Choosing the Best Washing Machine

Choosing the Best Washing Machine

Laundry can be a tedious task. All that sorting, loading, fluffing, and folding can be a drag. But when it comes to the dirty work—the actual cleaning—an efficient washing machine can lighten your load for years to come. That is, if you choose the right one.

Modern washers look sleek and high-tech, but not all are created equal. Some clean clothes better, some wash clothes more gently, some save energy, and some are more likely to last. The most eco-friendly washers, which earn our Green Choice designation, are the most efficient and have the smallest environmental footprint from cradle to grave. Here’s how to find the best washing machine for your budget and needs.

Washers sell for $500 up to $2,500 on the high end, depending on the type, capacity, efficiency, and features. But most range in price from $500 to $,1400. At appliance stores, you’ll find multitasking machines that allow you to wash two loads at once, smart washers that respond to Alexa voice commands, and washers with a steam option. Some even deploy downloadable updates or offer remote access, so you can control your washer with your smartphone. Indeed, technology and convenience are the next wave—all to make laundry less of a chore.

Buying a matching washer-and-dryer set is popular and convenient. The coordinated styling makes a statement, but not all sets make a great pair. We highlight the best from our tests in “The Best Matching Washers and Dryers.” No matter which washer model you choose, follow our advice for maintenance tips and more ways to help your appliance stand the test of time.

If your washer does break down, our new Repair or Replace Tool offers practical advice that helps you decide whether it’s financially feasible to repair or replace your machine. Our tests also reveal the laundry products that waste loads of money.

Lab-Tested for Your Home

CR’s testers use a spectrocolorimeter to analyze fabric swatches stained with red wine, cocoa, and carbon (which is similar to soot), among other stains, before and after washing. The lighter the stain after laundering, the higher the machine scores in washing performance. This test is meant to challenge the washer so that we can see real differences among the machines.

We evaluate how gentle a washer is on fabrics, and record the amount of water and energy the machine uses. We also record the energy needed to dry laundry. Why? Washers that extract more water shorten dryer time and score higher in our energy-efficiency tests.  Water- and energy-efficiency scores are among the factors we use to determine the Green Choice designation for washers.

Our testers also measure how much vibration the washer transmits to a wood floor, and our panelists judge the washer’s noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles. 

In addition to the lab test results, we incorporate each washer brand’s reliability and owner satisfaction scores from CR’s member survey into the Overall Score for each washer. 

Washing Machine Types

Do you prefer loading laundry from the top of a washing machine rather than bending to load a front-loader? Every type has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, front-loaders wash bigger loads and generally clean better, but they typically have long cycles and are prone to developing mildew. High-efficiency top-loaders cost less than front-loaders and use minimal water, but they sometimes tangle clothes. Top-load agitators cost less and wash quickly, but they’re less gentle on fabrics and tend to be smaller.

Top-loaders are easier to load than front-load washers. A pedestal boosts a front-loader’s height—making loading easier—but you’ll pay $250 or more for the convenience.

Whatever you’re considering, know that washers with a capacity of more than 4.5 cubic feet readily fit a king-size comforter in our tests. And if the warranty matters, most of the full-sized machines we’ve tested come with a 1-year warranty on parts and labor. Speed Queen, however, offers warranties ranging from 3 to 7 years. You’ll see capacity and warranty information in our washing machine ratings

The pros and cons below refer to the washer types as a group, based on our testing. There are exceptions, which you’ll see in the ratings. 

Agitator Top-Loaders

Agitator Top-Loaders

Pros
• Usually the least expensive option.
• Cycle times are typically shorter, often 35 to 65 minutes using the normal wash/heavy soil setting, and faster using the normal soil setting. 
• Cleaning often earns a Good score in our ratings, so these machines should clean a typically soiled load well. (They have a tougher time with heavy stains or soil, though, so you may have to pretreat your laundry.)

Cons
• Many are tough on fabrics.
• They typically use a lot more water.
• Dryer times are often longer. (The washer’s tub can’t spin as fast as other washer types, so less water is extracted.)
• Most are noisy.

To learn more, see “5 Things to Know About Top-Load Agitator Washing Machines.”

Top-Load Agitator Washers Ratings
High-Efficiency (HE) Top-Loaders

High-Efficiency (HE) Top-Loaders

Pros
• Cleaning often earns a Very Good or Excellent rating.
• Capacities are bigger than those of most agitator top-loaders.
• They use less water than many agitator washers and extract more of it, shortening dryer time.
• Some are relatively quiet.

Cons
• Wash times are long, often 60 to 80 minutes using the normal wash/heavy soil setting. (You can save time by using the normal soil setting.)
• Most aren’t gentle on fabrics.
• Laundry can tangle because of the low water level, longer wash time, and higher spin speed.
• Higher-capacity models may have deep tubs, which can make it difficult to reach the bottom and grab that last sock.

Find out more by reading “5 Things to Know About High-Efficiency Top-Loaders.”

Top-Load HE Washers Ratings
Front-Loaders

Front-Loaders

Pros
• Cleaning typically earns an Excellent or Very Good score in our ratings.
• Many are gentler on fabrics.
• They use the least water.
• Dryer time is often shorter. (Front-loaders use less water and extract more of it, thereby saving energy.)
• Most can be stacked with their matching dryer to save space.

Cons
• Wash times are long, often 75 to 105 minutes using the normal wash/heavy soil setting.
• Some transmit vibrations to the floor. (That can be a concern with wood floors but not concrete ones.)
• Mold can be a problem with any type of washer, but in CR’s member survey, 17 percent of front-loader owners said theirs had mold or mildew, compared with 3 percent of top-loader owners.

For more information on front-loaders, see “5 Things to Know About Front-Load Washers.”

Front-load washers Ratings
Compact Front-Loaders

Compact Front-Loaders

Pros
• Their 24-inch width makes them an option when space is tight. Height and depth vary, as you’ll see in our washing machine ratings.
• Can be stacked with their matching electric dryer to save floor space.

Cons
• Most compacts sold are front-loaders, not top-loaders, limiting your options.
• Matching compact dryers are electric (vented or ventless). Gas models are not available at this time.
• They’re small but expensive; prices typically range from $800 to $2,000.
• Cycle times are long for washer and dryer, especially if the dryer is a ventless model.
• They tend to vibrate, some more than others.

For more information, see “Best Matching Compact Washers and Dryers.”

Compact Washers Ratings

Size Up Your Space

Bigger capacities often result in a washer that’s 2 or 3 inches wider than the usual 27 inches; the same is true of dryers. Measure the space you have to work with and allow at least 6 inches behind the washer for water hookups, and about an inch between the washer and dryer. Measure the doors to your home to make sure a new washer can fit through them. Check dimensions in the washing machine ratings, and note which front-loaders can be stacked with a matching dryer. If space is tight, also consider the compact washers we’ve tested. 

If a quiet machine matters, consider buying a washer that earns a Very Good or Excellent score in our noise tests. You’ll know it’s working, but it shouldn’t disturb you. And while most manufacturers have reduced the vibrations that full-sized front-loaders transmit to the floor, take a close look at vibration scores in our washing machine ratings.

Illustration: Chris Philpot

Washing Machine Buying Guide Video

For more, watch our video below.

Count the Towels in Your Basket

Not everybody needs a washer that holds 17 thick, full-sized bath towels, which is what a model with a 6.2-cubic-foot capacity, the biggest we’ve tested, should hold. Compact washers, on the other hand, typically have a claimed capacity of around 2.3 cubic feet and can fit about six of these towels. You’ll see capacity noted in our ratings

Stacks of towels

Consumer Reports Consumer Reports

Brands in CR's Ratings

Here’s a look at the brands currently in our ratings. We test year-round and continue to add brands to our washing machine ratings

Amana, which is owned by Whirlpool, makes lower-priced washers.

Bosch currently makes higher-end compact laundry appliances.

Electrolux is the parent company and makes midpriced to high-end full-sized and compact laundry appliances under the Electrolux brand. Frigidaire full-sized laundry appliances are in the low-priced to midpriced range. Frigidaire no longer makes front-loading washers.

This manufacturer makes full-sized and compact laundry appliances on the higher end of the price scale.

GE Appliances makes full-sized and compact laundry appliances at a wide range of prices.

Haier makes compact washers and electric dryers that are sold at major retailers and independent appliance dealers.

Hotpoint is a lower-priced appliance brand from GE Haier.

Insignia is Best Buy’s house brand. Its full-sized laundry appliances sell for around $700 or less.

This brand offers full-sized washers at all prices, with the Kenmore Elite models on the higher end. Kenmore also has compact laundry appliances. Kenmore appliances are sold at Sears.

LG makes full-sized and compact washers in the midpriced to high-end range.

Maytag is a Whirlpool brand and makes midpriced to high-end full-sized laundry appliances.

You’ll see this high-end brand in our ratings of compact laundry appliances.

Samsung makes midpriced and high-end full-sized and compact laundry appliances. Samsung does not make agitator top-loaders.

This manufacturer offers a narrow line of agitator top-loaders and front-loaders that are in the higher price range. Speed Queen’s warranties, however, are among the longest we’ve seen, from 3 to 7 years.

A manufacturer of full-sized and compact laundry appliances, Whirlpool makes models in a wide range of prices.