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Which type of washing machine uses up to 70% less water?

Pick the wrong one and your water-saving efforts could go down the drain.

front and top loader washing machines
Last updated: 10 January 2024

They say nothing is certain except death and taxes, but in Australia there's another inevitability: drought. Water is a precious resource all over the world, but in our dry country it's even more imperative to conserve water. 

You might already be cutting your showers short and following the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" approach to toilet-flushing, but another place you can make big water savings is in the laundry – it's responsible for almost a quarter of our indoor water use. 

The laundry is responsible for almost a quarter of our indoor water use

The worst water-guzzling washer we've seen used a shocking 214 litres of water for a full cycle and, while it's now discontinued, some current models still use more than 150L per wash. 

When you add up all your washes over a year, that's an awful lot of water down the drain. 

The good news is that choosing a water-efficient washing machine isn't just good for saving water, it'll save you money on your water bills too.

So what's the best way to go if you want to save water with every wash: top loader or front loader? We'll explain which is best and why, plus share some tips for saving water on wash day. 

Which washing machine type uses the least water?

A front loader is the only way to go if you're trying to save water: they can use up to 70% less water than a top loader of the same capacity.

In our current washing machine review, water usage for a normal cold wash cycle ranged from 40 to 77L for front loaders and from 69 to 199L for top loaders – that's quite the difference!

Here's how they stack up on average for a 3.5kg load of washing:

3.5kg load, cold wash
Capacity Water used Cycle time
 Front loading washer  9kg  60L  130 mins
 Top loading washer  8kg  130L  55 mins

Why do front loaders use less water?

It all comes down to how they work. Front loaders clean your clothes by gently turning your washing over and over in a tumbling action, picking it up and repeatedly dropping it into the wash water.

front loader washing machine in laundry

Front loaders use up to 70% less water than top loaders.

In a top loader, your clothes float on top of the water in the tub, and an agitator or impeller moves them around. This requires a lot more water, and can also be rough on your laundry. 

While they're lean on water, there is a downside to front loaders: since they use less water, they need to run for longer to get your clothes clean. So expect longer cycle times, and consider how this will  affect your lifestyle before you buy.

If you're in a hurry, look for a machine with a 'fast wash' cycle – but just be aware that it might not work as well for very full or very dirty loads. 

samsung wd16j9845kg

Washer-dryer combos like this Samsung often use more water to dry laundry than to wash it.

The laundry appliance to avoid if you want to save water

If you want to reduce your water usage there's one machine you should steer clear of: washer-dryer combos. They may be good at saving space, but they're definitely not good at saving water. 

While they obviously use water to wash your clothes, what's wild is that they actually use water to dry your laundry, too – sometimes more than they use for washing. 

One of the worst we've seen is a Samsung model that uses a huge 210 litres of water to dry a full load. Yes, that's just for drying, not washing, your laundry. It was so bad that we awarded it a Shonky in 2017. 

The washing machines that use the least water

There's a lot to consider when buying a new washing machine: price, running costs, energy efficiency, water use, and of course, performance. 

While these machines might be winners when it comes to water use, they're not necessarily all stars in terms of performance. Sometimes the washing machines that use the least water don't do the best job cleaning your clothes – although some do both very well.

Make sure you check our reviews to find the best washing machine for your laundry. 

asko w2084cw

This Asko machine uses a thrifty 40L of water per wash.

The most water-efficient front loaders

lg wtg1434vhf

In our lab tests, this LG top loader used 69L of water.

The most water-efficient top loaders

Top loaders do generally use more water than front loaders, but if you're set on buying one, these are the models that use the least water per wash:

Other ways to save water in the laundry

1. Only run a cycle when you have a full load

It usually takes just as much water to wash a full load as it does a half load, unless your machine has an auto-sensing feature that adjusts the water level to the size of the load. 

Most of us only wash around 3.5kg of clothes at a time, regardless of the capacity of our washer. Filling it completely can save you water, as well as detergent – the biggest cost of doing your laundry.

2. Pre-soak or pre-treat heavily soiled laundry

There's no point buying the most water-efficient washing machine out there if you have to throw half the load back to get it clean. 

Anything you can do to clean the item beforehand will mean you won't have to wash it twice. 

We've rounded up the best and worst stain removers to help you get a cleaner wash.

3. Choose a model with an auto load-sensing or reduced-load function

Even if you try to hold off on washing until you have a full load, there will always be times that you'll have to wash a smaller load. 

Some washing machines have settings specifically for smaller loads. An auto load-sensing feature takes this to the next level: the machine assesses how big the load is, then adjusts the water level to suit. 

4. Use an eco program

Many washers now come with an eco program, designed for washing lightly soiled items by using as little water and electricity as possible.

5. Choose a spray or eco rinse

This typically uses less water to rinse your wash load than a traditional rinse.

waterrating label

The more stars on the label, the more water-efficient the washer.

6. Check the number of stars on the water rating label

This is a guide to how efficiently the washer uses water. The more stars, the more efficient it is. 

It's worth noting that the label is calculated on a very specific program, washing a full capacity load. 

Depending on which program you choose, you'll usually get better water economy than the sticker indicates, particularly if you're washing a partial load, and especially if the machine has an auto mode.

Our detailed washing machine reviews will show you exactly how much water each machine uses per cycle, along with running costs, dirt removal, rinse performance, water efficiency, cycle time and more. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.