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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

The Great Laundry Debate: Top Loaders vs. Front Loaders

By Dr. Laundry July 21, 2006

The process of purchasing a new washer/dryer is becoming about as complicated as selecting a new car, given all the various options and upgrades. Front-loading machines or top-loading, high-efficiency or conventional, stackable or side-by-side units – the decisions are many, but each is very important.

Following are a few tips to consider when selecting a new machine to make sure you get just what you need, and nothing that you don’t (because believe me, the possibilities are endless). Experts suggest selecting washer/dryer “sets” based on the washer – in most sets, the dryers’ performance is right on par with the washers’.

Top Loader vs. Front Loader

High-efficiency machines are all the rage – new high-efficiency front-loaders and top-loading washing machines now account for about 30% of new purchases. Despite both models’ claims on efficient performance, experts will tell you to put your money on the front-loader model – it washes better, is more energy-efficient, and uses less water than top-loading machines. Specifically, they use 40-50% less water and 50-65% less energy than conventional top-loaders, which means lower water and electricity bills. The decrease in the operating costs helps balance out the purchase cost – buyers can expect to pay upward of $800 for each the washer and dryer.

Further, high efficiency (HE) top-loaders are hands down better than the conventional models. HE machines will get your clothing cleaner. However, if you anticipate serious problems bending and stooping to remove items from a front-loader, the HE top-loader may be the ideal machine for you. (The front-loaders also have pedestals that can be purchased to help boost the height of the machine.)

Options, Options… and More Options

HE machines do not allow you to interact with the clothes like a conventional machine. All the decisions are made BEFORE you start the machine. This includes product selection and amount. So, a must have for me is the bleach dispenser. Check to be sure the machine is equipped with detergent, bleach and fabric softener dispensers. Equally important, check/ask about the volume each holds. We have seen machines that have bleach dispensers too small for the recommended usage. And what happens when you have that extra-dirty load where you want to add some extra bleach?? The dispenser adds the cleaners at precisely the right time in the cycle. Also, for the dryer, be sure to get a model that continues to periodically tumble your dry clothes after the drying cycle ends. This helps prevent wrinkles, which your resident iron-er will certainly appreciate.

From sanitizing cycles to a delayed start, the options are endless. In the end, try not to get too swooned (or dizzied) by all the choices. Some of the options are just plain unnecessary. For example, sanitizing cycles are usually only needed if you plan on using/washing cloth baby diapers. And even then, liquid bleach can do the same job for less cost. For regular fabrics, such as cotton shirts, towels, and jeans, a near-boiling temperature washload can cook the fibers and thus ruin your clothing. Not a good plan.

Other Tips from the Experts

The experts at ConsumerSearch.com, a Web-based publishing company that helps consumers find answers about what products are top-rated or best bets in their class, also offer the following insights to consider when purchasing a new washer and dryer.


  • Always buy the largest washer that your space and budget allow. Doing bigger loads can help reduce your workload.

  • Electronic touch-pad controls look sleek, but reviews say they’re more delicate than knobs and dials, and more expensive to repair. Technology-challenged individuals, beware. However, this might be a good way to introduce that tech wizard child to the wonderful world of doing laundry.

  • A stainless-steel tub is preferable to porcelain because it won’t rust or chip.

  • Get automatic temperature controls, which automatically select the right water temperature for each selected load.


For additional insights, visit http://www.consumersearch.com/www/house_and_home/washing-machine-
reviews/index.html