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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Laundry detergent maker Tide, in their FAQ section, also answers questions about HE detergent which you may find useful.
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:
Maytag divides it out differently:
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?
cnet.com 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:
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.
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.
So, you've done as much homework as you can, and you have your important information with you:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.