Comments from a former Maytag engineer about the state of the appliance industry

I recently received this correspondence from an appliance industry veteran who worked at Maytag before the company was purchased by Whirlpool. Given the high level of interest readers have expressed in this topic I am sharing it here.  It has a lot of good information.  Enjoy!



Years back, I worked for Maytag as an engineer on laundry products and I was there when they were bought by Whirlpool and most operations shut down. I have since moved on. Oh yeah, keep my name anonymous as I’m giving away old secrets in some cases.

Your recent articles on laundry products were quite interesting, especially with my background in laundry products. Here are my insights into a few things that may interest your readers and help you provide advice.

Appliance longevity: In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and especially after 9/11, the average age of an appliance before a consumer replaced it had shrunk dramatically. People were replacing perfectly good appliances before their end of life. On average in the early 2000’s, appliances were replaced between 5-7 years from time of purchase. Most manufacturers determined they could save money by building their appliances to last 5-7 years as that was how long the average consumer kept the appliance. Metal got thinner, motors got cheaper, etc. I have had a spate of appliance replacement in the past year. Wash machine is now a front load Speed Queen. Oh yeah…that’s how they used to be made! If it wasn’t a Maytag, I probably would have gone with Bosch. Old Dishwasher was a three rack Maytag that lasted 9 years. You can’t get those anymore because they worked well and I really liked the third rack. Why sell what people want when you can offer other options that cost less to manufacture? Our choice for replacement dishwasher…Miele. Built to last 2-3 times as long as most everything else on the market. Second choice would have been a Bosch.

Energy Efficiency: I’m a huge fan of front load washers as my clothes last longer than using an old fashioned top load washer. They also use less water because they tumble the clothes through water. A top load washer has to fill with enough water to cover the clothes typically resulting in higher water usage and therefore worse energy efficiency. The federal government has regulations on the energy usage that all manufacturers must comply with. There really are only a few things you can do to reduce energy usage in a washer: total water used, water temperature, and total run time. One thing I noticed once my trusty old Maytag Neptune front loader bit the dust was how many current front load machines have extended their wash cycle in order to reduce energy usage. Less water used saves energy, but also means you have to increase cycle time to get the clothes clean. It’s all about trade-offs and meeting federal regulations.

Front load washer mold: All washing machines will get mold. Period. It’s just a matter if you will see it or not. Find and old top loader washer with the tall center post agitator. I guarantee if you remove the plastic agitator and look inside you will find mold. If you own a front loader washer, just leave the door open to air dry to greatly reduce the risk of mold. Want to reduce the risk of mold further? Stop using liquid fabric softener. Mold loves the proteins and such found in liquid fabric softener. Not to mention liquid fabric softener makes your towels nice and soft, but coats the towel fibers so they absorb less water. Trade-offs.

My take on Refrigerators: All low end refrigerators (top freezer, bottom fridge) are are all pretty much made in the same factory. There is no money to be made in these units so you can’t justify the cost to build a plant to make new tooling. So the manufacturers contract out to an existing factory to produce these with their brand name on them. Once your new fridge hits the 5 year mark, it’s only a matter of time. Buying a $3,000 fridge does not mean it’s going to last longer than a $1500 unit. Just means you spent a lot of money for more “features” and the manufacturer made a LOT more money off of you. Oh yeah…ice makers and water dispensers are the number one warranty item on refrigerators. You’ve been warned.

Stainless steel appliances are not really that more expensive to build than painted units. I loved pricing spare parts for stainless steel appliances. A stainless steel replacement refrigerator door might cost an additional $5-10 to produce compared to a painted door. But the perceived value meant I could sell that for $100-200 more than a painted door. Loved the stainless steel appliance fad! Great margins!

Oh yeah, those price matching guarantees from the big retailers usually don’t mean much. Each big box retailer demands at least one model that is exclusive to them and them only. So they can advertise price match all your want, but no one else will have their specific model. We literally kept a spreadsheet for washers and dryers that listed the features and options on the washer/dryer platform and what retailer got what combination specific to them. That is how we kept track to make it simple.

Ooh…go up $200 price point on a washer or dryer to get those extra features like wash cycles or super extra spin? Yeah, that’s maybe $5-15 in extra parts at most. Still the same core components. Unless you really need that feature, don’t step up as it’s usually not worth the money.