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Tougher federal standards have kicked in, requiring all washers to use even less water and energy. That means the newest Energy Star-qualified washing machines use 25 percent less energy and 40 percent less water than washers not carrying the Energy Star. Our Ratings reveal big differences in water and energy efficiency and performance. Here's how to find the right washing machine for you.
Top or front-loader? Top-loaders with center-post agitators typically cost less and wash the fastest, but performance is often only so-so. High-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry, use less water, and extract more of it at the end. That cuts drying time, saving energy and money. Front-loaders generally use the least water and spin the fastest, resulting in the most savings. But with front-loaders and HE top-loaders you may have to make a few changes in the way you do laundry.
Size things up. Capacities of front-loaders and high-efficiency (HE) top-loaders keep increasing. Some washers can now handle up to 28 pounds of laundry. While most washers are 27 inches wide, some with large or jumbo capacities add an extra two or three inches. Pair a wider washer with its matching dryer and you'll need six more inches to fit the pair. So check the space you have to work with and the width of the doors to your home and laundry room. You'll see each machine's dimensions on the Ratings model page and in the Features & Specs tab in the ratings.
Note that a washer needs to hold about 25 pounds of laundry or more to earn an excellent capacity score in our Ratings. Most families can get by with a machine that's rated very good or even good in capacity. Very good indicates that the washer fit about 20 to 24 pounds of our laundry. While a good score means the washer held about 15 to 19 pounds.
Consider noise. Look at washers 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 washers that let you silence end-of-cycle signals. We note the features of each washer.
You have a choice of three types: traditional top-loaders with center-post agitators, top-loaders without center post agitators (also known as high-efficiency or HE top-loaders), and front-loaders. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
These machines fill their tubs with water and an agitator circulates the laundry much the way it did on earlier models.
Pros: They're the least expensive overall. Loading these washers or adding items in mid-cycle is easier than in machines without an agitator.
Cons: These perform the least impressively as a group and because they use more water and extract less than high-efficiency top-loaders and front-loaders, dryer times are longer, increasing energy use. Traditional top-loaders hold about 12 to 16 pounds of laundry. Most are relatively noisy and their loads can become unbalanced.
These use a variety of methods to lift and tumble the laundry. They fill only partly, so they use less water, and spin at higher speeds. They work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.
Pros: Most high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry (17 to 28 pounds) than regular top-loaders and typically wash better. The higher spin speed reduces dryer time and energy consumption by extracting more water.
Cons: The high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing, and while prices have dropped these still cost more than traditional top-loaders and can cost as much as front-loaders. Manufacturers have increased capacities so that you can wash more laundry less often. One way to increase capacity is to make the tub deeper, and some washers are also taller now, making it difficult for some people to retrieve laundry at the bottom of the tub. When shopping reach into the washer. If you need tongs to grab a sock, consider another model.
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 washer check the manual. A low-spin or no-spin mode may be recommended; Samsung added a Waterproof cycle to its HE top-loaders and we found it prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. See this blog for more details.
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. Front-loaders lock at the beginning of a cycle but can usually be opened by interrupting the cycle.
Pros: The best front-loaders typically clean better and more efficiently than the best high-efficiency top-loaders. Most can handle roughly 17 to 28-pound loads and spin even faster than high-efficiency top-loaders. Typically that means more water is extracted, reducing drying time and energy consumption. As a group front-loaders tend to be very quiet. Many can be stacked with a dryer to save floor space.
Cons: Front-loaders tend to cost more than high-efficiency top-loaders. A front-loader's high spin speeds might vibrate too much for the machine to be placed near living areas. While most manufacturers have reduced the vibrations, keep in mind that concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors.
These compact models are usually 24 inches wide or less, compared with the usual 27 inches for full-sized models. Our current Ratings do not include this type.
Pros: You can store some compacts in a closet and roll them out to the kitchen sink to access water, and compact front-loaders and dryers can be stacked.
Cons: Compacts typically can handle only an 8- to-12-pound load.
More features are being added, and they increase the price. Here are some useful ones to consider:
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 washers hold up to several months' worth of detergent, dispensing it automatically while letting you refill the reservoirs less frequently.
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.
Available on front-loaders and most high-efficiency top-loaders, this feature automatically determines load size and the amount of water needed.
Some models offer this option. It might help if you're sensitive to detergent residue.
Dial-control washers are easy to use and are usually conventional top-loaders. Electronic controls with a dial, push button, or touchpad tend to be more versatile, letting you save favorite settings, for instance. Some washers offer dedicated cycles for fabrics such as silk and denim. Touchscreens are available on some higher-end models and have a display with a progression of menus with customized programs, though they can be tough to learn and navigate. They generally offer the most options and added information, such as a stain guide.
Look for a stainless-steel or plastic tub. Unlike a porcelain, stainless or plastic won't rust if it's chipped and stainless tubs can withstand higher spin speeds, which extracts more water and speeds up drying.
Some washers from LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device and letting you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more. This feature is found on the more expensive models.
It's supposed to boost cleaning and our tests found it did clean stains better, but washing machines that have this feature cleaned well without using the steam option.
As washers have become more water efficient, wash times have increased and can range from 60 to 90 minutes for high-efficiency top-loaders and 60 to 100 minutes for front-loaders. Some manufacturers add a time-saving option to trim normal wash times. In our tests Kenmore's Accela-Wash, LG's TurboWash, and Samsung's SuperSpeed wash options cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.
Here's a glimpse at the brands.
LG, a South Korean company, was the first to market steam washers and continues to add innovative features, such as Wi-Fi enabled appliances, and increasingly large capacities.
This Whirlpool-owned brand is priced a bit lower than Whirlpool-branded products. The Maytag brand includes the Bravos and Maxima lines.
Samsung, of South Korea, aims to provide innovative features, including Wi-Fi enabled appliances, and increasingly large capacities.