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Washing machines

Washing machine buying guide

Last updated: October 2014

Getting started

Consumer Reports continues to find huge differences in performance among the washing machines we test. Some models were mediocre or worse at washing, some were capable and efficient. Capacities of front-loaders and high-efficiency (HE) top-loaders continue to increase, with some models handling up to 28 pounds of laundry.

Improvements include mid-wash soaking and more aggressive agitation. You'll also find more programmable wash menus and even built-in USB ports that allow for future software upgrades. Here's how to choose the right washing machine for you.

Consider location. Look at washers that score very good or better in our Ratings for noise and vibration if your laundry room is near bedrooms or the family room. Also pick models that let you silence end-of-cycle signals.

Consider size. While most washers are 27 inches wide, some add an extra two or three inches. Pair a wider washer with its matching dryer and you'll need up to six more inches in width to fit the pair.

Top- or front-loader? Top-loaders with center-post agitators typically cost less and wash the fastest, but performance is unimpressive. High-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry, use less water to wash, and extract more of it. That cuts drying time, saving energy and money. Front-loaders generally use the least water and spin the fastest, resulting in the most savings. But with front-loaders and HE top-loaders you may have to make a few changes in the way you do laundry.

Know which features add convenience. Electronic controls let you quickly choose cycles and keep an eye on the remaining cycle time and status. Automatic detergent, bleach, and softener dispensers release the powder or liquid at the right time in the cycle. A stainless-steel or plastic tub won't rust if chipped, unlike a porcelain one. Steam settings on washers only slightly improve stain cleaning, however.

Types

You have a choice of three types: traditional top-loaders with center-post agitators, top-loaders without center post agitators (also known as high-efficiency or HE top-loaders), and front-loaders. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Traditional top-loading washers

These machines fill their tubs with water and an agitator circulates the laundry much the way it did on earlier models.

Pros:

They're the least expensive overall. Loading these washers or adding items in mid-cycle is easier than in machines without an agitator.

Cons:

These perform the least impressively as a group and because they use more water and extract less than high-efficiency top-loaders and front-loaders, dryer times are longer, increasing energy use. Traditional top-loaders hold about 12 to 16 pounds of laundry. Most are relatively noisy and their loads can become unbalanced.

High-efficiency top-loading washers

These use a variety of methods to lift and tumble the laundry. They fill only partly, so they use less water, and spin at higher speeds. They work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent.

Pros:

Most high-efficiency top-loaders hold more laundry (17 to 28 pounds) than regular top-loaders and typically wash better. The higher spin speed reduces dryer time and energy consumption by extracting more water.

Cons:

The high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing, and while prices have dropped these still cost more than traditional top-loaders and can cost as much as front-loaders. Manufacturers have increased capacities so that you can wash more laundry less often. One way to increase capacity is to make the tub deeper, and some washers are also taller now, making it difficult for shorter people to retrieve laundry at the bottom of the tub. When shopping reach into the washer. If you need tongs to grab a sock, consider another model.

Washing waterproof or water-resistant items in some HE top-loaders may cause the load to become unbalanced, and that can cause excessive shaking and possible damage. Before choosing a model check the manual. A low-spin or no-spin mode may be recommended; Samsung added a Waterproof cycle to its HE top-loaders and we found it prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. See this blog for more details.

Front-loading washers


These also fill only partly with water. They clean clothes by lifting them to the top of the tub and dropping them back into the water and work best with low-foaming, high-efficiency detergent. Front-loaders lock at the beginning of a cycle but can usually be opened by interrupting the cycle.

Pros:

The best front-loaders typically clean better and more efficiently than the best high-efficiency top-loaders. Most can handle roughly 17 to 28-pound loads and spin even faster than high-efficiency top-loaders. Typically that means more water is extracted, reducing drying time and energy consumption. As a group front-loaders tend to be very quiet. Many can be stacked with a dryer to save floor space.

Cons:

Front-loaders tend to cost more than high-efficiency top-loaders. A front-loader's high spin speeds might vibrate too much for the machine to be placed near living areas. While most manufacturers have reduced the vibrations, keep in mind that concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors.

Compact washers

These compact models are usually 24 inches wide or less, compared with the usual 27 inches for full-sized models. Our current ratings do not include this type.

Pros:

You can store some compacts in a closet and roll them out to the kitchen sink to access water, and compact front-loaders and dryers can be stacked.

Cons:

Compacts typically can handle only an 8- to-12-pound load.

Features


More and more features are being. Here are some to consider:

Automatic dispensers


Auto dispensers for bleach, detergent, and fabric softener release powder or liquid at the appropriate time in the cycle; bleach dispensers also prevent spattering. Some models hold months' worth of detergent, dispensing it automatically while letting you refill the reservoirs less frequently.

Automatic temperature control


It adjusts the water to the correct temperature for the cycle you're using. Most machines mix hot and cold water in preset proportions. An automatic temperature control adjusts for especially cold incoming water.

Automatic load sensing

Available on front-loaders and most high-efficiency top-loaders, this features automatically determines load size and the amount of water needed.

Extra rinse cycle

Some models offer this option. It might help if you're sensitive to detergent residue.

Controls

Dial-control models are easy to use and are usually conventional top-loaders. Electronic controls with a dial, push button, or touchpad tend to be more versatile, letting you save favorite settings, for instance. Some models offer dedicated cycles for fabrics such as silk and denim. Touchscreens are available on some higher-end models and have a display with a progression of menus with customized programs, though they can be tough to learn and navigate. They generally offer the most options and added information, such as a stain guide.

High-quality tub


Look for a stainless-steel or plastic tub. Unlike a porcelain drum, stainless or plastic won't rust if it's chipped and stainless tubs can withstand higher spin speeds, which extracts more water and speeds up drying.

Remote control

Some washers from LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device and letting you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more. This feature is found on the more expensive models.

Steam setting


Don't buy a washer for the steam feature alone. It's supposed to boost cleaning and our tests found it did clean stains better, but washing machines that have this feature cleaned well without using the steam option.

Time-saving wash option

As washers have become more water efficient, wash times have increased and can range from 60 to 90 minutes for high-efficiency top-loaders and 60 to 100 minutes for front-loaders. Some manufacturers add a time-saving option to trim normal wash times. In our tests Kenmore's Accela-Wash, LG's TurboWash, and Samsung's SuperSpeed wash options cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.

Brands

Frigidaire arrow  |  GE arrow  |  Kenmore arrow  |  LG arrow  |  Maytag arrow  |  Samsung arrow  |  Whirlpool arrow

The major brands of top-loading washers are Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, Maytag, and Whirlpool. All offer high-efficiency, or HE, models except Frigidaire. Every brand is adding more electronics to their models and is offering more models with a stainless-steel drum. The major front-loading brands are Frigidaire, GE, Kenmore, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool, with Amana, Bosch, and Miele among the other makers. The latest trend in washing machines is the inclusion of steam and exterior colors beyond the basic white. This guide will help you compare washing machines by brand.

Frigidaire

Frigidaire washing machines generally cost $700 to $900, and the machines have capacity ranging from 3.5 to 3.7 cubic feet. Frigidaire is known for its generally good value for the price.

GE

GE is increasing its front-loading offerings and is also adding its "SmartDispense" technology to a new flagship washer due out in July. The GE line now includes $700, $800, $900, and $1,200 models in the GE and GE Profile models.

Kenmore

Kenmore, the second manufacturer to market washers with steam, has a number of models in the front-loading category: Elite HE5, Elite HE5t Steam, Elite HE3, and HE2t. Those cover all the relevant prices—from $800 to $1,600—and Kenmore is considered a reliable brand.

LG

South Korean company LG was the first to market with steam washers; the company claims its machines provide real steam (created by a steam generator). The latest wrinkle from LG is what it calls the Allergiene cycle. That cycle, says LG, reduces and removes 95 percent of dust mites and pet dander from a load. LG washers range in price from $900 to $1,600.

Maytag

This Whirlpool-owned brand is positioned as a durable brand but is priced a bit lower than Whirlpool-branded products. The Maytag brand has two lines, the Epic and Epic Z, which cost $1,000 and $800, respectively.

Samsung

Over the past three years, Samsung has introduced a full line of laundry products, with prices ranging from $800 to $1,600. The brand is known for its use of silver for cleaning and Vibration Reduction Technology in its top-line washers. Samsung has added a steam-cleaning option to its washers.

Whirlpool

As with Kenmore, Whirlpool has a number of lines: Whirlpool Duet HT, Whirlpool Duet Steam, Whirlpool Duet Sport HT, and Whirlpool Duet Sport. In the coming year, Whirlpool will be promoting and advancing the use of steam on more of its models across the line. Prices range from $800 to $1,600. Whirlpool washers are known for the wide range of model choices and the variety of features on those machines.

   

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