Shopping for a clothes washer these days can be somewhat confusing as the manufacturers incorporate new technologies to conserve water and save energy. It's hard to argue against saving energy, whether it be fuel for our homes and cars, or simply saving electricity by changing our lighting to more efficient fixtures. New technology in laundry equipment has enabled us to save on water, electricity, gas and even soaps (thanks to concentrated HE laundry detergent), while taking better care of our laundry. There's just a bit of a learning curve you have to deal with!
There are many factors to consider as you research new washing machines. In this article, we will discuss the differences in washing machine technology comparing top loading vs front loading models - check out our washing machine buying guide for even more great information.
Top Loading Washers
Chances are that at some point in life we have had, or currently have, a top loading washer. It was the go-to option for most families for many years. These washers are simple in design and simple to operate: just load the laundry, add the soap, close the lid, choose your cycle, and pull to start. Then, after thirty minutes or so, your clothes are ready to head to the dryer.
This type of machine - which we sometimes refer to as a traditional top load washer - has an agitator which pulls the laundry down beneath the water level and forces it up the side of the tub to circulate throughout its cycle. The average machine uses between 28 and 44 gallons of water per use depending on the cycle and options that you set, including extra rinses and water level settings. These washers generally had capacities of 2.7 to 3.2 cubic feet on average. Very few manufacturers continue to use this system. You can find traditional top load agitator washers from a select few brands, and they tend to be budget offerings with limited features - Speed Queen washers being the exception.
Government regulations have made an impact on how much water can be used in today's top loading washers. The water savings come in part from eliminating the simple "small, medium, large" water level dial and having the washer weigh laundry and add water accordingly, using a precise amount to rotate and clean the fabrics.
By removing the agitator and replacing it with a paddled disc called an impeller at the bottom of the tub, it became possible to add more laundry into the same amount of space - meaning less loads per week and more time in your day. These machines are called high efficiency top load washers, and they require HE detergents. You will use less than half of the amount of soap than you would have used in an older washing machine. This style of washer has a tub capacity range of 3.6 to an astounding 5.0 cubic feet. There are even a few models larger than 5.0 cubic feet! Some washer controls retain a simple turn dial setup and some are push button or include touch-button control panels and LED displays.
Today's average top load washer will consume approximately 15 to 32 gallons of water. That's up to 50% less water per wash than the old models! Due to the lower water usage, cycle times have in some cases exceeded 50 to 120 minutes, but with higher spin speeds from direct drive and higher RPM motor and transmission combinations, you should shorten drying times, making up for these longer wash cycles.
To make this comparison of top loading vs front loading complete, we must now turn our attention to front loaders.
Front Loading Washers
Front load washers are not as new a technology as the high efficiency top load machines but can perform as well as most commercial laundromat machines, while being designed and sized to fit in most residences. They are designed for easy access from the front of the machine, but the openings are low and require some bending. These washers tumble the clothes through the water at the bottom of the tub, providing a gentle washing action.
Manufacturers continue to battle the "size war," competing to see who can make the tub the very largest possible (see our post on the largest washing machine on the market for the biggest current option) without greatly increasing the physical size of the product. It is a day-to-day challenge for these companies. The capacities can vary from a 2.0 cubic foot tub capacity in compact washers to an enormous 5.6 cubic foot tub capacity. Water consumption will vary from 13 to 18 gallons depending on brand and cubic capacity. It is also recommended that you use the HE detergent in front load washers. Due to the low water usage, you will use less than half of the detergent that you needed to use in older washers.
There are two drive methods to front loading washers: the original belt drive system and also the newest direct drive system which eliminates belts and pulleys. Wash cycle lengths will have a wide swing of 18 minutes to, in some cases, two hours - again, depending on the selected cycle and added options such as extra rinse and steam options. The fact that you can do larger batches of clothes in these machines more than makes up for the longer wash cycles and the fast spin speeds will shorten the time that a load takes in the dryer.
Some people prefer front load washers because they can be stacked to save floor space. The cheapest front load washer will still be a few hundred dollars more expensive than the cheapest top load model, but the water usage savings can help make up for that.
Whenever new technology is introduced and products are redesigned, there are always growing pains as these products are put into use and adjustments have to be made to increase reliability and performance. The technology in these new laundry products has reached the point of maturity and, if they are used and cared for properly, they will perform well and reliably.
There are advantages to both the top load washer and the front load washer. Both save energy, but they have a lot of differences. Take a good look at both designs and choose the one that is best to suit your needs.
We hope this comparison of front load vs top load washer types has been helpful. Please leave a comment below. We'd love your feedback!
Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in February of 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy as of the publication date noted above.