How to Choose a Washing Machine That's Best for Your Needs

Choose the best washing machine to suit your laundry needs and navigate all the available features with our washing machine buying guide.

When considering how to choose a washing machine, a little advanced planning is in order. Know your needs. For example, how much time do you spend doing laundry? Do you have a large family requiring daily clothes laundering, or are you single or a couple with no children? It's also important to consider where your laundry room or your washer and dryer will be. If you're an apartment dweller, available space is probably an issue. If you have a multilevel home, space is probably still an issue, but more from a sense of location within your home and how far you have to go to change a load. Do you need to consider wheelchair accessibility or other health needs?

Thinking about when and how you do your laundry will help you compare washing machines and decide what size of washer or dryer to purchase and what cycle options are essential to your family's needs. If you're energy-conscious (or are trying to become so), several options and models are available to meet this requirement. When buying a washer and dryer, the main points to consider are cost, loading type, size, capacity, cycles, and energy efficiency.

Front Load or Top Load?

laundry room with shelves above washer and dryer

The most obvious feature to choose between when buying a washer is whether to pick a front-loading or top-loading version. Each comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Standard top-load washers that spin laundry around with a central agitator are usually the cheapest option upfront. However, they may cost more long-term because they use more energy and water. Newer models don't have this agitator, which can be harsh on clothing. A top loader sans agitator also allows more space for your laundry. Top loaders are a good choice if you have back or knee problems since you can reach in the washer with little bending.

A front-load washer does not have an agitator and is typically more expensive upfront. However, they spin faster, extract more water (which decreases drying time), and use much less water during a cycle, making them energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Front loaders are more accessible to wheelchair users. They're also suitable for small spaces since you can stack them. If you wash a lot of linens, front-loading washers are better at doing this without going out of balance.

Standard Washing Machine Sizes

Measure the space where you want your washer to go before shopping. Typically, washers and dryers measure from about 24 to 33 inches wide. For loading and unloading, you should allow 36 inches in front of a washer and about 42 inches for a dryer. Installing a washer and dryer about 15 inches off the floor will make loading and unloading more comfortable. Look for sturdy pedestal bases specifically made for your models of laundry appliances.

Consider a combination washer-dryer if you have very little space to work with. These efficient appliances, designed for small spaces, are available in stacked, side-by-side, or all-in-one units. Stacked washer and dryer units usually occupy less than 33 square inches of floor space and may be more accessible to people who have difficulty bending or stooping. Before selecting one of these styles, consider where the combo will be located, such as in a closet or an upstairs bedroom or bath.

Washer Capacity Guide

When selecting a washer, consider how much laundry it will hold. Capacity depends on the size of the wash basket. Families with children who do several loads daily may like the convenience of a large-capacity washer to reduce the number of loads needed. Smaller-capacity models, which use less water and energy, can be economical for singles and couples.

Here is a list of typical washer capacities:

Compact: 1.7 to 2.3 cubic feet

Medium: 2.1 to 2.5 cubic feet

Large: 2.7 to 3 cubic feet

Extra-large: 3.1 or more cubic feet

Types of Washer Cycles

Basic washers have between one and four agitation and spin speeds. Some top-of-the-line models offer additional options. Preset wash cycles combine differing speeds, temperatures, and agitation levels to clean specific clothing types. An average washer may have regular, permanent press and delicate cycles. High-end models may offer additional cycles, such as a heavy-duty cycle for work clothes, jeans, and towels, as well as presoak and prewash cycles for dealing with difficult stains.

Built-in steam cleaning gets rid of stains and wrinkles without pretreatments. Steam is also beneficial for reducing allergens. Think about the types of clothing you'll be washing most often to help you make a decision. Water-saver options recycle water from lightly soiled loads. Water temperature options usually include hot/cold, warm/cold, and cold/cold. Some more expensive models may feature additional temperature combinations to suit more fabrics.

Quick-wash settings get clothes cleaner and faster. Controls can be mechanical, with rotary knobs and push buttons, or electronic, with features such as digital displays or touch screens that allow you to customize cycles further.

Energy Efficiency

High-efficiency (water- and energy-saving) washers save energy and extend the life of your clothes and linens. Look for Energy Star horizontal-axis, front-loading washers, or top-loading washers, which tumble clothes instead of twisting or rubbing them. These models, which don't have agitators, use less water and energy than top-loaders of the same size. Some machines may use a special high-efficiency detergent. The amount of detergent needed depends on the load size, not the water used, so check the manufacturer's instructions.

Other Special Features to Look For

Before shopping, be sure to read washing machine reviews and compare washing machine prices. You should also consider some of the following washing machine bonus features:

  • Delay starts, common on dishwashers, allow you to turn on the washing machine when utility rates are lower.
  • Smart washers come with internet connectivity so you can remotely monitor laundry.
  • Automatic water level control selects the right amount of water for each load to prevent overfilling.
  • Internal water heaters reduce demand on your home water heater. The heater also improves cleaning performance.
  • Polypropylene and stainless-steel washtubs don't chip or rust as enameled steel can. Smooth interior surfaces are easier on clothes.
  • Selectable spin speeds of 700 to 1,600 revolutions per minute mean that clothes are almost dry when they leave the washer. Drying gets done in less time and at lower temperatures.
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