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Jul 03, 2023Jul 03, 2023

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We break down the pros and cons of each for homeowners.

The type of washing machine you use matters when it comes to keeping your clothes looking brand-new. There are two types of washing machines you can buy—front-load and top-load—but which one is right for you? The answer depends on several factors, including your needs, budget, and home.

Traditional top-load washing machines have been popular for years because of their reliability and simplicity—but front-load washers offer key advantages over top-load models, like removing tough stains more easily and conserving energy and water.

While top-load and front-load washing machines ultimately achieve the same goal—remove odors and stains—each type has pros and cons. If you're trying to decide between a front-load and a top-load washer, here's everything you need to know before making your purchase.

Unlike a traditional top-load washer, where you load and unload the laundry from the top, a front-load washer features a door on the front of the machine. The drum rotates horizontally, lifting and dropping your laundry in a tumbling motion.

Pros of a Front-Load Washer:

Front-load washers are generally more energy-efficient and water-efficient. They're also gentler on clothes and better for stain removal, thanks to the tumbling motion, which knocks laundry items against each other and allows water and detergent to penetrate fabrics better. Not to mention, while not all front-load washers are stackable, many models allow you to place a dryer on top, making them more space-efficient.

Cons of a Front-Load Washer:

Although front-load washers offer several benefits, they require more maintenance and could be more expensive. You may need to clean the rubber gasket around the door regularly, or mold and mildew can build up. Most models also don't allow you to add laundry mid-wash—so you'll have to wait for the next cycle if you forget your favorite shirt—and they can take longer to complete a cycle. Front-load washers also take a little more effort, because you need to bend over to access the drum.

Top-load washers feature a lid or door on the top of the machine where you load and unload the laundry. These machines feature a vertically-oriented drum that agitates your laundry using a central post with fins, which moves your clothes around to remove dirt. More modern top-load washers feature an impeller (a low-profile cone or disc) that's more efficient and can spin more water out of clothes.

Pros of a Top-Load Washer:

While top-load washers aren't as advanced as front-load alternatives, they require less maintenance and are easier to keep clean. Top-load washers are also generally more affordable, clean clothes faster, and allow you to add to a wash once a cycle has been started. You can also pre-soak your laundry—something that very few front-load washers support.

Cons of a Top-Load Washer:

As mentioned, top-load washers are less efficient and less effective at cleaning harsh stains. You also can't stack top-load washers (for obvious reasons), so if your laundry space is limited, you may have to choose a front-load washer.

When deciding between a front-loader and a top-loader, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and what works best in your home. While front-loaders typically offer better performance, top-loaders can still get the job done. Here's how the two types compare.

Keeping your laundry clean is the number one job of a washing machine. While both front-load and top-load washers are effective for cleaning, front-loaders are better at removing dirt and stains, thanks to the horizontal drum rotation and tumbling motion. The design of a front-load washer repeatedly lifts and drops your laundry, using gravity to knock clothes against each other. This method is generally more effective than the agitating motion of a top-load machine.

If cost is a big factor, entry-level top-load washers are generally more affordable. That said, many of today's most popular top-load and front-load washers are roughly the same price. If you look at our roundups for the best top-load washers and best front-load washers, you'll see that the cost is similar.

While water usage can vary depending on various factors, like how often you do laundry, load size, and the selected wash cycle, front-load washers use less water than top-load models. On average, front-load washers use around 10 to 20 gallons of water per wash cycle, while top-load washers use double that. That's a significant difference over the course of the year.

Front-load washers are also more energy-efficient because there's less water to heat during a warm or hot wash cycle. Many front-load washers are also Energy Star-certified, which means they meet specific energy-efficient criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More advanced models also offer features that contribute to energy efficiency, like automatic load sensing and temperature settings.

Front-load washers feature a gasket around the door to prevent water from leaking. As a result, they require more maintenance, like using a washcloth to dry the gasket and leaving the door open between cycles. Failing to regularly dry the gasket could lead to mold growth and funky smells, potentially impacting the cleanliness of your laundry. Top-load washers, on the other hand, require little maintenance and are much less likely to have mold or mildew problems.

The longevity and reliability of your washing machine depend on various factors, like build quality, how often you do laundry, and whether or not you perform regular maintenance. That said, modern washing machines should last 10 to 15 years. Top-load washers generally feature a more straightforward design with fewer moving parts, so you may not have to deal with as many repairs over time. On the other hand, front-load washers feature a more complex drum design and a door gasket that needs constant upkeep.

Following laundry best practices when washing can also affect how long your machine lasts. Don't overload your washer, and only use compatible detergents. Inspecting your machine every few months is also recommended to ensure hoses, seals, and connections are in good shape. While there’s no guarantee your washer will last for a decade or longer, performing regular maintenance, including repairs, can extend its lifespan.

There are general differences in appearance between top-load washers and front-load washers, from design to size and button layout. Top-load washers are often more compact and feature a minimal, more functional aesthetic. Meanwhile, front-load washers have thick, clear doors that allow you to watch the cleaning cycle run its course—and you can stack them. Washing machines traditionally feature industrial designs that are more functional than beautiful, so the appearance comes down to your preference.

You can't go wrong with a top-load washer or a front-load washer, but if a front-load washer fits your needs, we believe it's the better choice overall. These machines remove tough stains more easily and are more energy-efficient and water-efficient. Front-load washers are also stackable, which is great for small laundry rooms, and offer more advanced wash features, like automatic load sensing. Front-load washers aren't without faults—regular upkeep is essential—but the pros outweigh top-load alternatives.

Brandon Russell is a freelance writer covering gear and technology. He started his journey as a news writer at a small newspaper and later began reviewing smartphones, movies, and video games. In his free time, he enjoys the slower, more intentional experience of using a 35mm film camera and making short videos about movies he grew up watching.

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