The New Year will usher in new rules requiring most top-loading washers to use less energy. But some of these machines have murky labeling...

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The New Year will usher in new rules requiring most top-loading washers to use less energy. But some of these machines have murky labeling, so there’s no easy way to tell whether the washer in the store is the latest model.

Washing-machine energy-efficiency standards — both minimum and stricter Energy Star ones — are rising 21 percent with the arrival of 2007. That should mean better energy savings across the board.

But those familiar yellow EnergyGuide labels won’t be of much help: They won’t tell you whether a washer meets the old standard or the new. Neither will they tell you much about the annual energy cost — how much you’ll pay to wash and dry a load.

On top of all that, the changes aren’t helping washing efficiency: Two washers we tested that meet the new standards were among the poorest performers.

Some made a splash

Though some newer top-loading machines that meet 2007’s energy standards are nearly as expensive as front-loaders, many are still not as energy efficient. Nor can most top-loaders match a front-loader for performance and gentleness. About the only drawback to a front-loader — in addition to price — is the inconvenience of having to stoop to load and unload the machine.

We tested nearly two-dozen front-loading models, and most proved better overall than even the highest-scoring top-loaders. Three stood out from the rest. The Bosch Nexxt 500 Series WFMC3301UC ($1,100), the LG WM0642H ($1,000) and the Whirlpool Duet GHW9150P ($1,000) all did a very good job of washing and were reasonably quiet. The Bosch is the most energy efficient of the trio. It also conserved water well but has a smaller capacity than the LG or Whirlpool.

Among top-loading machines, we liked the Whirlpool WTW5540S ($400) and the Admiral AAV7000 ($300, Home Depot). Such prices won’t get you Energy Star certification or, generally, as much energy efficiency, but both were judged good or better across most of our tests.

Features that shine

Neither the Admiral nor Whirlpool top-loaders we liked provide auto temperature control, a feature that varies the proportion of hot and cold water — depending on the temperature of incoming water — so that wash water is truly warm when you choose warm. (A comparably performing, comparatively inexpensive top-loader that does have auto temperature control, the $500 Amana NAV8805, isn’t as water efficient as the Admiral or the Whirlpool.)

Another feature you might consider is a sanitizing cycle. This raises water temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit — potentially useful if you have dust-mite allergies.

A feature you may want to hold off on is found in the $1,200 Samsung SilverCare WF316LA — an extremely efficient front-loader and otherwise fine overall performer.

Activate the SilverCare setting and the machine releases a trace amount of silver into the water to sterilize your wash. In our tests, T-shirts laundered with SilverCare smelled fresh longer. But the cycle adds up to 24 minutes per load — and the Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about adding silver to wastewater.

Dryer a la carte

Buying a washer and dryer together? Choose the washer first, because there’s more variation in washing performance.

While selecting units a la carte can save money, our tests show that manufacturer pairings of washers and dryers may improve dryer performance.