Washing Machine Buying Guide
A good washing machine is essential to every household, and while they all serve the same purpose, the variety of machines available can make purchasing one a puzzle. This buying guide will take you through each type of machine, and explain what to look for in each to guarantee you’re making the most informed choice possible when shopping.
Introduction: what should I know?
The most limiting factor to be considered before you begin looking at washing machines is the available space in your home. If your home has one designated spot for a washing machine, you will need to choose a machine that will fit that space. Having several possible locations will open up your buying options, but it is still important to know the measurements of each space (don’t forget to leave a gap for pipes at the back, and room for the door to open at either the front or top!).
Once your space is figured out, the next factor to consider is the capacity you require, which depends on how much & how often you wash. Machines range in size from 5kgs to 10kgs, with a 7kg capacity machine being generally considered adequate for a four-person household. Having a rough budget estimate will also help you narrow down your decision.
Here is a brief summary of the different types of washing machines:
*Pricing guides are based off a 7kg capacity washing machine
Top-loading machines clean clothes either with an agitator or an impeller. The agitator is the design most people are familiar with; it consists of a tube or pole that twists up through the middle of the machine. In contrast, an impeller has low ridges that rotate on the floor of the machine to create turbulence and clean clothes. Both types remove dirt quickly, but are more rough on clothes than a front-loading machine. A model with an impeller offers maximum capacity, but is more likely to tangle clothes, and will cost more in electricity and water to run.
One advantage top-loading machines have over their front-loading cousins is the ability to open the machine after the wash cycle has begun. This allows you to add last-minute clothes into the wash tub, or to retrieve a forgotten phone from a pocket, something not possible in a front-loader, which needs to drain all water before it can be opened.
- Typically found at a cheaper purchase price than equivalently-sized front-loaders
- Shorter wash cycles than front-loading machines (15-40 minutes, compared to 1.5-2 hours)
- Items can be added or removed at any point during the wash cycle
- They can be loaded and unloaded while standing upright
- Uses more energy and water than a front-loading machine (of equivalent size), which means higher running costs.
- They tend to be rougher on clothes, and models with an impeller are more likely to tangle clothes.
- They use more detergent than front loaders, which will further increase running costs.
Large top-loading washing machines can have deep drums, so while you’re inspecting machines at a retailer it’s worth opening the machine and making sure you can reach all areas inside the drum. If you prefer being able to stand instead of crouch when loading and unloading your washing, then a top-loader is probably a better fit for you.
Best rated Top Loader with an Agitator
Best rated Top Loader with an Impeller
Front-loading washing machines have two big attractions; energy efficiency, and their space-saving design. With front-loading machines, you’ll also find that even entry-level units come with a variety of features or wash programs.
- Being able to fit under a bench or have a dryer stack on top makes these machines ideal for those with limited space.
- More efficient use of energy, water and detergent compared with a top-loading machine.
- Generally have faster spin speeds than top-loading machines (which makes drying easier too!).
- They’re gentle on clothes, so your garments will last longer.
- They can have a high initial purchase price.
- The door is low to the ground, which makes the design unsuitable for those uncomfortable with having to bend down to fill or empty the machine.
- Wash cycles can typically take around 2 hours to complete (although many models come with a ‘Quick Wash’ setting for getting through smaller loads in a hurry).
- The higher spin speed may also mean noisier spin cycles, although this will vary by manufacturer and model.
The reason for front-loading machines being considered more energy efficient than top-loaders is due to the differences in the way the two soak, agitate, and rinse clothes in water. A top-loading machine fills with a pre-selected amount of water, and washes using a vertical spin action while pumping water in and out. Front-loaders spin their drum horizontally, tumbling the clothes over and using gravity to effectively distribute water and detergent throughout the load. Modern front-loading machines use sensors to determine the appropriate amount of water to use for each wash, and they are able to be packed much fuller than an equivalently sized top-loader.
Best rated Front Loader
If you have very limited space, or are attracted by the all-in-one, “set and forget” style, then a combined washer and dryer could be the solution you’re looking for! However, be aware that the machine’s drying capacity is always less than its washing capacity, so if you want your washing completed in one go you’ll have to adjust your load accordingly. It’s also worth noting that combo machines are only available in the front-loading design.
- Super convenient! There’s no need to transfer clothes from the washer to a dryer.
- Significant space saving - this one machine can find in a pantry or under a bench.
- Most models don’t require outlet installation, and can be drained into a nearby sink.
- You’ll be sacrificing capacity unless you’re willing to spend upwards of $1600 on a big model.
- Very long wash & dry cycle length - from 3 to 6 hours.
- They are typically cited as being less reliable, having the pitfalls of both a dryer and a washer.
- They can have poor energy and water efficiency, although this is improving with newer models.
Best rated Washer/Dryer
If you’ve decided which type of washing machine fits your needs best, you can start to look at the extras and features that can turn a good choice into a great choice, and make a great machine indispensable.
If you think your clothes need special care and attention that an ordinary wash program can’t provide, look for a model that provides unique settings. A good machine will have you covered whether you need to get dirt out of sports gear, or want to use a ‘Handwash’ mode for delicate items; with some models even letting you program and save your own custom wash setting.
The washing drum or tub will take a lot of wear and tear, so it’s important that it is durable enough to last the lifetime of your machine. Higher quality washing machines will have a stainless steel drum, while entry level machines may have drums made of porcelain or reinforced plastic. Porcelain drums may chip over time, while plastic drums are very durable, although neither are as gentle on clothes as stainless steel.
Automatic Water Level Sensors
This feature is the key to ensuring your machine is as water-efficient as possible by detecting the washing load size and adjusting the water level to suit it. Assuming you keep this machine for 8-10 years, an efficient machine could bring you substantial savings, which offsets your initial outlay.
If you iron a lot, this feature can help reduce the time you spend getting those wrinkles out. Various models will achieve this in different ways; some through steam, others through altering the rinse and spin cycles.
Washing machines can vibrate a lot during their spin cycle, with front loading machines being more susceptible to vibration. Adjustable legs are one way to keep the unit steady, as long as they are correctly installed when setting up. Some top-loading machines will automatically adjust an unbalanced load mid-cycle, by either alternating the spin speed, or adding more water.
Adjustable Spin Speed
Spin speeds typically range from 1000-1600 rpm, with higher speeds reducing drying time, but resulting in stiffer, more wrinkle-prone clothes. Being able to manually select the correct spin speed can help your clothes last longer, and can make ironing easier, along with saving power.
Controls & Display
When exploring washing machines at a retail store, make sure you can easily read and adjust the controls, and that these controls logically make sense. The last thing you would want is to receive a machine and wonder why there are 25 different buttons on it. These buttons also need to be responsive, and sturdy enough to last the life of the machine.
Ease of Installation
It’s worth looking at whether or not you’ll be able to install the washing machine yourself, or if you will need assistance. Some retailers and manufacturers will include the cost of installation in their pricing. Make sure you can fit the machine through all doorways, and if the machine will be installed above ground floor, make sure it is well supported underneath.
You want a washing machine that you will be happy to use for the next 10 years, so spending a bit of extra time researching and choosing the right model for you is well worthwhile. Don’t forget to keep the dimensions of your allotted space on hand, as not all machines of the same capacity are the same size!
Most reviews discuss capacity, wash speed and noise level, with many also covering extra details, such as the usefulness of wash programs, or how often they may need repairs. If you’d like to know about one particular aspect of a machine, you are welcome to leave a question on that product page for either the manufacturer, or other product owners to answer.