How to Buy a Washing Machine

Man inspecting washing machine at the store

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Given the range of models, styles, and sizes of washers available, there are many things to consider when shopping for a washer to ensure your choice will be adequate for your family's needs. Installation requirements are also of prime importance, as are the costs of the appliance, including both the purchase cost and the cost of operating the washer over its lifetime. Our comprehensive guide takes you through the types of washers you can choose from, the installation process, cost, and performance tips.

Before Replacing Your Washing Machine

Washing machines, same as their laundry partner, the dryer, typically will last approximately 10 to 14 years. If your washer is coming of age and starts having mechanical issues, it most likely is time to replace it with a new one rather than trying to repair it. If it is only a few years old, it might be worth seeing what it will cost to repair your washer before going out to buy a new one. See which is going to be more cost-effective—replacing or repairing.

Keep in mind while making your decision that a newer model will be more energy-efficient and have the latest and greatest features. You also might be looking for an upgrade that provides a larger washing tub so you can get the laundry done for you and the family quicker. If any of this hits the spot, then plan to start shopping around and searching for the right washer (and potentially dryer, so you have a matching set) for you and your family.

Buying Considerations for a Washing Machine

Washer Styles

Although installation is a prime factor for any washer, the first decision you need to make is what type of style of washer you want. A traditional top-load washer costs much less than most front-loaders or high-efficiency top-loaders, but conventional machines cost more to run (due to greater energy use) over their lifetimes.

When space is limited, you might consider a stacked washer-dryer in one unit, also called a laundry center, or a pair of smaller front-load laundry machines that can be stacked. For apartments, a washer-dryer combo may be the best option. These are single units that handle both washing and drying and typically fit under a standard kitchen countertop. Some don't need an air vent, making them easy to retrofit into a rental apartment. 

Washer Capacity and Physical Size

Washer capacity relates to the volume of the interior drum and is measured in cubic feet. On average, a 3- to 4-cubic-foot washer can accommodate 12 to 16 pounds of laundry. A 5-cubic-foot machine can hold up to 20 pounds of laundry. Keep in mind that the recommended size of load depends on the washer model and manufacturer.

The physical size of a washer relates to its outer dimensions—height, width, and depth—measured in inches. In addition to the unit itself, you'll need 1 to 3 inches at each side, 4 to 6 inches at the back of the washer, and 20 to 25 inches in front for the door (or about 20 inches above for top-loaders).

Installation Considerations

Most washers require plumbing installations, with the exception of some combo units or compact spin washers that can be connected via an adapter to the kitchen faucet when required. If your home is not washer-ready, you may want to consult with a plumber before buying a washer. Consider washer/dryer positioning for ease of use when planning a spot for new laundry appliances.

For utility hookups, washers need a 20-amp, 120-volt electrical outlet as well as hot and cold water supplies, and a drain connection. Conventional electric dryers need a 240-volt dryer outlet and a vent duct leading to the outdoors. Gas dryers need a 120-volt outlet, a gas line connection, and a vent duct.

Energy Ratings

Front-load, high-efficiency models lead the pack when it comes to saving electricity and water, but all washers generally have better energy ratings than they used to. For the best energy efficiency, buy an EnergyStar-rated washer.

Also, take the time to compare the Energy Guide figures for competing washers. These are the familiar yellow stickers from the U.S. Department of Energy that tell you how much it is likely to cost to use each washer model per year.

Washing Performance and Cycles

Traditional top-loading washers have fewer washing cycles and shorter wash times than most high-efficiency models, but they also may not wash clothes as effectively. Front-loaders have shown better performance and are gentler on clothes because they have no agitators, but washing cycles are usually much longer.

Regardless of the type of washer, look for water level options for small, medium, and large loads, and water temperature settings so you can wash/rinse with cold water if desired. A permanent-press or casual wear setting that has a low spin for reducing wrinkles is another great feature. A delicate or a handwash cycle also is very handy.

Other features include steam, delay wash, stainless steel non-rusting washer tub, extra rinse, presoak, dispensers for softener and bleach, and end-of-cycle signals. Some models also have automatic self-adjusting water temperature and level features.

Types of Washing Machines

Front-Loading Washers

These types of washing machines have you load your clothes through the door that's located in the front of the machine. Front-loading machines have a number of benefits to consider, even though the price tag tends to be a bit higher. They are good for small spaces as you can stack the washer and dryer, and tend to spin faster getting more moisture out of the laundry, which in turn equates to less drying time. Front-loaders also use less water and are more energy-efficient. They do have a tendency to get mold around the seal in the door and can develop odors, so it's important to keep front-loaders clean and dry.

Top-Loading Washers

Top-loading washers have a few features that front-loading ones don't, including ease of reaching in to grab the clothing rather than bending or squatting down to reach through the front door. Some of the newer models tend to not have an agitator in the middle and use what is called an impeller instead, allowing more room for laundry. Others that are more budget-friendly, will have the agitator. While the initial cost of a top-loading washing machine is less expensive, most top loaders, although high-energy efficient, do use a bit more energy and water than front-loaders do.

Stackable Washers

Some washers and dryers are able to be stacked on top of one another, and are great for saving space, especially if your home is small and space is limited. Make sure that the units are compatible to being stacked, as you cannot put a washer or dryer on top of one another unless they are stackable ones. You will also need the stacking kit which is a safety feature that ensures the dryer stays in place.

All-in-One Combinations

An all-in-one combo washer and dryer is one piece and washes and dries your laundry. Great for when space is tight in your residence, these combination units are a good option for a condo or apartment. While they tend to have less capacity and are not as efficient as separate washers and dryers are, these all-in-one washers and dryers can come in handy and keep you from having to go to a laundromat or community laundry room.


Washing machines can cost anywhere from $250 up to $2,100 depending on the style, features, and the type you choose to purchase. The average front-loading machine will run you about $500 to $1,100, while a top-loading machine averages between $400 and $800. If you want to have those extra bells and whistles, be prepared to spend a bit more.

Buying a matching set can help save you money, as some stores offer discounts when you buy the washer and dryer together. Also, keep an eye out for sales, which you can typically find sales on appliances around the holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Black Friday, and at the end of the year.

How to Choose a Washer

A washing machine is a must-have appliance in the household. Having to wash all the clothes, towels, and sheets by hand is just unthinkable in this day and age. The convenience of sorting laundry, throwing them in, adding laundry soap and fabric softener, turning it on, and walking away to do other chores or relax has become a necessity in our busy lives. Selecting a washer will come down to cost, preference, and deciding whether to buy a matching dryer to go with it. Ask yourself these questions as you start your search for the right washer for you.

Top-Load vs. Front-Load Washers

The traditional top-loader is more comfortable to load and cheaper to buy. High-efficiency washers, available in both top-load or front-load models, cost much more but are water and energy savers, with front-load models having the best energy ratings. Front-load washers also typically have the highest spin speed, leaving less water in the load, which means less drying time.

High-efficiency models require low-sudsing HE detergent, due to low water levels, and they require a little more care. They also tend to have more cycles and convenience features than traditional top-loaders. Warranty periods generally are a year regardless of washer style.

  • More comfortable to load

  • Less expensive to buy

  • Less water in load

  • Less drying time

  • Best energy ratings

How Often Will You Be Using Your Washer?

Figure out the amount you're going to use your washer and approximately how many loads you are going to be doing on a weekly or even daily basis. Will you be washing delicates or would like to be able to wash those clothes that say "hand-wash" only? If so, there are washers that have a setting for hand-wash that could come in handy for you. Do you want an extra-large capacity tub so you can fit a bulky comforter in it? Or maybe you want a sanitizing cycle? If so, look for these features when you're searching for the right washer for you. It will be a higher-end washer and be more expensive than a basic one, but could be a time-saver if it fits within your budget.

What Do You Need in a Washing Machine?

Determining what you need in a washing machine can help when it comes down to selecting the right one. If you have a family, a large capacity tub is a great feature or multiple wash settings that include a quick wash setting are nice. Other helpful features include automatic dispensers, digital displays, child locks, auto-sensing, and temperature controls. Obviously, the cost is going to be a factor, and those extra cool features, such as WiFi, might not be within reach, depending on your budget. But, getting one that will fit you and your family's needs is important as this is an appliance that will be around for a while.


Do you want a matching dryer to go with your new washer? Check out our guide which provides tips and information on buying the right dryer for you.

Extended Warranties

Washers have had some time-saving and innovative features included lately, and these additions have upped the purchase price quite a bit, yet warranties have not really changed. Typically the manufacturer offers a one-year or sometimes a two-year warranty on this appliance. If you're buying one of the higher-priced models, you might want to consider getting an extended warranty. Extended warranties are offered from the dealer and can provide three or five years of coverage, depending on which plan you choose.

Where to Shop

The options of where you can purchase a washer are many. Browse around appliance stores, home improvement stores, retail stores, wholesale clubs, and online retailers to see what they have available. It can become a bit overwhelming, so try to have a good idea of what you need, what you can afford, and if you're planning to buy a matching set. Shopping around and seeing the options in person and talking to a salesperson can help you make an informed decision. This is a large appliance purchase that you will be using for a number of years, and should not be made quickly.

Compare prices between stores and online. Look at the delivery and shipping times, return policy, and warranty between them. See what's out there and take your time to get the right washer for you.

  • How can you extend the life of your washing machine?

    As with any appliance or household item, how you take care of it can affect its lifespan. A few ways you can extend the life of your washing machine include: using the clean cycle to clean it every month or after every 30 washes (as this will help with any soap buildup), keeping out the foreign objects, such as change, from running through the wash cycle, and using only the amount of detergent recommended for the size of the load you're washing. 

  • Should you leave the washing machine lid or door open after each use?

    After washing a load of laundry, it is good to leave the lid or door open on your washer to allow it to dry and get any moisture out.

  • Can you leave the house if your washer is still running?

    It is not a good idea to leave appliances such as washers, dryers, or dishwashers running if you're not going to be at home. Unexpected incidents can happen, including a washer overflowing or a dryer catching on fire.