A good clothes washer is an essential member of your household, whether you’re a busy professional who needs to show up for work looking presentable or a frazzled parent buried in a landslide of juice-stained onesies. While the basic functions of clothes washers are the same, new technology has made washers more energy efficient than ever, making this the perfect time to upgrade older washers. Pronto’s Clothes Washer Buying Guide will help you identify the best clothes washer for your needs and budget.
Traditional top-loading clothes washers offer good cleaning, easy loading and the shortest wash cycle at an affordable price. Front-loading and “high efficiency” top-loading clothes washers cost more up front but save you money with lower water and energy costs while reducing your carbon footprint.
Buy as big a clothes washer as your budget and living space allows—you’ll do fewer loads and save energy. Front-loaders and HE top-loaders can handle larger loads than similar-sized top-loaders and wash bulky items like comforters.
Front-loading or high-efficiency top-loading clothes washers use about half the power and water consumed by traditional top-loaders. Look for clothes washers with the Energy Star logo and as high an “MEF” (Modified Energy Factor) and as low a “WF” (Water Factor) as you can afford.
Compact clothes washers are a great option if you have limited space or no washer hookup. Some of these clothes washers are portable and can be temporarily hooked up to a sink. Front-loading compact washers can be stacked with compact dryers, or you can opt for an economical “laundry center” that combines a clothes washer and dryer in a single unit.
Choose extra wash cycles only if you need them. Clothes washer features like automatic temperature and water-level controls, rust-proof stainless steel tubs and convenient delay-starts will pay for themselves over the lifespan of the washer.
The volume of the washer tub, which determines how much a clothes washer can handle in a single load. Clothes washer capacity is listed in cubic feet, with standard washers at around 2.9-3.2 cu/ft and high-capacity washers ranging from 3.5-4.5 cu/ft or more.
An acronym for Modified Energy Factor. This number tells you how much energy a clothes washer uses to complete a cycle and includes the amount of moisture left in clothes, which impacts the energy needed for drying. Higher numbers equal greater energy efficiency.
Short for “revolutions per minute,” this is a measure of how fast a clothes washer can spin laundry during the spin cycle. Higher RPMs remove more water from clothes, saving drying time and energy.
Short for “high efficiency.” HE clothes washers are either front loaders or top-loading washers that use wash plates instead of agitators. These clothes washers use less water and energy than traditional top-loaders.
The oscillating post in the center of a traditional top-loading clothes washer. The agitator swishes laundry and water around in the washer tub to remove dirt.
Devices used in high-efficiency top-loading clothes washers that toss the laundry through the water, resulting in better cleaning with less water.
An acronym for Water Factor. This number measures the amount of water that a clothes washer consumes during a cycle. Lower numbers equal less water use.
Top-loading clothes washers with vertical agitators have been around for decades and still account for 65% of all washers sold. These clothes washers are comfortable to load, make it easy to soak clothes and let you toss extra items in mid-cycle. They clean all but the toughest dirt, using regular detergent from your grocery store shelf. And you can’t beat the price: quality top-loading washers that perform well can be had for about $500.
Front-loading clothes washers are more expensive, but they’re gaining popularity for their superior cleaning performance. Instead of twirling clothes in water like a top-loading clothes washer, front-loading washers use tumbling action to move the clothes in and out of water that partially fills the tub. This design cleans with half the power and water consumed by standard top-loading washers, which reduces your carbon footprint and saves on utility costs. Front-loading clothes washers offer larger load capacities and faster spin cycles that remove more water from clothes, cutting down on dryer time.
Front-loading clothes washers are a little more demanding to use. These clothes washers need special low-suds detergents that can be harder to find, and loading them requires lots of bending over, which can be hard on the back. You can’t soak clothes or open the door mid-cycle to throw in one last pair of jeans.
If you want the performance of a front-loading clothes washer and the convenience of a top-loader, look for “High efficiency” (HE) top-loading washers. These clothes washers replace vertical agitators with “wash plates” that toss clothes through the water for cleaning power, efficiency and capacity that rivals front-loaders. Warp-speed spin cycles wring maximum moisture from clothes, which cuts down on dryer time but may leave clothes wrinkled or twisted. As with front-loading clothes washers, you’ll need to hunt down low-suds detergent.
Clothes washer capacity is listed in cubic feet, with a range of around 2 cu/ft for compact clothes washers, 2.9 - 3.2 cu/ft for standard washers, and 3.5 - 4.5 cu/ft or more for super-capacity washers. The most cavernous clothes washers can handle more than 20 pounds of laundry at once, while compact clothes washers manage around 8 pounds per load. Get the largest clothes washer your budget and home will allow. The best way to conserve energy is to use a clothes washer less often.
If serious capacity is at the top of your wish list, go for a front-loading clothes washer, or a high-efficiency top loader that utilizes wash plates. These clothes washers also let you wash bulky items like comforters or rugs at home instead of lugging them to the laundromat.
Do you want to reduce your carbon footprint and conserve water? Front-loading clothes washers and high-efficiency top loaders use around half the power of traditional top loading clothes washers and gulp down a lot less water-only 18-25 gallons per load, as opposed to 40. You will pay more up front for a more efficient clothes washer, but you’ll make up the difference in reduced energy costs over time.
Always look for the Energy Star logo. Clothes washers that qualify use 40% less energy than standard washers. Also look for the “MEF” (Modified Energy Factor) and the “WF” (Water Factor). The MEF measures how much energy is used to complete the cycle, including the moisture left after the clothes washer’s spin cycle and the energy needed for drying. WF measures how much water the clothes washer uses and how efficiently it uses it. Once you’ve found a few clothes washers that meet your loading, capacity and budget needs, choose one with the highest MEF and lowest WF for the best energy efficiency.
If you need to shoehorn a clothes washer into a closet or kitchen corner, check out space-saving models. Compact clothes washers are around 24 inches wide, about 3 inches narrower than full-size washers. If you lack a clothes washer hookup in your apartment, look for a compact washer that can be rolled to the sink, temporarily connected to your water supply and rolled back into a closet for storage. A front-loading compact clothes washer can be stacked with a compact dryer for extra space savings.
You’ll also find space-saving “laundry centers” that combine a washer and dryer in a single unit. A laundry center may cost you less than buying a washer and dryer separately, but if you have a problem with one of the components, it affects the whole unit. Stackable clothes washers and dryers can be fixed or replaced individually.
Most clothes washers come with familiar features, including dial knobs, three temperature settings and regular, delicate and permanent press wash cycles. These work for most laundry, but spending more for a clothes washer will get you greater control and safer performance for specialized fabrics. Consider your laundry needs before investing in a clothes washer with specialized cycles.
Many of the new clothes washer features increase efficiency or durability. Automatic temperature controls adjust and maintain the temperature of incoming water, making sure it doesn’t get too warm or cold. Automatic water level controls use sensors to determine load size inside the clothes washer and automatically fill to the optimal level, potentially reducing water consumption.
Stainless steel tubs won’t rust or chip like porcelain and hold up to higher spin speeds. Delay starts let you load the clothes washer and set it to start at night, when utility rates are lower.
When considering these clothes washer extras, balance the costs against your utility savings. The average lifespan of a clothes washer is 9.5 years, so an added investment in stronger materials or energy efficiency will more than pay for itself in the long run.