If build quality, durability and reliability were the foremost concerns of washing machine manufacturers, what sort of machine do you think they would be building? The answer is probably one that combines the longevity of machines made decades ago with the technological sophistication and energy efficiency of modern appliances. In other words, something completely unlike the majority of washers that I have had the misfortune to use over the years. Virtually every washing machine I have tried - with the possible exception of the industrial strength ones in laundrettes - have been at least one of noisy, ineffective, destructive to laundry or prone to breakdowns. I have had good clothes chewed up by washing machines. I have had kitchens flooded when they have decided to leak or die completely. I have had machines that sounded like an Airbus A380 landing in my house on their final spin cycle. The prospect of buying my own washing machine for my first house in 2009 therefore filled me with a slight sense of dread. Surely the selection process would be rather like voting; I would just have different kinds of rubbish to choose between and nothing I really wanted.
=== What's The Problem With Most Washing Machines? ===
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away washing machines were generally made by companies who wanted to produce good quality products for their customers. These machines lasted a long time, and lo: the customers were happy. But then something changed. More manufacturers started to make the machines and competition became fiercer, while customers became ever more obsessed with the bottom line - how much a washing machine for their home would cost them. Rather than bravely maintaining build standards and seeing an inevitable rise in the cost of their machines over time (which would risk their customer base abandoning them for cheaper rivals), most manufacturers instead found themselves cutting corners and reducing quality to keep their prices competitive. Instead of washing machines getting better and more efficient over time, they have instead gotten worse - or at best remained the same.
It would be reasonable to expect a rise in manufacturing costs and inflation to make machines more expensive over time, but this doesn't seem to have been the case. For example, a Hotpoint washing machine that my mum bought in the mid-1990s cost her around £400. To buy a Hotpoint machine with similar specifications today costs less than £250. This inverse inflation will have been achieved to some extent by technological improvements in the manufacturing process I'm sure, but I don't see how such a marked drop in price over a 15 year period could have been solely achieved this way - there must also have been a significant drop in build quality to allow such machines to still be profitable. And my mum and I aren't the only ones to have noticed this. Take this blog post by an experienced washing machine repair man: "In 1973, a basic Hoover washing machine was £94.88, in today's prices that's £687. Today - over 30 years later - a similarly basic washing machine but with faster spins and a bigger drum can be bought for £220. That's equivalent to just £30.77 in 1973. So in 30 years the price of a basic washing machine has dropped (in real terms) by nearly 70%, which is absolutely staggering."
So if manufacturers are cutting back on the cost of building machines, where are they making their money? Well, anyone who has tried to get a machine repaired will probably know the answer to that - in providing spare parts!
=== Not All Manufacturers Are The Same ===
If price reductions over the years have been largely brought about by reducing build quality, it would them seem to imply that if you wanted to buy a washing machine with the build quality achieved 30-40 years ago, then it should cost £500+ for a basic model and £700+ for a bigger or fancier one. That is a lot of money for a washing machine. However, while I was researching which washer to go for, I came across an industry statistic that stated that the average lifespan of a washing machine is now just over 7 years (with many cheaper ones not even managing 5). If I was to buy one of the cheaper machines, I could therefore expect to pay my £250-£300 at least every 7 years as well as forking out for the almost inevitable repair costs along the way (and that is not even taking into account the cost of replacing any laundry items damaged in cheap machines). That also seems like a lot of money - and a lot of aggravation.
I continued to research which machine to buy, and one brand continued to be mentioned as something different everywhere I went - Miele (motto: "forever better"). A German company with over a hundred years of experience what they charmingly call "laundry technology", Miele have built up a reputation around providing high quality, durable and energy efficient products. Their washing machines boast an average lifespan of 20 years, so although I would be paying around £700 initially, it would last around 3 times as long (on average) and would expect to incur far fewer repair costs along the way than the cheap machines made by cost-cutting manufacturers. It therefore seemed to me that although the Miele has much higher upfront costs than any other brand, over the long term it would very likely work out cheaper and much less hassle.
=== Introducing the Prestige Plus 6 ===
Miele's range of washing machines is fairly small and fairly unexciting in appearance compared to others on the market, offering a choice of drum sizes, maximum spin speeds and a few additional features (and the more you have of each of these, the more expensive the machine gets, understandably). The machines are generally of the white, freestanding, front-loading variety (although they have recently started offering a couple of models in a stainless steel finish or with built-in options for fitted kitchens) and are boringly basic in the aesthetic department. To look at one, you would hardly believe it is considered to be the Rolls Royce of the washing machine world (it looks more like a Volvo, to be honest). The Prestige Plus 6 offers a mid-range laundry capacity of 6kg and a maximum spin speed of 1300RPM, which put it towards the lower end of Miele's offerings in this area (the most expensive machines can manage an impressive 1800RPM). It has fewer bells and whistles than the top-end washers in this range, but as I could never see a reason to have features such as a delayed start timer, this model was an appropriate choice for me.
All Mieles have a quite similar appearance about their controls; while quite dull and basic to look at, they are very clearly set out and easy to use. A simple rotary dial allows you to choose from a modest range of cycles, and there are several soft-touch buttons: on/off, door release, start, and additional options (such as pre-soak). Most useful of all is the LED display that tells you how long there is to go until your laundry is done, which adjusts over the course of the washing. That is a clever thing about a Miele washer - it has "load recognition technology" that allows it to adjust the amount of water and length of cycle to the amount of laundry you have put in it, keeping the machine working efficiently regardless of the size of the load. There is also an indicator light to tell you if you have overdosed with detergent, a very useful feature if you have a tendency to be a bit liberal with the Persil.
While Mieles may be widely recognised as top-notch machines, their high price does unfortunately make them less easy to find in the shops that most of the cheaper brands are. The most I have ever seen together is three different models, and that was in a Comet superstore, where I ultimately ended up buying it from after first establishing online that this was the right model for me; searching on Google revealed surprisingly little variation in price but a lot of difference in delivery costs, delivery time frames and installation charges, so it is as well to compare on these grounds when shopping around. You can search for local distributors of Miele products here: http://www.miele.co.uk/wheretobuy/.
===My Miele Experience ===
Using the Miele washer for the first time, I felt a bit nervous. I had just spent an awful lot of money on it, and I was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the hype - maybe I had just wasted a lot of money on something that would no better than any of the other unsatisfying machines I have used over the years? I checked the handbook (which is as simple, straightforward and no-nonsense as the machine itself, by the way) for usage instructions, and then off I went. Programming some washers can make you feel like you need a PhD in engineering, but the Miele was so simple - turn the dial to the desired cycle, decide whether I wanted any of the extra options and push the buttons for them if desired, then press the flashing "start" button. After hearing the sound of the drum filling with water, I wandered off into the next room...and then started to panic because the machine wasn't doing anything. Or at least, it didn't appear to be doing anything. I went back to the kitchen to find my laundry churning away in the drum, but without the rumbling noise that I associated with washing machines. The Prestige Plus 6 is quieter than any other washer I have used - during most of the wash cycle all you hear is the sound of your laundry sloshing in the water, and even on the final spin cycle the whirr of the motor is quiet enough for you to hold a conversation at normal level right next to the washer with no trouble at all. It certainly gets full marks from me in the noise stakes.
My Prestige Plus 6 isn't just amazingly quiet, though. I have also noticed a big difference in the quality of the wash I have been getting compared to...well, anything else. After the first wash, my clothes came out noticeably softer and smelling wonderful. Miele have designed their washing machine drums to provide a thorough but gentle wash that helps protects laundry from damage - including those annoying snags that had ruined so many of my items in the past. The machine has continued to provide a good standard of washing, despite cycles being of comparatively modest time. For example, a 40 degree cotton cycle with a full load I have recently done lasted 1 hour and 50 minutes; the same cycle run on my mum's (newer) Hoover took 2 hours and 30 minutes. (She wasn't very happy when I pointed this out!).
You might think I would be falling over myself to praise this machine given the amount of money I spent on it - but it is not just me. Shortly after buying the Miele, a gas fitter arrived at our house to install our new oven. As soon as he saw our washer he grinned at me and said "they're brilliant, aren't they?" before launching into a long and technical explanation to his bemused assistant about why Mieles are so great. Both the electrician and handyman whose services we have employed since moving in here have also both broken into spontaneous praise of how wonderful it is that some appliances are still being built so well after seeing it. My father-in-law, while visiting last summer, spent ages standing in our kitchen in silence, commenting only, "but it's so QUIET!".
That is not to say that the machine is completely perfect, though, and I do have a couple of small niggles. This is the first machine I have used that doesn't make a loud beeping noise when a cycle is complete; most machines, I might add, don't need this as you can tell it is done by the fact you can hear yourself think again, but with the Miele being so quiet, a clear "I'm done" noise would be a welcome addition here. The other point is probably me being a bit picky, but for all that excellent German engineering, the Mieles suffer from smelly innards as much as a bottom of the range machine does if you do a lot of cool wash cycles. I initially tackled this problem by using machine cleaning detergents, but I have since found that switching to a powder detergent from a liquid every now and again, and running a hot "maintenance wash" cycle every few weeks does away with this problem easily. There is one other point - about six months into owning our Miele, I found one load of laundry wouldn't start, and the LCD display flashed up an error message (cue mass panic in our house). Following the manual - and the same principle that works with computers and photocopiers - I simply switched the machine off and on again. The error cleared, the laundry worked, and it has never occurred again. I guess even German engineering has bad days!
=== Final Thoughts ===
When we came to furnish our house, we did so mostly with inexpensive items, sourced largely from IKEA. Our experience as renters using the furnishing choices of other people had taught us the valuable lesson that taking the "cheap and cheerful" approach to your house was fine, with the exception of two things - the mattress and the washing machine. A cheap mattress leaves you feeling tired and achy, and does nothing for the health of your back. A cheap washing machine leaves you with poorly washed clothes and a lot noise, and (if you are unlucky) damaged laundry and a flooded kitchen. Our choice to prioritise our spending in buying good quality items in these two areas has proved to be one we have not regretted.
I love my Miele. I love how quiet it is, how well it washes my laundry, and how easy it is to use. I love that it is covered by a standard 2 year guarantee - and I love that I have not had to use this guarantee. I cannot comment on the standard of parts, repairs and after-sale service for my Prestige Plus 6 as I have never had to use them - and I hope I never will. I appreciate that for a lot of people paying this much up front is not realistic option, but for those of you who can afford to do so, I would strongly recommend considered this washing machine as an option the next time you need to replace yours. After all, you really do get what you pay for.
Forever Better? I think so.
===Further Details ===
I paid £700 for my Miele Prestige Plus 6 in September 2009 at Comet - it currently retails for around the same price.
Model Name: Miele W562 Prestige Plus 6
Washer Type: Freestanding
Load Type: Front loading
Tub: Microhole Drum
Dimensions (H x W x D): 85 × 59.5 x 58 cm
Depth with door open: 97.5 cm
Weight: 93 Kg
Volume Capacity: 6.0 Kg
Wash Programmes: Dark Garments / Denim (cold-60)
Dark Garments / Denim (cold-40)
Separate drain and spin
Handwash/ woolens (cold-40)
Handwash/ silks (cold-40)
Minimum Iron (30-60)
Additional options: Standard run times and short options
Programmable options: Water plus system
Spin speeds: Min 400
Water Levels: Automatic
Digital display: Yes
Programme sequence indicator: Yes
Excess detergent indicator: Yes
Delay Start Timer: No
Countdown display: Yes
Variable spin: Yes
Variable temp: Yes
Extra rinse: Yes
Child safe: Yes
Standard cotton time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Easy care time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Safety features: Water control system
Check drain/ inlet indicators
Automatic safety door lock
Emergency door release
Easy access manual drain
2 water inlet filter
Energy Consumption: 1.02 Kwh
Water Consumption: 49 litres
Energy Efficiency: A+
Wash Efficiency: A
Spin Drying Efficiency: B
Warranty: 2 years
We've had this Miele washing machine for 3 years now and it has been brilliant.
There are lots of programs, the temperature is adjustable as well down to 30 degrees, there are options for doing quick washes as well as being able to shorten the time of a normal wash cycle if you are in a hurry. The amount of spins per minute is also adjustable too which means that you can wash more delicate items without them getting battered and thrown about the drum. The drum itself is quite large and will take several large towel or even a small duvet. There are pre-wash functions for heavily soiled items, as well as the option to soak a load before it is washed. Gets items really clean which is perhaps the most important thing of all!
What I particularly like about this machine is that the dials are all manual instead of digital which I find a lot easier to use. The only display which is digital is the timer (which is really handy as you know exactly how long a cycle has left). It is also relatively quiet which is great when you've got the washing machine on, dryer going and dishwasher on all at the same time!
The only disadvantage I've found with this machine is that even with the option to shorten a cycle, it does take quite long. The standard cycle is nearly two hours long, however the quick wash is only forty minutes. The machine itself is also quite large, I think you'd need quite a large kitchen to house it ( ours is in the utility room.)
This is an expensive machine but is well worth the money and all Miele products come with a 25 year guarrantee as standard, which is fantastic.
All round, this is a great machine.
Short name: Miele 6W562