Washing machines have become the latest target of Fox News’ campaign to stoke outrage over efforts to reduce carbon emissions from household appliances by casting newer, more energy-efficient products as dysfunctional, expensive, and intrusive “scams.”
In February, the Department of Energy proposed stricter standards for household washing machines, refrigerators, and freezers to reduce carbon emissions and make these appliances more energy efficient. On March 13, the Washington Free Beacon and later Fox News started a parade of misleading claims about the effectiveness and cost of what several sources say will actually make doing laundry cheaper for many Americans.
Consumer experts and the U.S. Energy Department suggest energy-efficient washing machines would actually make doing laundry easier and cheaper
Firstly, it’s important to note that consumers will still be able to choose between top-loaders and front-loading machines. According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the new standards will actually phase out machines that use older technology called agitators and replace them with ones that use impellers, or wash plates. Consumer Reports says that impellers use less water and more motion to get clothes clean and cut down on time in the dryer, which could save consumers money in the long run. Consumer Reports also found that top-loaders that use impellers have a higher average “washing performance” score than those that use agitators. Even Whirlpool, which spoke out against the new standards, claims on its website that impellers and agitators are “roughly equal” in “cleaning performance, energy efficiency, capacity, innovation and convenience.”
The Department of Energy estimates that the proposed standards could cost manufacturers about $690 million to make the necessary updates. However, the changes would also save U.S. consumers up to $14.5 billion over 30 years, helping reduce utility costs for renters who are typically lower-income, and the new standards are estimated to cut more than 53 million metric tons of carbon emissions over that same time.
Fox personalities misleadingly attack energy-efficient washing machines
Despite the evidence, anchors, hosts, and guests on Fox News and Fox Business have taken the word of an industry trade association, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, and repeatedly claimed that the Department of Energy’s new efficiency standards will somehow make Americans “dirtier and stinkier.” They also parroted the industry claim that the standards would make doing laundry more expensive by increasing the cost of detergent or preventing consumers from buying cheaper, older, less efficient models. Some Fox figures even denied the reality of climate change to argue that energy efficiency should not be a priority in the first place:
- Fox News Radio host Jimmy Failla said the Biden administration is banning “super-sized water” in washing machines, calling it a “scam” that will leave clothes “dirtier.” “This is the scam here, OK, because your clothes are going to be dirtier. And they’ve said this already. It's going to require possibly a second wash. … Think about this, remember when they banned super-sized fries so all the fat people like me just bought two larges? That’s what this is. They're banning super-sized water. So now you get to wash them twice.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/15/23]
- Fox & Friends hosts doubled down on the idea that the new standards would leave clothes dirtier. Co-host Steve Doocy reported, “Critics say President Biden's new energy plan would make each washing cycle take longer, make detergent more expensive, and leave clothes dirtier because they use less water.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt told viewers to “get those dirty clothes clean while you can, cause soon they're all gonna be dirty.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/23]
- Fox Business correspondent Jeff Flock questioned why his washing machine isn’t energy efficient enough, even though the government is not forcing anyone to get rid of their washing machines. “I already have what they call a high-efficiency washing machine. But the Biden administration thinks maybe it's not efficient enough. They want you to use less water and less detergent.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria, 3/15/23]
- James Coleman, a senior fellow at Koch-funded climate denial front group the American Enterprise Institute, fearmongered that “the standards would, on-net, harm consumers.” “Like many efficiency standards, the government claims that although these standards will raise the cost of appliances, they are justified because they will reduce consumer spending on energy and water even more. Of course, if that were true, consumers would likely buy more efficient appliances anyway, given that studies show consumers consider energy and water costs.” [FoxNews.com, 3/14/23]
- Hannity host Sean Hannity called reducing carbon emissions from washers and dryers “idiotic.” “Leave my washing machine alone. But more importantly, leave my gas stove alone. … I mean, this is madness. China is the world's biggest polluter. They're not being held accountable. All these other countries are not being held accountable. And they're looking for U.S. taxpayers to pay for their cleaner air. Why would we bear that responsibility? This is so idiotic, but yet they present this as legitimate policy.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/14/23]
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on The Bottom Line said the Biden administration wants to have people “carrying our clothes back out back and doing an old wringer washing machine.” “My goodness, you know it is not enough to control you from daylight to dark. Now they want to control your oven. I'm not giving up my gas stove. … And to take your washing machine and try to make it to the point that it is going to be less efficient.” Co-host Sean Duffy added, “They’ve ruined our toilets, they’ve ruined our dishwashers. Listen, nothing works in the home. Enough with these liberals, get them out of here.” [Fox Business, The Bottom Line, 3/14/23]
- Fox Business’ The Big Money Show co-hosts Brian Brenberg and Taylor Riggs said energy-efficient washing machines are ineffective. “I can tell you what is exactly going to happen here, OK?” Brenberg said. “You going to just wash your clothes twice, which means you’re going to use more water than you do right now and more soap than you do right now.” Riggs further claimed that saving water and energy will not have an impact on the climate crisis: “China and India are the world's largest polluters, go after them. The U.N. climate report says anything we do is worth nothing if we don't get them on board. Stop coming after small things like washing machines.” [Fox Business, The Big Money Show, 3/14/23]
- Comedian Tom Shillue on America’s Newsroom said “no one ends up noticing the benefit” from more energy-efficient washing machines. “They always claim this is going to save the consumer, you should be happy. Well if that’s true, manufacturers would do it on their own and we would be happy to pay more for a machine to see that happen. But we don’t believe that’s what happens.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 3/14/23]
- Varney & Co. host Stuart Varney included washing machines in a list of things that people supposedly “can’t have” anymore. “It is nonstop. Lightbulbs, can't have them. You can’t have toilets which flush a lot of water, so now you flush twice of course. What else have we got? Gas stoves, let’s not forget, washing machines, they’ve got to tell you what to do all of the time.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 3/14/23]
- Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo discussed the new regulation with investor Michael Lee, who called the climate crisis a “lie” because “over the last 100 years, deaths due to climate-related accidents and disasters is down 98%, yet somehow it's an existential threat.” “It is beyond insane, the things that they've done and hearing that you've got to change your washing machine because it might use a little less water for this cycle or for that cycle, it's more of the same insanity that's ruining our country right in front of our eyes.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria, 3/14/23]
- Failla called the regulations a “scam” the Biden administration is “forcing it on us.” “Nobody is on board with this. Everything this government does is some type of heavy-handed coercion or in this case what they would be calling a mandate. … These clothes aren't going to be cleaner, so you’re going to wind up washing them twice is my guess and probably using more water in the process.” Fox host Steve Doocy suggested the administration only put the regulations in place to placate environmentalists after greenlighting the Willow Project: “You’ve got to figure that his environmentalist base loves this kind of stuff, but at the same time he’s apparently greenlighted the Willow project which is going to open billions of gallons — billions of barrels of oil up north. So they’re furious.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/14/23]
- Outnumbered co-host Harris Faulkner insisted that more efficient appliances would actually use more energy. “If in fact you're doing it longer, right, and you’re not getting the clothes as clean, if in fact you're cooking on that electric appliance now and also not cooking as quickly because the flame is on and the other element takes time to heat up, you’re already — aren't you breaking regulations for usage? … This is so counter to all the regulations that they’ve put in place, it makes no sense. It is like they are punching each other in the face, only they're hitting us.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 3/14/23]
- Outnumbered guest and former NFL player Jake Bequette said the “green agenda” is making everything worse. “Before long, you’ll have to say your preferred pronouns to get your dishwasher to work. I mean this is ridiculous, like nothing works anymore. I just want the high-pressure shower heads to come back. They don't make them like they used to. I mean, this is all part of the green agenda.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 3/14/23]
- Hannity tweeted, “WON’T WASH: Biden Proposes Washing Machine Regulations, Makes Doing Laundry More Expensive.” [Twitter, 3/14/23]
The attacks on washing machines are just part of right-wing media’s drumbeat against any consumer policy framed as climate-friendly
These attacks are just the latest instance of conservative media fearmongering over various household appliances, goods, and cherished companions — including gas stoves, coffee, gaming consoles, cars, and even pets — being supposedly regulated to fight climate change.
In January, right-wing media essentially tried to convince consumers that the Biden administration was going to come into their homes and rip their gas stoves out of the walls in the name of public health and climate change (in addition to trying to discredit a plethora of studies highlighting the health risks of indoor air pollution). It is only a matter of time before right-wing media finds some new manufactured narrative to whine about. These stories are not about improving the quality of life for Americans — they are purely politically motivated attacks to lambast Biden’s “green agenda.”