Choosing the Best Washing Machine

There is no escaping dirty laundry, but a reliable washing machine that gently cleans clothes for years to come eases your load. Here’s how to find the best washing machine for your budget and needs. 

Washers sell for around $400 to $2,500, depending on the type, capacity, and features. And while doing laundry may be a mundane task, the washer aisle is anything but boring. You’ll see multitasking machines that allow you to wash two loads at once, all-in-one front loaders that go straight into dryer mode, pod-dispensing front-loaders, built-in pretreat features, washers with a steam option, and more. 

Buying a matching washer-and-dryer set remains popular. The coordinated styling makes a statement, but not all sets make a great pair. “The Best Matching Washers and Dryers” highlights the best from our tests. No matter which model you choose, follow our advice for how to make it last longer. Our testing labs also reveal the laundry products that waste loads of money—save time and money by avoiding them. 

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 cleaning. 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.

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

Every type has its advantages and drawbacks. Do you prefer loading laundry from the top of a washing machine rather than bending to load a front-loader? 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 tested full-sized machines come with a one-year warranty on parts and labor. Speed Queen, however, offers warranties ranging from three to seven 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. 

An agitator top-loader washing machine.

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 Washers.”

Top-Load Agitator Washers Ratings
A high-efficiency (HE) top-loader washing machine.

High-Efficiency (HE) Top-Loaders

Pros
• Cleaning often earns a Very Good rating or better.
• 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
A front-loading washing machine.

Front-Loaders

Pros
• Cleaning typically earns Excellent or Very Good scores 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 CR’s member survey found that 17 percent of front-loader owners say it 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
A compact front-loading washing machine.

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, typically ranging 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 tested. 

If a quiet machine matters, consider buying a washer that earns a Very Good or better 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.

Washing Machine Video Buying Guide

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 the ratings. 

5 Fabulous Features

The more features, the higher the price. So narrow your options to high-performing washers that fit your budget, then consider features that add convenience or save time. Here are five to look for. 

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 Haier makes full-sized and compact laundry appliances at a wide range of prices.
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 $600 or less.
This brand covers 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 dryers 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.
Roper is a lower-priced appliance brand from the Whirlpool Corp.
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 three to seven years.
A manufacturer of full-sized and compact laundry appliances, Whirlpool models cover a wide range of prices.
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