Top load or front load? Both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Top loaders are 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, assuming it has a decently long life, of course. 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-feet 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 pricey 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.