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Washing Machine Buying Guide

The washing machine is one of the longest-lasting appliances in your home. Use this buying guide to find one that fits your lifestyle.

Washing Machine Buying Guide

Washer Space and Connections

Washing machine and dryer in a closet

Measure Your Space

  • Width: Keep in mind that washers and dryers need 1 inch of space on either side for air circulation.
  • Depth: Add 6 inches of space for door clearance, dryer vents and hookups.
  • Height: Top loaders need an added 20 inches of above-machine clearance for the door.

If space is at a premium, consider going vertical. There are many viable compact laundry centers - framed units that contain a washing machine and a dryer stacked one atop the other. Some freestanding front-loading washers and dryers may be stacked for space savings.

You'll also need:

  • A floor with no more than a 1-inch slope
  • Hot and cold water lines within 3 feet of washer hookups
  • A 3- or 4-prong power cord, depending on the configuration of your outlet
  • A drain connection for wastewater

Tub Capacity

This term refers to the inside wash tub and is measured in cubic feet. A large-capacity washer lessens laundry loads, which is perfect for growing families and those who wash bulky items at home. For reference, a 4.5 cu ft washer fits 25-30 bath towels (depending on towel thickness and weight). As a rule, it’s usually best to choose the largest capacity your space will allow.

Some washers feature a built-in sink for pre-soaking clothes prior to washing.

Top-Load and Front-Load Options

Side by side washer and dryer in a laundry room

Top-load and front-load units share many of the same functional features. Style-wise there are a few differences.

Benefits of Top-Loaders:

  • No bending or kneeling
  • Largest capacity
  • Traditional look
  • Less expensive

Benefits of Front-Loaders:

  • Large(r) capacity
  • Energy efficient / less water usage
  • Some units are stackable with a corresponding dryer
  • Additional storage space underneath the machine if placed on a pedestal
  • Optional steam sanitation feature for a deeper clean
  • Modern look
Good to Know

Washer-dryer combination machines are available, offering the functionality of a washer and a dryer in the same unit.

Good to Know

High-Efficiency washing machines use less water to clean a load of clothes. Front-load washers are typically considered HE machines. Top-load washing machines with an HE setting also qualify.

Consider Your Washer Needs

Washer and dryer in a laundry room with mom and little girl

Today’s washing machine features take the hassle out of special cleaning challenges. Consider these washing machine capabilities: add a garment, quick wash, delayed wash, sanitation, steam cleaning, detergent dispensers, and advanced cleaning technology that automatically releases oxygen-based cleansers to brighten without bleach.

To get closer to identifying the best washing machine for your home, consider the following:

1. Think about your laundry habits. Do you add items after the wash cycle starts? Do you leave clothes in the washer for a few hours after the cycle ends? Today’s machines offer features that cater to your unique needs.

2. Consider your cleaning challenges. Clothing that requires special care calls for a delicates cycle; stains and allergens demand steam.

3. Go for efficiency. Most washers and dryers on the market today are already ENERGY STAR® qualified, but it pays to check the washer's performance according to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). The CEE denotes tiers based on a machine's Modified Energy Factor and Water Factor. The more efficient the unit and the less water it uses, the higher its tier.

4. Sound dampening. A quiet machine is essential if it’s near a living or sleeping area. Check the machine for vibration reduction and look for added insulation and improved suspension for less noise.

5. Consider capacity. If you wash large or bulky items, consider a large-capacity washer. Despite their large size, these units can be as energy-efficient as smaller models and offer the same features and wash cycles as conventional models.

Shop for Front-Load Washers

Shop for Top-Load Washers

Good to Know

Consider a matching washer/dryer set. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing, many washer and dryer sets are actually engineered to work together. Factors like spin speed mean reduced drying time and your matching dryer will feature special cycles and sensors to accommodate the function, ensuring clothes are never over-dried, making them last longer.