Is A Front Load Washing Machine Right for You?

Front Load Washer

Are you thinking of purchasing a front load washing machine? Considering that the average family runs 300 loads of laundry every year, a front loader could be a good fit for your household. If you're in the market for a new washing machine you should definitely consider buying a front loader.

Still, they're not for everybody and knowing the pro's and con's can help you make an informed buying decision. We'll take you thru everything you need to know to make an informed buying decision.

Front Load vs. Top Load

Initial Price

Front Load
  • As a general rule, front load machines are more expensive than top loaders. However, as front loaders have become more popular, the price of entry level models has dropped as well. 
  • Although the initial investment is higher, the efficiency of a front loader will save money over time.
  • Many higher-end front load washers come with luxury features such as a self-cleaning cycle and a steam setting. Some models will even have a reversible washer door to help it adapt to your floor plan!
Top Load
  • Frequently less expensive than front loaders, with many entry level models priced near or under the $600 mark.
  • Top loaders are commonly used in locations where there is a greater focus on the initial price versus the overall cost savings (apartments, etc.).

Energy / Operating Costs

Energy efficiency is the defining difference between top and front load washers. A front loader can use up to a third less energy, water and detergent than top load washers. 

Electricity

As a general rule, a front loader of the same size (or even slightly smaller) will be more expensive to purchase than a top loader. Although the increased price may be negligible when you consider the environmental savings. Keep in mind that the savings you'll see in operating costs (water, energy, detergent) may take many months to recoup. 

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    Front loaders are especially efficient when washing clothes in warm water, but they are about the same as top loaders when it comes to cold washing cycles.
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    Less hot water is drawn from your water heater.  Although some washers have a heating element to bring the water to temperature, many don't. Since front load washers use less water to clean clothes, your water heater won't need to work as hard to supply the washer with hot water.
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    Because front loaders have a faster spin cycle, more water is forced out of the clothes. This means that your clothes will spend less time in the dryer, which is an extremely energy-intensive appliance.

It's been estimated that if you wash your clothes twice a week using warm water you'll have an annual savings of roughly $50 when using a front loader. If you typically wash clothes more frequently, you'll find that the front loader will make up the price difference even faster . . . at least from an electricity savings standpoint.

Water

Front load washers use less water than top load units. Even High Efficiency (HE) Top Load Washers will use about 5 gallons more water with each cycle than a front loader. This is because a top loader uses a deep pool of water where the clothes are fully submersed. Front load units use gravity to "toss" the clothes through a shallow pool of water and detergent. Less water is used since the clothes are never fully submersed.

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    The average top loader uses between 30 to 40 gallons of water each load.
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    A front load washer will use 15 to 20 gallons (and sometimes even less).
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    Front loaders also  typically have a larger load capacity. This allows the user to wash more clothes with each washing cycle, which results in saving both time and money.

Cleaning Performance

Front load washers have a more efficient mechanical action because the clothes tumble due to gravity. In essence,  they scrub themselves by knocking against other clothes, the abrasiveness of detergent and the wash tub. There's more energy and force present during the cleaning process on a front loader than the twisting action of a top load washer. 

Since the wash motion is more efficient, it does a better job at cleaning the clothes. A washers cleaning performance is influenced by these 4 elements:

  1. Time
  2. Mechanical Action (movement of the washer)
  3. Chemical Action (detergents)
  4. Thermal Action (temperature of water)
Front Load
  • When washing a smaller load on the correct washing cycle with a quality detergent, the front load washer has all the tools it needs to get clothes clean.
  • Front load washers always win the stain-removal test. 
  • Many times it's not even necessary to pre-treat stains.
  • Controlled tests indicate that more soils are removed from fabric with front load washers than top loaders.
Top Load
  • Whether you have an agitator or not, a top load washer is not as effective at cleaning as a front loader. It's the difference between a twisting motion versus a tumbling wash.
  • If you're okay with pre-treating stains, a top loader should be sufficient.
  • For most households, a top load washer's cleaning performance is adequate.

Overall Usage 

Front Load
  • Time: Most wash cycles on a front load washer will take more time to finish. This is because the clothes are only in the water part of the time while the barrel is tumbling. However, this does result in cleaner clothes, and in addition clothes will also last longer since there's less wear and tear. 
  • Noise: There's significantly less noise during the spin cycle on front load machines. 
  • Vibration: Many front loaders are designed with vibration control to help stabilize the internal drum. These units are specifically designed to be installed in areas such as closets or other locations that may be prone to a rattling washer.
  • Wear and Tear: There's less wear and tear on your clothes since a central agitator isn't used. Instead, the clothes gently use gravity to tumble wash.
Top Load
  • Time: Shorter wash cycles (see above).
  • Wear and Tear: Clothes can be ripped apart if they get caught on the central agitator. 
  • Convenience: The washer door can be opened during the wash cycle. If you start a load, then find something you missed, you can easily open the door and add the item into the wash. 
  • Ergonomically Friendly: Since the laundry is loaded at waist height it's ergonomically helpful - especially for those with back issues. 

Design Reliability

As a general rule, smaller laundry loads are safer for front loaders because of the design. If you overload a front loader you'll be placing a great deal of extra pressure on the rear bearing. As it is, the rear bearing is a stress point, but if you add extra weight from frequent oversized loads you'll be setting your washer up for repairs.

Although, it should be noted that running small loads versus several large loads may protect your washer, it will also increase your energy costs. A few large loads here and there won't likely hurt your machine, but if you tend to like the larger loads, you may be better suited for a top loader. 

Front Load
  • Because gravity is used to turn the clothes in a front loader (instead of a central agitator) fewer repairs are needed.
  • There is less wear and tear on the major parts.
  • The rear bearing is a major stress point (see above).
Top Load
  • Top Loaders have more parts in general than front loaders. This means there is a greater opportunity for breakdowns and repairs. 
  • The central agitator used to move the clothes, places stress on the washer's hardware.

Service Life

  • Many consumers find that top load units are just as prone to repairs as front load washers.
  • Washing machines, just like all other appliances, are built with more plastic parts than the older units they replaced.
  • All washing machines are built with more electronics. The electronics help the washer operate more efficiently with many more bells and whistles than the older units, but it also leaves more opportunity for things to go wrong.
  • Unfortunately, whether you purchase a top load or front load washer, it's service life will likely not be as long as previous models.

Convenience

If floor space is in short supply in your laundry room, a front load washer is designed with the option to sit side-by-side or stack on top of each other.  A stacking kit will keep the units securely in place (be sure to order a stacking kit that is made for your washer).

There are, however, downsides to stacking your washer and dryer. If you're short, you may need a step stool to reach the controls on the dryer, and if service and repairs are needed you'll likely need to unstack the units. Keep in mind, that if you need to replace one machine before the other, your options may be limited if they are stacked.

Many people find it uncomfortable to load/unload a front load washer. This may especially be the case if you have back issues. Purchasing a top load washing machine is of course one way to solve this problem, however, there are pedestals available for front load units that not only raise the height of the washer, but also provides additional storage space.

The convenience of adding items after you've started a load is pretty much over with a front loader. Although high-end units often offer a "pause button" or even a "hatch" in the door which will allow you to add a last minute item to your load.

Many houses don't accommodate a front load washer. Frequently there isn't space to open the washer's door if it's located in a laundry closet. There are floor plans where a top load washer simply fits better. 

Maintenance / Repairs

As a general rule, there's less maintenance and clean-up necessary with top load washers. One of the most common complaints with front load washing machines is the smell. If not properly maintained, mold or mildew will begin to grow and a musky smell can develop and even spread to your clean laundry. 

Regular maintenance will prevent this from occurring with front loaders. But top loaders seldom have this issue because moisture is able to evaporate since the door can easily be left open when the washer is not in use. 

As a general rule, there's less maintenance and clean-up necessary with top load washers. However, taking a few simple preventative steps can prevent a mold or mildew problem from developing, especially with a front loader:


Pro's and Con's: Front vs. Top Load Washers

Pro's

Front Loaders
  • Can use up to 50% less water, depending on the model.
  • Frequently offers more cycle options.
  • Less lent is created.
  • More energy efficient when warm water is used.
  • Less detergent is needed.
  • Spins at a higher speed which removes more water from the clothes. This reduces the amount of time clothes spend in the dryer.
  • In most cases, front loaders are much quieter than top load washers.
Top Loaders
  • Faster cycle times since clothes are fully immersed in water. Top loaders typically run 15 to 30 minute cycle times, where front loaders are nearly an hour.
  • Frequently have a larger load capacity.
  • Clothes can be added in mid-cycle.
  • Fabric softener is more effective with top load washers.
  • Top loaders are more energy efficient when cold water is used. 

Con's

Front Loaders
  • Higher up-front purchase price.
  • Longer wash cycle time.
  • Once the load begins you can not open the washer to add cloths.
  • Smaller load capacity.
Top Loader
  • More lint is created due to the friction of clothes.
  • Uses more water and detergent.
  • Generally noisier than front loaders. 
  • Less energy efficient with warm water cycles.
  • Do not use too much fabric softener.
  • Do not use too much detergent.
  • Always allow the drum and gaskets to dry between laundry sessions.
  • After each laundry session wipe down the door and gasket.
  • Once a month, run a cleaning cycle with Affresh (or another cleaner).
  • CLICK HERE to read our extensive article. 

ENERGY STAR and HE Top Loaders

ENERGY STAR Washing Machines

An ENERGY STAR washing machine uses about 45% less water and 25% less energy than a regular clothes washer. Outfitted with a larger tub capacity you'll run fewer loads of laundry to clean the same amount of clothes. The nice thing is, the ENERGY STAR rating isn't just available for front load models . . . there are top loaders as well!

An ENERGY STAR certified washing machine will save you money. In fact, it's been estimated that if all washers were ENERGY STAR certified, more than 4 billion dollars could be saved each year. In addition, they're also environmentally friendly and can prevent over 19 billion pounds of greenhouse gases - the equivalent of keeping 1.7 million cars off the road! 

If you have your heart set on a front-load washer you may want to pause for a moment and consider an ENERGY STAR top loader. Here are a few things you should know:

  • New technology enables these units to wash without filling the tub with water.
  • Sophisticated design "flips" or "spins" clothes through a stream of water.
  • Sensors are used on many models to monitor the temperature and water levels.
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    Clothes are rinsed by being sprayed with high-pressure water versus being soaked in a tub of water.

Each ENERGY STAR washer is slightly different, but this chart will help you compare between front and top load ENERGY STAR units versus non-ENERGY STAR units. Click Here to enter your specific info in order to determine your energy usage. Here's what purchasing an ENERGY STAR certified washer can mean to your annual savings:

ENERGY STAR

Stan​dard

Annual Savings

Water Savings

13 gallons

23 gallons

3,000 gallons

Energy Savings

280 kWh

up to 1,300 kWh

$50 average

High-Efficiency (HE) Top Load Washing Machines

HE Top Loaders were designed to compete with front loaders and meet the revised government standards on water and energy usage. 

The first models available had plenty of performance issues, but over time these washers have become very reliable and offer excellent cleaning performance. Here's a few things you should consider regarding HE Top Load Washers:

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    HE Top Loaders have large capacity wash tubs without agitators.
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    Since the wash tub is significantly deeper, it may be difficult for some  individuals to reach the bottom.
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    They do a better job of cleaning clothes than agitator top load models.
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    They use less energy and water than agitator top loaders.
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    Compared to agitator top loaders, they are gentler on clothes. 
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    They have longer wash cycles.
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    They are more expensive than top load models. Although, they will likely make up the upfront purchase price over their service life.
Pro's
  • Compared to standard top loaders, they save water and energy.
  • Compared to a front load washer, they are slightly less expensive.
  • Ergonomically friendly - Eliminates the need to bend over to load and unload the washer.
  • No need to purchase a base to raise the washer to a comfortable height.
  • Mold, mildew and odors are seldom seen in top loaders. 
Con's
  • Compared to front loaders, they use slightly more water.
  • Unlike front loaders, they can not be stacked.
  • Compared to traditional top loaders, they have longer wash cycles.
  • Proper loading is critical to avoid clothes tangling during the wash.
  • Compared to front loaders, the spin cycle is not as fast. This means your clothes will require more time in the dryer.
  • Compared to top loaders, the spin cycle is much faster, reducing the amount of time spent in the dryer. 

Should I Buy A Front Load Washing Machine

After seeing all the advantages of a front load washing machine you may be tempted to abandon your old top loader and replace it with a shiny new front loader. Certainly from an energy savings and environmental standpoint this makes sense.

However, you should keep in mind that it could take a year or more to recoup the additional cost . . . especially if you are replacing your top loader before it has reached the end of it's service life. In other words, in most situations you're better off waiting to purchase a front loader after your top loader has died. This is especially true if you are a light user.

But if your clothes washer is over 10 years old, it may make financial sense to upgrade to a front loader. This is because your older unit is significantly less efficient and it's likely costing you over $210 annually in utility costs.

If you're in need of a washing machine, it does make sense to purchase a front loader. In the end, they're far more cost effective and environmentally friendly. In addition, if you are a heavy user the higher price tag can be recouped much quicker.

Check out these handy links to help save you money:

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    CLICK HERE to see if there are any rebates or special offers in your area.
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    CLICK HERE to find and compare ENERGY STAR washers using this handy guide.

Read our article on how to measure for a new washer and dryer. It will also help you prepare for delivery, saving you time and frustration.