What the best washing machine has

  • Evaluate features. Experts praise the value of an automatic temperature control feature, which selects the right water temperature for each cycle. Automatic dispensers for bleach, detergent and fabric softener are also handy. By contrast, the many customized programs available on most machines aren't particularly useful. For most people, the basic cycles and three standard water levels will work fine.
  • Weigh the value of a steam cycle. Independent tests show that steam cycles, included on some high-end front loaders, can remove tough stains better than water washing alone. However, they can also add a few hundred dollars to a washer's price. This cost may be worth it if you often wash heavily soiled items, but the top-rated front loaders without steam also have very good washing performance.
  • Great energy efficiency. With the falling prices of HE top-load and even front-load washers, there seems to be little reason to opt for a conventional washer. In the case of top loaders, the initial savings will be eaten up -- and then some -- over the life of the machine. In this report, we identify high-efficiency top-load washers that can be purchased for as little as $500, and sometimes lower when on sale.
  •  Stick with basic white if you want to save money. Many modern washing machines come in a base model with a white exterior, as well as additional trendy colors. However, these designer colors cost more -- typically about a $100 premium for a machine that's otherwise identical to the basic white model.
  • Skip the extended warranty. Most experts say extended warranties usually aren't a good deal.
  • Look into rebates. The federal government does not offer tax credits for energy-efficient washers at this time. However, rebates may be available from the manufacturer or from your utility company.

Know before you go

Top load or front load? Both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Top loaders are much less expensive to purchase than front loaders with similar levels of performance and features. However, even the most efficient top loader will use more energy and water than a typical front-load washer -- so much so that a front loader can turn out to be cheaper to own over the life of the machine. Front loaders do require a little extra care to make sure mold or mildew don't take root in their tub or gasket. They can also take a little to a lot longer to complete their wash cycles.  

How large a washer do you really need? Washers with a large capacity can do more laundry in a single load, saving time, energy and water. However, this doesn't mean you should always buy the largest machine you can afford. For most users, a typical load is only 7 to 9 pounds of laundry, while a 4 cubic-foot washer can handle at least 12 pounds of laundry.

How big a space do you have? Large capacity washers go hand-in-hand with larger-sized chassis. Before upgrading to a larger machine, measure your existing space -- width, depth and in some cases height -- to ensure it will fit.

Will you also need a pedestal? Front-load washers are great at saving energy while getting your clothes as clean as possible. However, they can be a pain in the back -- literally -- as you need to stoop down to load and unload them. Many makers offer a pedestal as an accessory to raise the door to a more comfortable height, but these are pricy options -- $200 to $300 in most cases.

Can I use regular detergent in a high-efficiency washer? The short answer is no. The Cleaning Institute notes that specially designated HE detergents are a must in HE washers, such as those discussed in this report. Using regular detergent will decrease both efficiency and cleaning performance. They can also damage the washer. More details are available in this online brochure.

Elsewhere in this report:

Top-Load Washers
An in-depth look at the top top-load washing machines, with a focus on high-efficiency models.

Front-Load Washers
Front-load washing machines save energy and water. Read our take on the best choices.

Cheap washers
For those on a budget, these washing machines are good performers and great values.

Our Sources
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top washing machines, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.

Back to top