If you’ve ever lived without a washing machine — either because yours stopped working or you were in a laundromat stage of your life — you appreciate what a convenience a washer is. Appliance manufacturers are always improving their products with new features and improved efficiency. If you’re shopping for a new washer, here are the decisions to make when you look at your options.

Do I need a top loader or front loader?

To decide which style of washer best fits your needs — a top-load washer with a lid on top, or a front-load washer with a door on the front — consider the amount and kind of laundry your household creates and your preferences for doing laundry.

Top-load washers

Top-load washers have a lid on top. You can choose between two types of top-load washers: conventional or high efficiency.

  • Conventional top-load washers have an agitator that swishes garments in a tub of water. The clothes washers are in this group are the most affordable, but you can still find some cool features.
  • High-efficiency top-load washing machines use less water than a standard top-load washing machine. They don’t have an agitator, but instead tumble the clothes.  Tumbling is gentler on clothing than agitating, so these washers are suitable for delicates you’d otherwise hand wash. They also spin fast to remove more water, so laundry doesn’t have to dry as long.The features on high-efficiency top-load washers are more advanced than on most conventional top loads; expect push-pad digital controls and more cycle option. High-efficiency top loader washers also have higher price tags than standard top loaders, but usually are less expensive to run — most people recoup the price difference in about 6 to 8 years.

Front-load washers

Front-load washing machines have a door on the front that swings open. Front-load washers don’t have an agitator; instead they tumble garments. They’re high efficiency, using less water and energy than most top-loading wash machine models.

Here are other notable traits of front-load washers:

  • They spin fast to remove more water from the load, so garments don’t have to dry as long — easier on the clothes, easier on the power bill.
  • They‘re safe for fabrics that a top-loading washer with an agitator could damage, such as washable silk and wool.
  • Some are designed to support a stackable dryer on top. If space is tight, check out stackable models or combined washer/dryer laundry centers.
  • Front-loading washers often have higher price tags, but almost always are less expensive to run. According to ENERGY STAR®, a qualified washer can save you nearly $370 over the life of the machine.

Front-load washers do have a drawback: Unlike a top-load washer, loading and unloading a front-load washer requires stooping. You can buy a separate laundry pedestal to raise the washer 12 to 16 inches off the floor. Bonus: Some pedestals have a drawer for storage.

How big is the washing machine?

The size question covers the physical size of the machine as well as how large a load it can handle.

Physical size

If your washer lives in the basement, its dimensions probably don’t matter, as long as you can get it down the stairs. But the width and depth are critical if you’re squeezing it into a laundry closet. Stackable washer/dryer units are available for tight spaces.


Washer capacity is one of the most important features to consider when shopping for a new machine. Capacities typically range from a tiny 1.5 cubic feet to a spacious 6.2 cubic feet. In general, high-efficiency top-load washers and front-load washers have the largest capacities.

To help shoppers compare capacities, manufacturers sometimes indicate how many bath towels fit into a full wash load. Capacity and towels don’t translate exactly, because the machine’s efficiency also comes into play. Given two machines with the same tub size, the more efficient one can handle more towels. For example, a 3.5 cubic feet washer with a dual agitator can wash about 16 towels, while a high-efficiency washer with the same capacity can handle 20 towels. A 6.2 cubic feet washer can handle up to 30 towels.

Because terms such as “high capacity,” “king size” and “super capacity” aren’t standard across brands, find out what the actual capacity is. If you’re buying a new dryer too, match its capacity to the washer’s so your one wash load isn’t one-and-a-half dryer loads — wasting both time and energy to dry a partial load.

You pay more for a higher-capacity washer, but it can be worth the investment, particularly if you do a lot of laundry

What cycles does the washer have?

Basic washers offer basic wash cycles, such as Normal, Whites, Heavy-duty and Delicate. Step up to the next level, and you get more cycles, such as options for small loads, sheets and towels, and bulky bedding. Top-of-the-line washers offer options for specific fabrics such as wool and synthetics.

Most washers let you control temperature settings and spin speed, but all temperatures and spin speeds might not be available for every wash cycle option. The owner’s manual explains the options for each cycle.

Steam washers incorporate steam into various phases of the wash cycle, reducing stains, wrinkles, odors and allergens. Some steam models feature a sanitize mode and release detergent at optimal times during the cycle. Steam washers are more expensive than other types, but like high-efficiency models, they use less water and energy, which adds up to utility savings.

What features does the washer have?

Manufacturers distinguish their washers with a host of features — stain treatment, second rinse, end-of-cycle buzzer, bulk dispensers and more. Choose the washer with the features that are right for you.

Will buying this washing machine save me money?

Each washing machine has a yellow Energy Guide tag that shows typical energy use, so you can compare models. Conventional top-load washers use roughly 40 gallons more water per load than high-efficiency models do, and they typically use more electricity too. Selecting a high-efficiency washer should save money on water and energy.

Washers bearing the ENERGY STAR® label meet strict energy efficiency and water use guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy. Select a washer with this label for certified energy and water savings.

Is this washer easy for me to use?

Some people find front-load washers easier to unload because they don’t have to reach down into the drum and pull heavy, wet garments up; others like top loaders because they don’t have to stoop to remove the load. Before you buy, reach into the drum to see if unloading might be difficult for you.

Most people are used to push-button electronic controls, so learning to operate a new washer is usually easy. If you prefer turning knobs, you can still find some models with mechanical controls.

,Some people find the electronic display on some models hard to read; ask the salesperson if it’s possible to turn on the machine so you can check.

How quiet is the washer?

The noise and vibration a washer creates are important if the washer is near living areas. Higher-end washers have enhanced noise insulation and shock-absorbing dampers. They also can detect and counteract unbalanced loads, so the washer doesn’t rock.

If you’re switching from a standard to a high-efficiency washer, you’ll discover the sounds it makes are completely different from the washer sounds you’re used to — don’t be alarmed.

What colors does the washer come in?

Although white is still the most common washer color, higher-end models often are offered in a few shades. If color is an option for the washer model you’re considering, you can add a splash of color to the laundry room.

Is this washer smart?

A smart washer lets you monitor and control the washer remotely using your cell phone or other connected device. Tech-savvy homeowners may be interested in this control feature — especially if they have other smart devices connected in their home.

What kind of reviews does the washer have?

Before you invest in a washer you’ll live with for 15 years, check out online reviews from people who own the product. You can expect to find people who love the model and others who regret having bought it. These often-detailed reviews point out the most popular features and flag common problems. Keep in mind that manufacturers continually improve product designs, so reviews that are a few years old might no longer be valid.


Whether you’re on a tight budget or looking for the most innovative washer available, getting answers to these questions will help you decide which washer is right for you.