How to Buy a Washing Machine

how to buy a washing machine

The wet and wild world of washers

For decades and decades, washing machines looked and operated about the same. All were top loaders. And all had center post agitators. Capacity size might vary and certainly there were options for water levels and temperatures, length of washing cycle, wash and spin speeds, fabric settings, and so on. But everyone knew pretty much what to expect when they went shopping for washing machines.

In the 1990s, front load washers, once the domain of the laundromat, entered US homes. But unlike laundromat machines, they were HE washers.

That's when how to buy a home washing machine got a lot more complicated.

To HE or not to HE, that is the question; yet top load or front load is of equal importance as is space

The above three questions are the first major ones you need to answer to narrow your quest for a washing machine, and they are interrelated.

 Let's look first at front load vs top load.

Front load washing machines vs top load

Front loaders are HE only. They are the current style and match the look of current front-loading dryers.

But will an HE front loader work in your laundry space?

For example, my washer and dryer are in the garage, right next to the car. And I mean smell-the-rubber snug. The front-loading dryer is awkward since the door opens downward next to a tire, leaving a few bare inches. This means I must load and unload the dryer from the side. The result is often a sock or two clinging to the tire or nearly hidden on the garage floor, due to the inconvenient angle of approach.

So, when I needed to replace my washer, I chose a top load washing machine. It made much more sense for my cramped space.

Top loaders can be either HE or traditional, non high efficiency washing machines. An HE top load washer, depending on capacity, may have a much deeper drum than a traditional washing machine. So, when you go shopping, be sure to open the lid and reach down inside. Can you touch the very bottom? Some users have had to resort to a step stool or long tongs—probably not a good idea.

How does your laundry room measure up?

Space is a big variable. Washers have different width, depth, and height requirements so you need to know your space limitations. The larger the capacity, the bigger the machine. And capacity often affects more than one dimension.

  • Allow 6 inches behind the washer for the water hoses
  • Washer hookups should be within 3 ft.; measure the length of your existing washing machine water supply hoses and the drain hose. You will need new washer hoses as old ones should not be reused. You may need a new drain hose too. Take a photo of what the connector at the washer looks like, just in case.
  • Allow 1 inch between your washer and dryer.
  • Top loaders need at least an additional 20 inches of height clearance. This allows space for the lid to fully open.
  • Is there enough workspace for a front loader's door to open downward and for you to stand in front of it? Working from the side is very awkward.
  • Make sure there's no more than a 1 in. slope. More than that cannot be compensated with a washer's leveling legs.
  • What kind of power receptacle is there? Take a photo. How far away is it from where the washer needs to go? You need this so you can buy (or specify) the proper length of power cord, as many washers don't come with them.
  • Don't forget to measure how wide your entry and hall doors are, too. You don't want to disassemble a washer to install it!

If you have a smaller space, you may need to go vertical with stacked units. These are front load and thus HE. Those in apartments might want to consider a top loading portable washer. They are available in HE and traditional configurations. And there are combo all-in-one washer dryer units, ideal for small capacity loads.

Pros and cons of HE and traditional washing machines

Opinions can be very strong when it comes to high efficiency washing machines. Some love them, embracing their energy efficiency and lower water use. According to Home Depot, Energy Star Certified washers use about 33% less water and 25% less energy than traditional machines.

However, a sizable number of users hate the need for special detergent as well as the weekly maintenance required to keep odors at bay. As a result, they wish they'd never bought one.

So, carefully review the pros and cons of traditional and HE washers. Then weigh the various factors to make an educated decision that best suits your lifestyle.

Traditional top load washers


  • Typically, less expensive than HE washers
  • Easier to access as there's no kneeling or bending needed
  • Traditional look
  • Easy to add items after wash cycle has started
  • Available with traditional center agitator or newer, low-profile impeller style for greater capacity and a gentler clean (more on that below)
  • Requires little maintenance
  • Can use standard or HE detergents


  • Use more water than HEs
  • Relatively smaller capacities so more loads may be needed
  • Rougher on clothes if equipped with center spindle agitator
  • Can be noisier than HEs due to vigorous agitator action and spin cycles
  • Longer drying times (so more electricity and/or gas is used during drying) as water is not as effectively removed during the spin cycle
  • No sensors to automatically modify washing needs; must be manually determined at the outset
  • Noisier than HE front loaders

Top load HE washers


  • Easier to access as there's no kneeling or bending needed
  • Traditional look
  • Higher capacities as these use low-profile impellers
  • Gentler on fabrics due to no center agitator
  • More energy efficient with less water usage than traditional top loaders
  • Better at cleaning clothes than traditional top loaders
  • Faster spin cycles, reducing time and energy needed to dry clothes


  • More expensive than standard top loader
  • Requires HE detergent
  • Longer wash times
  • Not as gentle on clothing as front loaders
  • May not be able to wash waterproof items
  • Items may tangle due to longer wash times, lower water levels, and higher spin speeds
  • Can be harder to reach to the bottom of the tub due to extra depth
  • Typically, are taller and wider than traditional top loaders
  • May need a bit more maintenance than traditional top loaders but need less than HE front loaders

Front load HE washers


  • Can save on utility costs
  • Uses a lot less water than standard top loaders
  • Gentler on fabrics than standard top loaders as it uses a tumbling motion and friction between pieces of clothing instead of rubbing against a center agitator
  • Better at cleaning clothes than traditional machines
  • Typically, larger capacities than standard machines to handle more clothes and bulkier items
  • Faster spin cycles for shorter drying times
  • Stackable to save floor space


  • More expensive than standard top loader
  • Requires HE detergent
  • Can be harder on knees and back due to low door height; add-on pedestal can help but costs extra
  • Longer wash times—up to 105 minutes depending on settings
  • Can be prone to vibrations
  • Many models lock the door when started so last-minute items can't be added
  • Routine care and cleaning needed to eliminate mold and musty odors that can develop in the rubber gasket ring

Top loaders: Agitator vs impeller

An agitator is a tall central post with fins. It twists back and forth. Clothes rub up against the post and it is that action that cleans the clothes. Plus, all the water in the basket is in motion which also helps clean clothing. Technology has improved the action (at least on higher dollar models), so agitators are not as hard on clothes as they used to be.

Impellers are low profile. They spin or rotate. Cleaning happens because the impeller causes the laundry pieces to rub against each other. So, it's the friction between the clothes that cleans them. And because there's no central spindle in the way, clothes have more room to move about. Washers with impellers use less water and have more usable capacity. They may also require a specific way to load laundry to be effective at cleaning.

All HE top loaders use impellers. Traditional washers may come with either.

HE machines require HE detergent

HE machines really do need specially formulated HE detergents. The American Cleaning Institute has put together an excellent pdf that explores HE machines and HE detergent. Bottom line, HE machines need low-sudsing and quick-dispersing formulations.

  • Using a regular detergent in an HE machine will not clean clothing as well nor will it completely rinse out
  • The extra suds combined with HE's less water usage can gum up the washer
  • Using a lesser amount of a regular detergent won't solve the problem because it's still too sudsy and does not quickly disperse, plus too little soap won't clean clothes
  • "HE-compatible "detergents are not recommended

Laundry detergent maker Tide, in their FAQ section, also answers questions about HE detergent which you may find useful.

Washer capacities

You also need to decide on a capacity. The capacity of a washer should be half that of your dryer. So, if you're keeping your dryer, get out that dryer manual to locate the number. If you can't find it, this website has instructions on how to calculate a dryer's capacity.

But, if your needs will be changing in the next 10 years (the average lifespan of a washer), you might want to buy a washer with the future in mind as opposed to your needs right now.

Whirlpool breaks down capacity categories this way:

  • Small capacity: 1.5 and 3.4 cubic feet
  • Medium: 3.5 to 4.4 cubic feet
  • Large: 4.5+ cubic feet

Maytag divides it out differently:

  • Small: 3.5 to 4.4 cubic feet
  • Medium: 4.5 to 4.9 cubic feet
  • Large: 5 to 5.3 cubic feet

As you can see, actual capacity is a more helpful reference. So, how does capacity relate to how much laundry you can put in it, without overloading? notes that most standard-size front and top load washer drums are 4 to 5 cubic feet and handle about 8 pounds of laundry. 

Consumer Reports suggests that anything larger than 4.5 cubic feet can handle a king-size comforter. 6.2 cubic feet can handle 17 thick, full-sized bath towels. Compact washers are around 2.3 cubic feet and can handle 6 of those towels.

The Spruce points out: 

"Today, every washer comes with a capacity recommendation. As a rule of thumb, 12 pounds of laundry is appropriate for a standard capacity top load washer, 15 to 18 pounds for a front-load washer, and 20 to 22 pounds for an extra-large capacity front load washer."

There's no good way to convert pounds to cubic feet! But if you're wondering how much individual clothing items weigh, The Spruce offers some help:

  • XL T-shirt: .5 lbs.
  • Medium blue jeans: 1.6 lbs.
  • Medium sweatshirt: .9 lbs.
  • Full size bed sheet: 1.3 lbs.
  • Large bath towel or beach towel: 1.6 lbs.

However, it might be best to simply weigh your laundry, with each basket filled with things that make up a sorted, single load. Use your heaviest, sorted items, like towels, comforters, bedspreads, or sheets.

Simply weigh the empty laundry basket, weigh it again with what constitutes a load, and subtract the difference. Then remember that number when you finally go shopping and can read those capacity recommendations along with any poundage information that's provided.

Bells and whistles

Today's washers, especially HE ones, have a variety of extra features to consider—especially when it comes to the number and kinds of cycles.

  • Auto dispense/soap reservoir that holds enough detergent for multiple loads
  • Auto temperature control
  • Number and kinds of sensors that control water levels, amount of detergent, etc.
  • Extra rinse cycle
  • Steam
  • Stain removal
  • Self-cleaning
  • Sanitize
  • Allergen
  • Quick wash
  • Add a garment
  • Deep fill/deep water
  • Stainless steel tub
  • End of cycle signal
  • Built-in sink for presoaking and handwashing
  • Multiple washer tubs
  • Reversible door
  • Anti-vibration control (auto-rebalances the machine during spin cycle)
  • Sound dampening
  • Pedestal to raise a front load washing machine up higher to reduce bending
  • Stacking kit
  • Pan that fits under the washer; ideal for wood floors and second story laundry rooms
  • Wi-Fi app control (may or may not include remote start, so read carefully)
  • Color choices beyond basic white

It's time to go shopping!

So, you've done as much homework as you can, and you have your important information with you:

  • Existing space measurements
  • Length of current washing machine hoses (or estimated length of new ones)
  • Preferred load capacity in cubic feet as well as in pounds
  • The decision of either a traditional top loader, HE top loader, or an HE front loader
  • What must-have and add-on features you'd like
  • Photo of your power receptacle and the connector end of the wastewater drain hose

Washer shopping is best done in-store. If you find a model you like, you can look online. But do you really want your appliance shipped and left on your doorstep? Instead, use any pricing deals you find online to negotiate a better price in the store.

Where and when can you find the best deals?

According to Consumer Reports, newer models are displayed upfront or on the end of the aisles. As a model life is around three to five years, with prices dropping each year, you need to check out older models that haven't been sold yet too. You'll find them in less prominent display areas. They may well have the same features you want. And if appearances are not important, ask about scratch and dent models. You'll save money there too.

If you are browsing top loader models, make it a point to open the lid and reach down inside. You need to easily access the very bottom of the tub. And make sure the pounds of clothing per load capacity information at least matches your needs—or possibly exceeds it. Running one load of towels instead of two might be much more convenient.

As to the best shopping days, Independence Day and almost any three-day holiday weekend will have sales. During the winter holidays, older models are often put on sale to make room for the latest releases. Even January and February can have clearance events. That's because the newest models are showcased at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Retailers will be eager to stock them so they must clear out old inventory first.

Once you find a washer you like, and you've negotiated a price, be sure to ask:

  • Does it come with a power cord? Show them your photo then buy the right one at the correct length.
  • Is there a delivery fee?
  • Will they haul away an old one? Cost?
  • Does it come with a drain hose? Depending on the kind of washer you buy, your old drain hose may work just fine, if it is in good condition. Show them your photo.
  • Does it come with a pair of washing machine hoses?

Don't feel pressured to buy whatever water supply hoses they have on hand. You have other options. Certified Appliance Accessories, for example, makes both braided stainless steel and EPDM synthetic rubber washing machine hoses.

If you're wondering what are the differences between the two kinds of hoses, read our blog. It will help you make an informed decision. You can buy Certified Appliance Accessories washing machine hoses online from companies like Lowe's, Walmart, Amazon, and other ecommerce sites.

But, no matter what, don't reuse any of your old water supply hoses! Any hose that carries water should be replaced every 5 years.

What NOT to wash in your new washer

Washers, old and new, have limitations on what they can handle. Washing the items below can spell trouble for that piece of laundry, or worse, for the new washer itself.

Beyond the obvious coins, pens, keys, wallets, and cell phones, do not wash:

  • Solid foam/memory foam pillows and pads
  • Clothing with sequins or bling
  • Swimwear
  • Leather
  • Items that have had flammable fluids spilled on them. Try presoaking first.
  • Neckties
  • Suits and jackets with interfacing between the inner and outer layers
  • Wool, cashmere, or velvet
  • Anything with rubber or latex like floor rugs
  • Unzipped articles of clothing. Zip them first.
  • Items covered in pet hair. Remove as much as you can beforehand before washing.

End of cycle

Who knew that how to buy a washing machine had so many variables?

If you're still concerned whether your washer will match your existing dryer's capacity, well, there's a reason that washers and dryers are often sold in pairs. If your dryer is getting up there in age, consider replacing it at the same time. That way you know they are matched.

Or, if you're not interested in purchasing a matched set but you do need a new dryer, be sure to read our blog on the Rough and Tumble World of the Clothes Dryer. It will take you through the necessary steps so you can a smart buying decision when it comes to dryers.

Happy laundry!

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Certified Appliance Accessories is not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.