The Great Washing Machine Debate

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
What washing machine is better, top or sideload?
Wishy-Washy in Waseca

Heather says:

Isn’t it fun when someone answers your question with “It depends?”

The front-load vs. top-loading washing machine debate has been going on for years, about ten in the US. High-efficiency front loading washing machines hit the mainstream back in 2004 or so. Some of the lower-end models of front-loading washing machines had major problems that frustrated their owners. The good news is that there have been improvements, but “once bitten twice shy,” and people were reluctant to give these washers another chance.

So let’s take a look at where things are today.

front load or top load washing machine

Front-load clothes washers are still more efficient than standard top-loading machines but not that much more efficient than high-efficiency top-loading washers.

Efficiency isn’t everything, or we would all be driving hybrid cars, right?

Some front-loading washing machines are stackable, so if you’re super tight on space, this may be an option for you.

High-efficiency top-loading washers are generally easier to load and unload unless you’re of small stature. The ease of loading and unloading can be improved for a front-load machine by placing the appliance on a pedestal.

Front-loading washers tend to remove more water during the spin cycle than their top-loading counterparts, which reduces the amount of energy used to dry the load of clothing. This factor won’t matter at all if you prefer to hang your clothes to dry.

Front-loading washers are still slightly better at stain removal than the top loading variety, but it’s pretty marginal, and I am willing to bet that pre-treating makes a big difference.

Top loading machines still use more energy to agitate the clothing, use more water, and require more laundry detergent for loads of comparable size, but the gap has been shrinking over the last few years.

And of course, the final comparison is cost.

guide to the laundry room
Click the picture for more tips!

Standard top-loading machines are the cheapest but least efficient appliances. High-efficiency top-loading washers come in second in both terms of cost and efficiency. Finally, front-loading machines are the most expensive but most efficient machines.

When you’re making your appliance choice, factor in the long-term cost of electricity and water use. If your water is heated by natural gas or propane, you’ll find your clothes washer likely has less of an impact on your overall energy costs than if you’re stuck with an electric water heater like me.

Which of these factors matter most to you?

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16 thoughts on “The Great Washing Machine Debate”

  1. Another huge plus, for me, is flexibility with a top-load. Although I think some of the newer models have started adding an in-wash lock, it’s very important to be able to open the top of the washer to throw in that forgotten item. Also, I like having the option of using my washer as a “soak tank” where I can set things to soak and check their progress throughout. Additionally, this means you can use your washing machine to dye fabrics. For me, these little “extras” make me a top-load gal!

    • Excellent points, Jen. Soaking is definitely a pain in some front-loading machines.
      I bought my current standard (not a high efficiency) top-loading machine when I first moved out. The previous tenant just didn’t want to move the set, so it was more of a nominal payment than an actual purchase. $50 for a washer that works? I couldn’t pass that up. You can also bet that it came with me to this place.
      Once the fixer-upper has been fixed, I’ll consider upgrading, right now there are just too many other things to fix first.

  2. Great article.

    We have been through two front loading washing machines and in the process learned a few things.

    (1) Buy a good brand. The first brand we bought was junk and (if I remember right) ended up cracking something in the motor housing. The second one we bought has been excellent.

    (2) The only problem we found with both of them is the mildew/mold that can develop on the front rubber gaskets. Up until our most recent move, the washer and dryer were in the garage, which did not help. Now, after our move, we have a laundry room off the kitchen which should help. We learned early to leave the door open and wipe out the water when possible.

    Once again, great thoughts. I have several people who wanted to know more and this article will help them out.



  3. You can also get stacking top loaders. I have a set with the dryer stacking on top of the washer. The top to the washer folds in half as it opens, so there is room to load the laundry in, but you don’t need enough space for the full lid to open.

    My set is a GE, and I’m very happy with it, although I use the washer all the time, and the dryer not so often as I prefer to air dry many things.

    • Hi Jenny,
      You posted here quite a while ago, so I’m not sure this message will get to you. However, I was wondering which model GE washer and dryer combo you have. We are in the market to purchase a new washer. I need the washer and dryer to be stacked but am very reluctant to get another front loading machine. Thanks!

  4. I’m regretting our switch to front loading just because of the smell and mildew build up. If there is a way to remove that rubber piece and clean behind it, I’d be thrilled. But instead, every now and then I end up with a load (usually of white sheets) that have sludge smeared all over them.

    • Every week I spray Tilex or a mixture of bleach and water. This eliminated the mold issue. I also cut down on the amount of detergent. We had a representative come out to service our LG front loader because my clothes had a terrible smell. He ran the clean cycle without clothes and I was shocked to see all the residue of soap in the water. The perfume was the main cause. He recommended ALL clear unscented. I only use fabric softener on linens. I’ve had no problems for for the past 3 years!

  5. I’m a huge front loader fan although a top loader would be better for my tall husband and his bad hips. It’s hard for him to bend over so having our washer (front loader) and dryer on the pedestals is a big plus. I’m only five feet tall and when I was young it was easy to throw a leg up to reach the socks stuck at the bottom of my top loader but with as many birthdays as I have had, well, it’s not quite that easy anymore. So, it’s front loader for us.

  6. I recently purchased an LG top loading HE machine and couldn’t be happier. I’ve noticed the difference in my electricity costs and water bills. Now if there were only a fairy who would do my laundry for me.

  7. Just remember that you do not have to buy the fancy pedastals that are sold with the machines. I have but am currently not using a Whirlpool front loader (it’s in storage while I am in between houses). I did not purchase the stands initially but did eventually purchase two concrete pads about 5 inches thick, due to the washer/dryer being located in the garage and the garage having a flooding issue. It was more to keep the applicances out of the water than to raise them up for my use but it did help.
    Since mine were in the garage and it was a very humid climate (Houston, TX) I did have a problem with mold in the washer gasket. I kept it under control by wiping the gasket after every use and leaving the door completely ajar when it was not in use.

  8. Our second front loading washer (Bosch) has broken. They seem to only last 5 or 6 years and then the bearings go. Parts are $470 alone. So I am thinking of switching back to a top loader. Buying high end didn’t seem to matter.

  9. I agree Sally….bought Bosch and it was a piece of junk… have
    to buy after only 6 years and it will be a top loader for me. Our
    laundry room is small so to open a front loader didn’t make sense

  10. Front load washers are the pits, mold machines is what I call mine….I have an high end maytag ….u can’t get the mold out……just awful will never buy another one….I live in SC, now my sister who lives in AZ doesn’t have a problem but AZ is very dry…..all the other ppl I know hate theirs as much as I do……don’t buy one don’t care how much they say they have improved them.

  11. Interesting to hear this discussion. Living in the UK as I do, top loaders are almost unheard of. My family has therefore only ever had front loaders, ever since the 1970’s. My Mum’s first Hotpoint front loader lasted nearly 20 years.

    I have used top-loaders while in the US in the past, and I find them OK, but they do use a lot more power and water. I find them a bit more awkward to unload than front loaders, which seems at odds with most comments here.

    Brand is definitely important. The Bosch/Siemens brand are very good, in general. I’ve owned several Bosch appliances of various sorts (dishwasher, front loading washing machine, condenser drier). Shame to hear some have had problems, but I suppose there are always a few who’ll get a dud from any brand.

    The bearings do seem to be what goes in the end on most of them, and that will depend on use patterns. Especially likely to go wrong if you overload them with heavy items like towels. It is unfortunate that there’s a general trend across all the manufacturers not to sell individual small replacement parts (such as bearings). The reason the replacement parts are so expensive is that what they’re actually selling you is an entirely new drum, not just the bearings. This seems to be a general trend across many industries; cars, laptops, you name it. They’re intended to be replaced, not fixed, these days. But I digress.

    I’ve never had smell problems with my front loaders. I leave them ajar when not in use, and every few weeks I run it empty on the hottest 90ºC whites cycle (which is what it recommends in the manual). Seems to work fine.

    Finally, I don’t really buy the “last minute flinging in the forgotten sock” argument; in my household of only three people, we still run about 3-4 washes a week, usually all at the weekend. For me, it’s no big deal to leave that forgotten sock back in the laundry basket for the next wash, which is probably going to happen later the same day anyway. My current machine gives me a reasonable amount of time anyway, when I can pause the cycle, open the door and put something else in. I think it’s the first 1-2 minutes of the cycle.


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