless appliances, or nice bathroom fixtures. If you have an area where you entertain outdoors, zero in on that too. When photographing the exterior of your home, try several different angles to see which best shows the depth of your house and size of your property.

    For more inspiration, check the photo ideabooks on the Houzz website as well as the Field Guide to photographing your house at the National Association of Realtors.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 ways to beef up your grill for a better barbecue

    It’s the height of grilling season and homeowners are firing up their grills for family and holiday get togethers. You can keep it basic by just grilling a few burgers and hot dogs. But if you want to boost your barbecue cred by cooking ribs, pizza, or fish, consider these extras that improve the grill you have. Here are five grilling accessories tested by Consumer Reports.

    Master Forge grill wok, $17 (Lowe's)
    Best for keeping smaller batches of vegetables or small fish such as shrimp or scallops from going overboard due to its deeper sides and bowl-like shape. The holes are small enough to keep food from escaping while allowing juices to drain.
    But: A large amount of food might cook unevenly when it's piled up.

    Brinkmann rib rack, $18 (Home Depot)
    Best for cooking several half- or full-sized racks of ribs. Cross-bars on the bottom keep the ribs from falling through. The rack is also easy to clean.
    But: Its porcelain coating may be damaged by aggressive cleaning, so use a plastic scrubber.
    Tip: The racks get very hot so remove the ribs with tongs.

    GrillGrates, $85.99 for kit of four (Amazon.com)
    Best for keeping temperatures even across the grill to improve cooking and block flare-ups, preventing charred and burned food.
    But: When tested on two grills, the grates improved evenness on one but not the other. Flare-ups were reduced when cooking fish but not so much with burgers.
    Tip: You can return them for a full refund within 30 days, even if they’ve been used.

    BakerStone Pizza Oven Box, $150 (Bed Bath & Beyond)
    Best for reliably making multiple pizzas, in quick succession, that resemble wood-fired pizzas with crispy crusts and evenly baked toppings. The porcelain-enameled steel box houses a refractor stone cooking chamber.
    But: The box is big and weighs 27 pounds and must be placed on a grill with three or more burners. It takes at least 30 minutes to heat up.

    Grillbot, $130 (Grillbot.com)
    Best for cleaning your cooled grill while you do something else.  Set the timer for a scrub that’s 10, 20, or 30 minutes and close the lid.
    But: The Grillbot makes a racket when it bangs into the sides of the closed lid and it doesn’t remove gunk from between the grates. A regular grill brush and some elbow grease on a warm grill is faster, more through, cheaper, and quieter.

    Top grills from our tests

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

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    Are inverter generators worth the higher price?

    There’s nothing like the approach of a possible hurricane, such as this season's first named storm, Tropical Storm Arthur, to get everyone in its expected path thinking about generators. But for some prospective buyers, the noise and the quality of power that a portable generator supplies is a turn-off. That’s where an inverter model comes in. Using new technology, inverter generators deliver cleaner power and are typically quieter, lighter, and more energy efficient. But as Consumer Reports is learning in its ongoing generator tests, not every inverter generator is worth the 100-to-200-percent premium you’ll pay over the usual cost of a conventional portable.

    We haven’t yet completed testing of the Honda EU7000is, Kipor Sinemaster IG6000h, and Yamaha EF6300iSDE. But limited testing has shown us that sometimes it’s features other than wattage and connection options that make a generator worth having.

    Honda EU7000is. At $4,000, this is the most expensive of the three inverter generators we’re testing. But for usability, so far this one comes out on top. It’s rated for 5,500 watts with 1,500 more for surge—an extra 500 beyond that of the Honda EU6500iS inverter generator we tested last year. Another plus is a fuel-injected engine, a carburetor-free design that at least in theory should avoid some of the problems a gasoline-powered generator can hit if the unit is left idle for long periods with fuel in the tank.

    Of the three inverters, this one alone has a pull cord as a backup to the electric start, which could fail to work if its battery has run down. Another nice touch: The side of the unit where you’ll find the pull cord, oil fill, and oil drain is clearly marked. One caveat for anyone plugging appliances directly into the unit is that you get no ground-fault circuit interruptor receptacles.

    Kipor Sinemaster IG6000h. This model’s price, $2,000 at dealers and RV stores, looks like a bargain. But while you get some good features we’ve yet to test, the product so far seems a mixed bag. It’s rated for 5,500 watts (with surge up to 6,000), and a so-called smart throttle (found in all three models) varies engine speed according to load. As with the other two models, the Kipor has a 120V/120-240V switch; the 120V side has a 30A twist plug for RVs.

    Maintenance, though, raised concerns. In order to get to the oil-drain plug, you need to remove the battery, which required removing a plate in the housing. The real problem starts there. While the company's online video showed the oil dripping right through a hole in the enclosure (you remove a grommet to expose it), in our experience the oil doesn't drip straight out but backs up along the bottom of the engine block and puddles up elsewhere in the cabinet enclosure.

    Yamaha EF6300iSDE. As its name also denotes, the $3,700 Yamaha is rated for 5,500 watts (6,300 maximum) and, as with the other two, it will adjust engine speed according to the load at any given time. But while we expect this generator to perform well overall—with the clean power we’d expect of any inverter generator—one design flaw caught our attention early.

    With the last Yamaha generator we tested, the Yamaha EF6600DE, $2,450, we noted that wheels for a portable model should not be sold as an option on top of the generator’s initial price. This newer model has the opposite problem. Most portables have two wheels plus a handle at the opposite (lighter) end for lifting. This model has a handle at each end and four wheels. The Yamaha’s web page describes the model as “lightweight,” with “easy transport.” A video for the product calls it one of the lightest of its class. But it weighed in at about 245 pounds with gas. While it was easy to roll straight (there’s a brake for hills), neither end was easy for one person to lift when we needed to steer the generator.

    This is the right time of year to plan for a generator purchase, with a visit from an trusted electrician to help you size the generator. You can also use our wattage calculator to judge for yourself. See our generator buying guide to learn the lingo before viewing our Ratings of more than two dozen portable and stationary generators. We’ll be adding 15 more models to our Ratings in the coming weeks.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Top-rated matching washers and dryers

    Matching washer and dryer pairs are a popular choice but some don't make a great couple. Their coordinating style and color make 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 a number of matching pairs that are worth a look.

    About six out of 10 buyers choose a matching laundry pair, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group. Special pricing and promotions help move these pairs from the warehouse to your house and so does their appearance. No longer destined for a basement corner, these washer and dryer pairs offer a complementary look that's often stylish and come in fun colors. And having these machines nearby is convenient, unless they’re so noisy they drown out conversations or wake the kids. 

    Now about the prices. The top-rated washers and dryers are expensive. Blame the rising cost of manufacturing and transportation, as well as much larger capacities, stainless-steel drums, added cycles and features, and improved styling. Specialty cycles take out the guesswork, but up the price. Our tests have found that basic cycles can handle most of your laundry needs. So ask yourself if you want to pay extra for a bedding cycle or one for your jeans.  

    CR Tip: Take a look at the washers and dryers that scored very good or better in our tests for noise. You'll know they're working but they shouldn't disturb you. You'll hear the machines that scored good or lower. They make sustained sounds that can be annoying.

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

    Our tests found a number of matching washer and dryer pairs that are quiet enough for prime placement near a family room or bedrooms. All offer large or even jumbo capacities and the dryers have moisture sensors that help save energy by turning off the machine when the laundry is dry. Many of the washers and dryers have a steam option. Our dryer tests have found that steam didn't remove wrinkles but did remove more odors than conventional dryers, and steam washer settings slightly improved stain cleaning. We frequently show appliances in white but many pairs are also available in other colors. Here's a glimpse.

    For more details on their performance and features, see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    Kenmore set
    Kenmore Elite 41073 front-loader and Kenmore Elite 81073 electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: The washer has 14 cycles, offers excellent washing, was gentle on fabrics, and has a jumbo capacity—it can hold about 26 pounds of laundry. It made the recommended list. The dryer was excellent at its job and also has a jumbo capacity. Both machines let you transmit data by smartphone to technicians who will try to solve the problem without a housecall.
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy soil setting is 95 minutes. Try the Accela-Wash option. It offers comparable wash performance in less time.
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide—2 more than usual—but can be stacked to save room. Gas dryer is Kenmore Elite 91073, $1,300. 

    LG duos
    LG WM8500HVA front-loader and LG DLEX8500V electric dryer 
    Price: $1,600 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is top rated and both machines made the recommended list and have jumbo capacities, each holding about 26 pounds of laundry. The washer was superb at cleaning and gentle on fabrics and has 14 cycles; the dryer excelled at drying. Each has SmartDiagnosis. It enables you to use your smartphone to transmit data to technicians who will try to solve the problem without a housecall.
    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 less time.
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide, two more than usual, but can be stacked. Available in a graphite-steel finish. Gas dryer is DLGX8501V, $1,700. 

    LG WT5680HVA high-efficiency top-loader and LG DLEX5680V electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: This top-rated washer is recommended and among the few top-loaders to deliver superb cleaning. It has 14 cycles and a jumbo capacity that can hold about 26 pounds of laundry. Normal wash time on the heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning in less time. The dryer was superb at drying and also has a large capacity. 
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this LG wasn't so gentle on fabrics. And if you're short, reach into the washer tub when shopping and try to touch the bottom. If you'll need tongs to retrieve clean socks find another washer. 
    Need to know: Each machine has SmartDiagnosis. Gas dryer is LG DLGX5681V, $1,300. 

    LG WT5070C[W] high-efficiency top-loader and LG DLEX5170[W] electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 washer, $900 dryer 
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive at cleaning and gentle on fabrics. It has 12 cycles and normal wash time on heavy soil setting is 65 minutes. The dryer excelled at drying and of the dozens tested, it's one of the few to score excellent in our noise tests. Both machines have large capacities.
    Need to know: Each machine has SmartDiagnosis. Gas dryer is LG DLGX5171[W], $1,050.

    Maytag mates
    Maytag Maxima XL MHW7000AW front-loader and Maytag Maxima XL MED7000AW electric dryer.
    Price: $1,150 each
    Here's the deal: The washer aced our cleaning tests, was gentle on fabrics, and was one of the few front-loaders to ace our vibration tests. The dryer offers excellent drying. Both machines have large capacities.  
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 90 minutes on heavy soil setting.
    Need to know: Washer and dryer can be stacked to save room. Gas dryer is Maytag Maxima MGD7000AG, $1,300. These machines are made in the U.S. 

    Samsung sets
    Samsung WF457ARGS[GR] front-loader and Samsung DV457EVGS[GR] electric dryer
    Price: $1,550 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was superb at cleaning and one of the few front-loaders that did superbly in our vibration tests. It has 14 cycles and made the recommended list. The dryer aced its job. Each machine has a large capacity and held about 21 pounds of our laundry.
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy soil setting took 100 minutes and this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Machines can be stacked. Both are Wi-Fi enabled, offering you remote control using your smartphone. Gas dryer is Samsung DV457GVGS[GR], $1,700.

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,520 each
    Here's the deal: The washer has the largest capacity of the tested front-loaders and fit about 28 pounds of our laundry. It offers impressive cleaning.The top-rated dryer was superb at drying and also has a jumbo capacity. Both are recommended. 
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics. 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, three more than usual, and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GP, $1,620.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,500 each
    Here's the deal: This washer has a jumbo capacity and can hold about 28 pounds of laundry, the most of all tested top-loaders and more than most front-loaders. Washing was impressive. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The dryer was excellent at its job and has a jumbo capacity.
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide, three more than usual. The washer's Waterproof cycle prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9000GP, $1,600. 

    Whirlpool pairs
    Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU front-loader and Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU electric dryer
    Price: $1,500 each
    Here's the deal: Both have a large capacity. The washer offers excellent wash performance. 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 expensive, in part because they 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: Machines are only available in silver and can be stacked. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    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, which can cause the machine to shake too much, even damaging the machine and laundry area. Check the manual before you buy.  

    The best washers and top dryers in Consumer Reports' tests are typically among the most expensive, so if you want a matching dryer for your new washer you might have to spend lots of money to do loads of laundry. You'll pay about $3,000 for a top-rated front-loader and its matching electric dryer. But if your budget is around $1,600 or less, take a look at the pairs that did well in our tests and that won't break the bank. A word of caution. Some are relatively noisy, something to think about if you want to install them near bedrooms or a family room.

    CR Tip: Before you give up on your dryer consider that most of the improvements in performance and efficiency are found on washers. If you're set on a matching duo, in general it's smart to select your washer first and then the dryer. Here's a look at several matching pairs, most of the models did not make our Recommended list, but all of these washers and dryers were still impressive at cleaning or drying. For more details on their performance and features, see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    LG duos
    LG WT1001CW high-efficiency top-loader and LG DLE1001W electric dryer
    Price: $600 each
    Here’s the deal: The washer was one of the few top-loaders to excel at washing and made our recommended list. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 70 minutes. The dryer aced its job. Both machines are relatively quiet.
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders this LG wasn’t so gentle on fabrics. Washer capacity isn’t as large as the top models, but should suffice for most families.
    Need to know: Control panels are on front. Gas dryer is LG DLG1002W, $750. The washer and dryer have the SmartDiagnosis feature. If a machine is on the blink you can transmit data by smartphone to technicians who try to solve the problem without a housecall.

    LG WT4870CW high-efficiency top-loader and LG DLE4870W electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here’s the deal: They didn’t make our recommended list but the washer was impressive at cleaning and gentle on fabrics. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting is 75 minutes. The dryer was superb at its job. Both have large capacities and can hold about 22 pounds each, and are relatively quiet.
    Need to know: Both machines have the SmartDiagnosis feature. Gas dryer is LG DLG4871W, $900.

    Maytag pair
    Maytag Bravos XL MVWB725BW high-efficiency top-loader and Maytag Bravos XL MEDB725BW electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here’s the deal: Neither made our recommended list but offer impressive washing and drying and have large capacities. The dryer is relatively quiet.
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders the Maytag wasn’t so gentle on fabric, and this washer is relatively noisy. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 90 minutes—longer than most.
    Need to know: Gas dryer is Maytag Bravos XL MGDB725BW, $900.

    Whirlpool set
    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5800BW high-efficiency top-loader and Whirlpool Cabrio WED5800BW electric dryer
    Price: $700 each
    Here’s the deal: Neither made the recommended list but the washer was impressive at cleaning and did a normal wash on heavy soil setting in a brisk 40 minutes. The dryer was excellent at its job.
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders this washer wasn’t so gentle on fabrics, and it’s relatively noisy.
    Need to know: The washer’s capacity isn’t as big as the top models, but should suffice for most families. The capacity earned a good score, and can hold about 17 pounds of laundry. Gas dryer is Whirlpool Cabrio WGD5800BW, $800. 

    CR Tip: Increasing capacities meant it was time to update the capacity scores in our Ratings of washers and dryers. A machine now needs to hold about 25 or more pounds of laundry to earn an excellent capacity score. Most families can get by with a machine that’s rated very good or even good in capacity. Very good indicates that the washer fit about 20 to 24 pounds of our laundry. A good score means the washer held about 15 to 19 pounds.

     

    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 also look at such factors as noise and vibration that might annoy you if your laundry room is adjacent to a living area. And we compare cycle times. Front-loaders usually take anywhere from 65 to 105 minutes to wash an 8-pound load. Top-loaders are a little quicker, most ranging from 45 to 90 minutes. As for capacity, models rated excellent in capacity fit 25 or more pounds of laundry. Models scoring very good in capacity fit 20 to 24 pounds of our laundry. 

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

    You can find more details on the model page for each washer and dryer, and compare up to five washers or dryers using the comparison feature in our Ratings. Before you buy look online for sales as well as manufacturer rebates and utilitiy rebates for Energy Star washers; the first Energy Star dryers arrived in stores the summer 2014.

    A word about washer types
    Front-loaders use less water than top-loaders but typically have longer wash cycles—some take 100 minutes or more. That's not the end of the world, but it may be the beginning of laundry pile-up. Since front-loaders use less water, the detergent is more concentrated and the machine's tumbling action can also help boost cleaning. Manufacturers recommend using HE detergent—that's high efficiency—for front-loaders and HE top-loaders. Regular detergents are too sudsy for these machines.

    The best front-loaders clean better and use even less water than the best HE top-loaders. Front-loaders spin faster than HE top-loaders so more water is typically extracted, reducing drying time but front-loaders generally have longer wash cycles. HE top-loaders don't have a center agitator and use a variety of methods to lift and tumble laundry. They're high-efficiency because they use less water and spin faster than conventional top-loaders, also cutting dryer time.

    —Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Unit prices don't always help you find savings

    Comparing product prices by the ounce, pound, count, or other unit of measure can help you find the best value and save money. That’s why some states require retailers to display the so-called unit price along with the item price. But in some cases, unit prices don’t allow for an accurate comparison.

    For example, in the stores we checked, unit prices for paper towels were shown as price per 100 sheets. The problem with that is that the sheet size can vary by brand, with the biggest difference being between rolls with full-sized sheets and those with select-a-size sheets, which are perforated to be about 40 percent smaller. As a result, select-a-size rolls typically have more, albeit smaller, sheets, which can yield a much lower cost per 100 sheets than their full-sheet counterparts, even if the roll is more expensive, as is sometimes the case.

    To find the best value, you should recalculate the unit price based on area, such as total square feet per roll, which typically is listed on the package. Your cell phone’s calculator app can help. Of course, if you and your family are likely to use just one select-a-size sheet for every full-sized sheet you would otherwise tear off the roll, select-a-size may be the better value even if it has a higher square-foot unit price. That's something you may be able to tell over time.

    Use our supermarket, laundry detergent, and paper towel buying guides. And read our recent report on the move by some retailers to begin showing unit prices online.

    Another example is liquid laundry detergent. We found stores showing unit prices for laundry detergent in price per fluid ounce. The issue here is that these products are sold in different concentrations.  So a bottle of a company’s “2x” formulation may not wash the same number of loads as its “3x” product. Yet, the unit price makes no distinction. To do a true cost comparison, you should recalculate the unit price by dividing the total cost by the number of loads per container, which you’ll find on the label. Of course, when doing your laundry, you should follow the directions for the proper amount to use. Using too much not only wastes money, but can leave clothes with soap residue. Incidentally, designations such as “2x” and “3x” refer to different concentrations of a manufacturer’s products and are not meant to be used to compare brands.

    You need to do the same thing with powder laundry detergents, which also come in various concentrates but were all priced per ounce in the stores we checked.

    The big challenge is with dishwashing liquids, which come in concentrated and non-concentrated versions, both of which we found being unit-priced by the ounce. What makes this really difficult is that the bottles usually don’t include instructions on how much to use, so there’s no way to factor in the theoretical advantage of the concentrated formula.

    Our best advice? Be your own consumer test expert. Compare concentrated and non-concentrated varieties, and choose the one that works for you and has the lowest unit price.

    One final note. Some stores don't recalculate unit prices for items on sale, and instead display the unit price based on the full item price. So don't be tricked into comparing apples with oranges, so to speak.

    —Anthony Giorgianni

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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