A mother is putting laundry into a top-loading washer while a young boy looks on.

Every type of washing machine comes with reasons to like it and reasons to vent. So when your washer is on its way out, do you stay with the same type or switch to something different? 

There are three types of washers to choose from, but this is one category where the old guard is beating the competition: Top-load agitator washers aren’t the most technologically innovative, but they continue to outsell front-loaders and even HE top-loaders, the kind without a center-post agitator. 

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One reason is their cost. “They’re often your least expensive type of washer, typically about $450 and up,” says Mark Allwood, a senior market analyst at CR. About half the agitator top-loaders in our washing machine ratings sell for $650 or less.

They also come with a lot of pluses: Top-load agitators don’t vibrate, unlike some front-loaders, and mold doesn’t seem to be a problem, according to our survey of CR members. They’re faster at washing a load of laundry, too.

Most agitator washers clock in between 35 and 65 minutes in our tests. HE top-loaders usually take between 60 and 80 minutes, and front-loaders take 75 to 120 minutes. (We use the normal-wash/heavy-soil setting in our tests; a normal-soil setting takes less time.)

But HE top-loaders and front-loaders shorten dryer time because they use less water than most agitator washers and extract more of it from laundry.

Of course, what matters most is how clean your clothes come out. 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 detect real differences among the machines.

Think a new top-load agitator might be right for you? Below are five key considerations to keep in mind. CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of five high-scoring agitator washers from our tests. Our washing machine ratings offer details on more than 100 agitator top-loaders, HE top-loaders, and front-loaders. 

1. Cleaning: Not the Best but Good Enough

There are more than two dozen top-load agitators in our current washing machine ratings, but not one earns an Excellent rating in our cleaning test. Many earn a midrange Good rating, though, meaning they should clean most loads well. They just might have trouble with heavily stained or soiled items.

Pretreating laundry with a stain remover will help, and so will pretreating with a dab of laundry detergent that delivers a punch. You can also use a more aggressive wash setting, such as the heavy-soil or heavy-duty cycle, but keep in mind that this is harder on fabrics. 

2. They're Rough Around the Edges

The center post agitator in these washers churns the laundry, rubbing clothing together to clean it. That’s why many top-load agitators earn only a Good or even a Fair in our gentleness test. They’re more likely to cause wear and tear to fabrics.

Adjusting the soil setting may help. Use the normal-wash/normal-soil setting for most loads, the light-soil setting when you can, and the delicate cycle when necessary.

3. They Can Be Water Hogs

All washers use less water than they did 20 years ago because of tougher federal efficiency standards. Top-load agitator washers, however, still typically use more water than HE top-loaders and front-loaders.

In our water-efficiency test, a washer earns an Excellent rating if it uses 13 gallons of water or less. Only one out of the two dozen-plus agitator washers in our ratings hits that mark, whereas most front-loaders and many HE top-loaders rate Excellent for water efficiency. In fact, most top-load agitators earn only a Good or Fair rating, using about 16 to 24 gallons to wash an average-sized load. 

Doing full loads is one way you can save water. But if you’re not happy with how well your washer cleans, check the manual to be sure you’re not overloading the machine. Laundry items need some room to move around. 

4. You'll Hear Them Working

As a group, top-load agitator washers are noisier than HE top-loaders or front-loaders. Not a big deal if your washer is tucked away in a basement corner, but it gets annoying fast if the washer is, say, on the second floor by your bedroom. 

Our panelists judge each washer’s noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles. None of the agitators in our tests garner an Excellent rating for noise, but a handful earn a Very Good rating, which means they’re audible but not really enough to disturb you. Most earn a Fair or Good rating, which means they make sustained noise while in use. 

One other noise factor to be aware of: If a load of laundry gets out of balance, your washer may seem unnervingly, well, agitated. It could make loud thumping sounds, rock back and forth, or even “walk” out of its place. If that happens, stop the wash and move the clothes around to rebalance the load. When the load is done, make sure the machine is sitting evenly by using a level to check the washer front-to-back and side-to-side, then tighten the lock nuts on the feet. 

5. Some Newer Models Can Be Pricey

Top-load agitators have long been about function instead of form. But manufacturers now offer some models that are more stylish and have larger capacities as well, pushing up prices to between $650 and $1,300. At the same time, prices on other types of washers have come down.

“The appliance industry is very competitive, so while LG and Samsung do not make agitator washers, they do make HE top-loaders and front-loaders, and that now includes lower-price basic models,” Allwood says. Other manufacturers have followed suit, so these days top-load agitators might not always be the cheapest option. 

5 Impressive Top-Load Agitators From CR's Tests

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