Top-load agitator washers have been around for decades, and their appeal endures. Although most don’t clean as well as other washer types, they still outsell front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loaders, the kind without an agitator.

Roughly 9.9 million washers were shipped to stores in 2017. About 39 percent were top-load agitator washers, and 36 percent were top-loaders without an agitator (known as high-efficiency top-loaders), according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Only 25 percent of washers shipped were front-loaders.

“Agitator washers remain popular, in part, because they have shorter cycle times than other types of washers,” says Emilio Gonzalez, an engineer and manager in appliance testing at Consumer Reports. “And they’re usually your least expensive option. Most of the top-load agitator models in our washing machine ratings cost less than $500.

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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 tests are designed to challenge the washer so that we can see real differences among the machines.

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.)

Most agitator top-loaders we tested are noisy. That's why our panelists judge each washer's noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles.

If you’re considering a top-load agitator washer, here are five things to consider.

1. Cleaning: Not the Best but Good Enough

None of the top-load agitator washers we tested earned an Excellent score in cleaning. That’s partly due to the fact that wash times are shorter.

Many scored Good, so they should clean a typically soiled load well but might have trouble with heavily stained or soiled items. 

If your washer’s cleaning performance is lackluster, use a more aggressive setting, such as the heavy-soil or heavy-duty cycle. Pretreat tough stains, and try a laundry detergent that delivers more punch. See "Tide Beats Persil" for a look at our latest test results.

2. They're Tough on Fabrics

Many top-load agitator washers earned only a Good or a Fair in our gentleness tests. “The agitator churns the laundry and the fabrics rub up against each other, which can cause the fabrics to wear out,” Gonzalez says.

Of the two dozen models in our washer ratings, just two scored Excellent in gentleness—the Speed Queen AWNE82SP113TW01, $900, and the Fisher & Paykel WA3927G1, $800. 

3. They Use More Water Than Other Types

All washers use less water than they once did thanks to tougher federal standards. However, agitator top-loaders still typically use more water than other washer types.

Twenty years ago, some agitator top-loaders we tested used more than 40 gallons of water to wash an average-sized load. Today, most models tested have an automatic load-sensing feature. The best sensors add the right amount of water based on the load’s weight, improving water efficiency.

Machines earning a Good or a Fair in water efficiency use about 16 to 24 gallons to wash an average-sized load, and the least water-efficient typically use 26 gallons or more. 

4. Few Carry the Energy Star

Our washing machine ratings show how well each washer did in our tests for water and energy efficiency. If a washer carries the Energy Star logo, that tells you that a third party has certified the machine’s water and energy efficiency. The Energy Star status comes in handy if you’re hoping for a rebate from your utility company.

Most of the front-loaders and HE top-loaders in our ratings are Energy Star-qualified. The only Energy Star-qualified agitator top-loaders tested are the Maytag MVWB865GW, $630, GE GTW685BSLWS, $630, and GE GTW485ASJWS, $480.

5. The Marketing Can Be Confusing

Traditionally, top-load agitator washers were more about function than form, considering these appliances were typically hidden in basements.

But some new models are getting stylish curves, a glass lid, or a stainless finish and look similar to HE top-loaders. These design tweaks, of course, can push up the price.

Some manufacturers have gone as far as slapping the HE label on top-load agitator washers, which can be misleading. “Agitator top-loaders typically use a lot more water than HE top-loaders, and they can’t spin as fast so they extract less water, which makes dryer time longer,” Gonzalez says. “That’s hardly high efficiency.”

Ann Bailey, director of the Energy Star Products Program, further warns about the need to beware of high-efficiency claims associated with a so-called HE agitator washer. “The HE designation is intended to match certain washer types with specially designed laundry detergent,” she says. “There are no standards for energy efficiency behind it.” 

Regular detergent is too sudsy for a water-efficient machine, so manufacturers recommend using HE laundry detergents. They produce less suds, which helps prevent washer odors and problems with functionality. Your owner's manual will tell you what type of detergent works best for your machine.

Shopping for a Washer? 
Our 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.

Should You Wash Clothes in Hot Water?

Think your clothes come out cleaner with hot water? Consumer Reports' appliance expert, Emilio Gonzalez, explains to 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, why it might not be necessary to wash clothes at a higher temperature.