What's the Difference Between Top and Front-Loading Washing Machines?

Find out which washing machine style is right for you

front load washing machine
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A washing machine is a major purchase. Choose wisely, and it could last you years—maybe even a decade. But honing in on the right model involves answering a series of questions, and it’s best to start with the biggest and most important of all: whether to buy a front- or top-loading washing machine. Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference, but each type of machine certainly has its pros and cons to consider.

Front-loading washers made a big splash when they were first...MORE introduced, but high cost kept many people from purchasing them. These days, prices have dropped a bit, and the emphasis on high-efficiency (HE) machines has made these styles much more common and desirable. By nature, they’re a bit easier on the environment—and your clothing—because the horizontal tub rotates to propel clothing through the water, meaning items don’t have to be fully submerged (as they typically are in a top-loader) and agitated to get clean. Generally speaking, the ergonomics of loading may be a little tougher on users. Unless you buy a companion pedestal to elevate the tub, you will have to bend over to add garments to and empty the drum. The energy savings may more than make up for this slight inconvenience, however, as the high spin speeds of most front-loaders means less drying time once items come out of the wash.

All that aside, traditional top-loaders still make up a major segment of the market. Many of today’s machines have come a long way from the models of years passed. But there are still some old-school styles that function with a central agitator that churns clothes and water together in a vertical tub, which drains and refills with clean water and churns again before moving onto the rinse and spin cycles. This technology is tough on dirt but also can be rough on your clothes and tends to consume a lot of water in the process. High-efficiency top-loaders are a different story. While they still open from the top and also can be loaded with minimal bending and reaching, they’re larger in size and use central wash plates (as opposed to an agitator) to turn clothing through lower water levels that automatically adjust to match load size. Keep in mind that these newer HE styles are often comparable in price to front-loaders, and generally speaking, higher speeds, more cycles, and smart features, including text alerts at the conclusion of washes, will drive costs of both types of machines into the neighborhood of four figures.

Still need more guidance on the differences between top and front-loading washers? Read on for some recommendations for each type of machine. 

  • 01 of 05
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    Laundry day is never the highlight of anyone’s week, but this high-efficiency machine does wonders to make it just a little bit more bearable. High spin speeds extract far more water than this top-loader’s conventional cousins, which cuts down on energy consumption and drying time. Plus, with the special time-saving setting, you can reduce the runtime of many of the machine’s 13 cycles (including permanent press, casuals, and cottons) by 20 percent.

    Busy moms and active families will love the...MORE unit’s bulk dispenser that can hold up to two-months’ worth of detergent and fabric softener. Since there’s no central agitator, there's really no need to worry about in-wash garment wear and tear. And for any households with pets, young kids, or allergy sufferers, there's a sanitizing cycle that's great for blasting bacteria and dust mites off bedding and linens.

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    Courtesy of HomeDepot.com.

    This front-loading machine is boldly going where most front-loaders haven’t gone before, into the territory of accommodating last-minute additions to a wash cycle—forgotten socks and T-shirts, anyone? With the inclusion of a small access window on the glass door, now users can throw anything up to the size of a large towel into the wash without disrupting a cycle or having to drain the tub, as is common with most front loaders.

    Convenience aside, this appliance also delivers when it comes to...MORE cleaning power and performance. Instead of wasting your time pre-treating stains, use the special steam-releasing setting to attack ground-in dirt and stubborn spots. It’ll also help with removing wrinkles from your clothes.

    If time is of the essence, opt for the super speedy cycle that washes a full load in just 36 minutes. There are 14 cleaning programs total to choose from, and 4 1/2 cubic feet of tub space to fill since there’s no space-hogging agitator. Should any issues arise, you can troubleshoot right from select smartphones.

  • 03 of 05
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    Sure, conventional top-loaders don’t offer the monetary and energy savings that HE washers promise. But they sure are easy on the wallet when you’re making your initial purchase—and equally easy to operate. If you’re on a budget and looking for a basic machine that gets the job done, then this Hotpoint top-loading unit with an agitator just may fit the bill.

    You get what you pay for, so there aren’t any super fancy settings to be found here: It’s straightforward with eight cycles, three...MORE temperature settings, and three water levels. Skip this machine if you have lots of delicates since there is no gentle setting. And keep in mind, lower spin speeds mean your clothes will come out of the wash a little wetter. But you can’t beat the price, and it offers a generously-sized tub for its relatively compact footprint, making it a good small space solution.

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    Whirlpool 2.0 cu. ft. Front Load Washer
    Courtesy of HomeDepot.com.

    Remember that a top loader is typically going to be easier on your budget, but if you’re committed to getting a front-loader, the Whirlpool WFC7500VW is a fully featured washer at a reasonable price. It has a 2.0 cubic foot stainless-steel tub that isn’t the biggest, but it also means this machine can better fit in tight spaces than larger models. There are eight different wash cycles, including delicate, heavy duty and quick wash.

    The Whirlpool WFC7500VW has automatic water-level sensors that...MORE mean the washer only uses as much water that’s necessary for each particular load; a timer that allows a delayed cycle start of up to 12 hours; and easy-to-use front-panel controls. The Quiet Wash system also means the washer won’t be too loud while it’s on – a great feature for anyone who has to place the machine close to living areas or bedrooms. It’s also compatible with a 12-inch pedestal and can be stacked with a coordinating dryer. Note that some customers have durability complaints about this model, however.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    If money’s no object and you’ve got an eye for high design, consider taking the Miele W3038 for a spin. These German appliances are known for their precision engineering, so you can expect a hard-working, super-quiet front-loader that uses very, very little water due to a patented honeycomb drum design that helps clothing glide through the tub and get clean using the force of gravity.

    Considering its varied and numerous cycles, from settings for silks and woolens to denim, dress shirts, and even...MORE outerwear, this machine was made for someone with a specialty wardrobe. Depending on the size of your family, it’s size may be a strength or weakness. The two cubic foot tub works well for city-dwelling couples, but a big family might be better served by a machine twice its size.