A Look at Washers -Top-Load vs. Front-Load

Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Product Information | 39 comments

he top load washerThis post is a follow up to one I did a few weeks ago on preventing washer problems.  While I was doing the research for that I found out a lot of other interesting stuff about washers, which I now want to share. There are three main types of washers – the HE Top Loader, the Conventional Top Loader, and the HE Front Loader.

High-Efficiency Top Loader.

  • According to a dealer friend, he doesn’t recommend buying an HE Top Loader at this time. He feels they haven’t been perfected and there are still problems that need to be worked out. He also doesn’t think they get clothes as clean as they should. According to him, these machines use 50-70% less water than conventional top loaders and proper cleaning requires water. This small amount of water works with front loaders because they make use of gravity to assist the cleaning process.
  • According to a 2012 Consumer Reports review, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2012/07/a-batch-of-laundry-losers-from-our-washer-and-dryer-tests/index.htm, most of the top loaders did not do the job. The report did state that the LG top loader WT4801C(W) received good scores, but checking further with the Customer Service Scoreboard, http://www.customerservicescoreboard.com/LG,the company received a poor rating for customer service.  I consider after sale service every bit as important as the quality of the product, especially in an as yet unproven product.

topload washerConventional Top Loader with Agitator.

  • The other thing my dealer friend told me was that for certain people, like myself, the conventional top loader would probably be the smartest buy. I don’t need all the features of a front-loader; therefore the extra expense of buying one wouldn’t be justified. We have water from a well, so the cost of water is not a concern, I wash most things in cold water and don’t use my dryer, therefore energy costs aren’t an issue.
  • I then asked about the wear and tear on clothes and he agreed that these machines were not quite as gentle as front-loaders, but that the agitators had been redesigned so that it no longer made a significant difference, not enough for it to be a factor when buying. The machine he showed me had a huge stainless steel tub with a slim agitator in the centre. This would certainly allow clothes lots of room to wash properly without much friction.

High-Efficiency Front-Loader:

frontload-washerAgain, according to my dealer friend, backed by Consumer’s Report, a well-maintained front loader is the best buy for anyone having to pay for water and electricity; while we were talking we roughly calculated the savings, and while the initial cost was substantially more, this cost would be offset by the water/energy savings in only 3 years. Quite incredible, really. These machines also  use a very small amount of detergent – in some cases only a tablespoon of detergent is required. Naturally, this means more savings.

  • The front-loader is also the best buy for anyone who would be using the machine often and for a variety of laundry items, for instance, delicates, heavy jeans, comforter, etc. A few models have allergen cycles which could be a real bonus to some people.
  • Another surprise, at least to me, was that the real savings from the washer doesn’t happen until the clothes are put in the dryer. The spin speeds are so fast that it removes most of the water from the clothes, naturally shortening dryer time, which is where the real savings come in.
  • The front-loader is the perfect choice for people in wheelchairs.
  • And finally, the front-load washers are beautiful.

The table below is a general overview of choices, estimated energy savings and cost pertinent to all brands, so no specific brands are named. It’s always a good idea to check out a product being considered at Consumers Report before making any final decisions.

Conventional Top Loader

With Agitator 3.4 cu.ft.

High Efficiency Top Loader

No Agitator 4.5 cu.ft

High Efficient Front Loader

No Agitator 4.0 cu.ft.

Permanent Press, Delicate, and Normal Cycles

Permanent Press, Whites, Heavy Duty, Delicate, Normal, Speed, Specialty Cycles.

Permanent Press, Whites, Heavy Duty, Delicate, Normal, Rinse&Spin, Speed, Specialty Cycles.

Est. electricity use/yr.

470 KWh

Est. electricity use/yr.

145 KWh

Est. electricity use/yr.

100 KWh

Max. Spin Speed –

700 RPM

Max. Spin Speed –

1100 RPM

Max. Spin Speed –

1200 RPM

Warranty – 1 yr. Limited

Warranty – 1 yr. Limited

Warranty–1 yr. Parts & Labour

Life Expectancy 14 years

Life Expectancy 11 years

Life Expectancy 11 years.

Reg. $539.99

Reg. $949.99

Reg. $1069.99

Normal load of dry laundry weighs about 8 lbs.

Washer capacity to weight: 3.4cu.ft = 8 lbs.; 4.0cu.ft =12-16 lbs.; 4.5cu.ft. = 20 lbs.

Pros and Cons of the different type washers:

Conventional Top Loader

With Agitator 3.4 cu.ft.

High Efficiency Top Loader

No Agitator 4.5 cu.ft

High Efficient Front Loader

No Agitator 4.0 cu.ft

Easy to manage control panel

Controls can be difficult to learn

Controls can be difficult to learn

Much shorter wash time

Longer drying time

Lengthy wash times

Shorter drying time

Lengthy wash times

Shortest drying time

Less expensive to buy

More expensive to buy

Most expensive to buy

Less costly to repair

More expensive to repair

More expensive to repair

No vibration or odour problems

Vibration reduction technology available

Vibration reduction technology available

Loads can become unbalanced

Loads can become unbalanced

N/A

Cleans well

Generally doesn’t clean as well

Cleans well

Laundry can be added after cycle starts

Unknown

Laundry can’t be added after cycle starts

No bending required to add or remove clothes

No bending required to add or remove clothes

Bending required to add or remove clothes.

Gentle on clothes

Gentler on clothes

Gentler on clothes

Less prone to leakage

Less prone to leakage

Leakage may become a problem

Other considerations:

  • Know what you need and keep it as simple as possible. Some of these machines have so many features that most won’t be used. They will, however, add to the cost, the difficulty of learning the controls and the things that can go wrong.
  • Stainless steel drums are best for all machines as they stand up better to the higher spin speeds needed for greater water extraction; they won’t rust if chipped like porcelain does; and, they won’t absorb odours like plastic does.
  • Manufacturer’s directions for use MUST BE FOLLOWED. Improper use of machine, detergent, fabric softener, etc. accounts for most of the claimed problems, including smell, mold and mildew. It will also void the warranty.
  • Compare the price of models with and without steam. Steam seems to be a bit of a trend – it doesn’t seem to improve performance by very much.
  • Regular maintenance is an absolute must to keep any machine operating properly.

If you’re in the market for a new washer, then I hope this information will help you find the machine that’s right for you. As for me, I have problems bending over so a top-loader isn’t just more practical for me, it’s also necessary. Isn’t it wonderful that we have a choice?

Talk to you again next week,

Lenie

images courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

39 Comments

  1. Hi Lenie! I’ve always used front loader washing machines, top loaders are a bit unusual here in Italy 🙂

    • Hi Ilaria – I’ve heard that in Europe the front-loader is the thing and has been around for years. Isn’t it funny how everyone here considers it to be rather a new development.
      Lenie

  2. Hi Lenie,

    What a research! Thank you for sharing this information so I now can appreciate my front load even more 🙂

    Very insightful post as usual. Thank you for doing a great job!

    Regards,
    Kumar

  3. Hi Lenie, I only have a washer right now and I have been air drying my clothes and I actually love it. My clothes stay in better condition and they still have the softener smell on there which I love! Great research and post! =)

    • Hi Crystal – I agree with you – I love drying my clothes on the line outside – they just feel so good when I bring them in. Thanks for commenting.
      Lenie

  4. Great information! Every time that I see a commercial for one of the high end front loaders, I feel like my washer is the flip phone of washers. After reading this, I realize that my top loader is just as efficient for me and I don’t necessarily need an upgrade although I could use a more updated agitator!

    • Hi Stephanie – As long as something is working well, I see no reason to change. I do like the new agitators though, they are so slim they take up very little room, leaving lots of space for clothes.
      Lenie

  5. Wow! Great information, I will keep this handy next time I need to buy a washer!

    • Hi Michelle – Hope the information will help you buy just the right washer the next time around.
      Lenie

  6. Another great post that is full of information.

    • Hi Jason, thanks for commenting.
      Lenie

  7. What a great, comprehensive article! I’ve been secretly hoping my old top loader would die so I could justify a fancy front loader (and dryer) but you’ve actually made me appreciate what I have. Now that’s frugal! Would you consider doing a comparison of brand/bargain detergents?

    • Hi Meredith – Thanks for the comment – Doing a comparison of detergents sounds like fun – there are so many different ones on the market that it will take a bit but I am going to do it. Be great to narrow them down to just a few.
      Lenie

  8. Hi Lenie,

    My wife used to prefer a top load washer, but when we bought a new home a few years ago, she decided to go with a computerized stainless steel front-load, and she hasn’t looked back. She likes the efficiency of it and the music features that alert her the wash load is done, as opposed to the load buzzer on the old one.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

    • Hi Bill – after all the research I did, I did not know that the machines played music at the end of the cycle. That’s interesting. I’m finding out that most people like their front-loaders – can’t say I blame them – if they’re working right, they are beautiful machines.
      Lenie

  9. Lenie, you saved my sanity, my washer and my drywall after last week. Who would have guessed the installer didn’t level the washer!!!! THANKS SO MUCH

    • Sarah, I’m glad you got that straightened out – it’s so often the simple things that are overlooked and you’re right – if you had it installed, they should have leveled it out at the time – wouldn’t you think that be part of the installation? Anyway, glad it worked out.
      Lenie

  10. I had to laugh. We just had a dishwasher go out and it was a nightmare, flooded kitchen and all, to get a new one installed (a very long a story). That said I had been seriously thinking about replacing our washer and dryer but I will be waiting a bit longer before I do that… LOL. Nevertheless, I will refer back to this when I do. 🙂

    • Hi Susan – I can’t blame you for waiting – if something is working good, that’s enough reason to keep it – fewer headaches that way. I keep hearing about the problems people have with installation of machines – I think we really need to start educating the dealers as to what we want – quality product, prompt delivery and proper installation – when we buy something from them.
      Lenie

  11. When I do end up moving, we’ll be leaving the old top-loader behind, so it’s good to know this post can be a starting place to weigh my choices. For just my husband and I, I’m not convinced a front-loader would be the way to go, but he seems set on having one.

    • Hi Jeri – I was glad to hear about the top-loader being an option – as much as I love the look of the front-loader, for me it just wouldn’t be practical and a nice matching set of top-loader/dryer can look pretty nice too. It’s funny, I’ve heard of several husbands who decided the front-loader was the only way to go.
      Lenie

  12. Glad to hear front loaders are still good. I had been wondering because I’ve noticed top loaders coming back in stores a lot more than they used to be when front loaders first came out.

    • Hi Krystle, I don’t think you have anything to worry about with front-loaders – I think their popularity alone will make manufacturers work harder to eliminate any problems they do have – the mold/mildew/odour issue.
      Lenie

  13. I like to check for reports before buying an appliance. You’ve certainly done your share.

    • Hi Beth – I think with all the information so readily available, it only makes sense to check things out before spending a lot of money for anything. Besides, I like finding out things I didn’t know before.
      Lenie

  14. Lenie, one thing I learned is that when an appliance with a computer chip goes bad, it is more expensive to replace. So we ended up buying a conventional top loader washer with no computer chip. We have had for a while, so I won’t be in the market for a while! As long as it works, I’m fine.

    • Hi Leora – you’re absolutely right about the computer chip costing more – the same thing with cars. That`s one of the reasons you can`t fix them yourself anymore. Hang onto anything that works and you`re happy with.
      Lenie

  15. I love my front loader and you hit the nail on the head when you said the real magic occurs in the dryer. I was shocked the first time I dried a load of laundry – in record time. The only thing I don’t like about them is the build up of mold in the washing machine. I have to clean it once a month with hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. I guess a small price to pay for the savings, but still another chore 🙂

    • Hi Laurie – It is too bad that the mold is a problem but fortunately you know how to take care of it before it becomes disastrous. Good ol’ hydrogen peroxide and vinegar – love those cleaners. Hopefully, the manufactures are working now to resolve the mold/mildew problems. We really don’t need more work.
      Lenie

  16. You certainly did your research Lenie. It is amazing all the information that can be had online these days about any purchase anyone wants to make. review sites, comparison charts, and opinion blogs. Sometimes there is too much but if someone like comes along and breaks it down it makes life much easier for the rest of us. Thanks.

    • Hi Tim – Thanks for the comment. It does take time to look up the information but when you’re spending a fair bit of money it certainly pays off. I love finding out stuff so if it makes life easier for others, so much the better.
      Lenie

  17. Thanks for laying out the information and in such an easy way to follow. I didn’t know the life expectancy of a washer, that is a good bit of info to know.

    • Hi Christina – Glad to pass on the info.
      Lenie

  18. Hi Lenie,Thanks for a comprehensive and very well presented look at washers. It seems that as with most things there is no absolute better or worse but a balancing of considerations based on ones specific priorities. I am very much in favor of consumer guides for major purchases because even if the sources or conclusions are questionable they provide a useful checklist of the main issues to be considered.

    • Hi Paul – I totally agree about the consumer guides and always check there first before making a large purchase. It’s like you said, it provides a checklist for things to ask before buying.
      Lenie

  19. Am not in the market for a new washer. Besides in Sweden we only have front load washers:-)

    • Hi Catarina- I would think that in Sweden and other European countries the front-loader makes sense because of the energy savings. I wouldn’t be surprised if regulations were coming here in Canada to force manufacturers to make all their machines more energy efficient.
      Lenie

  20. Lenie, as usual this post is full of wonderful information! You’ve done all the research for me!! I do love my front loader and had done some research before I purchased. It’s true that many things are almost dry when you remove them from the washer. I have limited space so I can’t line dry everything, but I have a rack where I air dry most things. It’s a savings both in energy and in clothes, too!

    • Hi Jacquie – I’m not surprised that you research before you buy. I was really surprised at the great amount of energy savings with the front-loader and with you drying things on a rack saves even more. Why give money away, right?
      Lenie

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