Front Load vs Top Load Washers: The Definitive Guide

front-load-vs-top-load-washers

In the battle of front load vs. top load washers, which reigns supreme? In this article, we’ll examine the pros and cons and declare a victor.

Although top load washers have historically been more prevalent in the United States, front load washing machines returned to the market in the early 2000s and have been gaining popularity ever since.

As washing machine technology improves and companies streamline production, front load washer prices have fallen closer in line to the best top load machines. These days, more customers find the many advantages of front load washers to be worth the extra investment. (See the major imbalance of “pros” cited for front loaders vs. top loaders below.) Not only is the price gap between front load and top load washers now marginal, it’s shrinking every year.

In this post, we’ll give you a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each type of machine, and help you decide whether a front load or top load washer and dryer is right for you. In the process, we’ll touch on topics such as reliability, up-front price, life expectancy, capacity, noise levels, energy usage and more.

Benefits of Top Loading Washing Machines

front-load-vs-top-load-washers-NTW4650YQLess Expensive

The most compelling benefit of top loading machines is their low price point. Our most popular top load washer, the Amana NTW4650YQ, sells at $399 right now, with a matching price for the dryer. By comparison, an entry level front loader would be something like the Frigidaire Affinity (which we named one of the two best front load washers of 2013, by the way), starting at $699 per unit.

Because top load washers are cheaper, they are the preferred option for rental apartments, commercial uses, and short-term living situations. When initial price matters most, top load units still take the cake – especially for coin-op units that will pay for themselves through use.

Ergonomically Friendly

Front load units are almost always stacked vertically, with the washer on bottom and dryer on top. If you have a bad back, bending over to transfer laundry from the bottom up can be physically painful. Top load washers allow you to load laundry at waist height, saving from repetitive joint stress every time you load the machine.

To be fair, this problem can be resolved with front loaders by installing the machines on 15″ pedestals to raise them to a more comfortable height.

Why Choose a Front Load Washer Instead?

electrolux-front-load-washer-dryer

If you are looking to buy a washing machine for your home and your budget reaches into the front load price range, it is likely that the long-term energy and water bill savings and the availability of extra features and cycles will make the higher initial cost well worth your investment.

Benefits of Front Loading Washing Machines

Cleans Clothes Better & Damages Clothes Less

Front load machines are more efficient at cleaning clothes, and impart much less wear and tear on clothing than their top loading counterparts. The reason: the lack of the central agitator present in top load washers. The central agitator is the large central post with wide rubber fins that spins in a quick and halting pattern during the wash cycle. Whereas that agitator can catch stray threads and rip clothes apart, the gravity-aided tumble wash of front load units is much gentler on clothes.

Run Fewer Cycles

The large loading capacity of front loaders allows you to fit more clothing into the compartment, which means you can do laundry much less often – that is, if you have enough socks to last.

energy-starWater and Energy Efficient

Front load washing machines are built for efficiency. They can use one-third the amount of water, energy, and detergent when compared with top loaders. So while the initial investment is higher, the efficiency of this washer will save money every month on energy, water, and shopping bills.

How much less? As an example, the average top load washer uses 30-40 gallons of water per wash. Front load washers use half that amount or less. That quickly adds up.

The energy efficiency is the biggest defining difference between front load and top load washers, in our opinion. Those savings will pay for themselves many times over, which is why we recommend that homeowners invest in front load laundry units if they have the flexibility to do so.

The Energy Star program, founded in 1992, made American consumers more conscious about the energy efficiency of they products they buy. It’s not a huge leap to infer that the rise in popularity of front load washers and dryers correlates with increased environmental awareness among American consumers.

Reliable

Front loaders require fewer repairs on major parts partially because they use gravity to toss clothing instead of using the central agitator featured in top load machines. The agitator is tougher on the hardware of the machine. Top load washers also have more parts, which means more parts that can break.

Less Noise During Spin Cycle…

Significantly less. You can put your laundry in the wash just before going to bed without worrying that it will keep you awake. A broad selection of front load washers feature vibration control, a way to stabilize the internal drum so the entire unit doesn’t rattle your floors while in operation.

These machines are specifically designed to function in a closet, on the second floor of your house, and in other sub-optimal locations that might make your laundry machines rattle.

eifls60-front-load-washer-controls

The Electrolux EIFLS60JIW control panel, with cycles and options galore.

More Cycles and Features: Steam, Self-Cleaning, Etc.

Some front loading washing machines come with additional features such as a steam setting, a self-cleaning cycle, reversible washer doors for fully customizable laundry rooms, and much more.

These luxury features don’t show up until you climb past the price ceiling on top load units. If you’re angling for a top-of-the-line laundry center in 2014, you will find that only front load units have the latest and greatest features.

What about the cons?

If you are a homeowner and are concerned about long term savings on energy bills, cleaner clothing, less noise and other features, we recommend front load washers without reservation. However, it is a trade off and there are some drawbacks as well.

Initial Cost

It’s pretty simple: for washers and dryers with comparable feature sets, front loaders cost more upfront. They also save more money over a lifetime of ownership.

Cycle Time

Depending on the cycle you choose, front loading laundry cycles can and often do take more time. Why? As the barrel spins, the clothing only hits the water part of the time. But it is precisely because of this process that your clothing gets cleaner and has less wear and tear – so consider which side of the trade off is more important to you.

Last Minute Laundry

The door on a front load washer needs to stay closed to retain water, which means you can’t add to the load once it starts. This is the one thing that top loaders can do that front loaders still can’t. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “feature,” because it doesn’t take any extra effort to load the unit before hitting the Start button. It’s more like a convenient failsafe against forgetfulness, but it rarely makes or breaks anyone’s buying decision.

Front Load vs. Top Load Washers in a Nutshell

A quick summary…

Though there are exceptions both ways, here are our basic generalizations about each type of washing machine:

Top-Load Washers:

  • less expensive
  • fewer features
  • higher long-term cost of ownership
  • harsher on clothes

Front-load washers:

  • more expensive
  • more luxury features
  • more energy & water efficient
  • gentler on clothes
  • cleans better
  • less noisy in use

For specific top loader reccomendations, check out our article on the best front loader washers of 2014, and take a look at the full line of washers we carry on our website.

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