Washing Machines: Top Loaders vs. Front Loaders by Conal

Hey Appliance Fans,

If you’ve ever visited the store that rhymes with Bal-Mart or visited this site, then you know there’s a darn good reason as to why we wear clothes.  Go ahead, click the link I just provided; however, make sure you’re sitting down and NOT eating anything.  Scary, isn’t it?

Anyway, eventually you’ll need to wash your clothes which means you’ll either make a trip to the laundromat or decide to buy a washer and dryer for your home.  Let’s concentrate on the second option for now which actually breaks down into three sub-options: traditional top loaders, high-efficiency top loaders, and front loaders.

Traditional Top Loaders:

“A Clockwork Traditional Top Loader”: When I wash your clothes, I use a bit of the ultra-violence.

There’s a reason why we call these guys traditional.  It’s what I grew up with and you probably did too.  There’s an agitator in the middle of the basket which bangs your clothes all around the interior.  Yes I said “bangs” because traditional top loaders are the most violent on your clothes.  These washers are why you have so much accumulation in your dryer’s lint trap.  The agitator is pushing against your clothes which frays the fibers on your garments.  When you throw the clothes in your dryer, the dryer removes the frayed fibers and they are caught in the lint trap.  I bet you throw that lint away, don’t you?  Well don’t.  Save it because it makes great tinder to start a fire.  Listen, you never know when you’ll need it for some survival situation.  Ok, ok so I watch too much Man Vs. Wild, Survivor Man, and Dual Survival.  You don’t have to save the lint, but don’t blame me when you reach the peak of Mt. Everest and your matches are wet.  Incidentally that agitator in the center of the basket takes up room, so generally traditional top loaders have less capacity than high efficiency top and front load washers.

Here’s another thing about top loaders: they use the most water per cycle than the other types of laundry.  A whole lot more—sometimes up to 44 gallons for an entire cycle!  Let’s say you run the washer five times a week.  That means that you could be using as much as 880 gallons of water a month (5 X 44 = 220 X 4 weeks/month = 880) just washing your clothes.  If you have a big family, that number could easily jump to 1,000 gallons or more.

Now I know it sounds like I’m bashing traditional top loaders, but I don’t want you to interpret it like that—I have one at home.  They definitely have a niche in the marketplace.  Their price points are usually the most aggressive out of the three options and generally speaking, the wash times are less than your other washer choices.

Pros of Traditional Top Loaders:

  • Lower Price Point
  • Faster Wash Times (generally speaking)
  • What we’re “used” to


  • Harsher on your clothes
  • Slower RPMs on the spin cycle meaning more moisture left in your clothes for a longer dry time
  • Less capacity (generally speaking)
  • Use an incredible amount of water per cycle

Brands to Consider:

  • GE
  • Whirlpool
  • Maytag
  • Amana
  • Estate

High Efficiency Top Loaders

The interior of a Whirlpool Cabrio

These units are on the market for consumers who are fearful of front loaders, but recognize the importance of water efficiency.  There is no agitator in the baskets of these units.  Instead, there is an impeller at the bottom that’s designed to pull the clothes into the water.  The water will never fill the entire basket hence the water usage is less than traditional top loaders, but still more than front loaders.  It’s VERY important that if you purchase this type of washer (or front loader) to switch to HE detergent.  This is a formula specifically designed for machines that are water efficient.  Basically this detergent won’t create as much suds during the wash.  As Americans, we equate suds with cleaning power when bubbles in the soap have NOTHING to do with cleaning at all.

A great feature of HE Top Loaders is that their spin cycle is MUCH faster than traditional top loaders—sometimes even rivaling front loaders’ spin cycle.  A faster spin is very important when we’re talking about the overall energy efficiency of the washer and dryer combined.  Higher RPMs on a spin cycle removes more moisture in the clothes which means you won’t be running your dryer as long (a dryer uses way more energy than your washer).  This concept also applies to front loaders which I’ll discuss in a second.

Don’t freak out when you use the washer for the first time and the wash cycle seems to take forever.  It will take more time than a traditional top loader.  This is completely normal because the washer is using less water and needs more time to rinse the clothes.  Your super water efficient dishwasher is the same way (which I’m sure you’ve already noticed).

Pros of HE Top Loaders:

  • More water efficient than traditional top loaders
  • Faster RPMs in the spin cycle
  • Larger capacity than traditional top loaders (generally speaking)
  • Gentler on your clothes than traditional top loaders

Cons of HE Top Loaders:

  • Not as water efficient as front loaders
  • Higher price point than traditional top loaders
  • Slower spin cycle than front loaders (generally speaking)

Brands to Consider:

  • Whirlpool
  • Maytag
  • GE
  • Fisher Paykel
  • LG
  • Samsung

Front Loaders:


A colorful display of Electrolux Washers

When I’m helping customers in our showroom, it seems that front loaders get a bad rap or at least they’re hearing bad things about front loaders and I think I know why.  One of the biggest complaints with front loaders of the early 2000’s was that they would develop mold and they would emit an odor.  It’s true they did, but manufacturers have solved this problem.  First, if you open any of the doors on a front loader and look at the gasket inside, you’ll see some drainage holes.  This gets water out of the gasket that might have remained after the cycle is finished.  Second, many of the front loaders today have a “clean basket” or “sanitize basket” cycle.  This is a wash program NOT designed to wash your clothes, but rather to clean out the interior of the washer.  The water temperature during this cycle can reach up to 170 degrees and it kills/washes away any mold that could potentially build up.  Depending how often you use your washer will depend on how often you utilize the clean washer cycle, but assume that you’ll use it about once a month.  Most odors can be avoided if you leave the washer door open after you’re finished a cycle.  I’d recommend this for any top loaders as well.  We all know that mold loves dark, damp places and as much as appliances have advanced technologically, they are still at Mother Nature’s mercy.  By keeping the door slightly ajar, the interior will dry out with less chance of an odor developing.

Use HE Detergent to avoid this.

Now that I’ve tackled the smell issue, let’s talk about why I love front loaders the most.  They are the most water efficient type of washer on the market sometimes using as little as twelve gallons in a cycle!  Front load washers are also the gentlest on your clothes.  Remember that there is no agitator grinding against your clothes fraying them.  This means that your clothes will last longer, retain their color longer, and you’ll notice less lint being captured by the dryer.  How does a front loader clean your clothes if there isn’t an agitator?  While the drum is spinning, it’s dropping your clothes into the water located at the bottom of the drum.  It’s using gravity to “slosh” the water through your garments.

Don’t forget that a lack of an agitator means more capacity in front loaders.  Some brands offer a 5.1 cubic foot drum.  That’s HUGE and will fit a bunch of clothes or bulky items like comforters or jeans.  Take advantage of that capacity when loading the washer– fill that sucker up to the brim!  As long as you can close the door without using force (unlike how you close your suitcase when you go on vacation), you haven’t over filled it.

Make sure this logo appears on your detergent.

There’s yet another reason that I love front loaders: energy efficiency.  Yes, we talked about these units using less water, but their spin cycle is MUCH faster than other forms of washers.  Some units can spin at 1400 RPMs!  I really can’t describe how fast that is unless you see it with your own eyes.  Spinning your clothes at that speed will remove ridiculous amounts water before you put them in the dryer.  You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to know that less moisture in your clothes means a shorter dry time.  The water and energy savings of a front load laundry pair basically pays for the dryer over the lifetime of the machines.

The most important thing to know about front loaders if you’re switching from a top loader is that front loaders clean your clothes differently.  Don’t expect to see tons of water and bubbles filling up the drum during a wash cycle.  As I mentioned before, Americans equate cleaning with lots of suds and water splashing everywhere and it’s just not true.  Just like high efficiency top loaders, make sure to use HE detergent.

Pros of Front Loaders:

  • Less water usage
  • Gentle on your clothes
  • Fast Spin Cycle
  • Large Capacity

Cons of Front Loaders:

  • Higher price point
  • Mold is a thing of the past, use the “sanitize drum cycle”!

Brands to Consider:

  • Whirlpool
  • GE
  • Maytag
  • Electrolux
  • Frigidaire
  • Bosch (compact laundry only)
  • Miele (compact laundry only)
  • Samsung
  • LG

Of course all of your questions can be answered by any member of our sales team.  We make it up as we go along.  Just kidding, America.  Until next time!

-The Kieffer’s Guy

As always, don’t forget to visit the Kieffer’s website for all of your appliance needs in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington DC!