Wednesday, 26 January, 2022

The truth about … washing machine obsolescence

Landfills overflowing with household appliances, in particular washing machines, to the point that some cities have to pile them up in the streets … To get around these walls of white blocks, cyclists and pedestrians slalom praying that they do not fall. above… Scary!

Fortunately, it is only an advertising film imagined by Publicis on behalf of Darty in order to praise its responsible business. But the reality is not reassuring. According to Ademe, a public agency for the environment, we throw away more than 400,000 tonnes of household appliances each year, or the equivalent of 6 million products. The washing machines provide the largest proportion of this waste. These are also the devices that break most often, according to a study by the HomeServe helpdesk.

“Inaccessible safes”

Are the washing machines sold today less resistant than those of our grandmothers? Has their lifespan collapsed? The Gifam, professional union of washing machine manufacturers which represents all the major brands, is categorical, “the lifespan has not changed, it is around ten years”, affirms its general delegate, Camille Beurdeley. But the last Gifam study on the subject dates back to … 2010. And this lobby refuses to relaunch studies on the subject, arguing, no doubt rightly, “not to be credible”. The Darty distributor has carried out a barometer of its after-sales service. The leading seller of washing machines in France, it relies in particular on the 500,000 repairs carried out each year. For the moment, the Darty observatory only covers two years: that of 2018 mentions a lifespan of 7 years and that of this year indicates 8.1 years. As for the Ademe, it prefers to remember “that the average age of the fleet of washing machines equipping the French is 6.6 years in 2018”.

In any case, the 10-year mark seems more difficult to cross today. Yet the basic technology is widely proven. The first models were presented at the Paris fair in 1930. Do manufacturers really pay attention to the durability of their machine? “The lifespan of a product is not a starting point for us,admits Simon Barbeau, CEO of Brandt, the latest brand to design washing machines in France. We prefer to focus on innovation. “

Should we then speak of programmed obsolescence for washing machines, that is to say all the techniques which would aim to deliberately shorten the lifespan of products in order to increase their renewal rate? The association Stop Programmed Obsolescence (HOP), which has already lodged a complaint against Epson printers and against Apple, has failed to demonstrate this for washing machine brands. However, it raises the question of “the intentionality of ‘irreparability’”. “Washing machines are in some cases real safes that are completely inaccessible”, notes Laetitia Vasseur of the HOP association, which also denounces the dissuasive price of certain spare parts. Some electronic cards, in addition to the fact that they are very difficult to access, can cost up to 200 euros when the average price of a washing machine in 2019 is 375 euros. As for the bearings, the main parts of the machine, sensitive to wear, they are often incorporated in the tank for recent models.

“Their replacement therefore requires also changing the tank, or even cutting it”, explains Christophe Santerre, inventor of L’Increvable. (read box opposite). In short, a time-consuming operation that often discourages repairers and, above all, individuals.

The site, which has sold 65,000 products since 2012 and which publishes its own reliability index (read opposite), prefers to speak of “accelerated obsolescence”. “The choice of materials is an essential criterion for judging the reliability of a machine., notes Benoît Delporte, co-founder of the site.By using plastic to lighten the product, some manufacturers have also made it more vulnerable. “

The price battle for washing machines, encouraged by distributors, has led to a continuous decrease in prices which may also explain the decrease in the lifespan of an appliance. According to the GfK institute, the average value of a washing machine has fallen by 21% in less than fifteen years, to 375 euros. It is no longer rare to find a device for less than 180 euros. “The race for low prices has two consequences: the components are of lower quality and the engine, less powerful and less resistant, requires more regular maintenance”, underlines Régis Koenig, Darty’s director of services. Above all, at 129 euros the average price of a repair, consumer arbitration is quickly done.

Repairability index

All the parties, NGOs, consumer associations, the Ministry of the Environment but also the major brands, have agreed to improve information when purchasing a washing machine. Will my machine be easily repairable? This is the question that no one can really answer today. Regularly attacked, washing machine brands are starting to react. While the Hamon law requires them to make their spare parts available for five to ten years, some, like Beko or Miele, already go beyond ten years.

For eighteen months, the entire sector has been feverishly debating the implementation of a repairability index which would be calculated in particular on the criteria of accessibility of technical documentation, spare parts availability, ratio. between the price of the product and the average of the most expensive spare part and finally on the “dismantling” of the product. A real headache! How many steps are required to reach the heart of the device? Should we also include in the calculation of this index a usage meter, similar to the odometer of a car which informs the consumer on the durability of his product? The Senate is in favor and voted for a mandatory start of the meter in January 2022, drawing the wrath of the industrial lobby, who are demanding more time. And there is no question for them of making it systematic, since this would be done on the scale of the French market alone, most of the brands being global. Unless France decides to get ahead on this issue.


Darty Ranking LG, Siemens, Beko.

Ranking What To Choose Siemens, shop, Miele.

Magarantie classification 5 years Miele, Siemens, Bosch.

Soon “unbreakable” models? The brand is promising. By creating L’Increvable, a prototype washing machine promised to last twenty years, its designers Julien Phedyaeff and Christophe Santerre did not imagine that manufacturers would be so cautious to accompany them. They only worked with robust materials, removed fragile parts such as the membrane between the tank and the body and took care of accessibility. But industrialization is slow in coming, for lack of partners. They are looking for 10 million euros. “We toured Europe, met all the brands, everyone is interested but no one is taking the plunge”, confides Christophe Santerre. A competing project imagined by Kippit, for a “Household appliances that can no longer be thrown away”, might well beat them up. Its Fraval washing machine already has a “Functional model” and its designers promise a launch on the market in the first half of 2022. Previously, they will have their hands on a fully removable and repairable kettle marketed in January.


Consumer goods