Along with a clothes dryer, a well-chosen washing machine will help you keep your wardrobe looking sharp and linens fresh and ready to use.
Basic budget-friendly washers come with white exteriors, mechanical controls, and a limited number of agitation and spin speeds.
As the machine's price increases, it might gain touch pad or touch screen controls and more sophisticated settings. Some high-end machines even remember your favorite options. More-expensive washers are also more likely to come in fashion colors with matching dryers -- a boon for laundry spaces that sit in or near living spaces such as the kitchen, family room, or bathroom.
Here are some basic features to evaluate as you pick your new washing machine.
New washing machines are available in three basic types: regular top-loading machines with center-post agitators, top loaders without center post agitators (also known as high efficiency top loaders), and front loaders.
Regular top loaders: Once these washers fill their tubs with water, an agitator swirls the laundry to remove grime, stains, odors, and other dirt. Loading and unloading these washers is easy because you can reach the drum from the top. Water temperature options usually include hot (to kill bacteria and keep whites bright), warm (to keep colors bright while protecting fabric), and cold (to protect dark colors and delicate fabrics and for the final rinse cycle for all fabrics). Although regular top loaders are the least expensive machines, they use the most energy overall.
High-efficiency top loaders: These machines use a variety of directional movements such as lifting and tumbling to get laundry clean. This action causes less wear and tear on the laundry than agitators do. High-efficiency washers fill the tub only partway, which means they use less water than top loaders. They also spin faster, which reduces drying time and, therefore, energy consumption. High-efficiency top loaders cost more than regular top loaders.
Front loaders: These machines clean laundry by lifting it to the top of the tub, then dropping it back down into the water. The result is cleaner clothes using less energy than high-efficiency top-load washers. Even faster spin speeds than high-efficiency top loaders means reduced drying time and energy use. These models can be installed under countertops or can be stacked with a dryer to save space -- something that can't be done with a top loader.
Editor's Tip: Shop for a washing machine that bears the U.S. Department of Energy's yellow Energy Star label. This label means the machine uses approximately 50 percent less water than standard washers, as well as 30 percent less energy. Get more information about this program at energystar.gov.
When selecting a washer, review both the capacity and loading type before selecting a model. Capacity depends upon the size of the wash basket, or tub.
Households that wash several loads daily might like the convenience of a large-capacity washer. Smaller-capacity models, which use less water and energy, can be economical for singles and couples. In general, you can choose from the following sizes:
Basic washing machines include cycles for delicates, permanent-press fabrics, and regular fabrics.
Higher-end machines include a greater variety of cycles to zero in on the needs of specific fabrics and garment types. They might include these specialty settings:
Today's washing machines offer a wide variety of features that save time and improve how your clothes are washed. Think through which features you will actually use before adding their cost onto the final purchase price of your new washer.