Front-loading washing machines vs the second floor, 2018 edition
April 15, 2018 9:27 AM   Subscribe

We live on the second floor of a house. We are considering a front-loading washing machine. Are we insane?

Advice online seems to vary a lot. Most sources seem to say some combination of "Newer models don't vibrate as badly as the old ones," "Most houses won't have a vibration problem," and "If yours does vibrate, there are sometimes ways to mitigate that." But… it feels awfully irresponsible to drop $800 on an appliance that mostly, probably, in all likelihood will be usable. So we're wondering:
  1. Is there a way we can determine how much of a vibration problem we'll have?
  2. How well do the vibration-mitigation products out there work? Has anyone trustworthy tested them?
posted by nebulawindphone to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It might be helpful to know a little bit about the construction of the house. That said: almost everyone I know has a front-loading washing machine on the second floor of their house.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:53 AM on April 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I assume the concern is about downstairs neighbors?

We don't have those, but we do have a front-loading machine. All in all, it seems quieter than our old top-loader. (Those things can clank and vibrate quite a bit as well.) In general, the front-loader does not have the problem of getting off-balance and bouncing around the way top-loaders do. On the other hand, the newer ones with really high speed spin cycles do make a lot of noise during that phase. The rest of the time they are really pretty quiet and don't vibrate.

You can mitigate transmission of noise and vibrations. I'd do it right up front by setting the thing on neoprene pads. (I've used similar products in other noise mitigation situations, like isolating a newspaper printing press from an office area above it, and I can tell you they work.) Getting the base unit that lifts it up off the front may help with noise/vibration transmission as well, and makes loading and unloading a lot more ergonomic.
posted by beagle at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, can you speak to how level the floor is, etc.? Everyone I know who is lucky enough to have in-unit washer dryers in non-first floor apartments here in NYC (including me) has front loaders because they're stackable for small spaces.
posted by lalex at 9:56 AM on April 15, 2018

You are not crazy for contemplating having a washer and dryer on the second floor. I had that set up with my large LG machines. Due to height issues I did not have my set on pedestals. I followed the advice of This Old House of having a drain tray installed for potential accidents. What really worked for vibrations and crawl issues were rubber drain mats that the machines were placed on and cut up pool noodles that were strategically placed. The mats provided cushioning for vibrations and grip to prevent crawl while the noodles provided side to side cushioning.

My main advice is to get very reliable machines; make sure that the dryer is vented properly out; verify with your contractor that your floor can support the weight and washer drain hose is accessible to you.
posted by jadepearl at 9:57 AM on April 15, 2018

The LG inverter-drive front loader we bought last year (with integrated condenser dryer [= the best, don't @ me], so was a bunch more than $800) seems to do some load-measuring tricks as it starts the cycle to avoid spin noise. Sometimes it doesn't always work (unbalanced heavy towels), but it's quieter than our old Maytag, and its crazy-fast spin runs for less time than the old machine. It does, however, live in the basement.

Seconding beagle's pedestal suggestion. It makes the link between the machine and the floor more compliant, and might kill some of the vibration.

(The most annoying noise from modern washers for me is the water-hammer that they can induce in some pipework. Newer washers sip water by opening and closing a solenoid frequently. In my in-laws' house, this is a wall-shaking baBANG! every minute or so.)
posted by scruss at 9:58 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

We had a LG front loading washer 2012 edition with stacked on top dryer in a second floor condo. It was in the back hall behind kitchen, over the kitchen of downstairs neighbor. Very little vibration and that machine was a monster that ate laundry and begged for more. We cloth diapered two kids with that machine.

We did only run it during the day but must have run a few nightime loads I don’t remember even though our bedroom shared a wall with the laundry area and our bed was only 10’ away.

It did have a “floor sensitive setting” that we never used.

I miss that machine so much. New house has top loader in the basement and all the bedrooms are on the second floor. I long for the days that the laundry machines were close to where the laundry was made.
posted by sol at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2018

I had a front-loading washer and dryer in a third-floor apartment built in the early 1900s. The family directly below me never complained about noise and I never noticed any vibration issues.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:37 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've got a front-loader on the 2nd floor, and so does my upstairs neighbor in the identically-configured unit. It's loud enough in my place that I close the bathroom door (where it lives in a closet), but I hardly notice it when my upstairs neighbor does laundry, unless it's particularly quiet in my place.

Presumably my downstairs neighbor feels the same about mine-- I've never had complaints about my occasional late-night laundry run, though of course that's a higher bar than "notices." I definitely can't hear theirs.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:08 PM on April 15, 2018

LG front loaders have a counterweight system that allow them to get up to ludicrous speeds during the spin cycle. Once the thing figures out where the balance is, it's not noisy. (It's actually kind of disturbingly quiet for how fast it's going). There's a caveat, though. While it figures out how to balance each load for the spin cycle, it does this thing where it spins up a bit, runs at lower RPM, then comes to a stop and spins up in the opposite direction. It does this several times before it finally decides it's stable enough to get up to ludicrous speed. Ours, at least, makes a very noticeable whumping sound as it passes through some particular part of the low RPM range, and each cycle of spin up/spin down passes through that part of the range twice. It's not as loud as when a top loading washer is off balance and walks, but it's not nothing, and it happens several times for every single load, and not just randomly when your towels get bunched up. That said, ours is next to a common wall and our neighbors have never complained.

The other notable noise ours makes is the drain pump, and I don't know why it has to be so loud. It's sort of a grinding, buzzing hum at 60Hz. The drain pump kicks on at the end of the wash cycle, during the rinse cycle, and then as needed during the drying cycle. When our house is quiet we can hear the drain pump a floor away.

NB: my sister lives overseas and she has Miele appliances. The drying cycle on her Miele dryer is quieter than our LG combo unit (both are condenser dryers), but the spin cycle on our LG is quieter than the spin cycle on her Miele washer.
posted by fedward at 1:00 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

> a very noticeable whumping sound as it passes through some particular part of the low RPM range, and each cycle of spin up/spin down passes through that part of the range twice.

totally aside: You've just given the best possible description of resonant frequency. For a given load, there will be a speed that gives maximum vibration. It will also pass through the same vibrations as it hits 2x resonant speed, and do so on the spin up and spin down. It's physics!
posted by scruss at 1:25 PM on April 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Totally normal to have front loaders on higher floors in the UK. It isn’t something that would even cross my mind to avoid.

Don’t run the washing machine in the middle of the night if you have neighbours, but that is just part of being a good apartment-dweller. I wouldn’t run the hoover at midnight either.

We hear more noise from out next-door neighbour’s washer than we do from our vertical neighbours. The vibrations travel along the joists.
posted by tinkletown at 1:50 PM on April 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

+1, fine to have one but for the love of all that’s holy please don’t run it at midnight. You never know when you’ll get an unbalanced load. I wish my upstairs neighbours showed this courtesy.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:46 PM on April 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

What matters most to vibration being transmitted are that the machine is leveled as perfectly as possible (not necessarily that the floor is level) and that it has never been moved without the shipping bolts installed and they have been removed before running it.

We had one on a rather flexible floor in a house built in 1930 and it was totally fine, except for a couple of seconds when it was passing through some speed that resonated with the suspension damping and the floor when loads were unbalanced and it's automatic rebalancing didn't work as well as usual. Even that wasn't noisy, just a bit weird to watch.

Point is that most of the time when people have issues with a new front loader that doesn't have some factory defect the source of the problem is improper installation, not the machine itself. People are so used to top loaders that work just fine unless they are visibly off kilter they don't take the admonitions in the manual seriously. Some units will have permanent suspension damage if they are run with the shipping bolts in, so even if it's later fixed they still blame it on the machine.
posted by wierdo at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Living in Europe I always had a front loader on higher floors. Same in Hong Kong. Never had an issue.
posted by frumiousb at 8:25 PM on April 15, 2018

Yet another second floor (third, American) old (1926) apartment-dweller with a frontloader. I have timber floors and a bit of vibration does get transmitted when it gets into insane mode on the spin (1600 rpms, I guess?), but I have it on little rubber feet to dampen the vibration and it works well. You can tell it's going when your feet are on the floor but it's not a big deal. When my downstairs neighbor's machine goes into insane mode I can also feel faint vibrations, but no one minds because everybody here has these washers. The place where I bought my washer had thick rubber mats as well as the feet, but I'm happy with the feet.

Also, I did get a just-in-case-of-leaks shallow (10cm/4"?) tub thingie for it to sit in, but never actually put the washer in it. The little access panel to clean the filter/drain it in an emergency wouldn't actually be able to open if I had it in the leak tub. The good news is the shallow tub is perfect for putting a kitty litter box in and containing thrown litter -- result!
posted by sldownard at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2018

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