What to Know Before Choosing a Washer

Top load washer

Long gone are the days when we scraped our knuckles raw on washboards. In its more than 200-year history, the trusty washer has come a long way. Today's models come in a wide assortment of capacities, styles and colors. If you're in the market for a new washer, here's a crash course.


Washer capacity is one of the most important features to consider when choosing a washing machine. Capacities typically range from a tiny 1.5 cubic feet to a spacious 4.7 cubic feet.

To help consumers compare capacities, manufacturers sometimes indicate how many bath towels fit into a full wash load. Capacity and towels don't translate exactly, because the machine's efficiency also comes into play. Given two machines with the same tub size, the more efficient one can handle more towels. For example, a 3.5 cubic feet washer with a dual agitator can wash about 16 towels, while a high-efficiency washer with the same capacity can handle 20 towels.

You'll pay more for a higher-capacity washing machine, but it can be worth the investment, particularly if you do a lot of laundry. Because terms such as high capacity, king size and super capacity aren't standard across brands, find out what the actual capacity is. If you're buying a new dryer too, match its capacity to the washer's so your one wash load isn't one-and-a-half dryer loads — wasting both time and energy to dry a partial load.

Washer Styles

Top-load washers have the traditional design that agitates garments submerged in water. It's easy to load and unload items from these washers without stooping. Top-load washers have a wide variety of features and capacities. Their purchase price is lower, but they aren't as energy efficient as front loaders, so you might actually spend more running the machine long term.

A few high-efficiency top loaders are on the market. They don't have an agitator, but rather tumble the clothes in water. Tumbling is gentler on clothing than agitating, so these machines are suitable for delicates. They use less water and energy than standard top loaders.

Front-load washers are high-efficiency machines that use less water and energy than standard models. They don't have an agitator; instead they lift the garments and then tumble them through water. Here are other notable traits of front-load washers:

  • They spin fast, which extracts a lot of water, so garments don't have to dry as long — easier on the clothes, easier on the power bill.
  • They are safe for fabrics that a standard top-loading washer could damage, such as washable silk and wool.
  • Some are designed to support a stackable dryer on top. If space is tight, check out stackable models or combined washer/dryer laundry centers.
  • Front-loading washers often have higher price tags, but almost always are less expensive to run — most people recoup the price difference in about 6 to 8 years.

Steam washers are the latest washer trend. They incorporate steam into various phases of the wash cycle, reducing stains, wrinkles, odors and allergens. Some models feature a sanitize mode and release detergent at optimal times during the cycle. Steam washers are more expensive than other types, but like high-efficiency models, they use less water and energy, which adds up to utility savings.


Color is pretty far down on the selection list, but it's nice to know that you have more options than white and beige, especially in front-loaders. In Kenmore front-loaders, for example, your choices are white, black, Pacific blue, twilight, truffle, chai and Barolo (that translates to white, black, light blue, dark blue, brown, green and red).

Water and Energy Use

Washers that save energy and water have higher purchase prices, but the ongoing savings in utility bills lowers the cost of ownership. According to ENERGY STAR®, a qualified washer can save you up to $550 over the life of the machine.

Most washers — starting at the mid-price range for top-loaders and the majority of front-loaders — have either a manual or automatic feature that adjusts water levels to the load size. Top-loaded washers use roughly 40 gallons of water for each cycle. Although conventional ENERGY STAR washers use at least 35 percent less energy than a standard conventional washer, they don't use less water. High-efficiency washers, however, save both energy and water — they use up to 67 percent less water than a conventional washer — and are always ENERGY STAR rated.

For more information about ENERGY STAR® appliances, visit www.energystar.gov.

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