Front-Loaders vs. Top-Loaders: Which High-Efficiency Washer Is Best for You?

You know that high-efficiency (HE) washing machines use less water and energy than traditional washers. You’re sold. Now, how do you decide between a front-loading and top-loading model?

Both designs have pros and cons. In late 2009, consumers were gaga over front-loaders, and they accounted for 45 percent of washers sold in the United States.

Five years later, that figure dropped to just under 30 percent, with analysts blaming the drop in sales on the machines’ higher prices, unreliability and foul smells – a complaint that resulted in class action lawsuits against manufacturers.

Most of the problems consumers had with those first front-loading HE machines have been addressed in subsequent generations, which – once again – makes the choice between configurations a difficult one.

Before you lay out cash to buy a new HE washer, consider which best meets your needs.

A front-loader may be right for you if:

  • Your laundry room is small. Front-loaders can be stacked.
  • You loathe stains. Many front-loading machines now allow users to add steam to the wash cycle to improve stain removal.
  • You like having the latest and greatest features. Some front-loading machines come with self-cleaning cycles and the option to reverse washer doors for improved laundry room function.
  • Saving energy makes you giddy. Front-loaders are typically the most energy efficient among all the HE washers on the market, using about five gallons less water per cycle than their top-loading counterparts. Their high spin feature extracts more moisture from wet loads, which means you can cut down on drying time.
  • Quiet is the key to your laundry happiness. Reviewers have overwhelmingly found that front-loaders make less noise during the spin cycle. This is especially important if your laundry room is located near bedrooms and you like to do wash early in the morning or late at night.

A top-loader may be right for you if:

  • You often wash bulky items. Both front- and top-loading models can handle very large loads, but recent redesigns of top-loaders give them the win in terms of capacity.
  • You don’t like change. HE top-loaders look like the old top-loader in your grandma’s house, but inside they function in the same way as HE front-loaders.
  • You’re concerned about ergonomics. Sure, you can buy a platform to raise your front-loader, but without that, you’ll find yourself bending over to load and unload the machine. Because the tub opening is higher, loading and unloading a top-loader is easier for most users.
  • You’re impatient. Average wash cycles on top-loaders can be up to 30 minutes shorter than those of front-loaders.
  • You have a habit of finding that last dirty sock after you’ve already started the wash. With a top-loader, you can add items after the wash cycle has started. You can also stop a load to hunt for items left in pockets – saving a cell phone, perhaps? You can’t do that with a front-loader.
  • You’re pinching pennies. Front-loading machines typically cost about $ 200 more than comparable top-loaders. Be aware, though: If you can afford the additional upfront cost, a front-loader may offer significant long-term savings thanks to greater energy savings.

Make a list of your priorities, from ergonomic design to shorter wash cycles, and compare them to this list of attributes so you can make an informed HE washing machine purchase.

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