Front loading washing machine purchasing advice
August 7, 2007 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I need to purchase a new washing machine and I am considering a front loader but I need some advice.

My 20 year old Kenmore washing machine has died (a $500 repair would bring it back to life) and I like the idea of the front loader washing machine's energy efficiency for a replacement. I also want a reliable machine (another that lasts 20 years would be good!) We are a family of five and our washing machine typically does 7 or 8 loads a week. BUT everything I have read (lots of google and an AskMefi from 2006) suggests that reliability is an issue with just about every brand out there. Any washing machine repair/sales people out there with advice on buying a reliable front loader? Any recent personal experiences with a front loading machine, good or bad? Thanks very much!
posted by bluesky43 to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My $0.02: Only thing I can say about a front loading washing machine, is ask if the pump filter is somewhere easily accessible (mine's a Hotpoint, and it's not). If you have children and do a lot of loads, something will get stuck in there eventually, and a machine half-full of water is no time to find out the filter is hidden inside the sump hose and you have to take the back off and flood the kitchen to get to it.
posted by methylsalicylate at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2007

IANAWMR (washing machine repairperson) but when we got our top-loader fixed last year I asked the guy about front-loading machines. He said that not only did they need more repairs, they were more expensive to repair as well.

Like you, I want the energy- and water-efficiency of a top loader. It would be nice to wash blankets and comforters at home instead of taking them to the laundromat, too. But if you get a front-loader, I'd go with a Kenmore/Maytag (or any ultra well-known brand) and purchase the extended warranty.

Good luck.
posted by Work to Live at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2007

We've had our Kenmore front loader over 10 years. No repairs. Also, you need to take into account that they're easier on your clothes, which will translate to less clothing purchases in theory.
posted by wflanagan at 8:43 AM on August 7, 2007

Bosch - done deal.

Little door panel on the front opens to reveal a little drain tube for the remaining water in the pump and the panel into the pump for finding little copper pennies as they rattle in their joyous rapture. 1 screw driver is all you need.

Seek Euro tech, never look back.
posted by Freedomboy at 8:44 AM on August 7, 2007

Avoid the LG Tromm models. We have a new (<1yr) front loading machine that has developed a mold problem. Google shows that this is not an isolated problem.
posted by probablysteve at 9:02 AM on August 7, 2007

Work to Live writes "IANAWMR (washing machine repairperson) but when we got our top-loader fixed last year I asked the guy about front-loading machines. He said that not only did they need more repairs, they were more expensive to repair as well."

He's either dishonest or incompetent. Right off the top front loaders have way fewer moving parts than a top loader because they have no transmission making them inherently more reliable. Second the parts don't have to work as hard because they only have to deal with 1/3rd of the mass of water. And three they save wear and tear on your dryer because they extract more water from your clothes. I never found them harder to work on than top loader. In fact they are often easier because one almost never needs to tip them on their fronts to work on them.

Benefits of a front loader:
  1. use 1/3rd the water. Besides the water you save you also save the energy need to heat that water.
  2. gentler on clothes because they aren't being slammed against the agitator.
  3. the pass thru action of the water gets your clothes cleaner. It isn't an accident that commercial laundries all use horizontal axis machines.
  4. they save energy when it comes time to dry because they spin more water out of clothes
  5. they save money because you don't need as much detergent, both because you use less water and also because the action is more efficient
  6. IMHO they are easier to get clothes out of, especially if raised up on pedestals
  7. they give you more counter space in your laundry room

posted by Mitheral at 9:19 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Other than the sexy factor, I can't say a front-loader is any better than a standard machine. It's said they use less water, but I also believe they don't accept as large of a load as a top-loader can. Of course, I could be wrong about that. And I have heard the same thing about the serviceability issue.

As for a brand recommendation...I'd say the 20-year lifespan of your Kenmore is a great recommendation. We have Kenmore appliances all over the house. They've all been relatively trouble-free. The one problem appliance we've had (the dishwasher) was our only non-Kenmore unit.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:19 AM on August 7, 2007

We love our front-loader. It's four-ish years old, has had no issues (knock wood), and it's a Kenmore, I think (I'm not home, so I can't check - pretty sure we got it at Sears, though, so it's likely).
posted by rtha at 9:33 AM on August 7, 2007

We bought a Frigidaire Gallery, one of the cheaper front-loaders out there at the time, 5 years ago (though our family of 3 has only 4-5 loads per week) and it has been absolutely trouble free. Yet I've read several reports of bad failure or multiple repairs and poor customer service issues - so go figure. I've been really happy with ours but of course it's still pretty early in its life.
posted by nanojath at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2007

We got a Whirlpool Duet Sport (washer and gas dryer) in February and I've done roughly 150 loads with it. Surprising things (good):

The "basic" wash time is significantly longer than the top loader we shed. The clothes come out clean.
There is a trap in the front gasket that very effectively catches small objects.
It apparently weighs the load to determine water level.
The drier time is less than the wash time. I still can't believe it.

On the downside, it is a little loud. When it spins up to dry, it's like a jet engine spinning up.
posted by plinth at 9:36 AM on August 7, 2007

I am constantly forgetting things and throwing them in after the cycle has begun and occasionally have to pull something out. I assume that can't be done with a front-loader, which is why we've never considered one.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2007

We also have a Whirlpool Duet front loader. We find the sanitize water heater, the high speed spin and the extra large capacity are our favorite features.

We can wash our king size bed comforters in the washer - with towels - in the same load... We use a couple tablespoons of detergent with the loads, about 20-30ml I guess. It also uses much less water than our old top loader.

At the store they had us test/see how large it is by putting 22 pairs of jeans into the washer. Very cool.

Buying them is a decision we do not regret. Getting the pedestal drawer unit does add storage and places the units at a friendlier height.

We have been using them for maybe two years now. No problems at all.
posted by Leenie at 9:48 AM on August 7, 2007

The Bosch/Siemens ones are great. The Calypso models are awful.
posted by zeoslap at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2007

We have a new Kenmore front loader, and thus far we're really happy with it. It takes far bigger loads than our old top-loader did (we can easily wash a queen-size comforter plus a few towels in one load and they come out clean). It gets things really clean and it gets things REALLY dry (drying time is easily half of what it was with the top loader).
posted by biscotti at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2007

Never understood why America appears wedded to stone age washers. You cannot buy anything but front loader in Europe and the technology is very good, very robust, very established.

I second the Bosch, but I had an Indesit (Italian) for 17 years, never went wrong once.
posted by A189Nut at 10:09 AM on August 7, 2007

Consider a Miele. They're expensive, but probably the most reliable washing machines in the world. They're also quiet, easy to use and gentle to the clothes. They should last 20 years without problems. I own a Miele, so do several of my friends and relatives. And Steve Jobs:

"We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. They're too expensive, but that's just because nobody buys them in this country. They are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we've bought over the last few years that we're all really happy about. These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years."

"The European machine, according to Steve, does a much better job, uses about one-quarter as much water, and treats the clothes more gently so that they last longer."

Bosch/Siemens washing machines are also very good.

My late grandmother had an American style top loading washing machine - in the fifties. These machines disappeared from the European market in the sixties, because front loaders are better.

And by the way: I can open the door and put in more clothes in my Miele washing machine after the washing cycle has started, unless the water level is higher than the bottom of the door.
posted by iviken at 10:09 AM on August 7, 2007

Three-time front load owner…Miele and Asko.

No problems to date. Without a doubt, both are better for clothes. They may not hold as much (although they hold more than first glance suggests) and the cycles do run longer (although short cycles are available).

Final spin is such that clothes will be in the dryer for much shorter periods but that high spin will sometimes be undesireable if you need to iron. (The trick then is todry the clothes less…the final drying element being the iron itself.) Be prepared: that high spin is like an aircraft engine revving up.

Best part of installation is the counter over-the-top or stackability when paired with dryer of euro proportions. Worst part of installation is they sometimes don't play nicely with existing hook-ups.
posted by Dick Paris at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2007

We're living in temporary rental housing that came with a front loader washer. We didn't pick it out, and aren't concerned with maintenance issues, so I can't speak to that. But here are a few observations from using one for the last three months:

1. If you drop a sock on the way to the laundry room, you can't toss it in three minutes after starting the load, the way you can with a top loader. There's some kind of electronic lock on the door that keeps it from opening.

2. I haven't been able to figure out how to make the washer stop and "soak" for a while. (Sometimes stains come out better if they can sit in soapy water for half an hour or so, you know?) Sometimes this has meant having to wash a load more than once.

3. On heavy laundry days, all the bending over to load and unload can really add up to lower back pain. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that you raise it up on a platform to make it a more user-friendly height.
posted by ambrosia at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2007

We have owned a Kenmore Elite front-loader for four years and love it. It's never needed a repair, and saves us money for all the reasons listed above. There are two major problems people tend to have with front-loaders in general, and both are preventable: (1) Requiring extra rinse cycles: you need to use high efficiency detergent or else your clothes will come out sudsy and need an extra rinse cycle. If you need to use conventional detergent, use half or less of the indicated amount. (2) Mold/mildew around the door seal: you need to leave the door open after every wash to let the door seal dry because water does collect there. If you do not, you will end up with a mold or mildew problem.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 10:24 AM on August 7, 2007

To make a front loading washing machine stop and "soak", just turn the machine off (or pull the plug) during washing.
posted by iviken at 10:27 AM on August 7, 2007

If you drop a sock on the way to the laundry room, you can't toss it in three minutes after starting the load, the way you can with a top loader. There's some kind of electronic lock on the door that keeps it from opening.

Our LG Tromm has a pause button. Hit pause, wait 3 seconds, the door unlocks and you can throw the sock in.

We've had no mold issues with the Tromm after 4 months, by the way - it states in the documentation that it's not a bad idea to wipe down the door and the inside door rim once a month, so that's what we do and we've had no problems so far. YMMV, but I'm pretty paranoid about mold so maybe I'm just hyper-vigilant.

I'm really happy with the front-loading washer - we live in kind of a small house, and the vibrations rattle the floor sometimes, but the machine itself is fairly quiet and uses way less water. As others have said, the clothes come out of the washer a lot drier than out of a top-loader; the average time to dry in our dryer is just a shade over 30 minutes (a bit more for big towels and blankets).
posted by pdb at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2007

For a number of years, Consumer Reports said that the front loaders were significantly less reliable. I don't think that repair guy was lying; what he said has been true for many years, at least in the United States.

However, at this point, the repair rates look roughly comparable between the two types. There's no way to know which will last longer yet, but over the short term, the front loaders seem to finally have shaken out.

I'd suggest a subscription to Consumer Reports; you'll get better data from them than from almost anywhere else. You can get a one-month subscription for like three bucks, well worth it for researching your $1k+ front loader.
posted by Malor at 10:32 AM on August 7, 2007

Millions of Europeans use front loaders without problem. Top loaders are nearly non-existent in Europe. If the technology was that poor, then darwin would come into play and top loaders would reign supreme.
Buy a reputable brand, with a decent service contract, and you'll be fine.
We've had in various houses, hotpoint, bosch and whirlpool without incident.
My mum's hotpoint lasted something like 14 years.
posted by arcticseal at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2007

I have a front loader. I haven't had any mechanical problems with it and while I have gotten used to it, I don't love it. For two reasons:

-I cannot open the door once it has started
-Even when I set it on the "quick wash" program, it takes just over an HOUR to finish a cycle

I also don't think that it takes as big of a load of laundry though I think you can buy different sized ones. I do, however, appreciate the fact that it is more environmentally friendly.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2007

I've had the Kenmore front loader for 7 yrs. - often 10+ loads/week. holds blankets/quilts, huge loads, no problem. No repairs. In addition to above, it superspins all the water out of the clothes so they dry (on the line or in the dryer) super fast. Be sure to by the HE appropriate detergent with it.
posted by kch at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2007

I have no experience with a front-loader, but I suggest you check out the Laundry Room forums at the Gardenweb home site. Lots of front-loader users there. They even get into very detailed detergent discussions.
posted by cabingirl at 11:25 AM on August 7, 2007

Consumers Report data from 2001-2005 shows that the most reliable frontloader is about as reliable as an average or slightly better than average toploader.

If you just look at Kenmore, there's no different between top- and frontloaders.

Maytag has terrible reliability, esp. in frontloaders.

If you're looking at a washer and dryer, you can save a whole damn bunch of money by not getting the matching dryer. We saved about $400 this way, and were told afterwards that we picked the one that was the same mechanically as the matching dryer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:37 AM on August 7, 2007

I am constantly forgetting things and throwing them in after the cycle has begun and occasionally have to pull something out. I assume that can't be done with a front-loader, which is why we've never considered one.

Ours has a pause button which stops the machine and unlocks the door, you can add things after you've started.
posted by biscotti at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2007

Thorzdad writes "It's said they use less water, but I also believe they don't accept as large of a load as a top-loader can. "

Standard front load machines take the same 16lb load as standard top loaders (there are some front loaders aimed at apartments that only take a 12lb load). If you are getting more clothes in a top loader you are probably overloading your top loader (very commonly done, especially if you start the fill cycle while adding clothes).

Malor writes "Consumer Reports said that the front loaders were significantly less reliable. "

Ya, well, CR's methods have problems. Especially with niche markets. I have no doubt there have been bad models/manufactures over the years but it's not an inherent problem with horizontal axis machines. Just like cops start thinking everyone is a miscreant and techies start thinking every user is an idiot; appliance technicians can start thinking there are systematic problem because they are seeing a non representative sample set. IE: they only see the models with problems because people don't call when their equipment is working. Coupled with comfirmation bias of the unusual and you can see where they may get a distorted view.

However I know I could rebuild a westinghouse front loader and guarantee the machine for two years. And my family did this for long enough that sometimes we'd see stuff come back to us. Stuff that had been working flawlessly for 15 years.
posted by Mitheral at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2007

I bought a Kenmore HE2 because its particular bad reviews didn't scare me as much as some: it can completely fail during the first week because of electronics problems. I figured this was better than breakdowns after the warranty period.

It's big, and the dryer is big enough to handle the whole wash load. The washer extracts a lot of water, which cuts down on drying time. You do have to run a cycle with bleach once a month as a safeguard agains mold. Water collects in the gasket, and I blot it up after using the machine. I have no complaints about it.

When choosing a front-loader, consider whether you can use chlorine bleach (if you normally use it) and how easy it is to add the bleach. Some machines have a very tiny opening for bleach. Also, check the specs to see where the vent comes out of the machine -- with some machines, there's more than one punch-out, which is good. You want to make sure the location is okay for your wall.
posted by wryly at 12:13 PM on August 7, 2007

We have the Whirlpool Duet Sport set, and love it. We've had it for a year and had no problems. It does have that pause feature, which is nice, and also seems to grab stuff left in pockets in that handy rubber gasket, which also collects pet fur pretty well.

We can fit a ton of stuff, and neither our water nor our electric bill have increased.
posted by miss tea at 2:09 PM on August 7, 2007

Had a Kenmore front loader (as in woes) until the bearings blew and ruined a whole bunch of clothing. Sears quoted us the price of $950 to repair it. Ha ha. Now we have a top-loading horizontal axis machine, a Staber, which I adore so far and am confident will be repairable in the future. It's built like a tank and all mechanical and designed to be taken apart easily and repaired by the owner.

Plus it gets the clothing really clean, uses minuscule amounts of detergent, water, and energy (they say $7 per year to run it, assuming gas heat), and has a surprisingly large capacity. The doors look small and you don't think you'll be able to get much into it, but it easily takes a queen-sized comforter plus the rest of the bedding in one single load. You can stop it to add more stuff after the cycle has started with no problem.

You lose the visual appeal of the front-loader with a glass door, but that was only really fun for like the first day or two anyway.
posted by bink at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2007

Other than the sexy factor, I can't say a front-loader is any better than a standard machine.

We went with a front-loading, stackable washer/dryer combo, and so not only were able to fit it in a pantry without taking out the laundry sink, but eventually moved 'em into the old furnace closet when we moved the furnace -- can't stack top-loaders no matter what.

The Fridgidaire units we have are inexpensive (and noisy) as such washers go, and there are tricks you'll learn (like don't overstuff, or clothes might jam under the door seal and cause a leak, and wash with hot often/with bleach to get rid of moldy smells) but they've worked fine for the three years or so we've had 'em.
posted by davejay at 3:33 PM on August 7, 2007

I have the Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer, and love them. Had them for 4 (or is it 5?) years now, no breakdowns or issues of any kind. I do wish I had bought the pedestals though. They are huge - they take an enormous load quite happily. You can indeed add things after starting the wash, you press the pause button and it unlocks the door for you. I use regular detergent, but half the amount you need for a top loader.

I used to live in the UK where, as everyone says, top loaders are obsolete because they are crappy old technology. The top loader I had here in the US when I first moved here (rental house) destroyed many items of clothing. None of the front loaders I have used in the UK or here have ever destroyed clothing.
posted by Joh at 10:25 PM on August 7, 2007

I found our front loader can be opened mid cycle if you stop it (turn if off) and wait three minutes. Why? Who knows. It also takes a loooong time to wash. It is noisy when it spins. It was the cheapest available new, a Thor brand.
posted by bystander at 10:38 PM on August 7, 2007

This is my first frontloader (LG washer/dryer) and OMG do I love it so!! I'd been a long time fan and heard all the wonderful things!! It was second hand and AU$450 with a shiney door! (Exactly what I wanted!!)

Firstly you will hear about bending, mould and dropped socks...

If bending will be a problem you will need to look at the available solutions for that.

The mould - leave the door open! If you allow it to dry and clean the poor thing (keeping in mind that all the scunge, grunge and grime that is no longer in your clothes needs to go somewhere) a bit from time to time you won't have any dramas.

Mine has a 60 second wait on it but I never seem to use it anyway because I am anal about socks. (They go together or they don't go anywhere! Plus they might end up different colours and that would drive me insane).

One thing they don't tell you is that cash no longer turns up on top of the wash. In fact it stays in pockets, and flings out when being hung out.

And the good points!
I no longer use lingerie bags. I know, I'm shocked as well. But a year later and not one underwire has gone awry.

I cut my scoop in half literally. That felt pretty good.

It's so quiet and efficiant. It has a 30 minute quick wash and to be completely honest I've never even tried the other ones... The family we bought it off said that was all they'd ever used too :)

Initially they are more expensive but they work out instantly cheaper in regards to water, power, powder/detergent and clothes. And they are inclined to last longer due to the sensible motion of the parts. Oh and they just do a better job when it comes down to it at any rate!!

Like with anything note EVERY feature and consider how this may or may not function in your life.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2007

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