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Top-loading laundry machines have long been a low-priced, dependable home appliance. But no more—the federal government has wrecked them with its energy-efficiency regulations.

That’s the finding of the June 2007 issue of Consumer Reports. In its words: “Not so long ago you could count on most washers to get your clothes very clean. Not anymore. …What happened? As of January, the U.S. Department of Energy has required washers to use 21 percent less energy, a goal we wholeheartedly support. But our tests have found that traditional top-loaders … are having a tough time wringing out those savings without sacrificing cleaning ability, the main reason you buy a washer.”

Some of the top-loaders tested had “the lowest scores we’ve seen in years.”

In fact, out of the 21 new top-loader models that Consumer Reports tested, it couldn’t pick a single one as a “Best Buy”: “[F]or the first time in years we can’t call any washer a Best Buy because models that did a very good job getting laundry clean cost $1,000 or more.”

Government mandates for higher efficiency are almost always accompanied by claims that the higher prices they cause will be more than offset by their alleged savings from lower energy costs. But that raises a fundamental question—if these new technologies are so good, then why do we need laws to force consumers to buy them?

In fact, efficiency mandates often flop, and in some cases they flop disastrously. Government fuel efficiency rules for cars, for example, already contribute to thousands of deaths each year due to vehicle downsizing. Many people dislike compact fluorescent bulbs for perfectly valid reasons, but there is now a push to mandate their use by banning incandescent bulbs.

The risks of the laundry washer rules were pointed out long ago. But despite the fact that these problems have now developed, Congress may well boost efficiency requirements once again—not just for washers (as if they haven’t done enough damage already) but for cars, trucks and a huge range of appliances and machinery.