Which is Best: Top Load or Front Load Washing Machines?

Traditional Top Loaders:

There’s a reason why we call these guys traditional.  It’s what I grew up with and you probably did too.  There’s an agitator in the middle of the basket which bangs your clothes all around the interior.  Yes I said “bangs” because traditional top loaders are the most violent on your clothes.  These washers are why you have so much accumulation in your dryer’s lint trap.  The agitator is pushing against your clothes which frays the fibers on your garments.  When you throw the clothes in your dryer, the dryer removes the frayed fibers and they are caught in the lint trap.  I bet you throw that lint away, don’t you?  Well don’t.  Save it because it makes great tinder to start a fire. Incidentally that agitator in the center of the basket takes up room, so generally traditional top loaders have less capacity than high efficiency top and front load washers. They also use the most water per cycle than the other types of laundry.  A whole lot more—sometimes up to 44 gallons for an entire cycle! However, they definitely have a niche in the marketplace.  Their price points are usually the most aggressive out of the three options and generally speaking, the wash times are less than your other washer choices.

Pros of Traditional Top Loaders:

  • Lower Price Point
  • Faster Wash Times (generally speaking)
  • What we’re “used” to


  • Harsher on your clothes
  • Slower RPMs on the spin cycle meaning more moisture left in your clothes for a longer dry time
  • Less capacity (generally speaking)
  • Use an incredible amount of water per cycle

High Efficiency Top Loaders:

These units are on the market for consumers who are fearful of front loaders, but recognize the importance of water efficiency.  There is no agitator in the baskets of these units.  Instead, there is an impeller at the bottom that’s designed to pull the clothes into the water.  The water will never fill the entire basket hence the water usage is less than traditional top loaders, but still more than front loaders.  It’s VERY important that if you purchase this type of washer (or front loader) to switch to HE detergent.  This is a formula specifically designed for machines that are water efficient.  Basically this detergent won’t create as much suds during the wash.

A great feature of HE Top Loaders is that their spin cycle is MUCH faster than traditional top loaders—sometimes even rivaling front loaders’ spin cycle.  A faster spin is very important when we’re talking about the overall energy efficiency of the washer and dryer combined.  Higher RPMs on a spin cycle removes more moisture in the clothes which means you won’t be running your dryer as long (a dryer uses way more energy than your washer).

Pros of HE Top Loaders:

  • More water efficient than traditional top loaders
  • Faster RPMs in the spin cycle
  • Larger capacity than traditional top loaders (generally speaking)
  • Gentler on your clothes than traditional top loaders

Cons of HE Top Loaders:

  • Not as water efficient as front loaders
  • Higher price point than traditional top loaders
  • Slower spin cycle than front loaders (generally speaking)

Front Loaders:

One of the biggest complaints with front loaders of the early 2000’s was that they would develop mold and they would emit an odor.  It’s true they did, but manufacturers have solved this problem.  First, if you open any of the doors on a front loader and look at the gasket inside, you’ll see some drainage holes.  This gets water out of the gasket that might have remained after the cycle is finished.  Second, many of the front loaders today have a “clean basket” or “sanitize basket” cycle.  This is a wash program NOT designed to wash your clothes, but rather to clean out the interior of the washer.  The water temperature during this cycle can reach up to 170 degrees and it kills/washes away any mold that could potentially build up.  Depending how often you use your washer will depend on how often you utilize the clean washer cycle, but assume that you’ll use it about once a month. By keeping the door slightly ajar, the interior will dry out with less chance of an odor developing.

Now that I’ve tackled the smell issue, let’s talk about why I love front loaders the most.  They are the most water efficient type of washer on the market sometimes using as little as twelve gallons in a cycle!  Front load washers are also the gentlest on your clothes.  Remember that there is no agitator grinding against your clothes fraying them.  This means that your clothes will last longer, retain their color longer, and you’ll notice less lint being captured by the dryer.  How does a front loader clean your clothes if there isn’t an agitator?  While the drum is spinning, it’s dropping your clothes into the water located at the bottom of the drum.  It’s using gravity to “slosh” the water through your garments.

Don’t forget that a lack of an agitator means more capacity in front loaders.  Some brands offer a 5.1 cubic foot drum.  That’s HUGE and will fit a bunch of clothes or bulky items like comforters or jeans.  As long as you can close the door without using force (unlike how you close your suitcase when you go on vacation), you haven’t over filled it.

There’s yet another reason to love front loaders: energy efficiency.  Yes, we talked about these units using less water, but their spin cycle is MUCH faster than other forms of washers.  Some units can spin at 1400 RPMs! Spinning your clothes at that speed will remove ridiculous amounts water before you put them in the dryer.  You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to know that less moisture in your clothes means a shorter dry time.  The water and energy savings of a front load laundry pair basically pays for the dryer over the lifetime of the machines.

The most important thing to know about front loaders if you’re switching from a top loader is that front loaders clean your clothes differently.  Don’t expect to see tons of water and bubbles filling up the drum during a wash cycle.  Just like high efficiency top loaders, make sure to use HE detergent.

Pros of Front Loaders:

  • Less water usage
  • Gentle on your clothes
  • Fast Spin Cycle
  • Large Capacity

Cons of Front Loaders:

  • Higher price point
  • Mold is a thing of the past, use the “sanitize drum cycle”!
Content courtesy of: http://kieffersblog.com

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