Too often I hear homeowners talking about washers as if they were solely decorative items. I'll often hear questions like “Do you like the burgundy or the navy blue washer better?”
Listen, I like beautiful appliances as much as anyone else, but it’s also important to strongly consider functionality and performance when purchasing an appliance that’s as hard working as a washer. This week we’ll compare traditional top loading washers with front loading washers and I’ll tell you about the pros and cons of each.
But let’s start with 2 pro terms this week. We haven’t done that in a while.
Our pro terms this week are agitator and impeller. Both agitators and impellers are used in top load washers to help get clothes clean. Let’s start by talking about agitators.
An agitator is the center, spiral shaped spindle that sits in the middle of the washing machine tub in many top load washers. The agitator has blades or fins attached on its side to move, or agitate, clothes within the tub. This mimics the motion of hand washing.
Agitators are added to washers to more effectively dislodge dirt and stains from clothes. Agitators twist and turn during the machine's wash cycle, moving clothes through the water and causing friction so dirt is removed. The agitator moves more gently during a delicate wash cycle and more aggressively during standard wash cycles.
Agitators work well at cleaning clothes, but, in general, agitators are hard on clothes. They can cause tiny microscopic tears and rips in material that cause clothes to become damaged and worn over time.
Because of concerns about damage to clothing caused by agitators, washing machine manufacturers replaced some agitators with an alternative mechanism called an impeller.
Impellers are low profile rotating discs that creates turbulent streams of water as the impeller rotates. These water currents move the clothes through the water to help remove dirt.
The impeller, because it’s relatively flat, takes up less space in the center of the drum, making impeller machines easier to load than agitator machines. Impeller washers also have more room in the tub to wash large items like blankets and comforters.
In order to get clothes optimally clean, though, impeller washers must be loaded in a specific way, according to manufacturers’ recommendations. So you can’t just throw your clothes in an impeller washer willy nilly.
Another issue with impeller washers is that some impeller models are prone to tangling clothes as the impeller rotates. This can throw the machine out of balance, especially during the high-speed spin cycle.
By the way, front-loaders use a tumbling motion to clean clothes, so they don't use either agitators or impellers.
Those are the pro terms this week, agitator and impeller—two different mechanisms found in top load washers to help get clothes clean.
Before we talk about top load vs front load washers, I want to remind you to let me know if you’d like to get a BYHYU Facebook community page started. I heard from a few folks, but not many. And if there’s not enough interest right now, we’ll have to postpone starting the private group. Just let me know by messaging me on the BYHYU FACEBOOK page or you can email me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can just head over to the contact page.
Alright, Let’s get into the differences between top load washers and front load models.
Starting with the Pros of Top-Loading Washing Machines.
PROS OF TOP-LOADERS
1. Loading a top load washer is more ergonomic--easier on your back. With the door on the top of the washer, there’s less bending needed to get your clothes in and out.
Be careful, though, of really deep, high capacity top load machines. They will require lots of bending and stretching to reach the bottom of the drum.
2. Most top-loaders allow you to add clothes or detergent after the wash cycle has started. A couple of front load models allow for this too, but most don’t.
3. Shorter wash cycles. Most top load washers have shorter wash cycles than front load washers.
4. Top-loaders cost several hundred dollars less than front-loaders. Most top load models start around $500, whereas most front load models start around $800.
CONS OF TOP-LOADERS
1. Top-loaders tend to use more detergent and water than front-load models.
2. Since they use more water during the wash cycles, top load washers are typically less efficient than front load washers. If you’re looking for an energy efficient top load washing machine, search for a model with an Energy Star label.
3. Top-loaders offer fewer fancy features and options for washing than most front-loaders. Fancy options like steam, which gets hotter than hot water in a standard washer. Steam is supposed to clean your clothes of dirt, allergens and dust mites better than hot water.
Another fancy feature is a wash and hold option which keeps your freshly washed clothes smelling fresh with a circulating fan. This wash and hold feature keeps your clothes from developing that mildewy smell that can occur if clothes sit too long in the washer.
Whatever fancy features you’re thinking about, just make sure you only pay for the ones that you’ll actually use.
4. Top loaders with agitators tend to be harder on clothes. Remember, front load washers don’t have agitators.
5. Smaller tubs. In general, standard top load washers, especially those with agitators, have smaller tubs than front load washer. However, you can find oversized units for a larger price tag.
Moving on to the Pros of Front Load Washers.
PROS OF FRONT LOADERS
1. If you have small laundry room, or just a laundry closet, many front load units can stacked so they take up less space. But keep in mind, not all front load units can be stacked, so if stackable units are what you’re looking for, check out the manufactures' recommendations before you make a purchase. (BTW: Typically the dryer, because it’s more lightweight, will stack on top of the washer).
2. Front load units, in general, have a larger capacity allowing you to wash more items at once when compared to top loaders. You can also more easily wash large items, such as blankets.
3. Some articles say front load washers extract more moisture from wet loads, cutting down on dryer time. However, many homeowners in various forums have disputed this.
4. Front loaders are less damaging to clothes that top load models with agitators.
5. Front load units come in beautiful colors and are generally more attractive than top load units.
6. All front-load washing machines are high efficiency (HE) because they use less water than top loaders.
You’ll see the HE label on most front load washers. Some top load washers might also have an HE label on them. But make sure that the HE label indicates that the washer is actually highly efficient (again look for that Energy Star label to be sure). Sometimes brands will mark inefficient top load models with "HE" to indicate that the washer can use HE detergent.
The fact is, that’s a little bit of a marketing trick because you can use regular or HE detergent in any top-load washer, but you should use only HE detergent in a front-load washer.
Here's why: HE detergents are formulated to disperse quickly and to produce fewer suds, or bubbles. Too many suds can cause problems in HE front load washers by decreasing the tumbling action, which cleans to clothes. HE detergents are also formulated to hold soils and dyes in suspension in low water volumes, so they don't redeposit onto clean laundry.
CONS OF FRONT LOADERS
1. The high-speed spin cycle that allows front load machines to extract more water can also cause the units to vibrate and even move across the floor. This can cause scratches on your laundry room flooring.
2. That high speed spin cycle can also cause clothes to tangle up quite a bit.
3. Front load washers are more expensive than top load units (by several hundred dollars).
4. Wash cycle time can be significantly longer in front load washers when compared to top load washers— sometimes front load wash cycles are more than 30 minutes longer.
5. Because of its design, water can get trapped inside front load washers, causing musty odors to form in the washtub, the door and the detergent dispenser. To rectify this, many homeowners with front load waters regularly run a wash cycle without laundry using hot water and bleach, and/or they wipe down the washer with vinegar, plus leave the door to the washer open between washes.
6. Many loads of laundry washed in front load washers will need to be run a second time to remove excess suds that remain on clothes at the end of the cycle despite using HE detergents. This is one of the main complaints of homeowners in different forums. They complain that the water that they should be saving using a front load washer is being consumed because a second rinse cycle is needed to remove excess soap. This makes the units less efficient than they claim to be.
7. Many consumers complain that front load washers just don’t clean their clothes as well as top load washers.
In the last several years, top-loading washing machines have made a comeback. Front-loaders were super popular in the early 2000s, but many homeowners feel those units have more problems and challenges than benefits. So, many people have gone back to using old school top-loading washing machines.
And despite the potential risk of damaging clothes, many people are choosing top load washers with agitators because they have found that nothing gets clothes quite as clean as a washer with an agitator. That’s what I found from reading several forums and websites.
There are some homeowners who prefer front loading washers, but the vast majority say they prefer a top load model and they regret having bought their front load washers.
For example, although Consumer Reports recommends front load washers over top load washers, the actual consumers who commented on that article argue that it’s actually top load washers that do a better job and have fewer problems. Take a look at that report. Don’t just read the article, take a look at the consumer comments at the end of the post.
When making your decision about what type of washer to purchase, consider the amount of soil and the number of stains you typically have in your laundry. If you have toddlers who are prone to staining their clothes, or kids who play sports, or a spouse who works in landscaping or construction, you’ll probably want a top load washer with an agitator. It will likely give you the deepest clean.
If however, you and your spouse have desk jobs, and your kids are older and less likely to stain their clothes, a top load impeller washer or front load washer might be the way to go.
Personally, I love the look of a front load washer, but I don’t want to have to leave the door open after a wash, clean the washer with bleach or wipe the door down with vinegar. I don’t want a washer that requires washing. That might not bother you, but I don’t want to deal with that.
My plan is to get a top load washer with agitator and use the gentle cycle much more often than I have in the past. I’ll use the gentle cycle for most of our pants, shirts, dresses and skirts, so there’s less damage done to the clothes over time. Then I’ll use the standard cycle for underwear, sheets, towels, workout clothes and any clothing that is stained or particularly dirty.
I think a top load washer with an agitator will give me a little more control over how gentle or aggressive I want to be with cleaning my laundry.
But if you like the idea of the front load model, go for it. I just want us to be able to make informed decisions.
The consensus online from homeowners and repairmen is, in general, newer washers just aren’t made as well as they were back in the day. Modern washers tend to need more repairs than old school models, and from what I read, newer front load washers require more repairs and replacements than newer top load units. The recommendation is, if you have a older washer that still works, hang on to it. Use it until it dies, cause they just don’t make 'em like they use to.
There is, however, one brand that repeatedly gets rave reviews, even for its newer models. Now I have no personal experience with their brand, but it’s hard to find any criticism about their washers. The brand Speed Queen. You may or may not have heard of them, but it’s the brand that’s most recommended by repairmen. They say Speed Queen washers require fewer repairs than any other brand.
Speed Queen is an American manufacturer of washers and dryers that’s been in business since 1908. Homeowners and repairpeople alike comment that these washers perform excellently, last for decades and have an exceptional warranty. Speed Queen manufactures top load and front load washers.
Well, that’s all I have for your this week. I hope you learned as much as I did. And I hope you come back for the next episode of BYHYU
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.