Selecting a Top-load or Front-load Washer

The average American family does nearly 400 loads of laundry every year. That’s a lot of dirty socks.

While most families still use traditional top-loading washers to handle all of that laundry, new front-loading models are making serious headway into the market.

Which is the best type to use? We take a quick spin through the pros and cons of each.

Top-Loaders: Pros

• Familiarity

New appliances can be daunting, especially with all those technical features. Sometimes it can feel like you’re piloting a space shuttle just to do a load of laundry. Not so with most top-loaders. Everyone is familiar with them: the central agitator, the wash cycles. They’re what most people used growing up, and some estimates say 75% of households still do.

• Adding clothes mid-cycle

It never fails: You start your load and then notice a sock on the laundry room floor. Not a problem with a top-loader. Just pop it open, drop in the wayward sock and resume the wash cycle. With most front-loaders, you can’t open the door once the cycle has started.

• Price

Top-loaders are generally cheaper than their fancy front-loading cousins. You can get a base model for around $300, and the price goes up from there, based on the fancier features.

• Comfort

For some people, especially those with back problems, it’s simply more comfortable to load and unload from the top of the washer. No bending required.

• Detergent

With top-loaders, you can use the same kind of detergent you’ve been using all your life. Front-loaders require specially made suds.

Top-Loaders: Cons

• Energy costs

There’s only one, but it’s a biggie: Top-loaders use an average of 7,000 more gallons of water than front-loaders per year. One reason is because the cavity, or basket, fills with water, whereas it doesn’t in a front-loader. This means you’re using much more water and more energy to heat that water.

Front-Loaders: Pros

• Energy costs

Front loaders need less water per load, and some estimates say they use as much as 50% less energy than their traditional cousins, making them more economical and better for the environment.

• Speed

The speed of the spin cycle on front-loaders is much faster than the spin of top-loaders. That means your clothes come out drier, resulting in less drying time. So you’ll be saving time and money on that aspect as well.

• Space inside the washer

Front-loaders don’t have agitators like top-loaders do. Agitators take up a lot of space. Because the basket is empty, you’ve got much more room for larger loads. And larger loads mean less loads.

• Bells and whistles

For techies who love the latest and greatest features, front-loaders are generally a better fit. Many have steam cycles for heavy stains, smart features that allow you to start and monitor the laundry when you’re not home and electronic keypads — the whole nine yards.

Front-Loaders: Cons

• Smell

Some people report that their front-loaders can develop a rather unpleasant smell. That’s because water gets trapped in the seals around the door and can lead to mold. There are ways to prevent this from happening, but as a buyer, you should be aware of this issue.

• Comfort

Consider the amount of bending you’ll be doing to take clothes in and out of the washer 400 times a year. If you’ve got a bad back, a top-loader is probably a better choice.

• Price

Over time, you’ll see savings on your energy bills, but your front-loading machine will cost you more up-front.

• Detergent

You’ll need to use specially formulated detergent for your front-loader.

The Best of Both Worlds?

Having trouble deciding? Consider a high-efficiency top-load washing machine. There are a lot of makes and models to choose from. Though they’re more expensive than traditional top-loaders, they’ve got the innovations usually associated with front-loaders. You can find ones with fancy computerized keypads that save just as much energy as front-loaders, do loads in less time and have cool features like steam.