Speed Queen Review: We Toured the Factory and Tested Their Classic Washer. Here’s What We Learned.

Speed Queen Review: We Toured the Factory and Tested Their Classic Washer. Here’s What We Learned.

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All things considered, we don’t think that Speed Queen washers are the best choice for most people. We’ve tested a dozen washers, including front-loaders and top-loaders, from all the major washer brands and across a wide range of prices, and we have a guide to our favorite washer models. But if Speed Queen’s tank-like build quality is appealing to you, here’s what you should know before you buy one.

They’re durable machines, built for laundromats

We visited the Speed Queen factory in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the most striking thing was that the company’s “residential” washers come off the same assembly line as the washers Speed Queen sells to laundromats and other businesses. They’re all meant to run cycle after cycle, tough load after tough load, without breaking down too badly—the models for home use just have different control panels, modified wash cycles, and no coin boxes or card readers, basically.

Speed Queen’s durability testing is impressive: We saw the lab where the company stress-tests the electronics to make sure that the washers can survive power surges or resume their wash cycles after a brownout. The lab has robots that are set up to press the buttons on a control panel 1 million times (even though the washers will see only about 100,000 presses in an average lifespan). We’ve visited a couple of other brands’ quality-testing labs, and we haven’t seen such intensive electronics testing.

  • Washing machines being tested at the speed queen factory.

    We visited the factory in Wisconsin where Speed Queen washers and dryers are made. Here, top-load washers undergo a final quality check before they’re packaged and shipped out. Photo: Alliance Laundry Systems

  • Rolls of steel at the Speed Queen factory.

    At the Speed Queen factory, an enormous metal press begins the process of turning rolls of steel into washer parts. Photo: Alliance Laundry Systems

  • Output of a metal-bending robot at the Speed Queen factory.

    Speed Queen uses a metal-bending robot to shape parts for its washing machines and dryers. Photo: Alliance Laundry Systems

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In another room, testing engineers run dozens and dozens of machines constantly to make sure they can live up to their lofty durability claims and to look for any design flaws that pop up with repeated use. (This is a common practice among appliance manufacturers; we’ve seen a few similar labs elsewhere.)

After seeing all of that, we have no doubt that these are the sturdiest, longest-lasting machines you can buy for your home. We wish more brands would aspire to make such durable washers.

The front-loaders are expensive, and you have other durable options

We prefer front-loaders to top-loaders because they clean clothes better and are gentler on fabrics, but we haven’t been able to test Speed Queen’s latest front-load models, the FF7 , as of this writing. We do know that older versions were good cleaners, but because they’re really designed for laundromats, they were also a little loud and rough on fabric by front-loader standards. Our main hangup, though, is the price: These models cost at least $1,890, sometimes more. The Miele W1 promises similar durability (20 years), along with gentler and quieter performance, and can cost hundreds of dollars less. But if you want a durable, full-size front-loader with a matching vented dryer, a Speed Queen might be the way to go.

The TR-series top-loaders are sturdy but don’t have the classic wash action

The Speed Queen TR top-load series (including the TR3, TR5, and TR7) caused some controversy when it was released in early 2018 because it got rid of the manual load-size selector and the traditional corkscrew agitator that Speed Queen fans loved, in favor of automatic load-size sensing and a gentler one-piece, fin-style agitator. We haven’t tested any of these models yet, but other reviewers have found that although they’re quieter and gentler than other top-loaders with agitators and more efficient than the classic Speed Queen design, their wash performance is particularly bad. In late 2019, Speed Queen told us that it had tweaked the wash programs on the TR series to run longer cycles, which should improve the cleaning performance. But according to Consumer Reports, the updated model still doesn’t clean very well. Can it freshen up a regular load of laundry? Probably. And it’s still an impressively durable machine. We’ll try to test one out.

The Speed Queen Classic is back in all its old-school glory—with some tricks to meet efficiency regulations

And then there’s the Speed Queen Classic TC5, which we did test. This is the machine that Speed Queen is famous for: It has been in production largely unchanged since the early 1980s, and in the 2010s it took on cult status as the only old-school washer left standing, made to last for decades, often using more water per cycle than you could drink in a month, while pounding the dirt out of your clothes with a violent corkscrew agitator.

The design was discontinued for residential sales in 2018 because it didn’t meet the updated Department of Energy efficiency standards (though Speed Queen continued to produce it for laundromats). It was a sad time for fans of old-school washing machines.

The speed queen washer next to a counter with a basket of laundry supplies near it on the floor.
The classic Speed Queen top-loader has been in production since the 1980s with only minor changes to the design. For the latest variant, the TC5, Speed Queen had to rework the Normal cycle and replace the load-size selector with a Deep Fill option to meet current energy-efficiency standards. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

But it’s back for 2019, baby! In the words of Speed Queen’s VP of home sales Jay McDonald, Speed Queen “found a loophole” in the regulations that allowed the company to reintroduce it in its classic form, with some minor modifications to the settings.

Washer efficiency, in the eyes of the Department of Energy, is determined almost entirely by the Normal cycle. To measure efficiency, the Department of Energy takes a weighted average of the water and energy use of all the temperature settings and other options that might affect things, such as the cycle time, spin speed, and water use. It doesn’t look at the water or energy use on other settings, like Heavy Duty, regardless of how inefficient they might be.

So essentially, Speed Queen created a Normal cycle that (most of the time) is so purposefully stingy with water and energy that it allows the TC5 to meet the efficiency regulations—even though it also has a Deep Fill option that fills the entire 24-gallon tub to the brim, and even though the Heavy Duty and Permanent Press cycles use more water and higher temperatures on the Hot setting. These other options are Speed Queen’s defining traits, and popular features among people who prefer this old-school-style washer (even though there’s a ton of evidence to prove that efficient washers are usually much better at removing stains and preventing fabric damage than the washers that use the most water).

According to McDonald, people jokingly referred to that Normal cycle as the “Department of Energy cycle” when it was under development. It’s labeled as Normal Eco cycle on the final version of the TC5, which McDonald said was meant to signal to owners that it might not work as well as a typical Normal cycle.

In our testing, the Normal Eco cycle was not effective. We tried it with different load sizes, with different temperatures, and with and without the Deep Fill option, and no matter what, our stain strips barely looked any different when the cycle ended. On the plus side, the Poka-Dot test strip (which shows wear on fabric) came out almost entirely undamaged, but that’s a hollow victory when the machine is barely cleaning your clothes.

We shared our results with Speed Queen, and the representatives were not surprised. McDonald even told us that the company coaches dealers to tell customers not to use the Normal Eco cycle and to use the Permanent Press or Heavy Duty cycle instead.

stain strips from different washers side by side
In our tests, the Speed Queen TC5 barely cleaned a stain strip at all on its Normal Eco cycle (second row). Even on its Heavy Duty cycle with the Hot water setting (third row), it wasn’t obviously better at removing stains than most of the front-loaders (such as the LG shown at bottom) or even some non-agitator top-loaders that we tested on their Normal cycles, which use a fraction of the water at a much lower temperature. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

We went back and tested the Speed Queen Classic several more times using different combinations of Permanent Press or Heavy Duty, the Deep Fill option, and various water temperatures. The results got progressively better as we used cycles with stronger agitation, hotter water, and, to a small degree, extra water. But even on the wettest, hottest, most vigorous setting that the TC5 offers—the Heavy Duty cycle with Hot water and Deep Fill selected, which uses about 50 gallons of water total to wash and rinse, almost half of which comes straight from the hot-water tap—it wasn’t any better than our favorite front-loader on its Normal cycle, which uses about a quarter of the total water and a small fraction of the hot water. The stronger Speed Queen cycles also caused quite a bit of fraying damage, as we expected from a washer with such a strong agitator. Other reviewers have found similar results with the TC5 and older versions of the same washer.

fraying of cloth segments from different washers, side-by-side
Compared with our pick, the LG WM3900H front-loader, the Speed Queen TC5 was considerably rougher on fabric, chewing up much more of the swatch in our fabric-fraying test on the Normal Eco cycle and especially on the Heavy Duty cycle. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

We’re confident that Speed Queen washers are durable over the long haul, but are they also reliable in day-to-day use? Well, Yale Appliance says that it sold 243 of these machines in 2018 and performed 65 service calls—a service rate of about 27 percent, which makes Speed Queen the most repair-prone brand that Yale Appliance has sold in any significant volume. This figure could reflect a large handful of faulty units that needed multiple service calls, rather than dozens of machines that each needed one visit, but it’s not an especially encouraging sign when the average service rate is closer to 13 percent for top-loaders and just 10 percent for front-loaders. However, Speed Queen is offering a whopping 10-year warranty on any washers sold through the end of 2019, much longer than any other brand—if you do need service, you won’t have to pay for it for a long, long time.

If you’re looking for a less expensive washing machine, or one that will be kinder to your clothes and your utility bill, check out our full guide to washing machines.

Source: NY Times – Wirecutter
Keyword: Speed Queen Review: We Toured the Factory and Tested Their Classic Washer. Here’s What We Learned.

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