Top Load vs Front Load Washer: Which Type Is Best?

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-loading machine with a center agitator or one of the high-efficiency front-loading or top-loading washers?

For many years, standard top-loading washers were the only type available to consumers in the United States; while at the same time In the rest of the world, front loaders were leading sellers. Today, the United States is seeing a surge of new high-efficiency (HE) front- and top-loading washers from manufacturers in the marketplace. Now that there are more choices available and standard and high-efficiency washers offer both advantages and disadvantages; which one should you purchase?

Top- and Front-Loading HE Washers vs. Standard Top-Loading Washers

In addition to size, color, and price, there are several factors to consider when selecting a type of washer. Take a look at this head-to-head comparison chart of top- and front-loading high-efficiency washers vs. standard top-loading washers and the explanation of the winner in each factor.

Washer Comparisons
Selection Factors

Top-Loading and Front-Loading High-Efficiency Washers

Standard Top-Loading Washers
Gentleness to Clothing X  
Water Savings X  
Detergent Savings X  
Energy Savings with Energy Star X  
Comfort in Loading/Unloading X X
Adding Items to Cycle X (Top-loading HE washer only) X
Washer/Dryer Space Requirements X (Front-loading HE washer only)  
Purchase Price   X
Life Expectancy & Repair Costs  


Wear and Tear on Clothing

Winner: HE Top- and Front-Loading Washers

Front-loading machines use a washing action that tumbles clothes in an up and down motion similar to hand washing. High-efficiency top-loading washers use a plate in the bottom of the washer tub to gently 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. 

Water Use

Winner: HE Top- and Front-Loading Washers

Front-loading washers use around 13 gallons of water per load; top-loading high-efficiency machines use 12 to 17 gallons. A standard top-loading washer uses 30 to 45 gallons per load. To purchase a washer that uses less water, look for the U.S. Department of Energy's blue Energy Star label that indicates these washers use 30 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than other current models.

Detergent Savings

Winner: HE Top- and Front-Loading Washers

Front-loading washers and high-efficiency top-loading 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.

Energy Use

Winner: HE Top- and Front-Loading Washers

Since front- and top-loading high-efficiency washers use less water, they are the more energy-efficient than standard washers because it takes less energy to heat water.  Always look for the energy usage label when comparing washer models. And before you have your old washer hauled away to a landfill, consider recycling it to create new projects.

Comfort in Loading/Unloading

It's a Tie

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. Top-load washers are easy to load but can be difficult to unload for users with short stature and arms. Front-load appliances are easier to use for those in a wheelchair or those who need to be seated due to balance issues.

Adding Laundry During a Cycle

Winner: Both Types of Top-Loading Washers

Items can be added throughout the wash cycle in both types of top-loading washers. Most front-loading washers lock while in use to prevent water overflow, prohibiting the addition of last-minute laundry.

One manufacturer, Samsung, has introduced a front load washer with a small door to add laundry after the cycle has started but it also adds significantly to the purchase price.

Space Utilization

Winner: Front-Loading Washer

Front-loading washers can be stacked with a dryer to fit into closets or small areas. Top-loading machines must be placed side by side with a dryer unless you purchase a smaller, compact washer/dryer combo.

Purchase Price

Winner: Standard Top-Loading Washer

In the United States, high-efficiency washers, especially front-loading 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-loading washers are less expensive to purchase than front-loading models. 

Life Expectancy and Repair Costs

Winner: Standard Top-Loading Washer

The average life expectancy of a high-efficiency front- or top-loading washer is 11 years. The life expectancy of a standard top-loading washer is 14 years. Because of all of the many optional wash cycles and extra features, front-loading washers typically have higher repair costs.