Front-Load Washing Machines Overview
Ideal for washing everything from delicates to bulky comforters
Energy-efficient, using minimal water and detergent
Can be stacked or installed side-by-side
Gaskets require diligent monitoring to prevent mold
Adding or stopping mid-cycle is not always available
Loading and unloading requires bending over, or purchase of a bespoke pedestal
According to our Best Front-Load Washing Machines of 2021 list, front-load washers offer a variety of capacities. The drum in a front-loading unit with a 4.5-cubic-foot capacity fits up to 20 pounds of laundry, washing everything from delicate lingerie to large duvets.
Instead of using an agitator or impeller, a front-load washer cycles the clothes through a minimal amount of water and detergent by rotating the drum in different directions. Gravity drops the clothes in the water over and over again throughout the cleaning process. A host of specialty cycles ensure effective and energy-efficient washing, according to Energy Star.
Unlike top fill machines, a front-load washer and dryer can sometimes be stackable, a great way to save space. Or, a side-by-side installation creates a bonus large folding and drying surface.
There are some drawbacks to front-loading washers. The rubber gasket ring around the tub requires maintenance to prevent mold and mildew from developing.
Many front-loading machines lock the door at the start of the cycle, preventing a user from stopping the process or adding a last-minute garment mid-cycle. Some newer appliances are programmed to manage this measure, so look for a “pause” button on the features list.
Front-loaders can be ergonomically challenging for some, as the act of loading and unloading requires bending, potentially aggravating back strain. Adding a pedestal stand raises the unit 12 to 15 inches and often features drawer storage.
Find out more about cycles, capacity, energ
y efficiency, and reviews on our Best Front-Load Washing Machines rating page.
Top-Load Washing Machines Overview
Ergonomically friendly loading and unloading
Can easily add items mid-cycle
Faster cycles than front loaders
Uses a lot of water and detergent
Some items, such as pet beds or sleeping bags, may be too bulky
Can be noisy to operate
Not stackable, so requires more installation room
Top-loading washers provide a range of cleaning cycles in an ergonomically friendly fashion. It’s easy to load and unload a top-fill machine, and most machines feature a built-in dispenser, a soft-close lid, and mid-cycle access should a stray sock be found.
Traditional top-loading machines soak clothes in water for the entire cycle while a pulsating agitator facilitates the cleaning process. Units on our Best Top-Load Washing Machines of 2021 list feature one of two types of available technology: an agitator, which is a cylindrical cone in the center of the tub, or an impeller, which is a low-profile, bottom-mounted rotating hub.
Both types of impeller or agitator washers clean clothes quickly with relatively short cycle times compared with front loaders, but an impeller is gentler on clothes. Top loaders use more detergent and water than front-loaders and can be quite noisy to operate.
For those units with a cylinder agitator, capacity may be similar to an impeller unit, but fitting in a comforter may be too tight, causing the material to twist around the agitator, preventing proper operation and cleaning.
Top-loading washers are not stackable, so they must be installed side by side and don’t create the convenient large, folding surface some front-loading machines provide. But maintenance is straightforward, and keeping the tub clean is easy.
Which Washes Clothes Better: Front- or Top-Load Washers?
Both types of washers clean clothes well, but front loaders are gentler during a normal cycle, so there’s less wear and tear on clothes. A front loader also wrings out more water, so drying requires less time and at a lower temperature, further preserving a garment.
Top loaders use one of two methods for cleaning garments: a traditional center-mounted agitator cylinder or a low-profile, bottom-mounted, pie-shaped impeller. The agitator in a top filler beats the dirt out of clothes and wrings the water out, twisting garments in the process. Impeller units are less aggressive with the contents but unless the machine is equipped with an adjustable water level function, still use a lot of water and wringing.
Front-loading machines repetitively tumble the contents back and forth through a small amount of water as the tub spins in a clockwise and counterclockwise motion. The liquid and detergent circulates throughout the clothes, gradually removing soils and stains. Front loaders use much less water (and detergent), so have much less water to wring out, inflicting less stress on clothing without compromising the cleaning performance.
While both types of machines offer excellent cleaning capabilities, front-loading units are gentler on clothes throughout a normal cycle.