A row of washing machines for sale in a store
Photo: Stephen Yang

Whether you shop for a washing machine in stores or online, it can be hard to tell one model from another.

Considering the hefty prices of some washers, plus the fact that you’ll be living with your choice for years to come, you want to arm yourself with information before you shop. 

So we asked Mark Allwood, CR’s market analyst for washing machines, and a CR secret shopper to share their insider tips and shopping tactics to help you make the best choice.

We also talked with industry experts from GE, LG, and Samsung to get their insight on the factors that shoppers might not think of as they search for a washer. Check out their advice below, as well as the details on top-performing washing machines from Consumer Reports' tests.

You can learn more about washers by using our washing machine buying guide. If you’re a CR member, check our washer ratings to see how more than 100 models perform in our laundry lab tests. And when you get your new washer home, rely on our on our maintenance advice so the appliance lasts.   

Don’t Just Go for the Newest Model

Your instinct may be to go for the latest models. After all, they have the newest technology for getting your clothes clean, right? Not necessarily, Allwood says. 

MORE ON WASHING MACHINES

“For years manufacturers were introducing innovative features that solved some consumer pain points,” he explains. “But that has slowed down, and we haven’t seen new eye-popping features in the past two years.”

Some of those features include Samsung’s ActiveWash in its HE top-loaders, which is a built-in sink with a water jet that allows you to treat stains yourself before tossing garments into the washer, and LG's TwinWash, which allows you to wash two loads at a time. 

Models are typically sold for three to five years, and as the years pass, prices drop. But older models are likely to have the same features as newer models, and meet the same federal standards for water and energy efficiency. You just may have to look around to find them in stores.

Retailers display newer, more expensive washers upfront or at the end of the aisles, and move older models to less prominent spots. It's even harder to identify older models online. So going to stores—while taking proper safety precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing—is your best bet.

Don’t Be Tempted by Super-Low Prices

Agitator top-loaders are typically the least expensive type of washing machine. But we’ve found that models under $500 usually earn mediocre ratings or worse in most of our washer tests, and they're pretty noisy, too.

If you can spend about $100 to $150 more, you’ll find more options and better overall performance. The same advice holds true for HE top-loaders under $500.

If your budget can stretch to about $700, you can get a front-loader that can deliver top-notch cleaning. (Many of the top performers in our tests are front-loaders.)

Front-loaders are typically the most expensive type of washing machine, with some costing well over $1,000. But in the past several years manufacturers have introduced models that are priced to compete with top-loaders.

Exclusive Models Aren’t So Exclusive

A big-box retailer may promote a washing machine as an exclusive and display it prominently. But don’t get too caught up in that.

“A manufacturer doesn’t make an entirely different washer for just one retailer, but it will make minor tweaks, like adding a cycle or two,” Allwood says.

Because the retailer and not the manufacturer has the final say on the price, you may see these washers on sale more often. To get the best deal on essentially the same washer, check the prices of various retailers’ exclusive models. You’ll know the machines are comparable if the model numbers are very similar.

You Have a Lot More Choices Than White

Manufacturers continue to add colors to their washer lineups. For about $100 more than the usual white models, you can get a washing machine that’s sapphire blue (GE), champagne (Samsung), or black stainless (LG and Samsung). And all major manufacturers offer dark gray laundry appliances, a nod to the stainless steel look. 

For real stainless, you’ll need to spend a bit more. The front and sides of the Speed Queen FF7005SN front-loader, for example, are stainless, and it costs about $200 more than the white version.

You won’t find models in all the color options in stores, but it’s easy to check them out online at manufacturer or retailer websites. In our washing machine ratings, most models are white, but you can search using the model number of the washer you’re interested in to see if other colors are available.

Budget for Extras

Not all washing machines come with hoses for installation, and if you’re buying a matching dryer, you’ll usually have to buy a venting kit, says Taryn Brucia, a spokeswoman for LG.

“Customers should be aware that these are additional costs when they are budgeting,” she adds. Hoses can add $30 to your bill, and so can a venting kit. If you’re stacking your front-loading washer and dryer, you’ll need a specific stacking kit for the set, which costs $40 to $90.

Want your old washer hauled away? Be prepared to pay extra for that, too. Big-box stores charge $25 to $30. 

Bigger Capacities Mean Bigger Machines

Many washers are wider, deeper, or taller than washers made a decade or so ago. And more washer capacity means you can do larger loads, which is helpful considering it takes longer to do a load in today’s water-efficient washers.

The washing machines you’ll find might be 2 or 3 inches wider than the standard 27 inches, and several inches taller or deeper, so it’s important to measure your space. Don’t forget to plan for at least 6 inches behind the washer for water hookups, and an inch between the washer and dryer. 

And be sure to measure doorways and hallways to see if your new washer can fit through them. As Ken Rudolph, senior director of product management for clothes care at GE points out: “Unlike refrigerators or ovens, washers and dryers do not get much narrower should you choose to disassemble the door from the unit to maneuver it through a doorway.”

You can see the dimensions for each washer Consumer Reports tests in our washing machine ratings. We also note which front-loaders can't be stacked with their matching dryers. 

Don’t Forget About Convenience

For instance, when installing a front-loading washer next to a dryer, having doors that open in opposite directions makes it easier to transfer laundry. For stacked front-loaders, having the doors open in the same direction is ideal. 

Also, imagine loading the front-loader you’re considering. Getting laundry in and out of these machines requires plenty of bending down, so make sure you’re comfortable with that. If it’s too low, you can raise the machine by 4 to 16 inches by buying a pedestal, which costs $150 to $350.

If you’re buying a top-loader, reach into the machine in the store and gauge whether you can grab laundry at the bottom of the tub; it may be deeper than you think. If you’re planning on stacking your machines, make sure you can see and reach the dryer controls up top. If the machines aren’t stacked in the store, ask the salesperson to tally the height, with the stacking kit included. 

Top Washing Machines From CR's Tests

CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of six washers, including front-loaders, HE top-loaders (the kind without a center post agitator), and agitator top-loaders. Some are CR Best Buys, delivering impressive performance at an appealing price.

Front-Loaders

Top Picks

1

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise

2

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise
Unlock Washing Machine Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in

HE Top-Loaders

Top Picks

1

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise

2

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise
Unlock Washing Machine Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in

Agitator Top-Loaders

Top Picks

1

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise

2

Washing performance
Gentleness
Noise
Unlock Washing Machine Ratings
Become a Member or Sign in