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 $400 to $1,900, depending on the type, capacity, and features. Here’s how to find the best washing machine for your needs. For related information on dryers visit our Clothes Dryer Buying Guide and ratings.

Decide on Type

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

For impressive washer and dryer pairs read, "The Best Matching Washers and Dryers." And check our Dryer Buying Guide and Dryer Ratings, and if space is tight, be sure to read "What to Know about a Compact Washer and Dryer Set" and "An All-in-One Washer/Dryer Can Do It All, If You Give It Time." 


Picture of a top-loading washing machine.

Top-Load Washing Machine

Agitator models cost less and are faster than top-loading washing machines without an agitator, known as high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. Most HE washers are better at cleaning, use less water, and have larger capacities. They also spin faster, which removes more water and cuts dryer time, although the spinning can tangle clothes. Follow our 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

Front-load washing machines are usually the more expensive option, and innovations such as dual washers are an option. The best front-loaders clean better and are gentler than the best HE top-loading washing machines 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, combined with the way they spin, can cause some washing machines to vibrate. Concrete floors absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors.

Note that some consumers complain that their front-loader developed mold. Part of the problem can be water collecting in the folds of the rubber gasket on the machine opening. Check 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 Washing Machine 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 Washing Machine Ratings.

Interactive Video Buying Guide

For more, watch our interactive video below. You can skip to chapters on types, features, and maintenance tips.

Count the Towels in Your Basket

Not everybody needs a washing machine that holds 17 thick full-size bath towels, which is what a washer 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 around 2.3 cubic feet, and can fit about six of these towels. We no longer include capacity in the overall score because it's your call how important capacity is, but you'll see it noted in ratings. 

Five Fabulous Features

The more features, the higher the price. Take steam, for example. 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 that fits your budget, then consider features that add convenience or save time. Here are five to look for. 

Washer FAQ

Q. Why are your ratings for the top-rated front loaders higher than the best high-efficiency top loaders?
. As a group front-loaders clean better and are gentler on fabrics than top-loaders, both high-efficiency (HE) models, which do not have agitators, and agitator top-loaders. Those two things help boost front-loaders' overall scores in our tests, along with impressive or even excellent water- and energy efficiency. 

Q. Why are wash times so much longer for front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loaders, compared to agitator washers?
Front-loaders and HE top-loaders need more time to get laundry clean because they use a lot less water than agitator machines. But their washer drums spin faster, extracting more water and cutting dryer time. Note that wash times in our ratings are based on the normal wash cycle heavy-soil setting. You'll save time using the normal-soil setting.

Q.  Is the steam setting a good feature?
Many washers and dryers have a steam setting. We found it slightly improved a washer's stain removal. Steam removed more odors than dryers without steam, but left clothes wrinkled.

Q.  What do your noise scores really mean?
For washers that scored very good or better in our noise tests, you’ll know they’re working but they shouldn't disturb you. Washers that scored good or lower in our noise tests make annoying, sustained sounds.

Q. What size washer will fit my king-size comforter?
Our tests found that washers with a capacity over 4.5 cubic feet readily fit a king size comforter. You’ll see capacities in our ratings stated as cubic feet.

Q. How long do new washers and dryers last?
Most manufacturers told us that they should last about 10 years. Kenmore says you can expect 10 to 13 years. Speed Queen is unusual in that they say they build their machines to last about 25 years, depending on the number of loads you do a week. See “How to make your washer and dryer last” for advice from manufacturers and our engineers. 

Q. Are all washer warranties the same?
Most machines we test come with a 1-year warranty on parts and labor. Speed Queen offers 3 years for machines with mechanical controls and 5 years for electronic controls.

Q. Why don’t the user reviews match your ratings?
Our tests are rigorous, using a scientific approach to testing. And the user reviews are yet another piece of helpful information. Sometimes consumers agree with our findings, other times not. Sometimes the user review is about a different model—we know this, for example, if the reviewer says he bought the machine in 2015 and we know it arrived in stores a year later. We also know that some user reviews are suspicious and a competitor might have written them or paid somebody to write them. And some user reviews are about reliability, which isn’t reflected in our ratings. You'll see brand reliability data in our ratings, which is based on an annual survey of readers.

Q. Why are the cubic-feet capacities different for a matching washer and dryer?
When you buy a matching washer and dryer you can expect that the dryer can handle the wash load. The dryer's capacity is larger because when you put wet clothes in a dryer they're compacted, but expand as they dry. And to dry they need room to tumble around.

Q. Why aren’t there any Bosch washers in your ratings?
Bosch no longer makes full-size washers, but you’ll see Bosch in our compact washer ratings. These machines are 24 inches wide.

Q. Does it matter which kind of washer is used when there’s a septic tank?
Choose a washer that uses little water, such as a front-loader. Most we tested scored excellent in water efficiency. A high-efficiency top-loader is also efficient with water, but if the load becomes unbalanced it may use a lot of water trying to rebalance, and some HE top-loaders have quick cycles that use lots of water. The EPA offers useful tips on how to care for your septic system.

Q. Why don’t your ratings give specs for RPM spin speeds?
We try to make it easy for consumers to compare washers by scoring the energy efficiency of each model. Washers that extract more water, due to high spin speeds, do cut dryer time, and score higher in our energy efficiency tests. We factor in the energy needed to run the washer, heat water, and then dry our laundry using an electric dryer. Keep in mind you can change the spin speeds on front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loaders.

Q. Do you test washer-dryer combo units?
We don’t test these all-in-one units at this time because they represent a very small part of the market, but we are reexamining this.

Q. Do front-loaders clean large loads well even though they don’t use lots of water?
Many we tested were very good or excellent at cleaning despite using a lot less water than agitator washers. That’s because, in part, they have longer wash cycles.

Q. Can a front-loader with a big capacity clean two or three items when the clothes aren’t bumping into each other?
Front-loaders don’t rely on clothes rubbing up against each other to get them clean, the way top-loaders do. A front-loader should do a good job cleaning a small load. It will adjust the water level to an appropriate amount so the detergent concentration is adequate. Also, the tumbling of the clothes in the drum helps get them clean. 

Q. Is mold and mildew still a problem with front-loaders?
A. It is for some people. In our reader survey we found that 16 to 29 percent of front-loaders had mold or mildew build-up. These machines were bought new between 2008 and 2016. That means that most front-loaders don’t have mold, but if you've followed the manufacturer's advice for preventing mold and still have problems with mold, then consider a high-efficiency top-loader or agitator top-loader. They can develop mold but we hear less about it from consumers.

Q. Can the full-size front-loaders in the ratings be stacked?
Almost all of them can be stacked with their matching dryer. Click the features & specs tab in the ratings and you’ll see which can. Note that the stacking kit doesn’t always come with the appliances. 

Q. Can the doors on front loaders be switched to open from the other side?
 Most cannot be switched, from what we’ve seen. Check Electrolux’s site as they have front-loaders that allow this. Most dryer doors can be switched, however.

Q. Do front-loaders have a soak option?
Few we tested do, but some agitator top-load washers offer this feature, including several in our ratings.

Q. Which front-loaders offer access to the filter trap?
The access port in the front of some front-loaders allows you to access the pump in case something gets caught in there and keeps it from pumping the water out. Other than that, these washers are mostly self-cleaning. The best way for you to find out if a particular brand or model offers access to the filter trap is to look at the manual online.

Q. Do high-efficiency (HE) top-loaders clean large loads well even though they don’t use lots of water?
Many we tested were very good at cleaning and a few were even excellent, despite using a lot less water than agitator washers. That’s because HE top-loaders have longer wash cycles, often from 60 to 80 minutes using the normal wash heavy soil setting, which is what we use in our tests. You’ll save time using the normal soil setting.

Q. Can top-loading washers handle heavy loads like jeans, towels, and bedding?
Any machine should be able to handle those items, as long as you don't overload the machine. The manual indicates what you can wash, the best cycle, and how big a load the washer fits. 

Q. Which high-efficiency or agitator top-loaders do not use electronic controls?
The HE top-loaders we’ve tested have electronic controls. Some agitator top-loaders have rotary dials on their control panels, and we call this out on each washer's summary page in the ratings. But keep in mind that these washers do have electronic parts elsewhere.

Q. Does the deep-fill option on HE top-loaders improve cleaning?
Deep fill should improve rinsing, and we test it out on machines, but we don't include it in the cleaning scores because not all machines have this option. Deep-fill does increase water use significantly.

Q. Do HE top-loaders have a soak option?
Few we tested do, but some agitator top-load washers offer this feature, including ones in our ratings.

Q. Do you test compact washers and dryers? We live in an apartment and do not have space for big appliances.
We recently tested compact washers and dryers and you’ll see them in our ratings online and in the January 2017 issue of the print magazine. They’re 24 inches wide. Height ranges between 33 and 34 inches and depth varies from 24 to 29 inches. See several  “What to know about a compact washer and dryer set” to get you started. 

Q. Can you stack any compact washer with any compact dryer?
Compacts within a brand are designed to fit together, so you cannot stack a Samsung dryer atop a Bosch washer, for example. And when shopping check whether the parts needed to stack the pair are included. Not all are, and the kits for compact machines can cost anywhere from $30 to $200.

Frigidaire's price range for the washing machines it makes is low to mid level. The brand offers HE top loaders, agitator top loaders, and front loaders.
The GE brand makes washing machines at all price points and has the following types of washers on the market: Front loaders, agitator top loaders, and HE top loaders.
This brand covers a range of washing machine prices across its Kenmore and Kenmore Elite brands, but they're only sold via the brands website and at Sears.
LG makes front-loader washing machines and HE top-loader washing machines. The price for this brand ranges from mid level to the high end.
Maytag markets the following types of washing machines: Front loaders, HE top loaders, and agitator top loaders. The brand's prices include a wide range. The Maytag brand also includes the Bravos, Maxima, and Centennial lines.
Samsung makes HE top-loader washing machines and front-loader washing machines, and its prices range from the mid level to high.
This brand makes several lines, including the Cabrio and Duet lines, and covers various prices across a full range. Whirlpool makes agitator HE top-loader washing machines and front-loader washing machines.
Speed Queen makes front-loader and agitator top-loader washing machines, and they are sold at a high price point. However, this brand has a very loyal following.
The Electrolux brand only makes front-loader washing machines, and they tend to be at the high end of the price range for washers. Electrolux is also the owner/parent brand of Frigidaire.
Additional brands on the market include, Fisher & Paykel and Amana.
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