Sales of front-load washers picked up steam about a decade ago, and the best in Consumer Reports’ tests deliver excellent cleaning with unmatched gentleness, as well as superb water and energy efficiency. They even outperform top-load washers in our tests. 

But in recent years, sales have declined. Only 25 percent of washers shipped to stores in 2017 were front-loaders, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, down from 38 percent in 2009.

“For some consumers, the higher price of front-loaders might make them think twice,” says Mark Allwood, a senior market analyst at CR. “While other consumers might have had a problem with mold or thought the machine vibrated too much, so they're switching to top-loaders.”

 

Lab Tested for Your Home

To find out how well each washer cleans, testers launder fabric swatches stained with red wine, cocoa, and carbon (which is similar to soot), among other stains. The test is meant to challenge the washer so that we can see real differences among models.

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We also test to find out how gentle the machine is on fabrics, record the amount of water and energy used, and note 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 our panelists judge each washer's noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles.

If you’re considering a front-loading washer, here are five things you need to know.

1. Wash Cycles Are Long

Front-load washers typically take longer to wash a load than HE top-load washers and much longer than agitator top-loaders. Wash times for front-load washers often range from 60 to 120 minutes using the normal wash/heavy soil setting.  

You'll trim time using the normal-soil setting, and some models have time-saving settings. In our tests, LG's TurboWash, Kenmore's Accela Wash, and Samsung's Super Speed options got the job done faster without sacrificing cleaning. 

Another time-saver? "The front-loader's spin cycle is faster than other washer types," says Rich Handel, the CR tester who oversees our laundry lab. "That means more water is extracted from your laundry and dryer time is shorter."  

2. They Can Handle Small Loads

Most front-loaders we test have a claimed capacity of 4.2 to 5.8 cubic feet, and readers ask whether these big machines can wash small loads. “A front-loader should do a good job cleaning a small load,” says Handel. “Unlike top-loaders, front-loaders do not rely on clothes rubbing up against each other to get them clean.”

A front-loader cleans by lifting clothes up as the drum turns, then dropping the clothes into the water. The clothes aren’t submerged in water as they would be in a top-loader.

In addition, front-load washers adjust the amount of water to the size of the load you’re washing. So yes, you can wash small loads in a front-load washer. And your king-sized comforter will fit in any washer with a capacity of 4.5 cubic feet or more.

3. Most Can Be Stacked to Save Space

The front-load washers in our tests are often the standard 27 inches wide, but some are 2 or 3 inches wider, and height and depth can vary as much as 11 inches. You'll see the dimensions in our washing machine ratings. Most front-loaders tested can be stacked with a matching dryer on top when floor space is tight. (You might have to buy the stacking kit separately.)

Some front-load washers, however, can’t be stacked, and you'll see this noted in the ratings. The LG Signature WM9500HKA, $1,500, for example, has a detergent dispenser on top of the washer that you need access to. And the Samsung FlexWash WV60M9900AV, $1,400, boasts a mini top-load washer atop a full-sized front-loader.

4. Vibration Is Less of a Concern

Historically, vibration has been more of a concern with front-load washers than with top-load washers. “The front-loader’s drum spins faster to extract more water," says Handel. "And the drum rotates on a horizontal axis, similar to a dryer’s. When vibrations occur, they're transferred to the floor."

Manufacturers continue to work on this and are using better components that lessen vibration compared with earlier models we tested. Many of the 50-plus front-load washers in our washing machine ratings scored a Very Good in our vibration tests, and a few earned an Excellent score. 

If your machine vibrates too much, check that the washer is level and that all the feet are in solid contact with the floor.

5. Mold Remains a Problem for Some

Mold and odors can be a problem with any type of washer. Readers continue to post comments on our site saying that they’re frustrated by the mold that has developed in their washers, especially front-loaders. 

Mold can develop in various parts of the washer, including the detergent dispensers and in the rubber gasket around the opening of a front-loading washer. The owner's manual will recommend practices for preventing mold, such as using the proper amount of HE detergent, leaving the detergent dispensers open, and washer door ajar, when the machine is not in use. Some consumers tell us this helps, yet others say their washers still have mold. 

Shopping for a Washer? 
The washer buyer guide is a good place to start. You'll find well over 100 models in our washing machine ratings, with prices from $275 to around $2,500. You'll see the dimensions for each model, brand reliability data, and a features tab that offers useful info. Use the filters to help narrow your options.