Video: Frontloader vs toploader
Two CHOICE experts debate the merits of front loaders vs top loaders.
- Gentler on clothes.
- Most use less water.
- Most use less energy when washing in warm to hot water.
- Use less detergent.
- More programs, and higher temperature wash options.
- Cheaper to run.
- Higher spin speeds, which means they get more water out – convenient however you dry clothes, and money-saving if you use a dryer.
- Best for small spaces – you can fit most models under a bench or put a dryer on or above it.
- Longer wash cycles – over three hours in some cases (but many have ‘fast-wash’ options for lightly soiled clothes).
- Generally more expensive to buy.
- Higher spin speeds and less water (and higher wash temperature options) can mean more creases – so more ironing. Some models have ‘anti-crease’ cycles to avoid this.
- With some models you can’t easily add to the wash load after the cycle has started.
- Heavy to move.
- Some models need special brackets if placed on a wooden floor.
- Tend to have louder spin cycles, and some people are sensitive to the pitch.
- Some may rinse poorly due to their very low water usage.
How they wash
Agitators The design you’re probably most familiar with: once the machine has filled with water, most models work by an agitator – which sticks up through the centre of the drum from its base – vigorously twisting and turning to move the washing around. This removes dirt quickly, but is also quite rough on clothes. Top loaders generally have comparatively fast wash cycles.
Impellers The less common impeller models have an open tub with what looks like a small bump in the base of the drum – the impeller. Ridges or vanes run out from its centre and movement is created by the impeller rotating in the base of the drum, which creates turbulence. Impellers tend to tangle clothes more than agitators, which means they may also go out of balance more frequently. They also generally use more water and energy than agitators, making them more expensive to run.
Low profile agitators These have an agitator in between an impeller and a full size agitator. We've only tested one of these – the Fisher & Paykel Aquasmart.
These work by gently turning the washing over and over in a tumbling action, a process which is quite gentle on clothes. This cleaning action uses less energy (when washing in warm water) and water than a top loader and can be more adept at handling unbalanced loads. However, often the wash cycle takes longer, though many front loaders often have ‘fast-wash’ cycles or options.
Want to know more? See Washing machines review and compare.