Front-loader or top-loader -- which is better?

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Early front-loaders caused a lot of problems but have gotten better with time

Front-loader or top-loader -- which is better? It's a little like under or over with your bathroom toilet paper. With washing machines we have seen a lot of new technology and so there is a way to gauge which might be better for you.

If cost is a factor top-loaders are generally less expensive and wash the fastest, but performance is often unimpressive. High efficiency top-loaders generally hold more laundry. They use less water and they also extract more water from the wash cycle which helps cut down on your drying time and ultimately cuts your utility bill.

Front-loaders generally use the least water and spin the fastest, resulting in the most savings. That is one of their big selling points -- using less water making them more eco-friendly all the way around.

According to sales tracking firm Traqline, as recently as the fourth quarter of 2009 about 45% of washers sold in the U.S. were front-loaders. Today, that figure is just 29.5%. What happened?

Well, to put it simply, they smelled. It was a complaint that took manufacturers all the way to the Supreme Court. The first generation of front-loaders weren't very reliable, they made a great deal of noise and even vibrated so much they could start at one end of a room and literally move to the other from all the vibrating. All of this even though the price tag was quite hefty.

Manufacturers have fixed many of the early problems but consumers who have been living with problematic first-gen front-loaders are just now replacing them, and many are opting for high-efficiency top-loaders. did a test to see which actually cleaned better as that really is the mission statement for any washer on the market. What they found was this: while top-loaders have gotten much better at cleaning, they found that on average they're still about 5% less effective at their job.

On average, front-loaders clean better than top-loaders while also using about 5 gallons less water per cycle. Front-loaders can also cut electricity use by up to 50% if you're using an electric hot water heater.

It really comes down to design and how your clothes go through the spin cycle as well as how much water is being used.

Here are some basic features of each.

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
  • clean better
  • less noisy.

So now what do you do? You have to decide. It all comes out in the wash anyway.

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