Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 0 out of 5
Yeah, but: Others may have had a better experience. Maybe.
The Long Version: The Asko WCAM1812 is a single unit that combines a washing machine and a ventless dryer. It's a great idea: the plumbing is simple, it doesn't need a special power outlet, and it doesn't need to be vented to the outside. Mine sits in the middle of my apartment, in a place where no other washer/dryer combo can go.
There are a couple of compromises to be made with the Asko, or any combination unit, that need to be said up-front. For one thing, it's much smaller. While the drum is about the size of an ordinary front-load washing machine, its effective capacity is less than half of that because it needs the empty space to tumble the clothes when they're drying. In a household of two people, this unit probably runs five or six loads in an average week. If you're considering buying any combination washer-dryer and may have children some day, then you'll have to rethink one of those plans.
Compromise #2 is that this single washer-dryer is slower than two separate units. The dryer in particular takes longer, and because it's one machine it's not possible to start the second wash while the first one is in the dryer. On the other hand, this means that it can do its thing without supervision, so it's possible to start a load in the morning or at night and come back to it when it's done. Or at the very least, when it's almost done.
And this brings me to quirk #3. The clothes wrinkle from the small drum, and there seems to be no way to prevent it. Clothes do not come out fluffy, crisp, and warm. Instead they come out wrinkled, damp, and very hot. The best strategy is to get them close enough that they'll be dry and fairly wrinkle-free by the time they're hung up in the closet. With some experience, it's possible to tell the difference between 'wet' and 'damp'. But let them sit and they'll never recover, requiring a 40-minute 'fluffing' run through the dry cycle to get them warm again. And even then ironing is probably going to be needed for anything that can't show a little character.
Don't get clever and run the dryer long enough to force your clothes to dry. It doesn't work - I can have something come out scorched from the heat and still be damp. And don't get too complacent about the heat of the dryer, either. It can leave clothes too hot to touch, and I frequently have to wait for the steam to clear even after the dryer's safety delay has released the door. Forget about that nice feeling of pulling on something comfy straight from the dryer - it just doesn't happen that way.
But all told, it's better than having to use my buildings' communal laundry rooms, even though it astonishes me to get an entire weeks' worth of clothes cleaned in an hour and a half. And this isn't a case of me needing to try the alternative to write a well-rounded review, either. I've had ample chances to compare the two laundry options since my Asko has broken down so often.
When it was first delivered, the belt had come off of the blower that moves hot air into the drum while drying. It took a while to realize that there was something wrong - after all, it did warm up, people had warned us how much longer the drying would take, and not to expect crisp fluffy clothes. But no, it was broken, and this turned out to be a recurring problem. This unit had four or five service calls because it stopped drying, always resulting in scorched-smelling clothes that were plenty wet. Changing the belt and all of the pulleys made no difference. It was eventually resolved - I think - by an enterprising technician who spotted and fixed a misaligned shaft that was - we hope - the source of all of the trouble. (Incidentally, Kampen Appliance Service was great, and I'm happy to have them on my speed-dial.) The only other trouble that this particular unit had was a tear in the door boot that caused a small leak. It's something that never happens, which means it took forever to get a spare part, and the new one had a drain in it that the old one didn't. I don't know if that's an upgrade or a bug-fix, but it does work better now.
So overall, I have mixed feelings about this Asko washer-dryer thing. If I had an option to get a traditional front-load washer and separate dryer, I would without hesitation. However, since that's not possible, I'd rather have the combined machine than have to leave the house, even if it's just to go down the hall in my slippers. But when this one finally dies - probably right after the warranty expires - I won't be replacing it with another Asko unless the things I read get much, much better.
Updated May 2011: The Asko washer-dryer has had a host of issues since I originally wrote this. Some of the electronics went bad, meaning that the washer would occasionally wash forever (or dry forever) as it would keep resetting itself. There would be a subtle but distinctive 'click' when it did this, and the solution was to turn the power off, wait for it to actually stop – typically a matter of several minutes – turn the dial to 'off', open the door, turn the power back on, and wait for it to reset itself. Other times it would start running on cycles that it wasn't set to, such as when I wanted to run the dryer for another 40 minutes but it would start on the "rinse" cycle instead. The final in-warranty service call was to get this fixed, and after replacing a bunch of parts, nothing changed.
One of the big mistakes I made with the WCAM1812 was to paint the kitchen. I needed to move it out of its cubby to be able to paint behind it, and that just made it angry. Now it has an intermittent but LOUD rattling noise in each stage of the wash-dry process. The actual results aren't affected, but there's occasionally a warm rubber smell and it's impossible to hear the TV. Running the wash overnight is now a thing of the past – at least until it has a couple of out-of-warranty service calls behind it.
On the other hand, it is still struggling along, meaning that it has outlived its warranty period. I suppose that means it exceeded my expectations.
Updated July 2011: The loud rattling turned out to be that the impeller had come away from the drive shaft of the drain pump, a small part that only cost a couple hundred dollars' to replace. The next day – absolutely literally – the thing stopped working. The water would run straight through the washer, never stopping, never filling. Additionally, the control panel stopped lighting up, and the usual tricks to reset the machine stopped working. When the technician took the top off of the machine, the control board had small scorch marks around one component, and a huge scorch mark around another component that has partially melted.
This is the same panel that was replaced under warranty fourteen months earlier.
While the technician was checking out the machine he asked if it was having problems drying. The truth is it's hard to tell the difference between malfunctioning and normal operation, and since it had been making so much noise we'd just become used to hanging up the still-damp clothes to dry in our dining room. But the point is that the tech spotted that our blower/fan unit had seized, and would also need to be replaced. So in addition to the hundreds of dollars that the thing cost us last week, the cost of having these parts replaced will almost certainly write off the washer/dryer.
Four years and it's garbage. I have shoes older than that.
Updated September 2011: My Asko washer-dryer is back in service. Following the advice of the technician who diagnosed the problem, I called Asko North America and asked for the pending service to be covered as a warranty repair. I had to send in the work order that detailed the parts needed – thankfully I have a flat-bed scanner – and it took a little while, but I have to say that the Asko Complaints Dept seems pretty well-rehearsed. I took on the Disappointed and Long-Suffering tone with my emails, and never had to escalate beyond that. So the most recent round of repairs was covered for parts and labour, and eventually they also refunded the cost of the parts (but not labour) to replace the drain pump that disassembled itself.
The control board, which is the charred item pictured above, cost better than $500. This washing machine is now on its third one in five years. But apparently they're not common items, as it still took about a month for it to arrive and complete my service call. I'm lucky that my condo also has communal laundry machines, so spending more than a month without my Asko isn't as bad as it could be, but those machines still cost $3.75 a load. I didn't even bother to ask for that back.
But wait, there's more! My WCAM1812 also needed a new air duct cover to replace the one that had clogged with lint, which is typical for these machines. So even if a WCAM1812 doesn't have some sort of acute failure, it will gradually lose its drying effectiveness and need a service call with a $160+ part to bring it back to its original performance. The good news is that my dryer now works just as well as it did when the machine was new. That's a qualified victory, to be sure, but a noticeable improvement none the less.
I've finally dropped the "Execution" rating from "1" to "0" I'm not sure why it took me so long to do that.
Updated May 2012: Shortly after the new control electronics were installed – read: replaced for the second time – the washer went back to its infinite-run trick. We've discovered that it only happens when we adjust the cycle settings or drying time while the unit is on, which makes the situation somewhat manageable. If we forget, the reset routine is written on a post-it note on the side of the machine:
Power off. Wait for door to unlock. Open door.
Turn cycle selector to "Stop". Wait at least five minutes.
- If "start" and cycle lights flash, power off and wait again.
- If start light is solid and control dial can select new cycles, the machine is ready.
Power off. Close door. Turn selector to desired cycle.
Power on. Press start.
Oh, and the dryer is back to being essentially useless again. There's nothing specifically "wrong" this time – no burning smell, scorched clothes, or horrendous noise – so we just live with it. When the Asko's short and troubled life finally does come to an end, it will just be replaced by a front-load washing machine, so always having a drying rack out is good practice.