Buying a new clothes washer can be an overwhelming experience. Today there are more features, cycles and overall decisions to make than ever before. But with so much "flash" it's easy to lose focus and spend money on features that you'll never use. Our washing machine buyers guide will help you cut thru the sales hype and find a clothes washer that both meets your household laundry needs and has just the right amount of technology.
Today, the average US family washes about 300 loads of laundry annually. The modern washing machine offers improved performance, water conservation and energy efficiency over models that were manufactured even a few years ago. Our guide will help you learn what you need to know in order to make an informed buying decision. Read our Clothes Dryer Buying Guide for additional information if you are considering purchasing a matched set.
Washing machines have come a long way since the invention of the wash board in 1797. In fact, the first electric washing machine wasn't manufacturered until 1908!
Buying a clothes washer is a big decision. They're not only expensive, but they are also among the top energy sucking appliances in your home. With so many features to choose from, it's easy to lose track of what's important to you. With a little upfront time, you'll be able to find the right washer without paying for features you won't use.
Consider Before Buying
Before you begin shopping, take a few moments and ask yourself the following questions:
- How much space do you have available in your laundry room? If space is limited, you'll need to know the width, height, and depth of the washer. There's no need to purchase a new washer if it won't fit into the space available. This article will help you learn how to determine your measurements. Do you need to purchase a front loader that you can stack? Maybe a combo would be a good option?
- Do you need a large capacity washer? If you have a large family or frequently wash bulky and large items, such as comforters, you may want to consider purchasing a large capacity washer. Instead of running frequent small loads, you'll be able to wash fewer large loads. Saving you both time and money.
- Consider your lifestyle and laundry habits. If you tend to find items to add to the wash after you've already started a load, you'll want to look for washers that offer this feature. If you never seem to be available to remove your clothes from the dryer when the cycle finishes, a dryer that periodically tumbles at the end of a cycle can keep your clothes from wrinkling. There's many features that can help make your life easy and knowing your laundry habits will help you determine which ones you should consider.
- To steam or not to steam? Having a washer with a steam feature can help you remove stubborn stains, that in the past, may have ruined clothes. Steam also helps sanitize and remove allergens. If it's a feature you'll use, it's well worth the money and could be very beneficial.
- What about noise? Is your laundry room near a living space or a bedroom? If so, you'll want to pay close attention to the sound dampening technology used. Many washers are designed to run quiet.
- Keep your utility bills low. Purchasing an energy efficient washer can help you save money every time you run a load of wash. It's worth paying a little more upfront to save money on your monthly electric and water bills. Look for an Energy Star washer and use this handy tool to find the most energy efficient appliance.
There are two types of washing machines: Top loaders and front loaders. Each has there advantages and drawbacks. Let's take a closer look at each:
Top Loading Washing Machines
Top loaders come in two different styles:
- Agitator - Where the clothes are moved around the drum during the wash cycle by a central agitator.
- Impeller - A propeller-type device located on the bottom of the machine stirs the water in order to move the clothes. This type of washer is known as an HE Top Loader.
Agitator Top Load Washers
Agitator top loading washers have been around for years. In fact, they were most likely the washing machine your mother and grandmother used to do laundry. They are tried and true, and can still be found in the majority of US households today.
This video shows how a top load washer works.
Watch the Video
Advantages of a Top Load Washer
- Least expensive upfront cost.
- Washes clothes faster than other washers.
- Items can be easily added after the wash cycle begins.
- Uses more water and energy than other washers.
- The water level is determined by settings.
- Limited temperature settings.
- Limited features and cycles.
High Efficiency Top Load Washers
High Efficiency (HE) Top Loaders are designed with efficiency in mind. They use far less water in their wash and rinse cycles, and they're capable of handling the same, if not larger, loads of laundry.
This video shows how a HE top load washer works.
Watch the Video
Advantages of a HE Top Load Washer
- Purchase price is lower than a front loader.
- Larger capacity and faster washing cycles than a front loader.
- Less wear-and-tear on clothes than with an agitator top loader.
- Some models are very deep and may be difficult to reach the bottom without a step stool.
- More wear-and-tear on clothes than a front loader.
Front load washing machines are typically more expensive than top loaders. However, they also tend to be decked out with all of the latest technology. As a general rule, a front loader will clean your laundry better and use less water in the process.
Front load washers are often a great choice if you have a septic tank since they use less water than other washing machines. Check out these tips from the EPA.
If your space is limited in your laundry room, a front loader can be stacked with it's matching dryer. Simply purchase the proper mounting kit for your model set. If you have your washer and dryer installed side-by-side, you may want to consider purchasing a pedestal for a little extra storage. You'll be able to keep your cleaning supplies directly under your appliances!
Pedestal washers are also available for many of the higher-end models. The front load washer is installed on top of a mini-washer. Most can be operated at the same time, allowing you to run small loads of delicates, while you're doing your normal laundry.
This video shows how a front load washer works.
Watch the Video
Advantages of a Front Load Washer
- Very gentle on clothes.
- Cleans laundry better than high-end HE top loaders.
- Less water and more movement is used in the cleaning action, reducing the amount of detergent needed.
- More cycle and feature options.
When it comes to deciding the capacity of your new washer, don't be fooled by the marketing hype. Manufacturers use terms like "Super Capacity" and "Extra Large" to describe the capacity of their models. However, there isn't a standardization in terms between manufacturers.
When shopping, focus on the size of the washer's tub. It's measured in cubic feet (cu. ft.) All manufacturers list the cu. ft. of the tub on their specification page. You'll be able to accurately compare the tub capacity of one washer to another.
Some people like to buy the largest capacity washer available. It'll be able to handle larger loads, and as a result you'll run fewer wash cycles. This will not only save you time, but also save water and energy. However, if you are only doing laundry for a small household, you many not need the extra capacity.
If you wash a lot of bulky, large items such as comforters, you may want to consider purchasing a large capacity washer. Just be sure that your laundry room has the space to accommodate a larger-sized appliance, or you may find yourself doing a little unexpected remodeling.
A 4 cu. ft. washer is capable of handling 12 pounds of laundry. In most cases, the typical load run is less than 9 pounds.
If you're buying a matching washer and dryer set you may have noticed that the washer has a smaller capacity than the dryer. This is because wet clothes need room to tumble in the warm air. If you're purchasing a washer to match an existing dryer, be sure your washer is half the capacity of the dryer. As an example, if your dryer has a capacity of 7.0 cu. ft., you'll want to purchase a washer no larger than 3.5 cu. ft.
With as many as 15 pre-set cycles to choose from, as well as the ability to customize settings, and select the temperature and spin speed, today's washers are designed to handle the toughest laundry challenge.
Manufacturers are always adding new cycles and many wi-fi enabled washers are designed to download new settings and cycles as they come available.
Common Wash Cycles
Wash cycles vary among manufacturers and models, but here's a list of some of the most common:
- Normal / Cotton
- Heavy Duty
- Permanent Press
- Bedding / Bulky
- Sports Wear
- Tub Cleaning
Beyond the pre-set cycles, there are a few other things to consider:
- Wash Temperature and Speed - The more options available, the more efficient the washer will be within each cycle. Many models have 5 wash temperatures and 5 wash speeds.
- Rinse Cycles - The rinse cycle removes excess soap and loose dirt from your clothes. Some washers automatically use several rinse cycles and others allow the user to select an extra rinse as a setting option.
- Spin Speed - Measured by RPM. The faster the RPM spin speed the dryer your clothes will be, resulting in shorter drying times and less wear-and-tear on your clothes.
Today's washing machines have a broad range of features available. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the price tag, the more features. Many are necessary, but others are not. To prevent falling into the "shiny new thing syndrome" take a few minutes to determine which ones are important to you before you start shopping.
Here's a look at some of the common features available:
Stackable - Many front load washers are stackable to make the most out of your laundry space.
Interior Light - An interior light will help you never miss an item when you transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer.
Stainless Steel Drum - Washer tubs are commonly made of three types of material: Plastic, porcelain coated, and stainless steel. A stainless steel drum won't chip or rust, and they frequently come with a lifetime warranty.
End of Cycle Tumble - After the load finishes, the washer will continue to tumble the clothes for ups to 12 hours to help prevent wrinkles.
Automatic Water Level - Using sensors, the washer will automatically adjust the amount of water needed during the cycle. This feature saves you money and reduces waste.
Noise Reduction - Many washers offer unit-vibration systems to help reduce the vibration and noise.
Steam - Washers with steam have become increasingly popular over the last few years and it's a topic that deserves some added attention. This cutting edge feature will definitely drive the purchase price up, but there are some clear benefits and if it's something you will use you'll most likely find it worth the investment.
Benefits of Steam
- Stain Removal - With the steam feature the washer will heat the water to over 210 degrees (nearly 100 degrees hotter than the regular hot water setting). As steam is released into the drum, it penetrates the fibers of the fabric and assists the detergent to break down stains.
- Softens Fabric - Steam helps reduce wrinkles and softens fabrics.
- Sanitation - The washer is able to sanitize the load when the water reaches 171 degrees. Washers without steam are not able to reach these high temperatures.
- Allergens - Allergens such as pet dander, pollen and dust mites can be all but eliminated.
Manufacturers are rapidly developing appliances to meet the consumer's demand to operate a household from the palm of your hand, and as technology improves, the possibilities are endless.
Washers can be linked to your phone for remote tracking of a cycle's progress. It can send an alert when the cycle is complete, and even allow you to remotely start a load. However, Smart washers aren't just a way to make your life a little easier, they can also help reduce your utility bills.
Here are a few of the features available with a Smart washing machine:
- Status View - Check the status of a laundry cycle or cleaning cycle from your phone.
- Remote Control - Start, stop or pause a cycle with the app from your phone and save a trip to your laundry room. You can even select a cycle and get notifications to alert you when your laundry will finish.
- Voice Assistant - With the popularity of voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, you'll be able to manage your laundry with a simple voice command.
- Nest - The Nest Learning Thermostat (version 3) is integrated with Amazon's Alexa friending products. So if your new washer is Nest compatible, you'll be able to take advantage of all the features, including the Rush Hour Rewards program.
- New Cycles - When new cycles become available, you'll be able to download them and update your washer and dryer.
- App Assistant - Many manufacturer's offer a phone app that can help you select the right settings to use, as well as appliance support and troubleshooting.
If you enjoy technology you'll most likely really enjoy a Smart washer. But if it isn't something that you'll use, you'd be better off saving your money. Most manufacturer's only offer Smart-enabled features on their top models, but as with anything, when the tech improves and becomes more common, the price will drop.
Not all top loaders are high efficiency (HE).
An agitator top loader has a large post located in the center of the tub. These washers do not meet the criteria of a HE appliance. However, an impeller top loader, which has a small center post, or none at all do earn the HE rating.
By design, all front loaders are high efficiency (HE). Less water is used since they "tumble" the clothes into the water for cleaning. Keep in mind, it also takes longer for a front loader to complete a wash cycle.
Be Aware: Just because you see the HE logo on a washer doesn't necessarily mean that the unit has met the HE criteria. A few manufacturers use the HE logo to designate that HE detergent can be used.
Purchasing an Energy Star washer will help you save money. They are also better for the environment. Finding an energy efficient clothes washer is relatively easy these days. The government's Energy Star program does the majority of the research for you, and by using their website, you can compare models.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Less Water Used - A Energy Star washer will use about 45% less water. This could amount to a savings of up to 3,000 gallons of water each year.
- Less Energy Used - 25% less energy is used in an Energy Star washer. Saving as much as $45 a year on utility bills over a standard washer.
- Age - If a washing machine was built prior to 2003 it's significantly less efficient and could be costing over $200 a year to operate!
- National Savings - Over 4 billion dollars a year could be saved and 19 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (equal to 1.7 million vehicles) could be prevented if every home had an Energy Star certified washer.
Energy Star lists all the certified washers on their website and provides easy-to-read data to help determine the most energy efficient appliance. We recommend comparing the Integrated Modified Energy Factor (IMEF). The higher the IMEF, the more efficient the washer.
Many of today's washers are Energy Star qualified, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do a little homework. You may even be able to get a rebate! Click here and enter your zip code to check if a rebate is available in your area.
Founded in 1944 the NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation) is a non-profit public health and safety organization. One of their many tasks is to test and certify washing machines for their ability to sanitize and reduce allergens.
According to their website, in order to earn certification as a sanitizing washer the appliance "must be able to reduce 99.9% of microorganisms when clothing is washed on the unit’s sanitization cycle. In addition, there must be no significant carryover of bacteria into future loads."
In order to become certified in reducing allergens, their site states that the washer "must remove at least 95% of house dust mite allergens and feline dander. The wash water must reach 55º C (131º F, the temperature required to kill dust mites) for at least 3 minutes and the washer must be easily cleanable, corrosion resistant and designed to avoid accumulation of dirt and debris."
Purchasing a matched set washer and dryer will not only give your laundry room a stunning look, but it'll also maximize the efficiency of the units.
Washers are designed to work with their matching dryer. For example, the washer's spin speed will be set to complement the matching dryer's cycle.
A faster washer spin combined with the dryer's sensors will ensure that your clothing is dried perfectly . . . Never over-drying which helps clothes last longer.
Although, not necessarily a buying decision, it is important to note that HE top loaders and all front loaders require the use of HE Detergent. Not only will the use of regular detergent in an HE washer lower cleaning performance and efficiency, but it could also damage a new washing machine.
Since HE washers use less water in their wash and rinse cycles, the detergents also must work differently. HE detergents are designed to be low-sudsing and quickly disperse. Here's why:
- Low-Sudsing - A high-sudsing detergent will not clean clothes as well in an HE washer. This is because the excess suds provides a "cushion" for the clothes as they tumble, preventing them from getting as wet as they should. Thus reducing the effectiveness of the wash cycle.
- Re-Deposit Prevention - HE detergent is designed to work in low-water levels, preventing soils and dyes from re-depositing on clean clothes.
Warranties vary between models and manufacturers, although it's common to see 1-year for parts and labor, 10-years coverage on the motor, and if the drum is stainless steel, it usually has a lifetime warranty.
Many stores provide extended warranty options, but do your research before going this route, as many times they are unnecessary and you'd be better off making the repairs on your own.
The Perfect Washing Machine
We recommend taking a few minutes to jot down what's important to you. It's unlikely you'll find the perfect washing machine.
You'll most likely purchase a few features you'll never use in order to get that one you really want. But if you have a good idea of what your looking for, you'll likely come close.
Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Performance - Consider the type of washing you'll be doing. Will you need a heavy duty washer that is capable of tackling the toughest laundry challenges? Or a washer that's great at handling your delicates? If you have a growing family, you may want to purchase a heavy duty washer, but keep in mind, it may not be as good at extending the life of your clothes.
- Features - Look for a washer with a combination of features that matter to you. Don't spend extra for things you know you won't use. It can be a fine balance between your wants and needs. Just remember the more features the washer has, the higher the purchase price.
- Efficiency - Today, more than ever, more washers are meeting the Energy Star criteria and manufacturers are taking large strides to continue to move the bar forward. The more efficient your washer, the more you'll save on your monthly utility bills . . . and the larger positive impact you'll have on the environment.
- Laundry Room - How much available space do you have in your laundry room? Will you need to stack your washer and dryer? If you have the space to install them side-by-side, do you want the added storage a pedestal can offer? Do you have a color preference?