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Consumer Reports

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    Will Black Stainless Steel Finish Off Stainless?

    When it comes to appliance finishes, the demise of stainless steel is predicted every time materials such as Jenn-Air’s Oiled Bronze, GE’s Slate, or Whirlpool’s White Ice hit the scene. Some of these newcomers have fared better than others, but none has come remotely close to supplanting traditional stainless steel.

    So will the new black stainless steel—recently unveiled by KitchenAid, LG, and Samsung—be any different? As the Magic 8 Ball might say, “Outlook not so good.” But black stainless steel is an interesting alternative if the rugged industrial look of conventional stainless steel doesn’t appeal, or if you’re worried about smudges and fingerprints.    

    KitchenAid
    KitchenAid
    calls the new material “a softer, warmer alternative to traditional stainless.” Judging from the new KitchenAid five-door refrigerator in our lab, black stainless steel is definitely less reflective, with more of a matte look and feel. And it resists fingerprints better than regular stainless. In addition to several freestanding and built-in refrigerators, KitchenAid offers black stainless steel on a selection of single and double wall ovens, dishwashers, and range hoods. A KitchenAid suite is shown above.

    Samsung
    Samsung’s black stainless steel, which is similar in texture, tone, and smudge resistance, is available on a select line of premium-priced refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers, and microwaves. Samsung tells us that many customers are using it to mix and match materials in the kitchen, for example doing the range and microwave in black and the refrigerator and dishwasher in traditional stainless steel.

    LG
    As for LG, its black stainless steel is described as “stainless steel coated with a darker hue and topped with a protective coating.” The result is a shade lighter than the blacks of Kitchen and Samsung. It’s available on a suite of appliances consisting of refrigerators, double-oven ranges, a dishwasher, and a microwave. LG has also introduced a contoured-black-glass finish that’s more reflective. It’s available on LG’s new true four-door refrigerator.

    What Kitchen Designers Say

    So what does the design community think? "I love the look of black stainless steel and I would definitely spec it for my more modern and sleeker kitchen designs, particularly if the cabinetry is a medium or dark tone,” says interior designer Libby Langdon. She also thinks the smudge resistance will be a big selling point.

    Adds designer Courtney Cachet: “I’ve been a fan of European black appliances for a while. The Smeg refrigerator and La Cornue oven in black are two favorites, but they’re far more stylized than what's coming out of the U.S. market.” She’d like to see some of the brass and copper accents from those high-end brands find their way into the mainstream. Even with such refinements, Cachet thinks black stainless steel will be a niche product.

    Time will tell. But it’s safe to say that traditional stainless steel won’t be fading away anytime soon.

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

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    Hyundai Sonata Engine Failures Prompt Recall

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a recall for Hyundai Sonata sedans from the 2011 and 2012 models years because of the potential for a major engine failure.

    The vehicles in question were built between December 11, 2009, and April 12, 2012, at Hyundai's Alabama, manufacturing facility, equipped with either a 2.0-liter turbo or 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. According to the NHTSA recall notice, metallic debris may not have been removed from the engine crankshaft during the manufacturing process. This could lead to restricted oil flow, damaging internal parts.

    A symptom of the damage is a metallic, cyclic knocking noise from the engine, and the result is possible engine failure. This could lead to the vehicle stalling, resulting in the risk of a crash. NHTSA estimates that the problem exists with about 2 percent of the cars.

    A New Engine, If Necessary

    Hyundai will mail affected owners an interim recall notification by November 2, 2015, instructing them to contact their dealer for a service appointment. The dealer will inspect the vehicle and, if necessary, replace the engine free of charge. A second notification will be mailed when parts are available.

    In addition, Hyundai Motor America will increase the warranty for the engine sub-assembly to 10 years/120,000 miles for both original and subsequent owners of 2011 and 2012 Sonatas manufactured at Hyundai's Alabama plant with the 2.0- and 2.4-liter gasoline engines.

    These same engines, built at the same manufacturing plant, were also used in Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs, Kia Optima sedans, and Kia Sorento SUVs assembled in West Point, Georgia. According to Kia spokesperson Jame Hope, Kia is not impacted by this recall.

    Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059 or by visiting www.hyundaiusa.com.  

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

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    Spend $5 More to Get an Iron That's Safe

    Some product features add a safety measure that you've come to expect. New irons typically have an auto shutoff feature. It turns off the iron when it's motionless after a bit, sensing that you’ve forgotten there’s a hot iron on—handy when you’ve run to answer the phone and can’t get rid of a telemarketer. But Consumer Reports latest tests found three irons that do not have auto shutoff. And while it isn’t a required safety feature, our testers are steamed.

    Even the $18 Proctor-Silex has auto shutoff, but we found three irons that cost $10 to $35 that do not. And some consumers have gotten accustomed to having auto shutoff so they depend on it. Of the 39 irons in Consumer Reports' tests only these do not have auto shutoff: The $35 Panasonic NI-P300T, the $10 Rival Shot of Steam ES280 from Walmart, and the $15 Continental CE23111. Spend an extra $5 and you can buy the $20 Black & Decker Xpress Steam Iron IR08X from Walmart. It has auto shutoff and provides a lot more steam, which makes ironing go faster.

    How auto shutoff works
    An auto shutoff iron turns off in about a minute when motionless and on its side or when the soleplate is down (touching the ironing board). When the iron is upright and in its usual resting position, but motionless, auto shutoff turns off the iron within 8 to 15 minutes. Irons vary on time. At 15 minutes, the three tested irons without auto shutoff scorched the tablecloths we were pressing as part of our test. 

    Home fires involving irons
    Irons caused 312 home fires annually, on average, between 2007 and 2011. That’s the most recent data available from the National Fire Protection Association. The fires resulted in eight civilian injuries and $10 million in property damage a year.  

    Choosing a new iron
    Any iron can get the job done, but a hot iron that provides plenty of steam, glides easily, and feels comfortable in your hand is just the thing you want when faced with a basket of wrinkled clothes or a shirt that needs a good pressing. Our steam iron Ratings feature 39 irons, including six that made our top picks, such as the $45 T-Fal FV4495 Ultraglide. Use our Ratings to compare irons. The features & specs tab lets you know how heavy each iron is, and the steam iron buying guide describes features and is a good place to start. Any questions? Email 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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    3 Alternative Motion Machines in Action

    It’s not every year, or decade even, that a brand new type of exercise equipment hits the market. The 1960s saw the rise of the treadmill, the 1980s had stair steppers, and elliptical trainers emerged in the 1990s. All three machines have plenty of benefits, but also certain weaknesses—and where there’s weakness, there’s opportunity for manufacturers to create a better product. Enter the “alternative motion machine,” a new type of cardio-pulmonary exercise equipment that supposedly borrows the best concepts from the treadmill, elliptical, and stair stepper for a revolutionary workout experience. Consumer Reports tested three models from NordicTrack, Octane, and Precor to see if the hype is for real.
     
    All three alternative motion machines feature a dynamically variable stride mechanism, which simply means you can control the length of your stride at will, as you would on a treadmill or while running outdoors. But as with an elliptical, your feet are always in contact with the machine, so there’s little to no pounding. In addition to being easier on the joints, this low-impact motion also makes for relatively quiet operation, nice if you live in an apartment or smaller house. As for stair-stepper influence, alternative motion machines allow you to engage in short up-and-down strides for an intense quad-burning workout. And the NordicTrack and Precor models have moving handgrips that allow for upper body conditioning.

    How We Tested

    We used a panel of 18 Consumer Reports employees—nine men and nine women—ranging in age, weight, and fitness levels. The tests were carried out in phases, beginning with an orientation period where panelists became acclimated with the machines. They then used each machine for two separate workouts before filling out an evaluation form with scale-based and open-ended questions.

    We also turned to the magic of motion-blur photography to help illustrate the differences between the three alternative motion machines and provide a visual to demonstrate why panelists felt one simulated running better than another, or why a particular machine felt more like an elliptical. The photograph below shows project leader Peter Anzalone running on a treadmill at a speed of just under 5 mph. A red LED light-strip attached to his shoe illuminates the distinct motion-path typical of a running stride. This teardrop shaped motion-path features a sharp tip at the heel strike, a flattened bottom, and a curved transition at toe-off. The motion-path is centered squarely beneath him. Compare it with the other motion-blur photographs, below.   

    How They Stack Up

    The following reviews are based primarily on panelist evaluations, though we also noted such factors as ease-of-assembly, safety, and warranty. Each alternative motion machine has unique features and attributes, so if you’re considering this equipment, start by figuring out exactly what you hope to achieve from your exercise program. Then use our model reviews, listed alphabetically below, to find the machine that best matches those goals.     

    NordicTrack FreeStride FS7i, $1,999

    Overview: The NordicTrack looks and feels the most like an elliptical trainer. Independent pedals are suspended above pivoting rollers via a belt-suspension system, which creates a unique feeling of “floating through your workout,” according to the manufacturer. The design also lets you quickly transition between various stride lengths and striding motions.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: Stride-length can extend to a maximum of 38 inches, but there is no stride-height adjustment. For variation, NordicTrack designed a 10-setting automated incline, which alters the plane of the striding path. In long-stride, our panelists said the machine felt like skiing or being on an elliptical. In short-stride, a stepping motion was possible, but not easy to achieve as the machine favored working in an elliptical path as opposed to a true vertical stepping motion.  
     
    Special Features: Touch-screen display and internet-capability. Custom workouts available through iFit technology and Google Maps routes, or you can choose from the menu of 40 on-board programs and 24 resistance settings. Chest-strap heart rate monitor also included. Oversized cushioned pedals offer comfort and traction.

    What Our Panelists Say About Nordic Track

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Panelists felt it was more like an elliptical or cross-country skiing motion than running. Increasing the cadence of the stride resulted in a longer stride rather than a faster running pace.

    What They Liked

    • High-res, touch-screen display.
    • Display information helped gauge progress during workouts and compare performance to previous workouts. Training videos and running track graphic, which shows progress around a simulated track, were favorites.
    • Controls on moving handgrips made it easy to adjust resistance and incline.

    What They Disliked

    • Tendency of pedal assemblies to hit the limiting stops, which are there to keep the assemblies on their rollers when the stride-length limit is exceeded. Panelists found banging against the stops to be jarring, noisy, and distracting.
    • Handgrips lacked a cushioned grip and were angled in a manner that forced the wrist into an awkward position at times.
    • Shortness of the retaining lip on each pedal. One panelist’s foot slipped off the front of the pedal during her first two sessions on the machine.

    Ease-of-Assembly: About 75 minutes total. NordicTrack has simplified the assembly of its cardio equipment over the years by reducing the number of fasteners and pre-assembling some of the components. We hit a major snag with the FreeStrider, however, when inserting the pedal arm axle into the retaining bushing. The fit was so tight that mating the components proved extremely difficult. We think a less experienced consumer might have serious trouble.
     
    The Bottom Line: Of the three alternative motion machines, NordicTrack fared worst among panelists. Though they liked its interactive and informative display, many couldn’t get past the mechanical deficiencies. The motion of the machine was difficult to control, as it tended to favor its own striding length. The “stops” that control pedal travel caused a loud bang as they contacted the roller, so much so that several panelists thought there was a problem with the machine. We think this jarring noise will be a major turnoff for some consumers.

    Octane Fitness Zero Runner ZR7, $3,299

    Overview: This machine has the most unique design compared to traditional cardio exercise equipment. Climbing aboard is like strapping on an AMP Suit from Avatar. Simulated hip and knee joints on the machine mimic your legs’ natural movements, allowing for an unparalleled stride length of 58 inches. There’s no resistance or incline or on-board motors. Basically, you’re the motor. You decide how the workout will go. As such, the Zero Runner’s built-in exercise programs prompt you to start a different machine-based movement, instead of actually controlling the machine.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: The Zero Runner mimics the infinitely variable path your feet might follow if you were running free form, but it takes some getting used to. Unlike other cardio equipment, there’s no resistance or incline or on-board programs that change the intensity of the workout. Panelists said the Zero Runner’s long-stride felt like running, while its short-stride simulated walking more than stepping or climbing.
     
    Special Features: Octane’s SmartLink app wirelessly connects an iPad device to the Zero Runner to provide data tracking and customized workouts. There’s also an array of built-in programs, including cross-circuit ones that allot time for off-machine exercises; anchors on the machine make it easy to attach resistance bands for strengthening exercises. Includes a chest-strap heart rate monitor.

    What Our Panelists Say About Zero Runner

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Opinion was sharply divided. A select group of panelists thought the movement felt natural, with a nice range of motion throughout the entire gait. But there were those who found it difficult to establish and maintain a consistent running motion and never got comfortable with the movement pattern. And most panelists found it particularly difficult to increase running cadence, which made for a limited stride turnover rate.

    What They Liked

    • For some, the fluid and natural running motion as well as the variable stride.
    • Simple and easy-to-read display.
    • Especially quiet operation.

    What They Disliked

    • Lack of resistance and traditional programs seemed to reduce the variety of workouts, leaving some panelists under-stimulated.  
    • Feeling of instability with the pedals, especially when stepping onto the machine or standing still on them, like during a water break.
    • Difficulty retaining the movement from session to session

    Ease-of-Assembly: Total time of about 50 minutes, with mostly one person working; a second person was needed briefly to lift the partially assembled frame from the box. A lot of thought clearly went into making the process easy and efficient. You can also pay $150 to have the machine assembled in your home.     
     
    Bottom Line: Our panelists were split over the Octane Fitness Zero Runner. If you love to run but worry about the impact of doing so on a treadmill or outdoors, this machine may appeal to you, since of the three tested machines, it felt the most like running. But there’s a pretty steep learning curve, so you need to be up for the commitment. Panelists who were less athletic or lacked coordination found it particularly hard to acclimate. The fact that exercise is largely self-directed was also a challenge for less experienced panelists.

    Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer with Open Stride, $8,895

    Overview: This is a commercial-grade machine that’s available to consumers, hence its steep price tag. Its design features pedal arms pivoting on two-joint, articulating linkages that hang from the frame by a belt. This configuration provides the two dimensional freedom of motion necessary for a variable stride-length. Stride height adjustments are made using one of two large toggle levers; the other toggle controls resistance.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: Stride-length can extend to a maximum of 36 inches, the least of any of tested model. However, the “Open Stride” feature lets you adjust the height of the stride cycle from 6.8 to 10 inches. Panelists said the long-stride felt more like an elliptical motion, while its short-stride simulated stepping.
     
    Special Features: Six on-board programs that automatically manipulate resistance. The machine itself is self-powered by an internal generator so no power cord is needed, though an optional one is available. The unique Stride Length indicator is an illuminated pendulum that swings back and forth to indicate the front-most and rear-most extent of your stride length. An on-board transceiver will work with a user supplied chest-strap heart rate monitor.

    What Our Panelists Say About the Precor

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Panelists felt its movements compared more to an elliptical. The motion lacked the impact of a heel strike, though they felt it provided a good workout. It was somewhat difficult to increase the cadence to replicate the turnover experienced in running.

    What They Liked

    • Striding required little acclimation and the moving handgrips were well designed and functional.
    • Extremely smooth, stable, and secure operation.
    • An ease-of-use regarding the controls and the display, which was considered familiar, clear and comprehensive.

    What They Disliked

    • The fact that the Precor generates its own power (no plug required) was a nuisance for some, since it means you have to pedal above a minimum level to activate the display, say when making the initial selections for a workout.
    • Motion was not fully satisfying among some of the panelists, but many panelists found nothing to dislike.

    Ease-of-Assembly: We leased the Precor AMT for this project and so it was delivered pre-assembled. Precor charges its customers an additional $350 for delivery and installation.

    Bottom Line: The Precor had the widest appeal, with 50 percent of panelists saying they’d be “extremely excited” to use it again. They appreciated the conventional on-board programs that adjusted resistance. Basically it functions a lot like other cardio equipment, with an added dimension. The familiar display is well organized and easy to read and the operation is smooth and fun. It works well as a stepper and transitions smoothly into various sized elliptical-like striding patterns, which can be extended into long, loping strides. Though the longer stride does not quite resemble running, the variety of movements and the well-integrated moving hand grips kept panelists stimulated.

    Where to Buy an Alternative Motion Machine

    Octane and Precor sell their alternative motion machines through specialized dealers; go to the manufacturers’ websites to find locations in your area. Currently, NordicTrack only sells its machines on its website. That's another knock against NordicTrack, since, as with all cardio equipment, we recommend you try out alternative motion machines in person before making your final purchase. Lastly, bear in mind that alternative motion machines have a large footprint and tall frames, so you may need 8 or even 9 feet of ceiling height.

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

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    Appliance Delivery Do’s & Don’ts

    When replacing your washer and dryer don't assume that the new machines will fit in the same space as the old pair, especially if it's tight. Washers and dryers are getting bigger and bigger as manufacturers add capacity. Of course, you can still find standard-sized machines so take your tape measure to the store when you shop. Here are five things to know about moving in new machines.

    Check all dimensions. Even washers and dryers that are 27 inches wide can be taller or deeper than your old machines. That’s important if there are cabinets or shelves over the washer or dryer, or if it needs to fit in a closet or behind doors. Many large- and jumbo-capacity machines are 2 to 3 inches wider, which could add an additional 6 inches for the pair.

    Leave room behind machines. When measuring the space you have to work with, allow room behind the dryer for the vent and behind the washer for the water-line connections.

    Measure all doorways. The machines will need to fit through the front (or back) door into the house and any doorways or stairwells on the way to the laundry room.

    Don’t forget the pedestal. Tally the height of the machine plus pedestal, especially if you plan to install your appliances below cabinets or shelves.

    Not all washers and dryers can be stacked. Though most front-loaders we test can be stacked with a dryer, the actual height of the combined units can vary slightly depending on how the dryer attaches to the washer. So check with the salesperson or look online at the models’ specs. With that height in mind, will you be able to reach the dryer controls and inside the drum?

    The best matching washers and dryers

    Find washer and dryer duos in which both machines were top-performers in Consumer Reports' tests of washer and dryer pairs.

    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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    Get Ready for Hurricane Joaquin

    In just a matter of days Hurricane Joaquin strengthened from a tropical storm into a hurricane and now residents up and down the Eastern Seaboard are tuning it to see which way the storm turns. While hurricane forecasters consider different scenarios, most agree that Joaquin will produce a lot of rain whether it makes landfall or not. The winds and rain may result in downed trees and power lines or worse. So if you live anywhere near the projected path, now is a good to check the generator you have or consider buying one at your local home improvement store. Consumer Reports found some reliable choices in its latest generator tests. We also have advice on storm preparedness.

    Because installing a stationary generator takes planning and sometimes building permits, your best bet this close to a storm is a portable generator. A small portable generator (3000 to 4000 watts) can power the basics, including a refrigerator, sump pump, several lights, and a television. A mid-sized portable (5000 to 8500 watts) can power those items plus a portable heater, computer, heating system, well pump, and more lights. If you need an even bigger unit, a large portable generator (10,000 watts) can power all those items plus a small electric water heater, central air, and an electric range. Here are the top five picks from our generator tests.

    Best Portable Generators From our Tests

    Don’t Forget the Fuel

    A 7000-watt portable generator will use 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline per day if run continuously for 24 hours. More powerful generators use more fuel.  To be safe, only store gasoline in ANSI-approved containers. To get that fuel you’ll need a dependable car so if you live in a low-lying area that’s prone to flooding, make sure to move your car to higher ground.

    More on Storm Prep

     

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    Best Blenders for $100 or Less

    Blenders don’t make a ton of news, but when they do it’s usually a pricey, high-performance model that nabs the headline. “Will the Vitamix Change the Way We Think About Food?” asked Vogue magazine earlier this year. And from Bloomberg News: “Hillary Clinton’s E-mails: Will They Blend?” referencing a popular YouTube series featuring Blendtec founder Tom Dickson. Consumer Reports also talks a lot about high-end blenders, mainly because they tend to perform best in our tests. But what if you can't shell out hundreds of dollars on this small appliance? Our Ratings of nearly 60 blenders includes several models that do the job for $100 or less. Here are three to consider:

    The Ninja Professional NJ600, $100. The Ninja might have made our recommended list, alongside the $650 Vitamix Professional Series 750 and the $650 Blendtec Designer 725, but for the fact that its pureeing was a shade less uniform (though it's still very good, so you won't have to settle for lumpy leek and potato soup). And when it comes to the more common blender tasks of smoothies and icy drinks, the Ninja was superb, plus it stood up to our tough durability test. Convenience features include easy-to-clean touchpad controls and a removable blade.

    Black + Decker Fusion Blade Digital BL1820SG-P, $50. This blender is the best bargain in our Ratings—though only if you plan to use it for low-intensity tasks, like blending fresh-fruit smoothies or mixing up milkshakes. The Black + Decker was less effective in our ice crush test and it couldn’t pass our durability test, which involves crushing ice 45 times. Like the Ninja, it features easy-clean touchpad controls and a removable blade. It also has a glass jar, which some consumers prefer because the material is less susceptible to staining than plastic.   

    Waring Pro PBB225, $100. Waring, which introduced the first blender in America back in 1937, is known for its heavy-duty commercial-grade appliances. For example, there's the $350 Waring Xtreme MX1000R blender, a top pick in our Ratings, and at 14 pounds, also the heaviest. Waring's Pro line is aimed at more cost-conscious consumers. Of the handful of blenders from the line that we tested, the Waring Pro PBB225 fared best, producing a very good pina colada and a superb soup puree. Its old-fashioned styling might appeal, though we would have liked to have seen more modern conveniences, including a pulse setting, and easier-to-read measurement markings.

    Spending less doesn't impress. While this trio of budget blenders delivers solid performance, spending less can also yield seriously subpar results. For example, the $40 Hamilton Beach Power Elite Multi-function 58148 was poor at pureeing and crushing ice and only so-so at making smoothies. We were also unimpressed by the Rival 6-speed RV-928, even with its headline-worthy price of $20.  

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

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    5 Cool Refrigerator Features Worth a Look

    If it’s been a while since you bought a refrigerator, it pays to look into the latest innovations, especially since manufacturers regularly crank out new features to differentiate their wares. If nothing else, being conversant with terms such as “linear compression” and “five-door French-door” will let the salesperson know you’re for real.

    With that leg up on refrigerator features, be sure to negotiate the final price. Our surveys show that shoppers who haggle on major appliances save around $100.

    Here are some of the most interesting refrigerator features from our latest tests:

    Speed Chilling
    Adding hot items to the refrigerator, say a warm pot of chili or chicken stock, can send its internal temperature soaring. Even room-temperature items from the supermarket can cause fluctuations, which are bad for foods already in the refrigerator. Hence the arrival of quick-chill settings, including the Maytag PowerCold feature. To test it out, we loaded a 24-pack of room-temperature half-liter bottles of water into the Maytag MFT2778EEZ French-door bottom-freezer. Without the PowerCold feature enabled, the average temperature in the refrigerator went to 43° F—that's 6° F higher than what's recommended for food preservation. With PowerCold enabled, the average temperature was 37° F.

    This test was a kind of worst-case scenario, since the refrigerator was empty; if it had been full of chilled items, the temperature swing would have been less. Nonetheless, quick-chill settings can be useful, especially if you often load hot or warm food into the fridge.  

    Five-Door Configurations 
    Four-door refrigerators are now commonplace. The KitchenAid KRMF706EBS, $4,000, is the first model in our Ratings with a five-door configuration: two pantry-style French doors for the fresh-food compartment; two pull-out drawers, including one with multiple preset temperatures; and a pull-out freezer drawer. The five-door fridge also has a unique interior platinum finish. For the exterior, you can choose between traditional stainless steel and new fingerprint-resistant black stainless steel.

    Trickle-Down Efficiency  
    Linear compressors limit temperature swings inside the refrigerator. That not only decreases power consumption but can also help preserve food. The innovation used to be reserved for pricier models, but we’re seeing this refrigerator feature  on less-expensive top-freezers, including the top-rated LG LTCS20220S, whose $950 price tag is good enough for a CR Best Buy distinction. Thanks to the technology, the 30-inch-wide top-freezer has one of the best efficiency scores of all tested models.

    Built-in Adjustable Humidity
    Humidity-controlled drawers are standard on conventional refrigerators, but we haven't seen many built-in models with the feature, which can help keep fruits and vegetables fresh. The new Viking VCBB5363E 36-inch-wide built-in bottom-freezer, $9,050, is an exception, featuring a pair of adjustable humidity drawers with soft-close slides. While the model misses our recommended list, it delivers exceptional temperature control throughout. 

    Hot Water Dispensers
    Getting water from the fridge is nothing new. We’re seeing more models that give you the option of hot water too, say for a cup of tea. The GE Café CYE22TSHSS is the second generation of this model to serve up this refrigerator feature. Choose from one of four preprogrammed settings, ranging from 90° F to warm a baby’s bottle to 185° F for a cup of instant soup. The 36-inch-wide French-door refrigerator also offers a cabinet-depth design for a more streamlined look.

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

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    Keep your pets safe on Halloween

    On any given day, pets can get into all sorts of mischief toppling plants or shredding shoes. So imagine the potential of your a pet and a lit candle. As critical as it is to keep kids safe on Halloween, it’s also important to recognize the dangers that abound for pets, and in turn for their owners, around this time of year.

    Candy can be toxic to pets. Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Symptoms of significant chocolate ingestion may include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased thirst, urination and heart rate—and even seizures. Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol sweetener can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, which leads to depression, lack of coordination, and seizures.

    Treats can be tricky

    And cute as it might seem to dress your feline friend or canine companion in a costume, bear in mind that a frightened dog in a cape is nobody’s idea of fun (especially not the dog’s). Here are some guidelines from the Humane Society of the U.S. and the ASPCA  for keeping pets and the people around them safe at Halloween.

    • Keep your pet in a quiet place, away from trick-or-treaters and other Halloween activities.  Dogs and cats can become frightened or agitated by the unaccustomed sights and sounds of costumed visitors.
    • Cats—black ones in particular—often fall victim to pranksters. Keep them safely indoors.
    • Place live flame decorations like candles and jack-o'-lanterns out of your pet's reach. Curious cats or rambunctious dogs can easily knock over a candle with a paw or a wagging tail.
    • Pick up the candy papers. Ingesting tin foil and cellophane candy wrappers can pose a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage.
    • Don't let the family dog accompany the kids on their trick-or-treat outing. Children may have a difficult time handling a pet during the festivities and your pooch could get loose, especially if she is spooked by neighborhood goblins.
    • Keep decorations that pets could chew on—like streamers and fake spider webs—and wires and cords from electric decorations out of reach. If pets chomp on Halloween decorations they could choke or become ill and, if they chew on electrical cords, they risk a potentially deadly electrical shock.
    • IDs, please! Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can increase the chances that he or she will be returned to you.

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

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    Why a Front-Loader Uses So Little Water

    Ever wonder how a front-loading washing machine gets clothes clean, yet uses only about half the water as some top-loader agitator machines? Knowing how a front-loader works can help you decide if it’s for you. Consumer Reports’ engineers offer a look inside.  

    Inside the Washing Machine
    A front-loader has a stainless steel drum that spins inside a tub. Stainless is used because it can withstand higher spin speeds than the plastic or ceramic found on agitator top-loaders. Water flows into the drum, filling the machine to a level below the door opening. As the drum spins, laundry gets caught in the protrusions, known as vanes, and is lifted to the top. Then the laundry drops back into the water. This tumbling provides the action that helps in cleaning.

    In some front-loaders the drum turns in one direction, while in others the drum also reverses direction. All this movement, with the help of HE (high-efficiency) laundry detergent, removes dirt and tackles stains in laundry. This detergent is less sudsy so it’s recommended for front-loaders. Front-loaders lock at the beginning of a cycle, but can usually be opened by interrupting the cycle.

    Advantages
    Most front-loading washing machines deliver excellent or very good cleaning and are gentle on fabrics. They have larger capacities and used 13 gallons of water or less in our tests to wash an 8-pound load. Agitator washers typically used about twice as much. Front-loaders spin faster than other washers, extracting more water and cutting dryer time. They tend to be quiet, and many can be stacked with a dryer to save space.

    Drawbacks
    Front-loaders are often expensive and have longer wash times—70 to 105 minutes using the normal-wash, heavy-soil setting. You’ll save about 15 minutes using the normal-soil setting.

    Their high spin speeds can cause them to vibrate too much (we show vibration and noise scores in our washing machine Ratings). Keep in mind that concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors.

    Some consumers have complained that their front-loaders developed odors and mold along the front gasket material. Read "Preventing Funky Front-Loader Mold" for details and tips. Keeping the door ajar after every wash is one tip that helps, but if you have young children afoot you’ll want to lock the door to the laundry room.

    Give These Front-Loaders a Whirl

    5 Recommended Front-Loaders
    The Maytag’s normal wash time was the fastest, at 75 minutes using the heavy-soil setting. The other washers have a time-saving option that saves 15 to 20 minutes without affecting cleaning.
    Samsung WF56H9110CW, $1,450
    LG WM9000HVA, $1,800
    LG WM8500HVA, $1,450
    Kenmore Elite 41072, $1,000
    Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC, $1,400

    5 Impressive Front-Loaders Under $1,000
    The Maytag and Whirlpool are faster, but the others have the time-saving option mentioned above.
    Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW, $950 (Recommended)
    Whirlpool Duet WFW87HEDW, $950
    LG WM3570HVA, $800
    Samsung WF42H5600AW, $700
    LG WM4270HWA, $830  

    More choices. See our washing machine washing machine Ratings to see how these front-loaders stack up as well as the results of our tests of AH top-loaders and agitator top-loaders. Questions? Send me an email at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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    Rewards Cards That Will Maximize Your Benefits

    One smart way to get a deal on the things you buy this holiday season is to pay using rewards credit cards. If you choose the right ones, you can double the fun: Buy an iPad or two for your spouse and kids, shop for your turkey dinner, and pay for a flight to visit grandma, and you’ll wind up giving yourself a gift, too. We found that if you charge your purchases on two cards instead of one, you could earn 10 to 40 percent more in rewards over time in the scenarios shown below.

    Of course, to get the biggest savings you’ll have to use the rewards cards year-round—not just over the holidays. And you’ll need to know the details about the reward programs, such as how much cash back they offer, whether there are caps on the amount you can earn, and what kinds of purchases qualify. One card, for example, might give you 3 percent cash back on gas, 6 percent on groceries, and 1 percent on everything else, and another may give you 2 percent back on all purchases.

    To see how this strategy could benefit you, we used our proprietary credit card comparison calculator to review more than 90 rewards-card programs under six spending scenarios based in part on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and market research. We evaluated benefits over a three-year period because certain rewards cards offer a generous sign-on bonus but more limited rewards in subsequent years.

    We also considered the actual value of the rewards—whether they come as miles, points, or cash back—and we assumed that cardholders don’t carry balances. A few generous rewards cards came up more than once because they work well for more than one kind of spender. Rewards programs can change at any time, so check them carefully online before you sign up.

    The Family Person

    You belong to a typical American family. You have a spouse and two kids, and you spend about $300 on gas and $500 on groceries every month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On a credit card budget of $3,500 per month, you’re also spending on clothes, drugstore goods, entertainment, travel, restaurant meals, and utilities.

    Your Cards: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card; Capital One Venture

    Your Strategy: Charge your monthly gas and grocery expenses to the American Express card to earn 6 percent cash back on groceries (on up to $6,000 over 12 months) and 3 percent cash back on gas. Use the Capital One card for everything else because it offers 2 miles for every dollar you spend in all categories.

    Rewards Total: $3,550 over three years

    The Traveler

    Whether it’s for work or play, you spend lots of time on planes and in hotels, and you want to earn rewards so that your next trip is free. Seventy percent of your credit card spending is in travel-related categories such as airfare, hotels, rental cars, and restaurant meals, and you charge a total of $3,000 per month.

    Your Cards: Capital One Venture; PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card

    Your Strategy: The PenFed card gives 5 points on every dollar spent on airfare but only 1 point on all other spending. So use it to buy your airline tickets, but charge other expenses to the Capital One card, which gives you 2 miles for every dollar you spend. It also gives new cardholders 40,000 bonus miles if they spend a total of $3,000 in the first three months. The PenFed card gives 20,000 miles if you spend $2,500 in three months. Neither card charges foreign transaction fees.

    One caveat, though: To get the PenFed card, you have to first join the PenFed Credit Union. Anyone can join, and costs are low. Military personnel and their families can join free; others must make a one-time donation of $14 to Voices for America’s Troops or $15 to the National Military Family Association. Members must keep at least $5 in a savings account.

    Rewards Total: $3,400 over three years.$3,400 over three years.
     

    The Small-Business Owner

    Your ongoing expenses include advertising, communications costs, gas, travel, and dinner with clients. You need rewards cards that either give you cash back that you can reinvest in your business or provide travel points that you can use for future business trips. An analysis by Shoeboxed, which tracks small businesses’ spending, found that owners’ expenses average $2,245 per month. But that study was from three years ago, and business expenditures have been rising, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. So we estimate that you’re charging $2,500 per month.

    Your Cards: PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa Plus; Capital One Spark Cash for Business or Capital One Spark Miles for Business

    Your Strategy: Use the PenFed card for gas because it offers 5 percent cash back. Charge everything else to the Capital One Spark Cash card, which gives you 2 percent cash back (plus a $500 cash bonus if you spend $4,500 in the first three months). To earn free travel perks instead, swap out the Spark Cash card for Spark Miles. You’ll earn an equivalent of 2 miles per dollar spent. You’ll also get the same sign-up bonus you can use for travel. Neither Capital One card charges a foreign transaction fee, and your rewards never expire.

    Rewards Total: $2,500 over three years.

    The Baby Boomer

    You’re closing in on retirement and are at the height of your earning potential. Much of your income goes toward entertainment, groceries, and utilities, though you also spend money on clothing, drugstore goods, home improvements, gas, and restaurant meals. You charge about $4,200 per month.

    Your Cards: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card; Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

    Your Strategy: The American Express card gives you 6 percent cash back on groceries (on $6,000 annually) and 3 percent cash back at gas stations and certain department stores. But for other purchases, you’ll get only 1 percent back. So charge everything else on the Barclaycard, which gives you 2 miles per dollar spent that can be redeemed as a statement credit for airline tickets, hotel stays, and cruises.

    Rewards Total: $3,800 over three years.
     

    The Student

    You’re in school, so money is tight, but you’re still charging $250 per month or more on credit cards. Spending by those younger than 25, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes food, gas, travel, insurance, clothing, utilities, and entertainment.

    Your Cards: BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students; Discover It Chrome for Students

    Your Strategy: Charge gas and groceries on Bank­Americard. That’ll give you 3 percent cash back per dollar spent on gas and 2 percent on groceries. (The amount drops to 1 percent after you spend a combined total of $1,500 per quarter in those categories.) If you have a Bank of America checking or savings account, you’ll earn an additional 10 percent cash back on rewards you deposit into that account. Put the rest of your charges on the Discover card to earn 2 percent cash back on gas and restaurant meals (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter) and 1 percent on the rest of your purchases.

    Rewards Total: $235 over three years.

    The Big Spender

    You charge an average of $5,000 per month on your credit cards, so you could be a great contender for a premium card, according to research firm Mercator Advisory Group. In our calculations, we divided 75 percent of your spending among retail, entertainment, travel, and restaurant expenses. Groceries and gas make up a smaller part of your spending, so cards that richly reward you in those categories are not as important.

    Your Cards: Capital One Venture; Citi ThankYou Premier

    Your Strategy: Charge your entertainment, restaurant, and travel expenses to the Citi card. That way you’ll earn 3 points for each travel dollar spent and 2 points for entertainment and restaurants. Your points are worth 25 percent more when redeemed for airfare, hotels, cruises, and car rentals through Citi’s ThankYou Travel Center. Put all other expenses on the Capital One card to earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend. If you charge $3,000 on the Capital One card during the first 90 days after you activate it, you’ll get 40,000 bonus miles. You’ll get 50,000 bonus points from Citi after charging $3,000 during the first 90 days.

    Rewards Total: $4,650 over three years.
     

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 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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    Smart Road Tips for Halloween Car Safety

    Halloween is a holiday that is supposed to be scary, but as costumed children hit the roads for treats, safety should be a top priority to ensure no true horrors occur.

    Between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight on Halloween is the deadliest night of the year, says Sharon Berlin, research analyst at AAA. Pedestrian deaths are very high that night. According to past research, alcohol is a factor in about 72 percent of Halloween deaths; it is not just kids out celebrating.

    A study by AAA found that the risk of severe injury to a pedestrian is twice as likely if they are hit by a car driving 35 mph compared to 25 mph. "A small difference in speed can make a big difference in saving lives," says Berlin. So drivers are urged to slow down and be extra attentive.

    Below are some tips for children and parents to ensure that this year's festivities are fun and not frightening.

    Trick-or-Treaters

    With children of all ages walking along and crossing the street, it's important to make sure children and parents know how to stay aware and safe.

    • Parents should accompany children if they are younger than 12-years old.
    • Children should walk—not run—from house to house.
    • Children should stay on sidewalks instead of walking between cars or on lawns where ornaments or wires can be tripping hazards.
    • Remind children to look for cars backing out or entering when walking by a driveway.
    • Cross streets at corners with traffic signals and crosswalks.
    • Don't assume the right of way as motorists may not see you.
    • Consider a costume that is a lighter color and more visible to motorists. Add reflective material front and back. Make sure costumes don't obstruct vision or drape down so long as to be a tripping hazard.
    • Give your kids a flashlight so they can be seen by drivers. Glow sticks can further aid visibility.

    Find out how to protect your car on Halloween. And check out these 13 scary-good new car deals for Halloween.

    Drivers

    As dusk approaches, drivers need to be extra vigilant and focused on the road.

    • Slow down when driving around neighborhoods and residential streets. Assume children are around and don't see you.
    • Do not drink and drive.
    • Yield to pedestrians and watch for children who may dart out into the street .
    • If you are driving children around for trick or treating, make sure they are buckled up appropriately with a child safety seat or vehicle seatbelt. Do this each and every time they enter the car, and check before driving to the next stop.
    • Pull over to safe locations to let children exit curb side, away from traffic. Use your hazard lights to alert other drivers of not only your car, but to exercise caution. Especially on Halloween, they will be extra wary for children as a result.
    • Try to park in a spot where you won't need to back up, but if you must, have an adult outside to make sure no children are in the way.
    • As you should every day, don't use a cell phone or other mobile device while driving. Pull over safely to check voice messages or texts, as needed.

    By being cautious and safety minded this Halloween, you can make sure the holiday is a treat for all.  

    Happy Halloween!

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

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    2015 Gift Guide: For the Food Lover

    At Consumer Reports, we buy and rigorously test thousands of products and services all year long so that you have an independent source by which to evaluate safety, performance, value, energy efficiency, and environmental impact. At holiday time, that will make you a shrewder shopper, resulting in smarter, cooler, more delightful, and useful choices. We’ve reviewed a year’s worth of testing to bring you the standouts from our labs—from TVs to toasters, smartphones to slow cookers, coffeemakers to cars. The results add up to our Best Products of 2015. 

    Are you shopping for someone who loves food and spending time in the kitchen? We've rounded up the best kitchen gadgets on the market, including a mighty microwave, snazzy cookware, and more. 

    More Gift Guides

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    Top LEDs and CFLs for the Dark Days Ahead

    Daylight Saving Time has its critics. But for the sleep-deprived, it’s hard to argue with the appeal of gaining an hour of sleep come Sunday, November 1, as Daylight Saving Time ends. Until you remember that for the next few months it will be dark when you wake up, dark before you sit down for dinner, and dark when you walk the dog after you eat. Time to turn on the lights.

    Lights are on longer in the fall and winter, whether people need more light for reading and cooking or to lift their mood. And while some turn off lights when they leave a room, a walk through my neighborhood tells me otherwise—some homes are lit up, floor to floor. That's a lot of electricity being used, especially considering that the average home has more than 40 light sockets, according to Energy Star. 

    Now’s a fine time to switch to energy-saving CFLs and LEDs. CFLs use about 75 percent less energy and last seven to 10 times longer than the incandescent bulbs they replace. LEDs use slightly less energy than CFLs, and most are claimed to last 18 to 46 years, based on three hours of use each day. LEDs are more expensive, but their prices continue to fall as manufacturers try to speed up adoption; utility rebates can help offset some of their higher cost.

    5 CR Best Buy Lightbulbs to Consider

    These lightbulbs are as bright as the 60-watt incandescents they replace, and the LEDs are dimmable. Use these energy-saving lightbulbs in frequently used lamps and open ceiling fixtures. All except the Philips can be used in fully enclosed fixtures. (Prices are per bulb.)

    Check our lightbulb Ratings for all the details. You’ll also find general-purpose bulbs that replace 40-, 75- and 100-watt bulbs, and BR30 and PAR38 bulbs for indoor and outdoor use.

    If you have any questions, send them to 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 vacuums for holiday cleanup

    You can plan your dinner courses to a tee, chill the wine just right, and still feel behind the eight ball because your vacuum cleaner conked out at a critical moment. If you have time, you might find there’s hope for that old vacuum. But if you need a new vacuum anyway, you can’t go wrong with these five favorites from Consumer Reports' vacuum tests, which also make great gifts.

    Kenmore 31140, $200

    For an upright bagged model, the type with the most suction for deep-cleaning carpets, we recommend the Kenmore 31140. Some models costing up to $515 more did better overall, but the Kenmore was impressive for deep-cleaning carpets and even better at picking up pet hair, cleaning bare floors, and keeping in what it picked up. We also liked its easy-to-reach on/off switch, the manual carpet pile-height adjustment—better than automatic systems at matching the brush to the surface—and the brush on/off switch, which safeguards bare floors and keeps from scattering debris rather than picking it up.

    Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Rewind UH70120, $130

    Impressive cleaning and superb pet-hair pickup helped put the bagless upright Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Rewind UH70120 on our winner's list. This model also delivers lots of suction for tools, manual carpet pile-height adjustment (better for matching the brush to the surface), and a retractable cord--all in a low-priced, relatively light machine that weighs just 18 pounds. Two things this value-priced model doesn't include: suction control for drapes and a brush on/off switch to safeguard bare floors' finish and prevent scattered dust and debris. Among upright brands, Hoover has been a solid performer in our tests.

    Panasonic MC-CG937, $330

    Panasonic's bagged canister had impressive cleaning across the board, making it one of our top picks. The Panasonic MC-CG937 had ample airflow for tools and did equally well at picking up pet hair. Helpful features include a brush on/off switch, suction control, easy on/off, manual carpet pile-height adjustment, and the expected retractable cord. Also, the bag resides on a little caddy that we found easy to empty.

    Kenmore 22614, $350

    Impressive cleaning, lots of airflow for tools, and fairly quiet running helped make this bagless canister a top pick. The Kenmore 22614 is also a great choice for picking up after cats or dogs. Key features include manual carpet pile-height adjustment, suction control, a brush on/off switch, and a retractable cord. And among canister brands, Kenmore has consistently been among the top performers. One caveat: Handling this vacuum's 23 pounds took some muscle. But you wanted to keep in shape for the holidays, right?

    Shark Rocket HV302, $180

    Among stick vacuums, the cordless Dyson V6, $300, and Dyson V6 Motorhead, $550, are the performance champs. But for hundreds less, the corded Shark Rocket HV302, $180 did nearly as well and matched the Dysons for carpet-surface cleaning and pet-hair pickup. In both those tests the Shark was top-notch. It was also impressive at cleaning edges, doing bare floors, and is fairly quiet. Prefer a cordless model? Consider the Hoover Platinum LiNX BH50010, $160, instead.

    Before checking our vacuum cleaner Ratings of more than 140 vacuums, be sure to check our buying guide for vacuums.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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  • 10/30/15--10:54: 7 Scariest Kitchen Accidents
  • 7 Scariest Kitchen Accidents

    Kitchens are considered the heart of the home but they’re also home to a lot of equipment that can pose safety hazards. Cooking fires top the list of things that can go wrong in the kitchen followed by injuries from knives, cookware, food processors, microwaves, and blenders. Fires related to cooking peak over the holidays—Thanksgiving has three times the average cooking-related fires. Here are some tips from safety pros and the experts at Consumer Reports that will help you avoid accidents and keep you out of the emergency room over the holidays.

    Cooking fires

    Fires involving cooking equipment account for two of every five reported home fires. Unattended cooking equipment accounts for one in three fires, and half are ignited by fat, grease, oil, or related substances, according to the National Fire Protection Association. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, take a minute to bone up on these safety tips to avoid accidents.

    • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling.
    • If you are simmering, baking or roasting, remain at home and check the food often. Set the timer as a reminder.
    • Keep anything that can catch fire—pot holders, towels, food packaging—away from the stovetop.
    • Always keep a lid nearby to smother small grease fires by sliding the lid over the pan and turning off the burner.
    • If a fire starts in the oven, turn it off and leave the door closed.
    • If the fire gets out of hand, leave the house and call 911.
    • Keep a fire extinguisher with a minimum 5-B:C rating on hand.

    Knife cuts

    Lacerations caused by knives of all kinds (not just the kitchen type) affected more than 350,000 people in 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dull knives are actually more dangerous than sharp ones, because they require more pressure to use and their worn edge can cause the knife to slip off food and into your fingers. To avoid accidents and injuries:

    • Keep knives sharpened.
    • Use a cutting board that doesn’t have a slippery surface and put a damp towel under it to prevent it from moving.
    • Cut away from your body, keeping the fingers of the hand holding the food curled toward the palm.
    • Store knives in a block, not in a drawer, where they can easily slice fingers.

    Range tipovers

    Almost 40,000 people were injured from these appliances. Kids are especially at risk if they’re not supervised and climb on an open door, causing the range to tip over. To prevent accidents and injuries:

    • Install an anti-tip bracket if your current range does not have one to ensure that it is securely in place.
    • Never place heavy roasts and other food on an oven door that’s been left open.
    • Drape a towel on the oven handle while a pan is cooling to remind you that it’s still hot.

    Shattering cookware

    More than 37,000 people were injured from using cookware. Hot handles can burn and sometimes glass cookware can shatter. Heed these no-nos:

    • Don’t take the dish directly from the freezer to the oven or vice versa.
    • Don’t put the dish directly on a burner or under a broiler.
    • Don’t add liquid after the dish is hot or put a hot dish on a cold or damp surface.
    • Stop using a dish that’s chipped or cracked.

    Food processor lacerations

    Food processors caused more than 21,000 injuries, including cuts from the blades. To prevent accidents and injuries:

    • Don’t leave motorized models on for a long time; they can overheat.
    • Never reach into a slicer or a chopper. There is no need to hand wash and subject your fingers to injury; many parts are dishwasher-safe—including blades.

    Microwave oven burns

    More than 10,000 people were hurt using microwaves. Burns were most common. To prevent accidents and injuries:

    • Be careful when removing a wrapper or cover on a microwaved dish; steam can escape and cause a nasty burn.
    • Food can heat unevenly in a microwave, so use caution when touching or tasting.
    • Let food cool for a minute or two before removing it from the microwave.
    • Boil water on the stove. Superheated water in the microwave may appear placid but can violently erupt.

    Blender injuries

    More than 9,600 injuries occurred involving blenders. Immersion blenders are great for soups because they blend directly in a pot, but recent reports show that injuries are growing with the use of those small appliances. To prevent accidents and injuries:

    • Avoid the temptation to put your hand inside, especially if it’s plugged in. Most blenders don’t have safety interlocks, so you could accidentally turn it on and mangle your hand.
    • To clean blades without touching them, add dishwashing detergent and hot water to the container and let it run on high for a minute. Unplug, then rinse.

    This article was adapted from Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine with additional reporting.

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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 makes a statement, but you'll question how a terrific washer and a noisy dryer that's tough on clothes ended up together. Enter the matchmaker. Consumer Reports' tests found pairs that are worth a look.

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

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

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

    The Quietest Couples

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

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

    Kenmore set

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

    LG duos

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

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $830 each 
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but both were impressive at their task and relatively quiet. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer fit 22 pounds of our laundry, was gentle on fabrics, and has 14 cycles. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting is 75 minutes. The TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning and saves 15 to 20 minutes.
    Need to know:  Machines can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

    Maytag mates

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

    Maytag Bravos MVWB855DW HE 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 among the most water efficient of the HE top-loaders. It fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. There are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was impressive at its job and claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet. These machines are made in America. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 80 minutes using heavy-soil setting. This washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics, but that's true for most top-loaders. 
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide; dryer, 29. Gas dryer is the Maytag Bravos MGDB855DW, $1,150. 

    Samsung sets

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

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: Both made our top picks. The washer has one of the largest capacities tested and fit about 28 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. It offers impressive cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 15 wash cycles.The top-rated dryer was superb at drying and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 85 minutes, but the SuperSpeed option cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GG, $1,400.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP HE top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,100 each
    Here's the deal: Both are top picks. This washer has a jumbo capacity and can hold about 28 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. Washing was impressive and there are 15 cycles. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The dryer aced its job and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide. The waterproof cycle prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9000GP, $1,200. 

    Samsung WA52J8700AP HE 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. The SuperSpeed cuts wash time by 15 to 20 minutes and cleaning is still impressive. However, the washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most top-loaders. This washer has Activewash, a water jet and built-in sink with ridges that enable you to hand wash and soak stained items before they go into the machine.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches, the standard width, yet capacity is very large. When shopping reach into washer to see if you can touch the bottom of the tub. The dryer is Energy Star qualified and using the eco-mode can save you some energy but extends dryer time. 

    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 cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 13 wash cycles. Normal wash time, on heavy soil setting, is 75 minutes. That's faster than most.The dryer was superb at drying and among the quietest tested.
    Consider this: These machines are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device that lets you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more.
    Need to know: Made in the U.S.A. Machines have a silver finish and can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8500DW HE top-loader and Whirlpool Cabrio WED8500DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 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. 
    Need to know: Washer is 28 inches wide; dryer, 29. They're made in the U.S.A. Gas dryer is the Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8500DW, $1,100. 

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

    Impressive Pairs for $1,700 or Less

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

    Kenmore couples

    Kenmore 28132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 68132 electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is the least expensive and fastest of the top picks. It took 60 minutes using normal wash on a heavy-soil setting. There are eight wash cycles. Cleaning was impressive and the washer fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. This machine is relatively quiet, as is the dryer. The tested dryer was superb at drying. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect performance to be similar to tested dryer. Claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet.
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most HE top-loaders we've tested. The dryer is Energy Star-qualified and you will save some energy but extend drying time using the eco-mode.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, standard width, and yet capacity is jumbo. When shopping reach into the bottom of the washer to see if you can grab that last sock. Dryer is 29 inches wide. 

    Kenmore 27132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 67132 electric dryer
    Price: $700 washer, $700 dryer
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but the washer came close. It performed similarly to the Kenmore above and also has eight wash cycles and a wash time of 60 minutes (normal wash, heavy-soil setting). But capacity is slightly smaller. Claimed capacity is 4.8 cubic feet. We fit about 23 pounds of laundry. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 7 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders this one wasn't gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, dryer is 29. Gas dryer is the Kenmore 77132, $800.  

    LG duos

    LG WM3570HVA front-loader and LG DLEX3570HVA electric dryer
    Price: $800 each 
    Here's the deal: They didn't make our top picks but the washer was excellent at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, and fit about 21 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet. There are 12 wash cycles. The dryer aced its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines were relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time on normal wash heavy-soil setting was 95 minutes. The TurboWash option cut wash time of full loads by 15 to 20 minutes and offers comparable wash performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches wide and stackable. They have a graphite finish. In the ratings the dryer model name ends with a "W" to indicate that the tested model was white. It costs about $100 less than the graphite finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX3571W in white or LG 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 brands and LG dryers are significantly more reliable than other brands, according to our survey of more than 100,000 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. The TurboWash option cuts 15 to 20 minutes off wash time and cleaning was just as good in our tests.
    Need to know: Stackable. Each machine is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

    Samsung set

    Samsung WA45H7000AW HE top-loader and Samsung DV45H7000EW electric dryer
    Price: $500 each
    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 cycle for waterproof items. The tested dryer aced its job. Both machines are relatively quiet. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect it to perform the same as the tested model. Claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet.
    Consider this: Wash time is 80 minutes using normal wash on heavy-soil setting.  
    Need to know: 
    Each machine is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the Samsung DV45H7000GW.

    How We Test Washers and Dryers

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

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

    —Kimberly Janeway

     

     

     

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    8 Kitchen Tools That Make Holiday Cooking a Breeze

    You have better things to worry about during the holiday season than how your kitchen tools will perform when you're whipping up a celebratory meal. You have time now before the big feast, so do yourself a favor and check out what you have on hand. If your cooking toolbox could use some sprucing up, take a look at these great gadgets. And some of them make great gift ideas, too.

    1. Ginsu Chikara knives
    Good knives are one of the most important kitchen tools—and they doesn’t have to cost a fortune. At about $75, this 8-piece set is a great value and a Consumer Reports Best Buy. The cutting performance and comfort level are at the same level as sets costing three to four times as much. While the set doesn’t have a slicer (carving knife), it does have a santoku, a cross between a chef’s knife and a cleaver, that will give you a perfect carved turkey or roast. 

    2. Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-inch pan
    Has the nonstick pan in your cabinet become “sticky?” If so, pick up this inexpensive but high-performing pan. A Consumer Reports Best Buy (about $40), it scored Excellent for even cooking and food release and Very Good for ease of cleaning. 

    3. Cutting board
    Inspect the boards you have, and get rid of any with deep scratches where bacteria can hide. You need at least three boards: one that’s dedicated to raw meat, one to chop vegetables, and one for cooked meat. Consumer Reports’ food safety experts recommend you choose one made out of polypropylene or another dishwasher-safe material for raw meat, but for produce and cooked meat, it’s your choice.

    If you use a wooden board, wash it by hand in hot soapy water after you use it. To remove odors, rub the board with half a lemon and coarse salt. Rinse and then give your wood board a little conditioning by rubbing the lemon rind over the board. 

    4. Meat thermometer
    Consumer Reports’ tests show that digital thermometers are the most accurate. With an instant-read model, all you have to do is turn it on and stick it in the meat near the end of the estimated cooking time. If you don’t want to keep opening the oven door to check the temp, opt for a leave-in model. It stays in the meat recording temps via a long cord and sending them to a countertop base unit. The CDN Proaccurate TCT572 was the best of the instant-read models we tested. The downside is its price (ranges from $70 to $130). Another smart pick at $18 is the Polder Stable Read THM-379. For leave-ins, we like the $40 Oregon Scientific Wireless BBQ/Oven AW131.  

    5. Tongs
    Possibly one of the handiest kitchen tools around, tongs can be used to flip meat or vegetables, serve salads, sauté foods, juice citrus, plate pasta, reach to grab something in the back of the oven, and so much more. Silicone tipped tongs can be used with nonstick pans. A pair that locks in the closed position makes for easier storage. 

    6. Roasting rack
    Add a rack to your roasting pan and the bottom of your roast or bird won’t be soggy. Racks help with even cooking, browning, and crisping. Get a nonstick one to make cleanup easier.  

    7. Kitchen twine
    Trussing your turkey or tying up your roast is all about presentation—key if you want your guests to ooh and aah when you present the main course. Poultry wings and legs stay close to the body and roasts hold their shape during cooking. Be sure to use only twine specifically sold for use with food, made out of cotton or linen. Synthetic materials can melt into your food.  

    8. Storage containers
    The best part of Thanksgiving? Leftovers. Make sure you’ve got somewhere to put them. Opt for glass or BPA-free plastic containers. Consider, too, buying a pack of disposable containers so you can send your guests home with the fixings for a terrific turkey sandwich. 

    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 Cookware From Consumer Reports' Tests

    A cookware set is the perfect gift for newlyweds, new home owners, and college grads moving into their first apartment. Heck, a couple that’s been married for 25 years may appreciate a new set to replace the one they got at their wedding. You can spend a lot on a top-notch cookware set but you don’t have to as Consumer Reports discovered in its cookware tests. And we panned some sets with a celebrity name on the box. Here are the details.

    Stick With Non-Stick

    Our two top cookware picks are both non-stick sets. No uncoated cookware made the grade. Here are our two favorite sets.

    The Swiss Diamond Reinforced 10-piece set, $600, was the highest rated of all our tested sets. It was very good at evenly heating food and, when new, it was superb at releasing food. This set was very good at withstanding our non-stick durability test in which steel wool is rubbed over a pan for up to 2,000 strokes and like most non-stick cookware, is easy to clean. The aluminum set comes with a lifetime warranty.

    The Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-piece set, $200, a CR Best Buy, combines performance and value and was very good overall. It was excellent at evenly heating food without it sticking to the pan. The handles stayed cool to the touch, but aren't as sturdy as the top-rated Swiss Diamond set. The aluminum set is durable and easy to clean and comes with a 10-year warranty.

    Frying Pans That Sizzle

    Frying pans are perhaps the most replaced pan in the kitchen. We found three to recommend including a $40 omelette pan that any cook would love.

    The 10-inch Swiss Diamond Classic nonstick frying pan, $90, was very good overall. Food cooked evenly and released without sticking. The pan withstood our nonstick durability test  and cleanup was a snap. This pan is made of aluminum and comes with a lifetime warranty.

    The Scanpan Classic, $90, is 10¼ inches and performed very well overall. It was superb at evenly heating food and did a very good job releasing food. It’s sturdy, easy to clean and dishwasher-safe. The aluminum pan comes with a lifetime warranty.

    The Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-inch omelette pan, $40, is such a good deal you might want to buy one for yourself. A CR Best buy, it combines impressive performance and value and was very good overall. It was excellent at evenly heating food and releasing it without sticking. The aluminum pan is sturdy and easy to clean and comes with a 10-year warranty.

    Don’t Be Tempted by Claims and Names

    Celebrity cooks have invaded the cookware aisle as have some as-seen-on-TV products that make claims that may be too good to be true. Keep in mind that a celebrity’s cookware set may not be a star in the kitchen. Here’s how to find a gift without the gotchas.

    Count the pans not the pieces. The cookware box may tout sets with 10 or more pieces but look closer and you may discover that the count includes lids and cooking utensils as well. A 10-piece set, for example, may include six pans and four lids. One 16-piece set we tested included six cooking utensils in addition to the pans and lids.

    Over-the-top claims. The manufacturer of the Pauli Never Burn Stock Pot claims, “You’ll never burn your recipe again because the Perfect Sauce and Chowder Pot eliminates the need for stirring!” But misjudge the heat setting and you’re cooked. In our tests, the Pauli pot warped even on medium heat—and what’s medium, anyway? Could be 5,000 or 10,000 Btu/hr., depending on the burner. Moreover, you might want higher heat for browning, deglazing, and other common recipe steps before simmering. One plus, the food we cooked didn’t stick to the pot.

    The name game. We took stock of cookware sets from Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri and neither bubbled to the top. On the plus side, the non-stick Rachael Ray Porcelain Enamel II 10-piece set, $140, released food quickly, was easy to clean and its handles were comfortable without getting too hot. But cooking evenness and durability were only so-so. The Rachael Ray 10-inch Open Skillet, $30, got similar reviews.

    The Guy Fieri Stainless Steel 10-piece set, $200, was the winner of our tests of uncoated cookware but fell far short of our top picks list. Speed of heating was very good but cooking evenness and handle comfort were so-so and it was difficult to clean.

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

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

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    How an LED Uses So Much Less Energy

    With incandescent bulbs, lighting magic happens before your eyes: Electricity heats the metal filament until it becomes hot, producing light. But with LEDs, technology and sophisticated engineering are carefully packed into the lightbulb.

    Inside an LED Bulb
    The interior of an LED bulb reveals a digital revolution up close, according to John Banta, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ lightbulb tests. Electricity passes through semiconductor material, sparking up light-emitting diodes, while a heat sink absorbs and releases the small amount of heat produced. Unlike with incandescents, most of the energy used by an LED creates light. (Ninety percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs escapes as heat.)

    While LEDs do not get hot the way incandescents bulbs do, their heat must be drawn away. Known as thermal management, it’s probably the most important factor for an LED to perform well over its lifetime, according to Energy Star. Otherwise, the light fades faster, so the bulb won’t be bright enough to use for as long as the manufacturer claims.

    Shifting Shapes
    LED bulbs come in various shapes as manufacturers work to improve efficiency and light distribution, help manage heat, and lower costs. Among LEDs that are bright enough to replace 60-watt incandescents, the Feit Electric LED is shaped like an incandescent and surrounded by fins that help prevent heat buildup. The Philips SlimStyle is a flat bulb that doesn’t need a heavy heat sink, so it weighs less. Both LEDs are CR Best Buys and cost $7.

    One of the more unusual-looking bulbs we've tested is the Nanoleaf One. A tangle of vines cover this odd-shaped LED, along with uncovered yellow diodes that aim to provide more light. It costs $35 and was the least impressive of the 75-watt-equivalent bulbs in our Ratings.

    Pros and Cons of LEDs

    LEDs do not burn out like other bulbs do. Instead, they fade over time, and when the light has decreased by 30 percent it’s no longer considered useful. (Manufacturers' claimed life is a prediction of when the 30 percent decrease will happen.)

    LED Advantages 

    • Use about 80 percent less electricity while providing the same brightness of the incandescents they replace.
    • Use slightly less energy than CFLs.
    • Brighten instantly.
    • Lifespan not shorted by turning them on and off frequently.
    • Some dim as low as incandescents do.
    • Most claimed to last 20,000 to 50,000 hours when used three hours a day (about 18 to 46 years).

    LED Disadvantages

    • Typically cost more than other bulbs.
    • Not all A-type bulbs (the kind used in lamps and other general-lighting fixtures) are good at casting light in all directions.
    • Most are good but not great at accurately displaying the colors of objects and skin tones.
    • Some are bigger or heavier than other bulb types.

    We've tested dozens of LEDs and CFLs. Before you spend a dime, check our lightbulb Ratings to find the brightest energy-saving bulbs. Be sure to check for utility rebates before you shop, and note that Energy Star-qualified LEDs have a warranty of three years or longer.

    Any questions? Send them to me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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