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Washing machines

Washing machine buying guide

Last updated: October 2013

Getting started

Consumer Reports continues to find huge differences in performance among the washing machines we test. Some of the models we've reviewed earned mediocre scores or worse for washing. Fortunately, our tests also revealed washers that are both capable and efficient.

Improvements include mid-wash soaking and more aggressive agitation. You'll also find more programmable wash menus and even built-in USB ports that allow for future software upgrades. Here's how to choose the right washing machine for you.

Consider location. Look for machines that score very good or better in our Ratings for noise and vibration if your laundry room is near bedrooms or the family room. Also pick models that let you silence end-of-cycle signals.

Top- or front-loader? Top-loaders with center-post agitators typically cost less and wash the fastest, but performance is unimpressive. High-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry, use less water to wash, and extract more water. That cuts drying time, saving energy and money. Front-loaders generally use the least water and spin the fastest, resulting in the most savings.

Know which features add convenience. Touchpad controls let you quickly choose cycles and keep an eye on the remaining cycle time and status. Automatic detergent, bleach, and softener dispensers release the powder or liquid at the right time in the cycle. A stainless-steel or plastic tub won't rust if chipped, unlike a porcelain one. Steam settings on washers only slightly improve stain cleaning, however.

Types

When you're buying a new washer, you have a choice of three different types of washing 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.

Regular top-loading washers


These traditional machines fill their tubs with water, and an agitator swirls the laundry much the way it did on earlier models.

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:

These perform least impressively as a group and use the most energy overall. 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 washers

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 higher speeds. They work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.

Pros:

Some high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry than regular top-loaders (17 to 24 pounds) and they typically wash better. The higher spin speed reduces drying time and energy consumption by extracting more water before clothes go into the dryer.

Cons:

The high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing. And while prices have dropped, these still cost notably more than regular top-loaders and can cost as much as front-loading machines. And washing waterproof or water-resistant items in some HE top-loaders may cause the load to become unbalanced, and that can cause excessive shaking and possible damage. Before choosing a model, check the manual.

Front-loading washers


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, and 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 roughly 17- to 24-pound loads. Even faster spin speeds than high-efficiency top-loaders typically mean better moisture extraction in the spin cycle, reducing 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 for the machine to be placed near living areas.

Compact washers

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 compact front-loaders and dryers.

Cons:

Compacts typically can handle only an 8- to-12-pound load.

Features


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


Auto dispensers for bleach, detergent, and fabric softener release powder or liquid at the appropriate time in the cycle; bleach dispensers also prevent spattering. Some models hold months' worth of detergent , dispensing it automatically while letting you refill the reservoirs less frequently.

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 option. It might help those consumers who are sensitive to detergent residue.

Controls

Dial controls are generally easier to use than some touchpad or digital controls but 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

Dial controls are the traditional type and are generally easier to use than some touchpad or digital controls.

High-quality tub


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.

Steam setting


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 option. And machines with this feature cost more than other top performers in our Ratings.

Time-delay feature

This feature lets you program the washer to start at a later time, say at night when electricity rates may be lower.

Touchpad controls

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.)

Brands

Frigidaire arrow  |  GE arrow  |  Kenmore arrow  |  LG arrow  |  Maytag arrow  |  Samsung arrow  |  Whirlpool arrow

The major brands of top-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

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.

GE

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.

Kenmore

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.

LG

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.

Maytag

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.

Samsung

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.

Whirlpool

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.

   

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