Top Load vs Front Load Washer Comparison Guide

Learn the key differences

Top load vs side load washing machine
The Spruce 

It's time to buy a new washer. What type do you choose: a standard top-load machine with a center agitator or one of the high-efficiency (HE) front-load or top-load washers? For many years, standard top-load washers were the only type available to consumers in the United States, while at the same time, in other areas of the world, front-loaders were more popular.

The United States has seen a surge of new high-efficiency front-load and top-load machines from major manufacturers. Now that there are more choices available, and standard and high-efficiency washers offer both advantages and disadvantages, which one should you purchase?

Top-Load vs Front-Load Washer Comparisons
 

 Top-Load and Front-Load HE Washer

Standard Top-Load Washer
Appearance X X
Repair and Maintenance   X
Wear and Tear on Clothes X  
Water and Energy Use X  
Installation X X
Cost   X
Lifespan   X

Top-Load vs Front-Load Washer: Major Differences

Top-load washers have a large door on top of the washer that rises and remains in a near-vertical position, while the user adds and removes clothing or cleaning products. Front-load washers have a door on the front that opens to the side, similar to the door on a house.

Key Features

Top-Load Washer

Top-load washers are easy to load due to their waist-height opening for most users but can be difficult to unload for users with shorter stature. Items can be added throughout the wash cycle in both standard and HE top-load washers.

Front-Load Washer

Front-load washers are easy to use for those in a wheelchair or those who need to be seated due to balance issues. Front-load washers require bending to load and unload, just like a dryer, unless support boxes are made or purchased to raise the washer opening to waist level. Most front-load washers lock while in use to prevent water overflow, prohibiting the addition of last-minute laundry. Recently, though, some manufacturers have started to add small doors that allow the user to add laundry after the cycle has started. While this increases the flexibility of front-load washers, it also adds significantly to the purchase price.

Appearance

Top-Load Washer

Since top-load washers do not have a large door on the front, they have a smoother, sleeker look than front-load washers.

Front-Load Washer

Front-load washers' front doors have thick glass inserts that allow users to see the clothing churning in the suds and water. Some users may find this distracting, while other users may find it entertaining and, more importantly, a good way to track the progress of the wash cycle.

Best for Appearance: Tie

Top-load washers and front-load washers both tend to have a similarly stark, industrial look that, while not unpleasant, is not considered a true home design element.

Sizes

Depending on volume and capacity, top-load washers can be as much as eight inches taller than front-load washers. Widths between the two types of machines will be similar. Front-load washers are up to eight inches deeper (from front to back) than top-load washers to account for the door and related mechanisms

Repair and Maintenance

Top-Load Washer

Motors on top-load washers are relatively easy to access. Do-it-yourselfers can even make basic repairs on their top-load washing machines.

Front-Load Washer

While simple maintenance projects such as clean-outs can be performed by homeowners, front-load washers are best repaired only by trained technicians.

Best for Repair and Maintenance: Top-Load Washer

By far, top-load washers are less expensive per repair and easier to maintain than front-load washers. However, top-load washers typically require repair more often than front-load machines.

Wear and Tear on Clothing

Top-Load Washer

Most high-efficiency top-load washers use an impeller plate at the bottom of the washer tub to move clothes through the water and detergent. Standard top-loaders use a central agitator with paddles to spin clothing briskly, causing more wear and tear. 

Fun Fact

In May 2021, Whirlpool introduced the first 2-in-1 top-loading washer with impeller action and a removable center agitator. While the impeller plate is more gentle on fabrics, the action of the agitator is more effective for cleaning heavily-soiled clothes. The design allows the user to remove the center agitator when a little more room is needed in the washer for bulky items.

Front-Load Washer

Front-load machines use a washing action that tumbles clothes in an up and down motion similar to hand washing.

Best for Wear and Tear on Clothing: HE Top-Load and Front-Load Washer

Front-load washers' gentle tumbling effect creates less stress on the clothing. HE top-load washers' lack of a central agitator, too, provides less friction on the clothing, thus less wear and tear.

Water and Energy Use

Top-Load Washer

Top-load high-efficiency machines uses about 19 gallons. A standard top-load washer uses on average, about 41 gallons per load.

Front-Load Washer

Front-load washers use around 13 gallons of water per load.

Best for Water and Energy Use: HE Top-Load and Front-Load Washer

Since front-load and top-load high-efficiency washers use less water, they are more energy-efficient than standard washers because they take less energy to heat the water.  To purchase a washer that uses less water, look for the blue ENERGY STAR label that indicates these washers use much less water than other models. And before you have your old washer hauled away to a landfill, consider recycling it to create new projects.

Installation

Top-Load Washer

Top-load machines must be placed side by side with a dryer unless you purchase a smaller compact stacking washer/dryer combo.

Front-Load Washer

Front-load washers can be stacked with a dryer to fit into closets or small areas, though this arrangement is not always necessary.

Best for Installation: Tied

All of the water, gas, and electrical connections will be the same for both top-load and front-load washers.

Cost

Top-Load Washer

Top-load washers can be purchased for as little as $400 to $500, plus they can be used with powdered cleaning products that are often less expensive to buy.

Front-Load Washer

Entry-level front-load washers cost between $600 and $800 and require the purchase of HE cleaning products.

Best for Cost: Top-Load Washer

In the United States, high-efficiency washers, especially front-load machines, are significantly higher in price than a standard top-loader. They do provide savings in energy costs, but it will take many years to realize the savings for small families, or where energy rates are lower in cost. High-efficiency top-load washers are less expensive to purchase than front-load models.

Front-load washers and high-efficiency top-load washers must use specially formulated low-sudsing detergents, marked as HE. Since these washers use less water, they also need very little detergent, no more than two teaspoons per load. All major detergent manufacturers now offer their best brands in a HE formula which can also be used in a standard washer.

Lifespan

Top-Load Washer

The life expectancy of a standard top-load washer is 14 years.

Front-Load Washer

The average life expectancy of a high-efficiency front-load or top-load washer is 11 years.

Best for Reliability: Front-Load Washer

Although a top-load washer may last longer, a front-load washer will likely need repair less often over the course of its life. The repair costs typically will be higher though due to the many optional wash cycles and extra features.

The Verdict

Front-load washers are generally considered to be better at cleaning clothing than top-load washers, and with less wear and tear. Front-load washers also use less water than standard top-load washers. So, the trade-off is monetary: front-load washers cost more to purchase, run, and maintain than top-load washers, but provide better service than top-load washers.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Water Efficiency Management Guide. Environmental Protection Agency, 2017.