$600-ish front loading washer, or $350 top loader?
September 17, 2009 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Is there some practically compelling reason to get a much more expensive front loading washer? I see top loading Energy Star rated washers for around $350; the cheapest front loader starts around $600.

The battleground of figuring out washer choices at the moment seems absurd - people are swearing by front loaders, but I can't find info that tells me if they'll somehow save me $250 over the next few years, and I don't know how an Energy Star rated top loader compares...
posted by raikkohamilonso to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert, but I find my front loader to be gentler on my clothes, perhaps the tumbling action vs. the swishing action has something to do with it. Also I believe they use less water. But I'm a bachelor and hardly ever do laundry anyway so what do I know...
posted by dawdle at 10:38 AM on September 17, 2009

This talks about the pros and cons of a front loading washer.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:42 AM on September 17, 2009

They're easier on your back.... if you put them on high enough pedestals that you're not always scrunched over anyway. And it's easier to heave things from a washer to a dryer that loads in the same direction.

(If you do this, remember to be clever and have the doors mirrored, so they open away from each other. Most are reversible, though it takes some work.)
posted by rokusan at 10:42 AM on September 17, 2009

Check with your local water and/or electric utility. They may provide rebates for front loaders.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 10:43 AM on September 17, 2009

posted by Sassyfras at 10:45 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My clothes get so much cleaner in a front loader it's ridiculous. Plus they use less water and are gentler on clothes, and they require less detergent. I wouldn't go back to the old kind.

Some of the advertising will claim that they are quieter and it's true that they are quiet during the wash phase, but I think they are noisier during the spin. Maybe it's different for super expensive ones, I don't know (I have a Kenmore).
posted by HotToddy at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if there are any calculators out there, but in addition to being more energy efficient, front loaders use half as much water. They also take larger loads and can spin faster, so your clothes take less time and energy to dry.

On the negative side, you have to bend over more to get your clothes out and you can't run back and flip the lid when you find out you dropped a sock on your way to the machine.
posted by IanMorr at 10:49 AM on September 17, 2009

I put my dryer stacked on top of it (not possible with a top loader) and thus save space.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:52 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's a subscription based site, so I can't link to it, but Consumer Reports suggests that front loaders are best for both performance and efficiency, but have much longer cycles. Top loaders, on the other hand, are more affordable and faster washing but not nearly as energy efficient.

I suspect it will take several years to make up the extra amount you spent for a front loader in savings, so if you're on a budget, a top loader is probably the way to go.
posted by Rewind at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2009

some of the front loaders do a very vigorous spin cycle. This makes it easier and cheaper to dry clothes. So factor in the cost of gas or electricity to dry and it may pay off.
posted by Gungho at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2009

I've used top loaders for many, many years and for the first time, two and half years ago got a front loader. Things I notice in its favor:
  1. Uses way less water
  2. Doesn't walk while spinning (and quieter)
  3. Appears to clean better
  4. Goes through less on the consumables
  5. Rarely gets out of balance, stopping the load
  6. Does a way better job wringing water out
On the down side:
  1. Wash cycles are longer
  2. Always manages to leave some water behind which will stick up the machine if the door isn't open
  3. Clothes sour faster if not removed (probably due to the previous issue)
We got our machines in a set before a major holiday in order to take advantage of sales and we found that many places offer one of the set cheap and jack up the price on the other to compensate. We found a place that was willing to match other places and both at the lowest prices.
posted by plinth at 11:01 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

As plinth pointed out, it's very important to leave the door open and air out the inside of a front-loader. On ours we just leave the door open all the time when it's not running.

We ended up getting a combo washer/dryer with a front-load washer and it's been working great for us so far.
posted by kmz at 11:09 AM on September 17, 2009

Front loaders have a number of advantages:

They use much less water. Assuming you wash at least some loads with warm or hot water, this means they use significantly less energy. You also need less detergent because there is less water.

They spin much faster, so your clothes end the cycle much dryer. If you are using a clothes dryer, you will have to run it for shorter cycles and will save another significant amount of energy.

They cause less wear on your clothes, because they clean more gently.

Canada's Energy Star site show "second price tags", which give you an idea of your energy cost to operate each model over its lifetime. The differences in operating costs between top loading and front loading models is generally one or two hundred dollars, but you can look up the specific models that you are considering to find out the specifics. Note that these figures do not include your energy savings from reduced drying times, which could be in the $50/year range if you use your dryer for every load.

The specific cost differences will depend a lot on your washing and drying habits and your local energy costs, but to my mind a good front loading washer is a better economic and environmental choice for the overwhelming majority of people.

And, if I can offer a bit of advice, I've found that the cheapest appliances are rarely the best deals in the long term. Spend a little time checking out reviews and specs and be prepared to spend a little more to get something quite a bit better. I'd say that LG makes the best front loading washer in terms of value and efficiency for your dollar.
posted by ssg at 11:24 AM on September 17, 2009

We picked one up when we moved from TX to NY; our old washer would not have survived a move.

I'll agree with what everyone else is saying:

They use less water. This isn't a big deal to us except morally; here wedged between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario our water bills are about $40. Per quarter. If we lived in my mother's house where her bills are ~$75/month, this would matter.

Clothes seem to last longer, even crappy t-shirts from Target.

They don't go walkies nearly as much, which also means much less danger of the machine pulling away from its drain and draining itself all over whatever room it's in, which happened to us a couple of times in the old place. It's fun to have your kitchen* ankle-deep in soapy water.

They seem to be quieter, and they make more just regular machine whirring noises instead of going into the clunketa-clunketa of an out-of-balance top-loader.

Clothes come out of the washer MUCH dryer, so drying the clothes costs less.

Ya gots to let them dry out. Ours is in the garage, so we just leave the door open when it's not in use.

Cycles are about twice as long.

*I don't know why they put the hookups there either.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on September 17, 2009

I was just googling about how to wash pillows the other day and it seems like front loaders are much better for that, too.
posted by Camofrog at 12:16 PM on September 17, 2009

My front-loader has a quick cycle that runs for 5 minutes, plus 2 rinses and a spin, versus the normal cycle's 13 minutes, plus 3 rinses and a spin, and it seems to get my clothes perfectly clean, even in cold water. I save the longer cycles for stuff that really needs it. I also agree that it uses less water, spins clothes much more dry than top-loaders, and saves space with the dryer stacked on top.

Cons: Bending over may not suit everyone; you do have to leave the door open to air it out, so check for pets and toddlers every time you use it; and if you overstuff it (I'm looking at you, winter comforter!), you may get a little leakage. If you get a front-loader, get the biggest capacity you can afford.
posted by maudlin at 12:17 PM on September 17, 2009

We just bought a house and went through this same debate. We decided on the front load (for many of the reason mentioned upthread) but discovered that it wouldn't fit in the allocated washing machine space. The washer fit, but we wouldn't have been able to open the washer door without closing the laundry room door, which pretty much wouldn't have worked. Lucky, we discovered this before purchasing.

We ended up with this top loader that doesn't have the interior agitator (big thing in the middle that you clothes get all twisted around). It allows us to wash much larger loads, it's gentler on our clothes, and it's energy star rated.
posted by tryniti at 12:20 PM on September 17, 2009

One thing that absolutely drives me crazy every time I change the wash is how the clothes from inside the washer and dryer (both front loaders) always fall on the floor when I open the door. I've done everything I can to prevent it (open door slowly, put basket below door, pick out pieces one at a time) but nothing stops socks and underwear and small towels from exploding all over the laundry room. It's a small point but I find it very aggravating.
posted by shew at 12:59 PM on September 17, 2009

If I were in the market, I would get a front-loader. In addition to the energy and water savings, sometimes I have large quilts, comforters, etc that don't quite fit well in a top-loader. The person (or manufacturer, as the case may be) recommended going to the laundromat with them. Using top-loaders I've noticed some minor damage to seams on them over the years. My house came with a new top-loader when I moved into it, so it'll be awhile before that gets replaced
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:11 PM on September 17, 2009

I can wash a sleeping bag in it.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:37 PM on September 17, 2009

[This is just another data point.]
Our top loader is leaking. The (much trusted) repair guy said it would be $400-$450 to fix (meaning: "get a new one"). When questioned, he said to shy away from the front loaders because the door gaskets fail from use.
posted by Drasher at 1:46 PM on September 17, 2009

Here in the UK almost everyone has a front loader. My one is 7 years old and the door gasket is fine. I don't hear much about door gaskets failing. It's more likely to be the heating element.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:42 PM on September 17, 2009

"Appears to clean better"

Yes, front loaders clean better. Also, if you buy a good one, it heats up the water and can wash at much higher temperatures (white clothes). I am always disappointed on the poor job that top loaders do.

Miele IMHO produces the best washing machines.

One big disadvantage of a front loader is that you can't add anything, like a shirt you forgot, after the washing cycle started.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:40 PM on September 17, 2009

I'll agree with everything said about front loaders and second yoyo_nyc's recommendation of Miele. Although more expensive they last forever (almost). And, on our model at least, you can add more stuff to the wash after it's started if you don't wait too long.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 4:00 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to pile on... I would never use a top loader again, for all the reasons listed here (my mum got a matching Miele washer and dryer in ooooh 1986? and they're still going strong, but I had to revert to top loading in some of the various student houses I've lived in, unfortunately).

if you are a woman who wears bras you will never have to handwash your lingerie again with a front loader (unless you exclusively buy La Perla or something). Just buy a bra bag and toss it in on delicate and it's all good. You will save the diffference in price in the wear on your clothes and in the electricity and water you'll save.
posted by goo at 4:35 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

More of what was said above. I recently went from a front loader to a top loader and I hate it. It is killing my clothes (fading and general wear). I plan on splurging on a new front loader as soon as possible.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:21 PM on September 17, 2009

One big disadvantage of a front loader is that you can't add anything, like a shirt you forgot, after the washing cycle started.

I'm not sure if this is true in general anymore. My first front loader wouldn't let you open it once it started (or else it started over again), but our recent unit allows you to add items that you forgot. Sure, you have to press pause and wait a minute, but you can unlock the door and then continue with the cycle. It uses so little water that you are never going to have any run out if you open the door.
posted by ssg at 6:21 PM on September 17, 2009

I have had my (used) Asko washer and dryer for ten years. I love them. Frankly, I'm kind of upset when I stay in a rental beach house or cabin and have to wash my clothes in a top-loader. They just don't get as clean.

Why don't you buy a used front-loader? Or maybe a scratch-and-dent.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:06 PM on September 17, 2009

2nding buying used. Bought mine used for $200 and it's been great.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 8:21 PM on September 17, 2009

nthing used or scratch-n-dent.

We bought our FL set at a local scratch-n-dent [ApplianceSmart for those in MN]; we got the Whirlpool Duet Sport pair for $800 or so. Even today, that pair is well over $1K at Costco or Best Buy. The way it's arranged you see the big ol' scratch on the side of the washer when you walk into the laundry room [they're stacked], but I just think of it as the "thousand-dollar scratch".
posted by chazlarson at 6:49 AM on September 18, 2009

Generally front loaders use a 1/3 to 1/2 the water of a top loader with equal reductions in detergent and energy to heat that water.
During the rinse cycle water actually runs through the clothes which is why so many people experience cleaner clothes.
Higher spin rate possible by having a shorter axis means less water is left in clothes which both reduces dry times but also removes more of the dirt suspended in the water.
Bulky items like pillows and comforters can be more easily managed in a front loader because of the lack of an agitator.

Also because you don't need access to the top front loaders can be stacked or mounted under counters. European homes often have combination washer/dryers (toss the clothes in the machine and take them out clean and dry an hour or two later) mounted under the counter in the kitchen which seems like an extremely sensible arrangement.

Rewind writes "Consumer Reports suggests that front loaders are best for both performance and efficiency, but have much longer cycles. Top loaders, on the other hand, are more affordable and faster washing but not nearly as energy efficient."

I've never seen a significant difference between the shortest cycle on a front loader and a top loader though I don't have much experience with the modern computer controlled units. I can't think of any reason why a front loader would be faster besides marketing. Either will be faster than your dryer whether it's gas/electric or sunshine.

Burhanistan writes "Top-loaders usually have plastic fins in the center of the drum to agitate water but also make for great comforter snaggers and rippers."

Most damage to clothes in top loading washers is from the clothes getting stuck between the tub and the agitator at the bottom where they meet.
posted by Mitheral at 6:01 PM on September 18, 2009

You may be tempted by the Maytag Bravos series. It combines the cons of a top-loader with the cons of a frontloader. [/axegrind]
posted by jewzilla at 6:41 PM on September 20, 2009

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