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    Labor Day Deals on 111 Top Appliances

    Labor Day weekend is a good time to look for end-of-season sales on mowers and grills and other outdoor gear. And a great time to find good prices on paint. But if you’re looking for a real bargain, mosey on over to the appliance section where you’ll find deep discounts on major appliances. We took a look at the websites of Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears and found sales on some of the top-performing models from Consumer Reports' tests. But be forewarned, we also saw discounts on some models at the bottom of our Ratings including a front-loader washing machine that scored 13 out of a possible 100. Here are sales on 111 models we recommend. Prices are from the retailers’ websites.

    Home Depot

    Home Depot is advertising sales on paint, plants and gardening supplies, outdoor power equipment, garage organizers, ceiling fans and many other products. Here are deals we found on a slew of our top-rated appliances.

    Ranges

    Refrigerators

    Freezers

    Washers

    Dishwashers

    Vacuums

    Lowe’s

    Lowe’s is advertising a kitchen remodeling event with up to 20 percent off countertops, cabinets, and sinks. There are also discounts on a variety of tools as well as patio furniture, storage sheds, and other outdoor products. Here are deals on dozens of appliances that did well in our tests.

    Ranges and Wall Ovens

    Refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Washers and Dryers

    Vacuums

    Freezers

    Sears

    At Sears you’ll find discounts on many of its Kenmore appliances including major appliances and vacuums. Take a look at exercise equipment, camping gear, and tires too. Here are mark downs on some stellar appliances from our tests.

    Ranges

    Dishwashers

    Refrigerators

    Freezers

    Washers and Dryers

    Vacuums

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How Consumer Reports tests toilet paper

    You think you’re picky about toilet paper? Consumer Reports uses machines and specially trained sensory panelists to determine which rolls combine softness, convenience, and strength.

    How strong?

    We stack and insert eight sheets of each toilet paper into an Instron, a device also used to test sturdier materials like fabric and plastic. It slowly pushes a steel ball through the sheets. The force required to punch through the paper is measured and recorded. Stronger paper can withstand three times as much pressure as the weakest ones before ripping. The Instron also determines how hard you need to pull to rip two sheets along their perforation, or the “tearing ease.”

    How soft?

    Sensory panelists check for softness in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room so the toilet-paper fibers are evaluated under controlled conditions. First they make light, circular motions over each sample with their fingertips. Next, they softly drag their fingers over the tissue in straight lines. Both tasks help them form an overall impression of softness. Then they test for pliability by gently manipulating the paper into a ball. The roughest, stiffest papers feel cracked, pointed, and ridged; the softest tend to be more pliable and conform smoothly to the hand.

    Down the drain

    Toilet paper can be a pain even after you use it. To find out what happens once it’s flushed, we check to see how easily it disintegrates. That gives you an idea of how well it will move through a home’s plumbing and septic systems. We put a 2x2-inch square from a sheet of toilet paper and a 2-inch stirring bar into a water-filled beaker on a stirring plate. The score is based on the time it takes for the sheet to disintegrate.

    And the winner is ...

    Only one toilet paper made it to the top of our tests, White Cloud Ultra Soft & Thick sold at Walmart, scoring a 77 out of 100. The next best, Nice Premium Ultra sold at Walgreens, scored 57, losing points on strength. To see how your favorite brand fared, see our full toilet paper Ratings and recommendations. And don't miss our story, The Dirty Little Secrets of Toilet Paper, which may confirm your suspicions that rolls are getting smaller.

    This article also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best tools for clearing fallen trees

    During a violent storm any tree—even a healthy one—can be imperiled by wind,rain, snow, or hail. To improve your odds of nothaving one go down, monitor all of your trees for health during fine weather. If you’re unlucky enough to have one fall, know that arborists will be in demand and slow to arrive after a storm. If you decide to pull out a chain saw and tackle the job yourself, follow this advice:

    Wear proper gear

    That includes snug clothing, sturdy boots, Kevlar chaps, protective gloves, a helmet with a face shield, and hearing protection.

    Look for power lines

    “You won’t hear things or see smoke,” says Mark Chisholm of Aspen Tree Expert in Jackson, N.J., “but there’s often current running under or in a tree you’re cutting.” Always treat any downed line as live and wait for the utility crew’s OK.

    Examine the tree for bent branches

    “Rarely does a tree fall flat,” says Scott Jamieson, a vice president of the Bartlett Tree Experts location in Stamford, Conn. “When one comes down in an unnatural position and you start cutting, some of that could spring back and throw wood right at you.”

    Stay safe

    Have someone with you who can help in case of emergency.

    Top chain saws

    Consumer Reports' chain saw Ratings of more than 40 models include heavy-duty gas models such as the Echo CS-590-20, $400; lighter-duty gas models including the Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230; the corded-electric Worx WG303.1, $100; and the battery-powered Ego CS1401, $300.  

    3 handy tools

    Reciprocating saw

    Suitable for cutting branches and roots too close to the ground for safe chainsawing.

    Cost: $50 for the Ryobi 18-volt cordless P154, $50 for the battery and charger, and $7 for a 12-inch pruning blade.

    Loppers

    With longhandles and pincers, they’re great for snipping off small branches and twigs.

    Cost: About $30 for the Fiskars 91416966J, a typical hand-operated model.

    Bow saw

    A bow saw can handle many of the same cuts as a chain saw. At minimum, choose one with a 30-inch blade.

    Cost: About $40 for a Bahco model with a 30-inch blade and a sturdy blade guard. Extra blades cost about $10.

    This article also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 Must-Have Cooking Appliance Features

    Features that save time, make cooking and clean-up easier, or add style often start on higher-end appliances, and over time, may wind up on mid-priced models. Here's a look at five features that grabbed our attention in the test labs of Consumer Reports.

    Front Controls

    Freestanding ranges are the most popular type, have finished sides, are easy to install, and typically cost less than slide-ins and drop-ins. And they've finally gotten a make-over. The controls have been moved up front, eliminating the back panel. The look is sleek and stylish and similar to slide-in ranges.

    Ranges with this features. Among the recently tested front-control freestanding ranges, none made our top picks. The best was the $2,200 electric smoothtop Kenmore 41313, although its oven is small. The $1,600 Whirlpool WEE760H0DS has a large oven and was superb at broiling. Simmering and fast range-top heat were excellent too. Baking, however, was just good and self-cleaning was poor. And here’s an odd mix of old and new: The Whirlpool WEC530H0DS, $1,100, is an electric coil-top range with front controls. It scored 51 out of 100. The gas ranges were unimpressive. The $1,700 Whirlpool WEG760H0DS earned an overall score of 48; the Kenmore 32363 is at the bottom of our range Ratings, with a score of 28, and it’s $2,300.  

    Virtual Flames

    One of the reasons people like cooking with gas is the visual cue of the flame, and fans of electric ranges depend on the glow of the electric coils. But with induction range-tops and cooktops the electromagnetic field doesn’t create that glow. That’s why Samsung has added virtual flames—LEDs that shine light onto pots and pans to remind you that the elements are in use.

    Range with this feature. You’ll see virtual flames on the high-end Samsung Chef Collection ranges, including the Samsung NE58H9970WS. This slide-in induction range scored excellent overall and is $3,600.

    Cooking Sensors

    The idea is to put an end to runny eggs, burnt food, and worse, burnt food that’s raw in the middle. Bosch claims its AutoChef sensor measures the temperature of the bottom of a special aluminum pan and then provides the right amount of energy to the element, delivering precise results.

    Cooktop with this feature. We tested the Bosch NETP066SUC electric smoothtop cooktop. It made our top picks and is $1,200. AutoChef, with its nine cooking programs and four temperature settings, took the guesswork out of cooking small steaks and we didn't have to adjust settings when cooking three omelets consecutively. Pancakes and bone-in fried chicken turned out okay, but not ideal. Our testers look forward to seeing where Bosch will take this feature.

    Hinged Cast Iron Grates

    Cooking can be fun, but clean-up? Whirlpool’s EZ-2-Lift cast iron grates are hinged at the back of the gas cooktops, making it easy to lift the entire grate and wipe clean.

    Cooktop with this feature. The $900 Whirlpool WCG97US0DS gas cooktop has this feature. It’s top rated among 30-inch gas cooktops and the least expensive of our recommended models.

    French Doors

    Ovens with two side-by-side doors, known as French doors, are often used in restaurant kitchens, and GE has added them to wall ovens. The doors open to the side, rather than down, and pulling one handle opens both doors at the same time.

    Wall oven with this feature. The stylish GE Café CT9070SHSS 30-inch electric wall oven has French doors and you can control the oven from your smart phone. Impressive at baking and broiling, it’s all yours, for $3,900.

    Full Ratings and Recommendations

    Then take a look at our range Ratings and cooktop and wall oven Ratings. Use the filter to narrow choices by brand and type, and click the features and specs tab to learn more. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The proposed 21st Century Cures Act needs an overhaul

    Patients desperate for medical breakthroughs should never have to sacrifice safety in the name of innovation, but legislation underway in Congress could do just that.

    Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a medical innovation bill known as the “21st Century Cures Act”—or simply “Cures”—that has several key provisions that would significantly weaken consumer health protections and could lead to patients being exposed to potentially unsafe or ineffective drugs and medical devices.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has serious concerns with the bill, including:

    Drug Safety

    The 21st Century Cures Act would weaken the FDA’s ability to ensure safe and effective medicines by fast-tracking certain antibiotics and antifungals for approval based on less rigorous testing.                            

    Medical Device Safety

    The 21st Century Cures Act would allow the FDA to approve medical devices based on case studies or medical journal articles alone, rather than clinical trials. This means that real world testing would happen only after the device is already on the market and being used by patients. Additionally, the bill would allow medical device companies to make changes to the highest risk devices, like heart valves and brain stents, without first telling the FDA or proving that the altered device remains safe and effective. (Read our earlier report on dangerous medical implants and devices.)

    Antibiotic Resistance

    The 21st Century Cures Act includes incentives to prescribe newly developed antibiotics. Hospitals would receive a bonus for using new antibiotics, which could lead to overuse and antibiotic resistance, undermining one of the very problems the legislation is supposed to address. (Read our investigation on how your hospital can make you sick.)

    Transparency in Physician Payments

    The 21st Century Cures Act would create a huge loophole in the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. The Sunshine Act, which Consumers Union strongly supports, requires medical device and pharmaceutical companies to disclose payments they make to physicians and to teaching hospitals, which can include large amounts for speaking engagements, or covering large fees for doctors to attend conferences.

    Access to Generic Drugs

    The bill would keep certain generic drugs off the market longer, giving pharmaceutical companies extended monopoly power to sell costly, brand name drugs.

    But it’s not too late to fix these issues. The Senate is working now on its version of a medical innovation bill and they want to hear from you. We can work to pass legislation focused on improved treatments that are safe and effective for patients—without compromising the effectiveness of the treatments or the safety of patients.

    Consumers Union supports other options to discover the next medical breakthrough while keeping patients safe, like the Helping Effective Antibiotics Last (HEAL) Act that would protect patient safety in the FDA approval process while encouraging the development of proven and safe new antibiotics. We are urging Senators to include this approach in their medical innovation legislation.

    Your senators have the chance to do the right thing, and remove these pharma giveaways while making sure innovative, safe cures reach the market. Tell your senators you support safe, effective, and affordable cures. 

    This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    LG Twin Wash and Other Washer Wows

    When did things get crazy in the washer aisle? What with prices nearing $2,000 and capacities so big they fit 28 pounds of laundry. Manufacturers continue to up capacities and add features to win you over and to boost the price. On the other hand, some manufacturers skip the fancy extras and and still raise the price. Here’s a look inside three washers with new innovations recently tested by Consumer Reports, including LG’s Twin Wash.

    LG Twin Wash

    Here’s a smart use of space, if only it weren’t so expensive. LG’s Twin Wash pairs a front-loader with a mini-washer where a pedestal might be. LG has turned a storage drawer into a 1-cubic-foot mini-washer that can be used at the same time the front-loader is running. Together they’re known as Twin Wash and rely on the same water supply. The $700 mini-washer can be paired with any LG front-loader made from 2009 on. It has six cycles, allows warm and cold wash temperatures, and an extra rinse. The mini-washer doesn’t deliver the cleaning power of a front-loader, based on our tests of 2- and 4-pound loads, but took only 40 minutes using the normal cycle. It’s meant for lightly soiled clothes.

    The LG WM9000HVA front-loader is $1,800 and of the dozens of washers we tested, only the $1,900 Speed Queen AFNE9BSP113TW01 costs more. Sure, the high-scoring  LG did an excellent job getting laundry clean, was water- and energy-efficient, and has a jumbo capacity that fit about 26 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.1 cubic feet. This washer was gentle on fabrics, relatively quiet, and vibration wasn’t an issue. But $1,800? And the normal wash time, using the heavy-soil setting, was 105 minutes—and that’s using the time-saving TurboWash.

    Samsung Activewash

    Another smart use of space. Inside some new Samsung high-efficiency top-loaders you’ll see a water jet and built-in sink with ridges, a feature known as Activewash. You can use the sink’s ridges as if it were a washboard. Rub a stained shirt for a minute or two against the ridges, working detergent or pretreatment solution into the stain. No need to work up a sweat—the shirt then goes straight into the washer. The high-scoring Samsung WA52J8700AP has Activewash and is $1,000.

    Staber Stays Small

    Bucking the trend of 28-pound capacities, Staber continues to use its unique tub design—just 2-cubic feet—on high-efficiency top-loaders. “The tub held 12 pounds of our laundry and it was a tight fit,” says Emilio Gonzalez, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ tests of washers and dryers. Even though this is a top-loader, the small metal tub rotates in one direction, pauses, rotates in the other direction, just like a front-loader does. We tested the Staber HXW2404. It’s $1,700 and ended up near the bottom of our washer Ratings. Cleaning and water efficiency was impressive, but capacity was not, and this washer was noisy and vibrated.

    More choices. Check out our full washer Ratings and recommendations to find out how these machines stack up compared to the dozens we tested. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best Electric Ranges for $800 or Less

    Spend more, get more? It depends. Spending more on an electric range often gets you more style, a second oven, or innovations such as induction and virtual flames—useful reminders that your induction elements are on. What it doesn’t guarantee is faster heat, better baking, or just-right simmering. If your budget is $800 or less consider these impressive electric ranges from Consumer Reports’ range tests.

    We tested dozens of electric smoothtop ranges, single and double ovens, coil, and induction ranges. The highest scored 89, the lowest 44. And our Annual Product Reliability Survey found that Whirlpool and GE were among the least repair prone brands of electric ranges and Jenn-Air, Electrolux, and KitchenAid were among the more repair prone brands.

    So here’s what $800 or less can buy you. The price shown is for the tested model in a particular finish. A few are shown in stainless steel, but keep in mind that all of these electric smoothtop ranges are available in stainless although that ups the price.  

    Samsung FE-R300SB and Samsung NE594R0ABSR

    The Samsung FE-R300SB, $600, has four burners, including two high power. Cooktop heat is fast and simmering is superb. Baking is impressive, and broiling and self-cleaning are good. The oven is large and has a steam clean function for small messes.

    The Samsung NE594R0ABSR, $800, has two high power burners, convection, and a large oven with steam clean for light cleaning are part of the package. Superb simmering, fast cooktop heat, and impressive baking, broiling, and self-cleaning are too.

    LG LRE3083SW

    The LG LRE3083SW, $800, is the only one in this batch to make our list of top range picks. There are four burners, including two high power that deliver fast heat. Simmering is excellent, and so is the broiling. The large oven was impressive at baking at self-cleaning. There’s a convection option and steam clean function for light cleaning.

    GE JB650SFSS

    The GE JB650SFSS, $800, is not the range for bakers—it was only good at baking cakes and cookies. It is impressive at broiling, has a large oven with a steam clean function, and aced our tough self-cleaning tests. Simmering is excellent and rangetop heat is fast.

    Frigidaire FFEF3018LW

    The Frigidaire FFEF3018LW, $600, scored very similarly to the Samsung NE594R0ABSR, $800,, but was excellent at self-cleaning. It has four burners, two are high power.

    Prefer coils? And if an electric coil burner is what you prefer, check out the Kenmore 94142. At $430 and top rated, it’s a CR Best Buy. Use our range Ratings and the features and specs tab to compare models. Questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Keep Your Trees in Tip-Top Shape

    During a violent storm, even a healthy tree can be imperiled by wind, rain, snow, or hail. And if you’re unlucky enough to have one fall from rough weather, a further complication is that tree professionals will be in demand and slow to arrive after a storm. So here’s how to avoid tree problems before they happen and, if you decide to tackle a fallen tree yourself, how to keep safe:

    Give Your Trees a Physical

    You can’t identify every potential problem, says Mark Chisholm, an arborist with the family-owned Aspen Tree Expert Co. in Jackson, New Jersey. “In the case of a major storm and a super-saturated soil condition, the most stable tree becomes unstable—it’s hard to predict that,” he says. Other identifiers include hollows or splits, which show weakness, and dead giveaways such as fungal growth and branches without leaves at the time of year they should have them.

    Scott Jamieson, a vice president with Bartlett Tree Experts in Stamford, Connecticut, also suggests tapping the trunk of a tree with a rubber mallet (it should not sound like a drum) and looking for carpenter ants crawling in and out of a soft spot. Over time, arborists will also measure changes in the way the tree is leaning.

    Act Before a Storm Approaches

    Not every tree that looks troubled needs attention, but if you’re concerned and don’t have an arborist, it’s worth your while to get a complete tree inspection, which could range from free to a $150 or so. “It’s definitely better to fix the problem before any damage occurs,” says Chisholm. Many arborists use an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) score, called a Tree Risk Assessment, by which they judge a tree both for its apparent integrity and also for whom and what it could imperil by falling. A dead tree out in the middle of a field might not require attention, but a tree with slight decay in a busy city courtyard might warrant removal. “At the end of the day, it becomes a judgment,” says Jamieson. “Does the homeowner want to take the risk of keeping that tree around?”

    Check The Pro's Credentials

    Arborists are often hired based on word-of-mouth referrals, but any pro you hire should still be able to show certification from the ISA and accreditation by the Tree Care Industry Association—plus municipal or county licensing. (Only some arborists have these credentials; state-specific organizations also certify arborists.) The tree surgeon should also be able to present proof of insurance and workman’s compensation. Chisholm warns penny pinchers: “You may try to hire someone who has a cheaper price by $100. But if he isn’t insured and gets hurt, it goes on your homeowner’s insurance. It could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

    Don’t Rush DIY Tree Work

    Have a tree down across your driveway? With arborists scarce, you might be tempted to do the job yourself. But both Chisholm and Jamieson advise you to take it slow:
    • Wear the appropriate protection: snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, Kevlar chaps over the legs, protective gloves, a helmet with a face shield, and hearing protection.
    • Watch for fallen electrical lines. “There won’t be any indications there’s a live wire,” says Chisholm. “You won’t hear things or see smoke, but there’s often electrical current in the ground or entangled in the tree.” Always treat any downed line as live and wait for the utility crew’s okay.
    • Before cutting, examine the tree for branches under pressure. “Rarely does a tree fall flat,” says Jamieson. “When a tree comes down in an unnatural position and you start cutting on it, some of that will be under tension and could act like a spring and throw wood around—and at you.”
    • Don’t work alone, even if you only have someone near who can help you quickly in case of an emergency.

    Need a New Chain Saw?

    Consumer Reports' chain saw Ratings of more than 40 models include heavy-duty gas models such as the Echo CS-590-20, $400, lighter-duty gas models including the Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, the corded-electric Worx WG303.1, $100, and the battery-powered EGO CS1401, $300. If your chain saw is corded and the work you’re doing extends beyond 100 feet (the longest extension cord you should use), that’s one safe use of the built-in AC receptacles on a portable generator. Also see our buying guide for chain saws.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What Is an Alternative Motion Machine?

    If you spend a lot of time in gyms and fitness clubs, you've maybe noticed a strange Transformer-like machine over by the cardio equipment, a kind of cross between a treadmill and an elliptical. Maybe you even asked your fellow gym-goers its name, and got a variety of responses, from “hybrid elliptical” to “zero runner” to “anti-gravity treadmill.” In fact, the industry itself is still settling on a term, though the one that seems to be sticking is “alternative motion machine.” As more major manufacturers bring their own residential alternative motion machines to market, it could become the next big thing in exercise equipment.

    Combining elements of the treadmill and the elliptical, these machines allow you to control the length and speed of your stride at will, without the press of any button, in a low-to-no impact motion. Alternative motion machines also borrow from stair-stepper technology by enabling an up-and-down movement that’s murder on the quads and glutes.     

    Though commercial alternative motion machines have been around for years, our fitness experts started seeing residential units only in the last 12 months or so, starting with the Precor AMT 835. It was followed by Octane’s Zero Runner ZR7 and NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainer FS7i. All three machines are currently in our labs for testing. The final results won’t be ready for a few weeks, but you can read more about the models in “Cardio fitness gear that's easy on your joints.”

    Meanwhile, LifeFitness, another major name in workout equipment, recently launched its own alternative motion machine called the FlexStrider. The machine has many of the same features of its competitors, including a futuristic look and dynamically variable stride length, ranging from 0 to 36 inches. That’s comparable with the NordicTrack and Precor, but shorter than the Octane, which opens up to an impressive 58 inches.

    Like other alternative motion machines, the FlexStrider also has a steep price tag. It’s actually outdoing the competition in that regard, with a trio of models ranging between $10,000 and $12,000, compared with the $2,000 to $9,000 for the models in our tests. Paying top dollar for the FlexStrider gets you a number of upgrades, including at-your-fingertip resistance controls on the moving arms and touchscreen controls on the Bluetooth-compatible LCD display.

    So do alternative motion machines represent the future of cardio equipment? At their current prices, definitely not. But, of course, new technologies are often expensive, so we expect costs to come down. What’s more, our first impressions of the machines are positive enough to think they’ll probably find an audience, however niche. But before you drop five figures on your own alternative motion machine, we suggest you try one of the commercial units at your local gym to see how one might enliven your workout.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best matching washers and dryers

    Matching washer and dryer pairs are a popular choice although 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 matching pairs that are worth a look.

    Now about the prices. The top-rated washers and dryers are expensive. Blame it on the rising cost of manufacturing and transportation, as well as much larger capacities, stainless-steel drums, added cycles and features, and better 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. 

    Did you know? The washer and dryer Buying Guides offer a look at the advantages of each washer type and features. Use the Ratings selector to narrow your choices by brand and price, and click on the Features & Specs tab to compare features. The Brand Reliability tab offers helpful information and so do user reviews. And if you have questions e-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org. 

    CR Tip: Take a look at the washers and dryers that scored very good or better in our tests for noise if you're placing the washer and dryer near bedrooms. 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.

    The quietest couples

    Our tests found pairs that are quiet enough for 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 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 and up the price of each machine by $100 or so. 

    Where are LG top-loaders?

    LG pairs that include a high-efficiency top-loader and matching dryer are no longer highlighted here. That's because our latest Brand Reliability data shows that LG top-loaders are significantly worse than most other brands when it comes to being repair-prone. And while they offer impressive performance, their brand reliability keeps them off the recommended list. However, LG front-loaders are among the more reliable brands, and LG is the most reliable brand of both electric and gas dryers, according to Consumer Reports' 2014 Annual Product Reliability Survey of over 100,000 subscribers who bought new washers or dryers between 2007 and the first half of 2014.  

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

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore Elite 41072 front-loader and Kenmroe 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 was excellent at its job and also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy soil setting is 95 minutes. You'll save about 15 minutes by using the normal-soil setting and try the Accela-Wash option. It offers comparable wash performance in about 15 to 20 minutes less. 
    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 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 and 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 excelled at drying. 
    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. Save 15 minutes or so by using the normal-soil setting. And the TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning in 15 to 20 minutes less time.
    Need to know:  These machines can be stacked. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $1,100. 

    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. These appliances are made in the U.S.
    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. Washer and dryer can be stacked to save space. The $950 Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW front-loader performed similarly to the Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC and made our top picks, but is relatively noisy. Matching electric dryer is the Maytag Maxima MED5100DW, $950. See this $100 rebate offer from the manufacturer.

    Maytag Bravos MVWB855DW high-efficiency top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB855DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,050 each 
    Here's the deal: The washer made our top picks, delivers impressive cleaning, and was very water efficient. 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 capacity is claimed to be 8.8 cubic feet. These machines are made in America. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 80 minutes. That's using the normal wash on heavy-soil setting. You'll save about 15 minutes using the normal-soil setting. This washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics, but that's true for most top-loaders. 
    Need to know: Maytag is offering a $250 rebate if you buy the pair by October 20, 2015. See details here.  Gas dryer is the Maytag Bravos MGDB855DW, $1,150. 

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EW electric dryer
    Price: $1,450 washer, $1,500 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 took 90 minutes. Use the normal-soil setting and you'll save about 15 minutes. The SuperSpeed option trimmed wash time of full loads about 15 to 20 minutes without affecting cleaning.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide, three more than usual, 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 DV56H9100GP, $1,600. 

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: This washer has one the largest capacities of the tested front-loaders 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 also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. Both machines are recommended.
    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, three more than usual, and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GP, $1,300.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,100 each
    Here's the deal: 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 was excellent at its job and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. Both are recommended. 
    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, $1,200. 

    Samsung WA52J8700AP high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV52J8700EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 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. Try the SuperSpeed option. It 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 high-efficiency top-loaders tested. It has a water jet and built-in sink with ridges—a modern take on the washboard—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. So 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. 

    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. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet for the washer and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer offers excellent wash performance 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 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: Made in the U.S. Machines are only available in silver and can be stacked. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8500DW high-efficiency top-loader and Whrilpool Cabrio WED8500DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 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. Save 15 to 20 minutes by using the normal-soil setting.   
    Need to know: Made in the U.S. Gas dryer is the Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8500DW, $1,100. 

    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.  

    Impressive pairs for $1,700 or less

    You'll pay about $3,000 for a top-rated front-loader and its matching electric dryer, plus $400 to $600 if you want pedestals to boost their height. But if your budget is around $1,700 or less, take a look at these pairs that did well in our tests. The trade-off? It might be capacity, number of wash cycles, or quiet operation.

    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 did not make our recommended list, but all of these washers and dryers were impressive at cleaning or drying. For more details on their performance and features, see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore 28132 high-efficiency top-loader and Kenmore 68132 electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here's the deal: The washer has eight wash cycles and made the recommended list. It's the least expensive and fastest of the top picks. Cleaning was impressive and it took 60 minutes using normal wash on a heavy-soil setting. Use the normal-soil setting and you can save about 15 to 20 minutes. And here's a way to speed up doing laundry: This 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: Each machine 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. 
     

    LG duos

    LG WM3570HVA front-loader and LG DLEX3570HVA electric dryer
    Price: $800 each 
    Here's the deal: They didn't make our recommended list 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. Use the TurboWash option. It cut wash time of full loads by 15 to 20 minutes and offers comparable wash performance.
    Need to know: Machines are stackable. These matching models 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 DLGX3571HVA in graphite. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $830 each 
    Here's the deal: Not on our top-pick lists but worth considering since LG front-loaders are among the more reliable front-loader brand and LG electric and gas dryers are significantly more reliable than other brands, according to our survey of over 100,00 subscribers. The washer was impressive at cleaning and has 14 cycles. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, 7.4 for the dryer. Both have large capacities and are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy-soil setting was 75 minutes. Use the normal-soil setting and save about 15 minutes, and the TurboWash option cuts 15 to 20 minutes off wash time and cleaning was just as good in our tests.
    Need to know: Stackable. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

     

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WA45H7000AW high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV45H7000EW electric dryer
    Price: $500 washer, $700 dryer
    Here's the deal: Not top picks but worth a look. The washer has nine wash cycles, was impressive at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, unlike most HE top-loaders, and fit about 22 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet.There's a waterproof cycle for rain gear, shower curtains, and other waterproof items. The washer was relatively quiet. This dryer we tested dryer aced it job and was relatively quiet. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect it to do the same. Claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet.
    Consider this: Wash time is 80 minutes using normal wash on heavy-soil setting. Use normal soil setting and you'll save about 15 minutes.
    Need to know: 
    Gas dryer is the Samsung DV45H7000GW.

     

    CR Tip: Increasing capacities meant it was time to update the capacity scores in our ratings of washers and dryer. 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.

    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 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 using the normal wash, heavy-soil setting. If you use the normal-soil setting you can save about 15 to 20 minutes. 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 on our Ratings charts. Before you buy, look online for sales as well as manufacturer rebates and utility rebates for Energy Star washers and dryers; the first Energy Star dryers arrived in stores in the summer of 2014. For more information read, "How much energy does an Energy Star dryer use?"

    A word about washer types

    Front-loaders use less water than top-loaders but typically have longer wash cycles—some take 90 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 most of the top HE top-loaders. Front-loaders spin faster than HE top-loaders so more water is typically extracted, reducing drying time. 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

     

     

     

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    LG's New Luxury 4-Door Refrigerator

    LG’s new four-door refrigerator, the LG LPCS34886C, is the biggest, most feature-rich fridge we’ve ever seen in Consumer Reports' labs. Whether you want it sitting in your kitchen is another question. We’ll wait for our complete test results—measuring temperature performance, energy efficiency, noise, and more—before issuing the bottom line in our refrigerator Ratings. In the meantime, here are some first impressions, both good and bad.

    This is one giant refrigerator. Storage capacity has become a major selling point with consumers, so it’s no wonder manufacturers keep one upping each other. In terms of usable capacity, which is the total volume of space that can actually be used for storage, the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, $5,400, had been our champ, with 23.5 cubic feet. But this new LG takes over the top spot, boasting 24.4 cubic feet. LG managed the feat, in part, by adding to the overall height of the unit; it stands 73 1/4” high to the top of the hinge, several inches above most models in its category.

    Inside, the refrigerator has a bunch of handy storage features, including adjustable baskets and bins on the doors, split folding shelves that make it easy to fit taller items, and pullout drawers in the freezer.              

    It’s a true four-door design. The four-door refrigerator category has grown in recent years, but in most cases the fourth door is actually a pullout middle drawer. The LG has a true four-door configuration, including two bottom freezer doors for two separate freezer compartments. We first saw this design on the Samsung T9000 RF32FMQDBSR, $3,500. In that case, the bottom right chamber can convert from freezer to refrigerator space, for times when you need additional fresh-food storage. With the LG, both chambers are freezer-only, so it’s less versatile.  

    The upper doors are crazy busy. The refrigerator door has been a bastion of innovation for the last few years, with the advent of such features as a built-in coffeemaker and LCD display. This LG is not to be undone. It has not one but two door-in-door compartments that let you access beverages, condiments, and other often reached for items without reaching all the way into the fridge’s main compartment.

    A single door-in-door compartment is a nice convenience. Two might be overkill. At the very least, they’ll take some getting used to, especially since they have different features and operations. For example, the one on the right opens with a trigger on the front of the door, while the trigger for the one on the left is located at the bottom of the door (imagine explaining that to a house full of party guests). Also, while the entire interior panel on the right can be opened, providing access to items on the shelves, on the right just one of the bins tilts out. 

    The second door-in-door compartment means there’s no external ice-and-water dispenser. That’s a popular feature with consumers, though models with it tend to be more repair prone, based on our refrigerator reliability surveys.  So call that one a wash. Though we would have liked to see an internal water dispenser, which are becoming more common.

    Its finish is definitely eye-catching. Stainless steel has ruled kitchen appliances for decades. We keep waiting for something to take its place. This luminous contoured glass finish, as LG calls it, is no doubt unique, and some would say sophisticated, too. The integrated LCD panel, including temperature controls for the refrigerator and freezer, is another cool touch. However, you don’t tend to see a lot of mirrors in the kitchen, so catching your reflection every time you open the refrigerator is another feature of this fridge that might take some getting used to. And while LG claims the finish “resists fingerprints and smudges and is easy-to-clean,” there were definite signs of handling after we got the unit installed in our labs. We should note the fridge is also available in “luminous glass,” but we haven’t experienced it yet.

    It’s expensive. Though built-in refrigerators from brands like Thermador and Sub-Zero cost in the $7,000 to $10,000 range, conventional refrigerators tend to top out around $3,000. Between this $6,000 LG and the $5,400 Samsung Chef Collection, we’re seeing the emergence of a whole new category—call them the luxury four doors. In the case of the Samsung, high-end styling is matched by unparalleled performance. Will the new LG reach similar heights? We'll let you know as soon as testing is complete.   

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Speed Queen Washers Built to Last

    Speed Queen has it fans—if user reviews are any indication—despite costing a lot more than most washers. And while other manufacturers tout enormous capacities, innovative features, and outstanding cleaning, Speed Queen promises 25 years of commercial-grade performance. Consumer Reports just tested two Speed Queen washers, including a $1,900 front-loader, and a Speed Queen electric dryer. Here’s a look.

    You’ll see Speed Queen commercial washers and dryers in laundromats. The Wisconsin-based manufacturer claims its laundry appliances for home use are “built with rugged, commercial-grade construction and pushed beyond their limit” in the test lab to deliver 25 years of performance. Speed Queen even provides an online calculator that estimates how long their washers will last. It’s based on the number of loads you do each week. At 8 weekly loads the washer should last 25 years, but at 10, that number drops to 20 years. An asterisk warns this number is based on Speed Queen’s tests and not guaranteed. These appliances are made in the U.S. and come with unusually long warranties—three years for parts and labor for washers and dryers with mechanical controls, five years for electronic controls. The industry norm is one year.  

    Brand Reliability

    Speed Queen top-loaders are among the more reliable washer brands, according to Consumer Reports Annual Product Reliability Survey of over 115,000 subscribers. There weren’t enough Speed Queen front-loader owners to qualify for our analysis, but our dryer brand data, based on more than 105,000 subscribers, shows that for electric dryers, LG is the most reliable brand with a 5 percent repair rate. Speed Queen’s was 10 percent (Fisher & Paykel was 20, making it the most repair-prone brand analyzed).  

    Speed Queen Test Results

    Speed Queen AFNE9BSP113TW01 front-loader, $1,900
    This front-loader scored 70 out of 100 and was the most expensive and fastest of the 39 we tested. It took 55 minutes using the normal wash and heavy-soil (max) setting. It has electronic controls so the 5-year warranty applies. Cleaning was impressive and gentle on fabrics. This Speed Queen is water efficient and extracts much of it so dryer time is shortened. Vibration wasn’t a problem, but it's noisy and claimed capacity is just 3.4 cubic feet, enough for about 15 pounds of laundry. The top-scoring Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader can fit about 28 pounds. It’s $1,450. 

    Speed Queen AWNE92SP113TW01 agitator top-loader, $1,000
    At $1,000 it’s twice the price of some agitator top-loaders. However, it has electronic controls so it comes with a 5-year warranty. Wash time is a brisk 35 minutes using the normal wash on heavy-soil (max) setting and cleaning was impressive and one of the gentlest on fabrics that we tested. But claimed capacity is just 3.3 cubic feet, fitting around 14 pounds of laundry and, like many agitator washers, the Speed Queen uses a lot of water, about 26 gallons to wash our 8-pound load and it's noisy. Overall, this washer scored 39 out of 100. In a past test the $800 Speed Queen AWN542 top-loader scored 29.

    Speed Queen ADE3SRGS173TW01 electric dryer, $700
    Not the most expensive of the group—the $1,800 LG DLEX9000V holds that title—and the Speed Queen’s capacity is very good; claimed capacity is 7 cubic feet. But this dryer scored only good in drying, mostly because it lacks a moisture sensor and over dried our laundry when we wanted it somewhat damp (handy when ironing). The dryer’s temperature is higher, especially for delicates, than what we’ve seen recently. And this dryer is noisy. Overall score is 35. This dryer has mechanical control and comes with a 3-year warranty.

    Find a washer and dryer

    Consumer Reports tests models, month after month. Our washer and dryer ratings include dozens to choose from. Use the features & specs tab to help you decide, noting the dimensions of the appliances. Some with jumbo capacities are wider than usual. And take a good look at the brand reliability data. It’s like asking 100,000 friends and neighbors about their experiences with a brand. Questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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    A Heavenly Mattress for Pope Francis

    Is nothing sacred? In advance of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States we’re learning a lot about his private life: What time he goes to sleep (10 p.m.); what time he gets up (4 a.m.); and whether he takes a nap (yes.) So far we haven’t heard what kind of mattress the Pope sleeps on in the modest Vatican guesthouse he chose over the grand papal apartments. But we do know what brand he’ll be resting on for one night of his three-city American visit.

    An eco-friendly Loom & Leaf memory foam mattress from Saatva has been delivered to the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia where Pope Francis will be attending the World Meeting of Families later this month. The queen-size mattress is made in the U.S.A. and sold exclusively online for $999. (The mattress for Pope Francis was donated by Bedding Industries of America.) Covered in organic cotton, Saatva claims the Loom & Leaf is a “healthier, greener, memory foam mattress.” Consumer Reports hasn’t tested the Loom & Leaf but we have tested another mattress from Saatva as well as two dozen memory foam mattresses from other makers.

    The Best Memory Foam and Innerspring Mattresses

    The top memory foam mattress from Consumer Reports' mattress tests is the Novaform Serafina Pearl Gel, $800, sold at Costco. In our tests we found that it offers very good support for both back and side sleepers, and stays pretty stable when one partner changes sleep positions. Scoring almost as well was the Brooklyn Bedding Cool Symphony, $1,250, which is better for side sleeping than back sleeping and is also very stable. Third on the list is the Serta iComfort Savant EverFeel, $1,575. The Serta is better for back sleeping than side sleeping and just as stable as the other two. Our 11 top-pick memory foam mattresses range in price from a $470 Sleep Innovations model to a $2,750 Comforpedic.

    The Saatva mattress we tested is an innerspring, the Saatva Luxury Firm Euro Pillowtop, $900. Scoring a 60 out of a possible 100, the Saatva innerspring did not make our list of recommended mattresses. It was so-so for both back and side sleeping and only fair for stability. A better bet is our top-rated innerspring, the Sealy Posturepedic Hybrid Trust Cushion, $1,275. It offers better support for side sleepers than back sleepers but is very stable. We also recommend six other innersprings.

    We also discovered the make of the popemobile that will ferry Pope Francis around on his visit—a modified Jeep Wrangler. In Consumer Reports' tests, the 2015 Jeep Wrangler scored a 20.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Best Gas Ranges for $1,000 or Less

    Fans of gas ranges may be disappointed to hear that the best Consumer Reports has tested don’t do as well in our tests as the top electric ranges. Typically the high-powered gas burners aren’t as fast and broiling isn’t as good. But for some of us, gas is the only way to go.

    In “5 Great Reasons to Buy a Gas Range” we pointed out the advantages of a gas range, if you have the choice. And we’ve highlighted the “Best Gas Ranges from Consumer Reports’ tests.” Now it’s time to talk money. Among single-oven gas ranges the top-rated Samsung NX58F5700WS scored 79 out of 100 and is $1,600. The impressive and stylish GE PGS920SEFSS is a slide-in so the controls are up front, the back panel is gone, and it’s yours for $2,800.

    But if your budget is $1,000 or less, take a look at these gas ranges. Check online for manufacturer rebates—although the deal may only apply when you buy more than one kitchen appliance—and watch for sales, especially around Columbus Day weekend (October 10-12).

    A Word About Gas Range Reliability

    KitchenAid and Maytag were the most repair prone of gas ranges, while Kenmore, Frigidaire, and GE were the most reliable. How do we know? We asked 17,570 subscribers who bought a gas or dual-fuel range between 2010 and 2014 about their experiences. Our brand reliability data shows you all the details.  

    Best Gas Ranges for $1,000 or Less

    Overall scores range from 64 to 73, making them very good. Check our range ratings to compare. Some gas ranges have larger ovens or are better at baking and self-cleaning. The ranges below appear in descending order based on overall score.

    More choices. For all the details on how these ranges did in our tests for simmering, baking, broiling, and more see our full range Ratings and recommendations. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Steamers Can Save a Trip to the Cleaners

    Getting out the iron, filling it with water, and setting up the ironing board to press a wrinkled shirt seems like too much work some days. And yet that just-rolled-out-of-bed look doesn’t always cut it. Hanging the shirt in a steamy shower is a method weary business travelers swear by. But for life on the run, what about a fabric steamer? Consumer Reports put three to the test.

    All three manufacturers recommend using distilled water, especially if your water is hard. We used the fabric steamers on men’s cotton shirts and cotton cloths and found they reduced wrinkles, but none created that truly pressed look. “Fabric steamers are best for quick touch-ups, delicates, and smoothing drapes without having to take them down,” says Bernie Deitrick, the engineer who ran Consumer Reports tests. Here’s how the steamers differ.  

    Shark Press & Refresh GS500

    Price: $80
    Claims: “A revolutionary new way to bring your fabrics back to life, reducing the number of trips to the dry cleaners." "Penetrates fibers to relax wrinkles, remove odors, and renew fibers.”
    Test results: The Shark's heated pressing bar did the best job of removing wrinkles and creating creases. This fabric steamer provided the most flexibility and the easiest pressing, both with its vertical ironing board that hangs on a door and its 15-foot cord. 
    Need to know: The Shark weighs about 3 ½ pounds when filled. It started steaming after 25 seconds, although the pressing bar takes a little longer to reach full temperature. It provided about 8 minutes of steam on one fill and was easy to refill. The tank can't be removed so you have to unplug steamer when refilling.

    Conair ExtremeSteam GS23

    Price: $35
    Claims: “Concentrated steam—up to 30 percent hotter." "De-wrinkle fabric 5x faster.”
    Test results: The Conair delivered the hottest steam at the lowest rate of the three models, although the hotter steam may help reduce or remove wrinkles in some fabrics. The creasing attachment got the job done, but was awkward to use.
    Need to know: There’s a creasing attachment, rather than a pressing bar like the Shark has. The Conair weighs around 2 ½ pounds when filled and has a 9-foot cord so that you can reach high on your drapes (though you may be limited in how far to the right and left you can use it). The Conair started steaming after 25 seconds or so, providing about 15 minutes of steam on one fill, and the small removable tank was easy to refill.  

    Steamfast SF-407

    Price: $70
    Claims: “Releasing wrinkles faster than ironing and freshening clothes in seconds." "Works equally well on drapes, upholstery, and other heavier materials." "Rolling casters provide easy maneuverability.”
    Test results: The Steamfast was the least impressive. Unlike the others, it sits on wheels, has a clothes hook on a telescoping pole, and a hose for steaming. It provided almost 90 minutes of steam on one fill, the longest of the three models, but the limited reach of the hose and cord would make steaming hanging drapes tricky. And it was challenging to get the wrinkles out of a shirt using the Steamfast’s pressing pad and steam wand.
    Need to know: Steamfast weighs about 11 ½ pounds when filled and has wheels mounted on the bottom, so it’s designed to stay on the floor. The hose is only 5 feet long and the cord is 6 feet. Steamfast provided steam after 45 seconds. The removable tank is a cinch to refill.  

    Finding The Best Iron

    A hot,steamy iron can work magic on rumpled clothes. See our steam iron ratings for the steamiest of the bunch. Of the 36 tested, the highest scored 95, the lowest 23.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Most Reliable Dishwasher Brands

    You can pay $700 for one of the 16 dishwashers on Consumer Reports' top-picks list or up to twice that much. With that kind of investment at stake you’ll want to make sure that the dishwasher you choose is not only quiet, energy-efficient, and excellent at washing dishes but that it will serve you well over the long haul. We asked 70,000 readers who bought a dishwasher between 2010 and 2014 about their experiences and discovered some real differences in the reliability of dishwasher brands.

    Most Reliable

    Bosch and Whirlpool are among the more reliable brands of the dishwashers we test. Bosch is well represented on our list of top picks and near picks. The Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, $700, has been a longtime CR Best Buy. You can buy a similar model at Lowe’s for even less, the Bosch Ascenta SHE3ARF[]UC, $650. Several Bosch dishwashers just missed the recommended list including the Bosch 800 Plus Series SHX7PT55UC, $1,300, the Bosch 500 Series SHP65T55UC, $900, and the Bosch 300 Series DLX SHX53TL5UC, $850.

    None of the eight Whirlpool dishwashers in our labs made our recommended list but they have their plusses starting with very good performance at affordable prices ($380 to $720). The top Whirlpool is the Whirlpool WDT720PADM, $460, which scored a respectable 75 out of 100.

    Performance vs. Reliability

    Our top dishwasher is the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, $1,080, but our readers tell us that KitchenAid is among the more repair-prone brands of dishwashers. (It tied with LG.) But washing and energy efficiency were stellar with this model and it has a self-cleaning, ultrafine filter that breaks food particles down throughout the cycle without noisy grinding.

    Scoring just as well and better for noise is the Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,200. When it comes to repairs, Kenmore is in the middle of the pack with GE, Miele, Maytag and Frigidaire. In addition to top-notch performance, the Kenmore Elite features an industry first: a motorized spray arm that reverses direction if it hits something that’s fallen through the racks.

    Least Reliable

    Samsung is the most repair-prone brand of dishwashers among those we test with 24 percent of our readers reporting that their dishwasher had undergone repairs or experienced serious problems. The seven Samsung dishwashers in our tests scored from a low of 56 to a high of 75, range in price from $400 to $1,450, and missed our list of picks. Notable among the batch—and the most expensive—is the Samsung DW80H9970US, which is part of Samsung’s heavily marketed Chef Collection. (The matching induction range and 4-door refrigerator are both top picks.)

    Dishwasher Shopping

    Performance and reliability are just two of the factors that will affect your decision. You’ll also want to know how energy-efficient and quiet the machine is as well as how easy it is to operate. We score all those factors in our dishwasher Ratings plus tell you how long a cycle takes and how much water it uses.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 09/23/15--11:58: Buying Windows Made Simple
  • Buying Windows Made Simple

    Lately offers from window manufacturers and installers arrive in the mail promising 20 percent off all windows, 40 percent off qualifying installations, and so on. Replacing windows is expensive and if installed poorly even the best windows won’t provide the comfort or look you paid for. Here’s what you’ll want to know before you take on this project. 

    Replace Your Windows for the Right Reason
    Saving money on your energy bills is not the reason to replace your windows. It could take decades to recoup the money you’ll spend. Energy Star’s “Get savings in your city” gives you an idea of your average annual savings if you replace single or double pane windows. 

    Added Features Boost Price 
    Upgrades can easily add 50 percent or more to the base cost of a window. So focus on features that add value. Low-E coatings improve efficiency, but triple insulating glass probably isn’t necessary unless you live in an extremely cold climate or very noisy neighborhood.  

    Ways to Save
    Prices can vary among dealers and manufacturers do offer special deals so check their websites and shop around. Some utilities and city and state programs offer rebates or incentives to buy Energy Star windows. And keep in mind that you can save on materials and labor by using partial replacement units—also known as pocket replacements—when the existing frames and sills are sound. Otherwise you’ll need full replacement windows. 

    Research, Then Request Bids
    See our window buying guide to learn more about window types, styles, and features. Then check our full window Ratings and recommendations of 21 double-hung and four casement windows. We found big differences between brands.

    Installation is Critical
    Proper installation is just as important as choosing the right windows for your home and climate. Many of the big manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific products. Relying on the same contractor for purchase and installation can lessen the chances of problems arising later. Look for certification from the American Window and Door Institute or Installation Masters and get multiple bids.

    Best Windows From our Tests

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Avoid a Mold Problem With Bleach, Not Insurance

    Q. The mold scare in Texas years ago prompted us to buy add-on fungus and mold coverage, which we recently realized costs us $744 a year. We’re not so scared now, so is that coverage necessary? If it is, how much coverage is usually provided by insurers, and how much should it cost?

    A. Most standard homeowners policies exclude mold, unless the damage and needed repairs resulted from a covered peril, such as a burst pipe. One way to protect yourself against a mold problem is to buy add-on coverage called an endorsement, which can cost a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per year. The cost depends on the percent of damage the policy covers.

    But because you’re not so worried about mold anymore, we think a better and cheaper way to gain peace of mind is to drop that coverage and simply take steps to prevent a mold problem from developing in the first place by taking the steps below.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Vacuums That Make a Clean Sweep

     Fantasizing about the perfect vacuum may be embarrassing to admit to—but not when you’re talking to Consumer Reports. In fact, that dream machine, you’ve told us, not only does a bang-up job but also is easy to maneuver, is quieter than a Boeing landing in your backyard, and comes at a price that won’t make you wince. We’re about to make your dreams come true.

    Some terrific choices include the $130 Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Rewind Bagless UH70120 and $200 Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352; both are lightweight bagless uprights that were among the easiest to push, pull, and turn. And though vacuums with power have to make some noise, those two vacuums, as well as the $160 Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870 and $200 Kenmore 31140, both bagged uprights, were reasonably quiet.

    The models above have tight seals and dense filters for trapping in what the vacuums suck up. But we judged certain bagless uprights poor for emissions: They fared worst at keeping fine dirt particles from going back into the air—of particular concern for asthma and allergy sufferers. Among them are the $130 Eureka AirSpeed Unlimited Rewind AS3030A, $120 Dirt Devil Lift & Go UD70300B, and $175 Hoover WindTunnel 3 UH72600.

    Two brands are new to the vacuum-­shopping scene yet familiar: Fuller Brush and Maytag. But none of the six models we tested from those brands made our recommended list.

    Should You Love the Vac You’re With?

    Pay lots for the Kirby Avalir or one of the Mieles we’ve tested and you expect to have it fixed if there’s a problem, not to replace it. But even with a model for which you paid less than $200, you want it to last. How to tell whether a problem is terminal? Here’s our experts’ advice:

    Keep it healthy. Good airflow keeps any vacuum from working harder than it needs to. So replace the bag when it’s no more than about half full; the same goes for a bag­less vacuum’s bin. And be sure to follow the owner’s manual instructions for cleaning or replacing filters.

    Easy fixes. Keeping the brush roll clean also helps your vacuum last. Hair or fur can wrap around the ends of the roll, where the bearings are. And the bristles wear down over time. Removing the roll to clean or replace it takes minutes. On most models, so does replacing a belt that has broken.

    Risky business. If the vac’s power cord is frayed, chafed, or chewed, the temptation is to tape it up—but don’t. It’s an easy fix at a repair shop. The same goes for the hose to a canister’s head: Have it repaired promptly because a live wire sometimes travels within the wand and hose.

    Judgment calls. Many other parts can break, including attachments, the hose-attach connection, and switches for on-off, brush on-off, and handle release. Even if you get a free estimate from a repair shop, some repairs aren’t worth it. In general, don’t spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one. And if an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.

    The death rattle. Hearing grinding or knocking sounds when you just turned on the vacuum? On a high-end vac such as a Kirby, you might prefer to have the motor replaced. For any other vacuums, it’s R.I.P.

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

     

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    Tips and Tricks that Make Fall Cleanup Easy

    Last winter might not be done with us yet. Spring rains over melted snow, bolstered by ample sunshine, helped trees grow especially lush this past summer. And like death and taxes, you can count on those leaves falling. If you’re flirting with the idea of letting nature take its course and enjoying a carpet of leaves all autumn, don’t. Come spring you’ll have an anemic lawn, thanks to the mold buildup. Ah, the joys of the four seasons.

    But it is possible to take care of that autumn chore and still have time left over to sip apple cider and pick pumpkins. To help liberate you from excessive leaf labor, Consumer Reports has the latest results of our tests of gas and electric leaf blowers. But our advice on how to manage it all works even if you use a good old-fashioned rake. Here’s what to consider.

    Do Your Prep Work

    Set your mower’s deck height to the lowest setting for one last cutting of the season before you start doing leaf work. Whether using a rake or blower, smoothing out your lawn with shorter grass makes for less resistance, which will make the chore go much faster.

    And take a tip from the pros. Watch landscapers this time of year, and you’ll often see them using tarps to move around piles of leaves. You can employ that time-saving strategy by using a 9x12-foot or larger polyethylene tarp. Spread it out flat and rake or blow the leaves directly onto it. A full tarp may be heavy and hard to handle. To make transport easier and to keep the tarp from spilling open, thread a rope through the grommets (you can knot the ends) or attach carabiners to the grommets.

    Consider Shredding

    Use your gas mower once more—to mow leaves. The mower chops them into little bits that serve as nutrient-rich compost for your lawn. Even if you bag the leaves, you’ll fit more per bag given the smaller pieces. And you’ll use up the last bit of gas in the tank before stowing the mower for the winter.

    If the leaves are piled too high or are wet, even the beefiest walk-behind mower can stall—especially if the deck height is low. If you hear the engine straining, slow down and tip back the mower to lift the blade out of the packed leaves; ease it back down slowly. You could also switch from bagging or mulching mode to side discharge. When you do put the mower away for the season, be sure to clean the deck and get the blade sharpened.

    Choose Your Blower Type

    The best gasoline-powered leaf blowers have the most power for loosening stuck leaves as well as rushing them along. Among gas-powered winners, the Jonsered B2126, $160, packs a lot of power and comes with an optional flat-tip nozzle that helped lift stuck leaves in our tests.

    But if you want to avoid heavy maintenance and noise, electric corded models rival gas blowers for most needs. And cordless models such as the Kobalt KHB400B and GreenWorks GBL80300, $250 each, now keep up with their corded cousins at sweeping piles of leaves. One drawback is their brief 13-minute run time on a charge—followed by 30 minutes to charge the lithium-ion battery. But be sure to take care of the battery as advised. Here’s how to help it last at least five years:

    • Keep it charged. If you leave a Li-Ion uncharged or almost empty for a long time, it might not recover. Many of the latest “smart” chargers will stop charging when the battery is fully charged, which prevents damage from overcharging.
    • Consider buying a backup. Having two or even three batteries (and maybe an extra charger) for a few tools means that you’ll always have one ready. But one size might not fit all. With most outdoor gear, products of a given voltage use the same battery. For Craftsman in particular, however, check which tools take which batteries. Some of the brand’s cordless products with the same voltage rating are made by different manufacturers and use different batteries.

    Don’t Break the Sound Barrier

    Many municipalities prohibit unreasonable noise, such as a blower’s droning, during certain hours—say, between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Some areas prohibit any blower louder than 70 decibels at 50 feet, and a few limit noise to 65 decibels (about as loud as a window air conditioner on high). And if it isn’t illegal, still avoid running even the quietest blowers very early or late. Some gas blowers and all of the electrics in our tests met the 70-decibel limit, though only the quietest electrics came in at or below 65 decibels.

    And protect your own ears, too. Wear hearing protection, especially if using a model that scored lower than good at ear level in our noise tests.

    You should also wear goggles and a dust mask. And, of course, while the blower is running, keep other people and pets far away from the area you’re clearing.

    5 Sensible Steps to Take This Fall

    Heating system

    Getting your furnace or boiler inspected is easiest to schedule in the spring, when service companies are less busy. But if you haven’t had it done this year, do it now.
    What if you don’t:
    At the least, your system could run less efficiently, costing you more. At worst, it could break down—on a cold night.

    Windows

    Many can be fixed quickly with caulk and nails. But if you’re unsure, call a pro.
    What if you don’t:
    In addition to resulting in higher heating bills, a poorly set or insulated window can let water into wall cavities, promoting mold growth.

    Water pipes

    Outside spigots must be shut off and drained; insulating covers are available that fit around them. Inside, water pipes should be covered with polyurethane-foam covers. Set the thermostat to at least 50° F to protect the pipes, especially if you’re away.
    What if you don’t:
    Burst pipes can flood a house.

    Chimney

    Even if you don’t burn wood, your heating system probably has its own flue. It should be professionally checked­­—for nesting animals as well as residue buildup—and cleaned annually.
    What if you don’t:
    Creosote in the buildup can ignite, and the fire can spread to the rest of the house.

    Gutters

    Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves and other debris. Leaf-blower attachments, hose adapters, and similar tools can do the job. Also consider gutter guards; some do-it-yourself products cost less than $100.
    What if you don’t:
    Backed-up rain and water trapped beneath melting ice, known as ice dams, can get into the house and drip down from ceilings and walls.

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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