Consumer Reports

Washing Machine
Buying Guide

A matching washing machine and dryer pair, side by side in a household laundry room.
Sharing is nice!

We respect your privacy. ALL email addresses you provide will be used just for sending this story.

Thanks for sharing.
Oops, we messed up. Try again later
Washing Machine Buying Guide

Finding the Right Washing Machine

You can't escape dirty laundry. A reliable washing machine that gently cleans clothes for years to come is what you need. Washers can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,900, depending on the type, capacities, and features. Here’s how to find the best one for your needs.


Finding the Right Washing Machine


Decide on Type

Do you prefer loading and unloading laundry from the top of the washing machine rather than bending to get into a front-loader? You can buy a pedestal that boosts the front-loader’s height—making it easier—but you’ll pay $250 or more for the convenience.

Picture of a top-loading washing machine.

Top-Load Washing Machine

Agitator models cost less and are faster than top-loaders without an agitator, known as high-efficiency (HE) washing machine. Most HE washers are better at cleaning, gentler on fabrics, use less water, and have larger capacities. They spin faster, which removes more water and cuts dryer time, although the spinning can tangle clothing. Follow these tips for getting the most from your HE washing machine. And note that some are very deep. When shopping reach in and imagine grabbing that last sock. If you need tongs, move on.


Picture of a front-loading washing machine.

Front-Load Washing Machine

Usually the more expensive option. The best front-load washing machines clean better and are gentler than the best HE top-loaders while using less water. Front-loaders take longer than HE top-loaders, but spin faster, extracting more water and trimming dryer time. The high-spin speed can cause some washers to vibrate. Concrete floors absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors. And some front-loaders collect water around the rubber door gasket and can develop mold. Try our tips for preventing mold.



Size Up Your Space

Bigger capacities often result in a washing machine that's two or three inches wider than the usual 27 inches; same with dryers. Measure the space you have to work with and allow at least 6 inches behind the washing machine for water hookups, and about an inch between the washer and dryer. Measure the doors to your home to make sure a new washing machine can fit through them. You can check washing machine dimensions in the Features & Specs tab in our Ratings, and note which front-loaders can be stacked with a matching dryer.

If you’re putting your machines near bedrooms or the family room, consider ones that scored very good or better in our noise tests. You’ll know they’re working but they shouldn’t disturb you. And while most manufacturers have reduced the vibrations of front-load washing machines, take a close look at vibration scores in our Ratings.

Illustration of how to leave 6 inches of room between the wall and your washer and dryer, and one inch of space between the two machines.
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Count the Towels in Your Basket

Not everybody needs a washing machine that holds up to 24 full-size bath towels, which is what a washer earning an excellent score for capacity in our Ratings should fit. A washing machine that gets a very good for capacity holds around 17 to 21 towels, and a washer scoring good can fit around 14 to 17. The smallest capacities tested can hold about seven of these towels. If you plan on washing lots of big, bulky items choose a washing machine that scored very good or excellent in capacity. 

Three stacks of colorful towels, the first stack equals 8 pounds of laundry, the second two stacks equal 24 pounds.

Five Fabulous Features

The more features, the higher the price. Take steam. Many mid- and high-priced washing machines have a steam setting. Our tests found steam only slightly improved a washer's stain removal. So choose a high-performing washing machine in your budget, then features that add convenience or save time. Here are five to look for. 

More About Laundry