Ever since the appearance of front-load washers in the United States during the late 1990s there’s been a comparison to the traditional top-load machine, and debate as to which one is better. In order to choose between the two when buying for your home, it’s important to understand their differences, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Top-loading washers have a vertically-mounted tub, and a large door on the top that raises, and remains in a near-vertical position while you add or remove clothing and cleaning products.
Standard top-load machines are equipped with a center agitator attached to the bottom of the wash tub. There are different types of agitators, including:
Straight Vane Agitators
This is the most common type of agitator in top-loading machines. It consists of a single piece of molded plastic, with vanes projecting from the side, and sits on the bottom of the washer tub. The agitator turns back and forth inside the tub, rubbing against the clothes to force water and detergent through the fabrics to loosen and rinse away dirt. It can happen that this type of agitator doesn’t efficiently circulate the items floating near the top of the load.
Dual Action Agitators
Dual action agitators are more efficient than the straight vane ones. They consist of two different pieces of plastic: a top part that’s spiral-shaped, and a bottom that consists of larger fins. The top piece rotates clockwise to force the items on top down to the bottom fins, which move back and forth to carry out the mechanical cleaning action.
High-efficiency (HE) top-load machines also have a liftable lid on top like the standard washer, but they’re more like the front-load machines in their operation and efficiency. They have tubs that spin faster than standard top-loaders, and they use half the amount of water.
Rather than using an agitator, HE top-loaders have an impeller. An impeller is a low-profile disc, wheel, or cone that sits on the bottom of the tub and rotates, gently rubbing clothes against each other to clean them. It takes longer to do a load with an impeller washer, but the drying times are shorter due to the high spin speeds that remove more moisture.
Advantages of Top-Loading Washers
- It’s better for some laundry spaces, for instance if there isn’t room to swing open the door of a front-loader in a laundry closet, or because of traffic in a hallway.
- You don’t have to bend over to load or unload clothes. For seniors, or those with joint issues, top-load washers are generally an ideal height.
- Easier to clean, and generally less expensive to repair and maintain than front-loading washing machines.
- A standard top-loader with an agitator takes less time to wash a load than an impeller model or front-loader. And on some settings an impeller washer takes less time than a front-loader.
- Top-load washers are generally less expensive, especially the agitator models.
- Newer models have sensors that detect the size of your load and save water by auto filling to the appropriate level.
- A common new feature allows you to overload with extra water for particular laundry items.
- A standard top-loader with an agitator has a longer life expectancy than either the HE top-loader or front-loader.
Disadvantages of Top-Loading Washers
- People in wheelchairs or with balance issues can’t use top-loaders. HE top-loading tubs are much deeper which could make it hard for some people to reach to the bottom.
- You can’t put top-loaders under a counter or low shelf.
- Many models are harder on clothes, although the impeller models are gentler than the agitator ones.
- They use more water and energy.
- They don’t clean clothes as well and you may have to pretreat stains.
- The agitator takes up space, making it difficult to wash bulky items such as pillows and comforters.
- You can’t stack a top-loader with a dryer.
- Agitator models don’t spin as fast, increasing drying time. However, the HE top-loaders spin faster than agitator models.
- On agitator models the tub shakes, makes loud noises, and stops spinning if overloaded or imbalanced. The agitator may also stop working.
- HE top-loaders can cost more than some front loaders, depending on capacity and extras.
Front-loading washers have a horizontally-mounted tub, and a side-opening front door with a window. These washers don’t have agitators or impellers, although there may be a low-profile, flattened cone at the back of the tub.
The washers work by filling the bottom of the tub with a small amount of water, and then rotating it so the clothes drop into the water and are pulled out again. The tub typically spins both ways, and inside there are usually side paddles or vanes that help lift the clothes in and out of the water. This provides the needed mechanical action to scrub the clothes and remove the dirt.
Advantages of Front-Loading Washers
- Some models have reversible doors to accommodate the layout of the laundry room.
- There is generally less wear and tear on clothing and other items.
- They use less water and energy.
- They have more wash features for all fabric types and soil levels.
- Most are stackable with their matching dryer.
- They spin faster than most top-loading machines, reducing drying time.
- Front-load washing machines are often better at cleaning and consistently outperform top-loaders in cleaning tests.
- They are easier for people in wheelchairs to use.
- You can install them under a low shelf or build a counter on top.
- They make it easier to transfer clothes to the dryer.
- Bulky items such as comforters and pillows are easier to load.
- Compared to top loaders with the same external size, they handle a bigger load.
- They are less noisy during the spin cycle.
Disadvantages of Front-Loading Washers
- Bending over to load and unload can be uncomfortable for seniors and people with back and joint issues.
- The door locks, preventing you from adding clothes once the machine starts. However, some models have a pause button that aborts and restarts the wash cycle.
- They can require more maintenance due to mold and mildew problems. You’ll need to wipe the door and gasket after every use and leave the door open to let the inside dry out.
- Overloading is risky — extra weight wears out the machine by putting a strain on the rear bearing.
- An unbalanced load will cause the washer to make loud noises or vibrate during the wash cycle (although that’s also true of top-loaders). It can then fail to spin or drain, resulting in laundry that is too wet to put into the dryer.
- Cycle times are longer than top-loaders, although some HE top-loaders have comparable times.
- They can be more expensive to repair. Homeowners can do cleaning, but repairs are best left to trained technicians.
- Front-load washing machines usually cost more than top-loaders.
If you want to look merely at facts, the front-load washer “wins” in terms of cleaning power and efficiency. But the choice often comes down to budget, laundry room layout, and personal preference.
Whichever model of washing machines suits you best, you can trust the pros at C&W Appliance Service for all your repair and maintenance needs. Call us at (855) 358-1496 or fill out our online service request form for prompt and reliable service.