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 $275 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, and more. 

Buying a matching washer-and-dryer set remains popular. The coordinated styling makes a statement, but not all couples make a great pair. “The Best Matching Washers and Dryers” highlights the best from our tests. Want to save money? Read “Laundry Products that Waste Loads of Money.”

Lab-Tested for Your Home

To find out how well each washer cleans, 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.

A washer that's tough on fabrics is no dream machine, so we evaluate how gentle a washer is on fabrics. Testers record the amount of water and energy the machine uses, and the energy needed to dry laundry. (Washers that extract more water shorten dryer time and score higher in our energy-efficiency tests.)

We measure how much vibration the washer transmits to a wood floor. And because some machines are noisy, it’s good to know that before you buy, so our panelists judge the washer’s noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles. 

Washers that perform well but don't hold up over time aren't winners. That's why it's important to consider our latest reliability and owner satisfaction survey findings. And to make it easier for you to choose the best washer for your budget, we now incorporate lab test results, predicted reliability, and owner satisfaction into one Overall Score. 

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 your least expensive option.
• Cycle times are typically shorter.
• Cleaning is often rated Good, meaning they should clean a typically soiled load well. (They have a tougher time with heavy stains or soil, so pretreat.)

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 is often rated Very Good.
• 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.
• Most are relatively quiet.

Cons
• Wash times are long, often 60 to 80 minutes using the normal wash/heavy soil setting. (Save time 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, making it difficult for some users to reach the bottom and grab that stray 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 is typically excellent or very good.
• They’re gentler on fabrics.
• They use the least water.
• Dryer time is often shorter. (The front-loader uses less water and extracts more of it, saving energy.)
• Most can be stacked with their matching dryer to save space.

Cons
• Wash times are long, often 60 to 120 minutes using normal wash/heavy soil setting.
• Some transmit vibrations to the floor (not a concern with concrete floors, unlike wood floors).
• Mold can be a problem with any type of washer, and consumers continue to post comments on this site about front-loaders with mold.

You’ll see more information in “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—and not everyone is a fan of front-loaders.
• Matching compact dryers are electric (vented or ventless). Gas models are not available at this time.
• They’re small but expensive, ranging from $750 to $2,400 plus the dryer.
• Cycle times are long for washer and dryer, especially ventless dryers.
• 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; same with 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 washers 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 that full-sized front-loaders transmit to the floor, 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 washer that holds 17 thick, full-sized 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. 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 are the brands currently in our ratings. We test year-round, and continue to add brands to our washing machine ratings

Amana makes lower-price agitator top-loaders that sell for $500 or less. Amana is part of the Whirlpool Corp.
Bosch currently makes higher-end compact laundry appliances.
Electrolux is the parent company and makes mid-to-high end full-size and compact laundry appliances under the Electrolux brand. Frigidaire full-size laundry appliances are in the low-to-mid price range, and no longer includes front-loading washers.
This manufacturer makes full-size and compact laundry appliances that are on the higher end.
GE makes full-size and compact laundry appliances at a wide range of prices.
Insignia is Best Buy's house brand. These full-size laundry appliances sell for around $600 or less.
This brand covers full-size 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, Kmart, and online, including Amazon.
LG makes full-size and compact dryers that range from mid-price to high end. LG does not make agitator top-loaders.
Maytag is a Whirlpool Corp. brand, and makes mid-price to high-end full-size laundry appliances.
You'll see this high-end brand in our ratings of compact laundry appliances.
Samsung makes mid-price and high-end full-size and compact laundry appliances. Samsung does not make agitator top-loaders.
This manufacturer offers a narrow line of agitator top-loading washers that are in the higher-price range. Speed Queen no longer makes front-loading washers. Speed Queen's warranties are among the longest we've seen.
Manufacturer of full-size and compact laundry appliances, Whirlpool models cover a wide range of prices.
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