If you’ve bought or considered buying a new washing machine in the last decade or so, you’ve likely looked at both front load washers and top load washers and wondered which washing machine is best. It’s a big decision to make, since ideally it’ll be one of those appliances you won’t have to replace for another ten years or so!
To help make the decision a little easier, I thought I’d put together a helpful guide of the similarities and differences between these two types of washing machines. We’ll start by exploring the main differences between the front load and top load models, and then we’ll move on to some head-to-head comparisons of their most important features.
By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to know to make an educated decision when it’s time to buy your next washing machine! :-)
Front Load vs Top Load Washing Machines
What’s The Difference?
The main cosmetic difference between these two types of washing machines is the location of the door. A front loader has a door on the front of the machine that swings outward, while a top loader has a door on the top that swings upward.
But there are many other differences between the two types that go beyond simple aesthetics, and each difference comes with its own pros and cons depending on your priorities and preferences. For instance, top load washers feature one of two types of washing mechanisms: an agitator or an impeller.
- Agitators, which are the style that most people are familiar with, are a tall post in the center of the wash drum that agitates the clothes surrounding it.
- Impellers, which are usually found in high efficiency models, move less than agitators and require less water to clean your clothes gently, efficiently, and thoroughly.
Front loading washers, on the other hand, don’t have a central washing mechanism because they don’t need one! Since the wash drum is positioned on its side, all it has to do is spin around so that the laundry inside tumbles around and essentially cleans itself. Pretty ingenious if you ask me!
But to make a decision between the two, you’ll need to know more than the basic mechanical differences between front loaders and top loaders. So let’s take a closer look at their features.
Here’s how they stack up according to 13 features you might be interested in if you were shopping for a new washing machine.
How Do Their Features Compare?
Ease Of Loading
Top loading washing machines are typically a bit easier to load and unload, because it doesn’t require a lot of bending or hunching in order to unload your clothes from the bottom of the wash drum like front loading washing machines do. And while you can buy pedestals that will elevate front loaders off the ground, top loaders are still the winner when it comes to ease of loading.
Ability To Add Items During A Cycle
With a top load washer, you have the freedom to toss in an extra sock even after you’ve started a wash cycle. Front loaders are more finicky when it comes to this feature, and they often vary from model to model.
However, most front loaders will allow you pause the load and unlocks the door to add items, but only during the early stages of the wash cycle. Once the water level reaches a certain point, you won’t be able to open the door (which is ultimately a good thing, because otherwise you’d have a small flood on your hands!)
Wear And Tear On Clothing
When it comes to wear and tear, front loading washers are generally the most gentle on clothes, linens, and other fabrics. Top loaders with an impeller are also quite gentle on clothing, while those with agitators are not.
The surface area of the agitator is to blame for the increased wear and tear on clothing. Agitators are much larger than impellers, so they makes more contact and create more friction against clothes.
Water And Energy Efficiency
On average, front load washers use less water overall at about 13 gallons of water per wash cycle. Impeller top loaders use just a bit more water than front loaders at about 15 gallons per load. Traditional agitator top load washers use the most water by far at around 30-45 gallons per wash cycle!
High efficiency washers (including both top and front loading models) use less water and require less energy to operate. To save on energy costs over time, look for models with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s blue ENERGY STAR label, which use about 25 percent less energy and 33 percent less water than standard washers.
Almost every controlled test of cleaning ability shows that front loaders remove more soils from fabric than top loaders do, often using less detergent. Consumer Reports gives an Excellent mark for wash performance to more than 30 front load washers, while only a single top load washing machine earned the same mark.
Front load washers are also known to remove more water during the spin cycle than top load washers, leading to faster and more energy efficient drying.
Maintenance And Cleaning
Top load washers don’t require much by way of cleaning and maintenance, while front load washers require more regular cleanings, such as wiping the door gasket after each use and leaving the door ajar. Failure to do these things can lead to mildew growth on the door gasket and in the wash drum. (If you’ve ever heard someone complain about an unpleasant smell coming from their front load washer, that’s probably why!)
It’s not hard to clean and maintain a front load washer, but there’s less to worry about with a top load washing machine. Water has no issue draining out due to gravity, so you’re less likely to run into mildew or mold issues.
Ease And Cost Of Repairs
When it comes to durability, both top load and front load washers have their flaws. Almost all newer washers, regardless of design, have a lot of electronics in them that help them run more efficiently. This could mean that you’ll have to call in a repairman replace parts or service the machine rather than tackling it on your own.
However, if the issue is with the motor and not the electronics, you’ll be more likely to be able to make a basic repair yourself if you have a top loading machine. Their motors are relatively easy to access compared to front loading machines.
It’s a tie! Front load washers are typically more expensive, but justifiably so. They clean clothes more effectively and tend to be more energy and water efficient than top load washers. Additionally, a front load washer offers more wash features to accommodate different fabric types and soil levels.
Although the upfront cost of a front load washer is generally going to be more expensive, the lower operating costs will cause the price to even out in the long run.
Front loading machines and top loading machines with impellers have consistently large capacities, usually around 5 cu. ft. But top loading machines with agitators have a slightly smaller capacity, usually around 4.5 cu. ft.
You can compare capacities between models while shopping around, but any high efficiency model should accommodate plenty of laundry.
In terms of versatility, front loaders are the clear winner. With a front loader, you’ll typically have the option to stack your washer and dryer to save on floor space, which may be a necessity if you’re living in a smaller home or apartment.
You’ll need to have a bracket-mounting kit and some way to lift the dryer onto the washer, but if you need the extra space it can be well worth the effort!
Comparing the appearance of top load washers and front load washers is largely a matter of personal preference. Some think that top loaders look more “sleek” because the front panel doesn’t have a door or window.
However, you might prefer the aesthetic of a front loader that allows you see the items tumbling around during the wash cycle. To each their own! :-)
Top load washers with agitators typically have a quicker wash cycle than those with impellers or front load washers. (However, it’s also worth noting that many high efficiency models do include some type of Quick Wash cycle option.)
Front load machines tend to be far more quiet than top load models due to to their more advanced motors and suspension systems. Modern top load machines usually aren’t loud, but if having a quiet washer is a priority for you, you may want to steer clear.
Front Load vs Top Load: The Final Verdict
All things considered, front loader washing machines come out on top in most of these head-to-head comparisons. Most experts recommend front load washers because they’re superior in terms of cleaning power, efficiency, and they’re gentler on your clothes.
However, I personally prefer my high efficiency top loader with an impeller to front loaders. You get some of the best of both worlds, because it’s easy to load, energy efficient, gentle on clothes, and you can add things to it mid-cycle if needed. (But that’s just my two cents!) ;-)
Do you prefer top load or front load washing machines?