Kenmore's 23102 (MSRP $649.99) is an affordable, old-school washer that bucks recent high-efficiency, low-profile trends in favor of simple construction and a Cold War-era mechanical agitator pole. It's technology that will be familiar to those who tally their laundry careers by the decade, and have little desire to fix what ain't broke.

Old-world charm

Of course when we compare this washer to the cutting edge of modern laundry machines, there are going to be some limitations. You don't get niceties like a slam-proof lid, and said lid does have a tendency to come crashing down on the rest of this washer's all-metal frame, loudly and possibly at your fingers' peril. And while it's comforting to know a good old-fashioned pole agitator is really putting your clothes through the rigor, its presence makes loading the machine more difficult. It's impossible to simply dump in an entire basket, for example, each item must be arranged around the column by hand.

The 23102 is also woefully inefficient compared to other modern washers, since the cleaning drum literally fills with water during each cycle. We estimate the annual operating cost of the 23102 will be nearly $125 in hot and cold water for an average family. It might not sound like much, but consider that after four years of operating this washer at home, you would've been able to afford one that's twice as expensive in the first place, and a lot more efficient, too.

Making the most of the 23102

We've grown accustomed to preset wash cycles with default settings for each type of laundry load. But while the 23102 does have a cycle dial on the right side of the control panel, the user always retains direct control over load size (how much water fills the drum), wash temperature, and rinse cycles via three dials on the left side.

All this manual control is welcome, but does invite mistakes. For example, while the Heavy Duty cycles are most powerful, our tests showed they have a unique tendency to redeposit certain stains, like blood. This means you'll actually be better off with other, weaker cycles—like Normal Express—for organic stains.

Certain cycles, especially Delicates, also had a tendency to leave dry, unsoaked detergent on top of clothing even after the cycle was complete. We've found that's a common problem with washers in this price range, and will simply necessitate a second wash, but—as we already know—each of this machine's cycles will be relatively expensive.

It's also quite impossible to wash a load in this machine without wearing down your clothing. Even the Delicates cycle is, well, indelicate compared to modern washing machines, and the remaining cycles are harsh across the board.

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A classic, or a relic?

Despite the quirks, omissions, and limitations, Kenmore's 23102—in its own way—does get clothing pretty clean. You'll have to know which cycles to avoid for certain stains (and all this is made clear in the manual), but we can't just write off a cheap, approachable washer that gets stains out. Issues with efficiency, usability, and clothing wear mean it's probably not the washer we'd buy for ourselves, but for a staunchly traditional homeowner, the 23102 could work.

For everybody else, well, sometimes you're better off spending a little money up front to save a little money down the road. The "invisible costs" of owning this washer are a higher water bill, laundry that must be washed twice, and clothes that will wear out sooner.
Our suite of lab tests comprised more than 16 test loads for the Kenmore 23102, including measurements for hot and cold water requirements, electricity usage, internal drum temperature, and water retention. We gauge stain removal using controlled, pre-soiled testing cloth, and report results relative to the AHAM industry standard. Clothing wear is tested with controlled mechanical action cloths, which fray according to agitation intensity.
The 23102's most powerful cycle combination is Heavy Duty Super with hot water. This cycle excelled at the removal of all stain types except blood—an organic, slightly basic stain. Stains of this type are actually best cleaned with the fastest cycle: Normal Express, which avoids this washer's unfortunate tendency to redeposit certain stains.

We think most loads will be cleaned using the Normal Regular cycle, and this one does an adequate—but not excellent—job removing all stain types. The only exception is sweat, for which a Heavy Duty cycle is better suited.

Clothing wear is severe across the board. Most of our test cycles resulted in an average of more than 60 frayed threads per mechanical action test cloth. The Delicates cycle is the only way to avoid this effect, but even that cycle averaged 17 frayed threads per test cloth. This cycle also comes with severe stain removal penalties and issues with unsoaked detergent. These issues, in part, are why more modern machines have so many custom, preset cycles.
Compared to more advanced washers, the 23102 is extremely wasteful. Assuming average water and energy prices, the hot water, cold water, and electricity cost for a single Normal load totals $0.22, or $0.72 for a Heavy Duty load. Based on the laundry habits of an average American family, we estimate the 23102's annual operating cost will be $124.14, which is very expensive.

Water retention, this washer's ability to spin out excess moisture, is also poor. Retention levels range from 60% (Normal cycle) to 90% (Delicates cycle). This translates to much more work for your dryer, which is even more costly to operate.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews
Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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