Smart Shopping: Washing Machines
When you're buying a new washer, you have a choice of three different types of machines: regular top-loaders with center-post agitators, top-loaders without center post agitators (also known as high-efficiency top-loaders), and front-loaders. There are benefits and drawbacks to each.
Washers have become more energy-efficient over the last 10 years. Recently, some manufacturers took shortcuts to meet the federal energy standards -- they lowered the water temperature and sacrificed cleaning ability in the process.
We've found huge differences in performance among the models we tested. Some of the models we've reviewed earned mediocre scores for washing. See our Ratings (need to link to pipeline)
Fortunately, our tests also revealed washers that are both capable and efficient. Improvements include mid-wash soaking and more aggressive agitation. Several front-loaders have steam modes that improved cleaning and also claim to sanitize laundry.
Use our washing machine guide to find the right model for your home.
Before you buy a new washer, learn about the different types of washing machines on the market. While one type of washer might have features that appeal to you, it might not fit your budget or your lifestyle.
Regular top-loading washers
These models fill their tubs with water, and an agitator swirls the laundry.
Pros: Regular top-loaders are the least expensive overall. Loading these models or adding items in mid-cycle is easier than in machines without an agitator.
Cons: They performed least impressively as a group. They hold only about 12 to 16 pounds of laundry and use the most water. Most are relatively noisy, and their loads can become unbalanced.
High-efficiency top-loading washer
These use a variety of methods to lift and tumble the laundry. They fill only partly, so they use less water, and they spin at very high speeds. They work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.
Pros: Some high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry than regular top-loaders (up to 20 pounds) and they typically wash better. The high spin speed reduces drying time -- and, thus, energy consumption.
Cons: The high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing.
These also fill only partly with water. They clean clothes by lifting them to the top of the tub and dropping them back into the water. They work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.
Pros: The best front-loaders clean better and more efficiently than the best high-efficiency top-loaders, without necessarily costing more. Most can handle a 12- to 20-pound load. Better moisture extraction in the spin cycle reduces drying time and energy consumption. As a group, front-loaders tend to be very quiet (as are some top-loaders). Many can be stacked with a dryer to save floor space.
Cons: A front-loader's high spin speeds might vibrate too much in living areas.
Space-saving washer These compact models are typically 24 inches wide or less, compared with 27 inches for full-sized models.
Pros: You can store some compacts in a closet and roll them out to the kitchen sink for water. And you can stack space-saving front-loaders and dryers.
Cons: Space-savers can handle only an 8- to-12-pound load.
Concentrate on the basics. Some of the features available are more trouble than they're worth. Here are the washing machine features to consider:
Automatic dispensers for bleach, detergent, and fabric softener release powder or liquid at the appropriate time in the cycle; bleach dispensers also prevent spattering.
Automatic temperature control
It adjusts the water to the correct temperature for the cycle you're using. Most machines mix hot and cold water in preset proportions. An automatic temperature control adjusts for especially cold incoming water.
Extra rinse cycle
Some models offer this. It might help those consumers who are sensitive to detergent residue.
Many high-end washers come with touchpad controls that incorporate menus for customized programs. Some models offer dedicated cycles for fabrics such as silk, as well as four or more water-level settings.
Customized programs can be confusing, especially while you're learning them. The basic cycles and settings can handle most washing needs, and you can replicate most special cycles with buttons or dials. Three settings for water level are plenty.
Dial controls are the traditional type and are generally easier to use than some touchpad or digital controls.
High-quality top or lid
Look for a porcelain top or lid. A porcelain top or lid resists scratching better than painted metal.
Look for a stainless-steel or plastic tub. Unlike a porcelain drum, stainless or plastic won't rust if it's chipped. And stainless tubs can withstand higher spin speeds, which extract more water and speed up drying.
This feature promises to clean better and to sanitize fabrics. The steam models we tested did clean stains better, but they cleaned well even when we didn't use the steam. And their prices were more than twice that of the Best Buy models in our Ratings.
This feature lets you program the washer to start at a later time.
Touchpad controls tend to be more versatile, letting you save favorite settings, for instance. Some high-end models have a display with a progression of menus with customized programs, though they can be tough to learn and navigate. Pluses include lights or signals that indicate the cycle, along with an automatic lock that keeps children from opening a top-loader's lid during the spin cycle. (Front-loaders lock at the beginning of a cycle but can usually be opened by interrupting it.)
The major brands of front-loading washers are Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, Maytag, and Whirlpool. All offer high-efficiency, or HE, models except Frigidaire. Every brand is adding more electronics to their models and is offering more models with a stainless-steel drum. The major front-loading brands are Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool, with Amana, Bosch, and Miele among the other makers. The latest trend in washing machines is the inclusion of steam and exterior colors beyond the basic white. This guide will help you compare washing machines by brand.
Frigidaire washing machines generally cost $700 to $900, and the machines have capacity ranging from 3.5 to 3.7 cubic feet. Frigidaire is known for its generally good value for the price. back to top
GE is increasing its front-loading offerings and is also adding its "SmartDispense" technology to a new flagship washer due out in July. The GE line now includes $700, $800, $900, and $1,200 models in the GE and GE Profile models. back to top
Kenmore, the second manufacturer to market washers with steam, has a number of models in the front-loading category: Elite HE5, Elite HE5t Steam, Elite HE3, and HE2t. Those cover all the relevant prices -- from $800 to $1,600 -- and Kenmore is considered a reliable brand. back to top
South Korean company LG was the first to market with steam washers; the company claims its machines provide real steam (created by a steam generator). The latest wrinkle from LG is what it calls the Allergiene cycle. That cycle, says LG, reduces and removes 95 percent of dust mites and pet dander from a load. LG washers range in price from $900 to $1,600. back to top
This Whirlpool-owned brand is positioned as a durable brand but is priced a bit lower than Whirlpool-branded products. The Maytag brand has two lines, the Epic and Epic Z, which cost $1,000 and $800, respectively. back to top
Over the past three years, Samsung has introduced a full line of laundry products, with prices ranging from $800 to $1,600. The brand is known for its use of silver for cleaning and Vibration Reduction Technology in its top-line washers. Samsung has added a steam-cleaning option to its washers. back to top
As with Kenmore, Whirlpool has a number of lines: Whirlpool Duet HT, Whirlpool Duet Steam, Whirlpool Duet Sport HT, and Whirlpool Duet Sport. In the coming year, Whirlpool will be promoting and advancing the use of steam on more of its models across the line. Prices range from $800 to $1,600. Whirlpool washers are known for the wide range of model choices and the variety of features on those machines.