Back in the late 70's the fastest spin I ever saw was 1000rpm, but 800rpm was far more commonplace then with far slower spin machines being available readily. Nowadays it's not uncommon to see spin speeds up to 1600rpm, but the science in it all says that speeds of this magnitude are unneeded really.
Many years ago I read a report on water extraction rates from AMDEA (if I remember correctly) and it stated that, based on a 2 minute spin cycle that the best extraction with minimal creasing was achieved at 550rpm, making the 800's and upwards of the day seem an illogical choice it would seem. Well, no, they weren't. You see even above that speed the extraction rate was still worthwhile to have up to about 800rpm but after that it tailed off dramatically, in fact the difference between 800rpm and 1000 or 1100rpm was literally a thimble full of water. Yet people perceived that they needed faster and faster spins on their washers as it was being used as a marketing tool.
Further down the page you can see the recreation of this chart for modern purposes to demonstrate the point.
But there are other things to consider here, a lot of other things.
You see, as the machine spins harder and faster the noise level goes up, as does the vibration. This is not so much of an issue in continental Europe where most floors are concrete, but here in the UK we have mostly wooden flooring, much of it floating floors, so vibration or excessive vibration is a serious consideration. Very often engineers get complaints about excessive vibration in homes here and, if the appliance is new, there is probably very little that can be done about it by a service engineer.
So, to combat that problem the manufacturers came up with ABCs or Anti-Balance Controls (aka OOB, Out Of Balance control) where basically a sensor, now normally in the PCB, detects an imbalanced load and stops the machine from ramping up to full spin.
Guess what? Yes, it leads to service calls with a reported fault of either no spin or intermittent spin! But to cap that off, the engineer cannot disable or by-pass the function so it cannot be resolved by an engineer should it occur.
People assume, even within the trade that spin speed governs the water extraction rates of an appliance, it really isn't as important as it's made out to be on balance. What is very important is the number of holes in the inner drum (the bit your clothes go into) as, obviously, the more holes the more water can flow out. Simple when you think about it. So, a washer with 200 holes in the drum spinning at 1000rpm will very possibly extract more water that a 1400rpm washer with only 150 holes in the drum, get it?
The more holes in the drum, the better!
The problem here is that to get more holes in the drum the steel that the drum is made from has to be stronger and thicker and are therefore more expensive to produce which leads to the fact that normally the cheaper appliances suffer from a poorer spin, even with high spin speeds.
But it doesn't end there, the bearings in the machine are also under far more strain the faster the drum spins so they tend to wear out quicker. Especially when certain manufacturers refuse to upgrade them when they implement a higher spin speed!
The harder the spin the more potential wear on the clothing as well.
An Electrolux tub and drum opened up.
The hard facts are very difficult to dismiss in this debate. Of course people will generally report, when they buy a faster spinning machine that their washing feels drier than it was in the old machine but, is this factual or just wishful thinking.
In order to give factual data on this we had to reconstruct a spin extraction chart and, the chart below shows in percentage terms the amount of moisture left in the clothing at the various spin speeds shown at the bottom of the graph.
It is indeed interesting that between 1000rpm spin and 2000rpm that there is only 22% more water extracted. Now you may think that that sounds like a lot more water and, if you look at the numbers purely in that way then yes, it is. But it's not quite than simple as what is measured there is the difference on the scale from 100%, of course some people may spin this and tell you that the spin is 22% more efficient, it's wrong and factually inaccurate but gets your attention.
When we look at this in real terms what it equates to in actual use is shown below. What this graph shows is the actual gain from a 1000rpm baseline of the difference in water extraction from 1200 through to 2000rpm, so this shows how much extra water is extracted.
The differences are so small that we have to put the data labels on and those are shown based on there being 1 litre of water in the clothes to be extracted with the figures showing the actual amount in a fraction of a litre. As you can see the differences in actual gain are very small.
It's not a lot.
The biggest gain, seen on the 1800 and 2000rpm machines gain a mere 22ml more water extracted, a little over four teaspoons of water, over a machine that spins at half that top speed.
Draw your own conclusions, but those are the facts.
It is a fact (sadly) that a lot of people pay little to no attention to wash care labels.
Inevitably this leads to damaged clothing in washing machines, especially on modern ones with reduced energy use and longer wash times but, high spin speeds can wreck clothes in short order.
The problem isn't the washing machine, it is the way that it is used.
People assume, wrongly, that it is safe to wash everything on the same program and at the same spin speed. Many machines will now spin way faster than the fabrics can actually handle which, when these items are spun too fast, will damage the fibres in the clothing and this is not repairable. Plus, there's not a thing that anyone can do about it except the owner of the washing machine avoiding spinning delicate items on a high spin speed.
The primary example is wool or wool mixes. One wrong spin alone can completely ruin the item of clothing.
Many people report that they can "feel" a difference in especially toweling or jeans with a higher spin but what little evidence we have tells a different story and, all that we are left with is purely anecdotal from actual users of the washing machines. Whether or not there is any real difference is up for debate.
What is not up for debate is that OOB or ABC sensors have become more sensitive with a combination of higher spin speeds and larger capacities. What is also fact is that we seem to be replacing more bearings sooner than we used to do, whether this is solely due to this or a combination of factors is again, open for debate.
The general feeling with repairers is that all these factors contribute along with a general lowering of quality levels across the industry. But cheaper machines definitely seem to be far more prone to failure as well as poor performance, as ever, for the large part you get what you pay for.
So there you have it, spin speed is not the be all and end all of the washing machine and certainly not as important as is emphasized by retailers and manufacturers. But it is a clever marketing tool to get you to buy the latest, greatest and fastest of the breed as advertised. In all honesty the sentiment is that there is both good and bad that comes with higher spin speeds.
It is a good way of getting more money out you though.