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Should you buy a top loading washing machine?

We look at whether they're a top choice, or scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Adding clothes to to a top loading washing machine
Last updated: 14 May 2024

While top loading washers are a laundry stalwart, times and technologies change, and Australians are increasingly opting for front loaders.

There must be something to the traditional top loader though, because we still buy a lot of them. We take a look at top loading washing machine features to see if it's a top choice for your laundry.

How do top loading washing machines work?

The heart of a top loading washing machine is a vertically aligned drum. As the name suggests, clothes are loaded and unloaded via a door on the top. During the wash cycle, water is added to float your clothes, which are then moved about by an agitator or impeller. This is a very different washing action to front loaders, which use gravity and a tumbling action to wash.

Top loaders tend to use more water than front loaders because your laundry needs to float freely, and they tend to be harsher on your clothes – particularly models with an agitator. Agitators also take up a lot of room, so you'll get less capacity from a larger top loader than you would with a front loader. The extra water usage does produce a better rinse performance, though.

After washing, clothes are rinsed and spun to remove as much water as possible prior to drying.

Pros and cons of top loading washing machines


  • Faster wash cycles: it's easier to do multiple loads back-to-back.
  • Simpler engineering: they should be easier to repair if something goes wrong.
  • You can add or remove items mid-cycle: you can easily add that errant sock or extract your keys after the cycle has started.
  • No need to bend down: it's easier to load and unload, particularly if you have mobility or accessibility issues.
  • Less vibration-prone: they're more stable on dodgy floors.
  • Quieter: at 58 dBA (or about the equivalent of a slightly softer than normal conversation), top loaders are slightly quieter than their front loading contemporaries (61 dBA).
  • Child safe(r): with access and controls on the top, it's harder for little explorers to climb inside, or turn it on accidentally.
  • Door seals not required: meaning less maintenance is required.
  • Hot and cold intakes: you can use your solar or off-peak hot water and save on electricity.
  • Lightweight: you'll notice this if you move house a lot or need to get one up lots of stairs.
  • Cheaper to buy: both on average and in absolute terms.


  • Don't wash as well: top loaders tend to score lower for soil removal in our tests.
  • Harsher on clothes: your shirts may wear out sooner.
  • Large form factor: top loaders tend to offer less capacity than front loaders, but take up more space, especially for agitator models.
  • Less capacity: of the washing machines we've tested, top loaders average ½ kg less capacity than the front loaders, and the largest capacity top loader available also has less capacity than the largest capacity front loader available.
  • No standard dimension: top loaders come in all different shapes and sizes, so it's harder to plan your laundry layout.
  • No top work surface: this reduces amenity in your laundry, as you can't fold clothes, stack a dryer on top or even mount a top loader under a benchtop.

Top loader washing performance

Do top loaders need hot and cold water connections?

Yes. The majority of top loaders have both hot and cold water connections and use your domestic hot water supply for warm or hot wash cycles. While you don't 'need' to connect them to hot water if you don't want to, you'll require access to a hot tap if you want to wash in warm water.

Having a hot water intake means you can take advantage of cheap off-peak or free solar hot water for your washing, which if you're a hot-wash fan, can save you on your energy bills. Because they a have hot water intake, top loaders don't need internal heaters, helping keep their price and complexity down.

How long do top loaders take to wash?

A typical top loader takes about an hour for a full wash cycle. While it's not exactly instant cleaning, it's around half the average cycle time for a front loader. This makes top loaders more conducive to washing multiple loads, or for getting your gear washed and on the line before you leave for work.

And if you just don't want to wait, teaming a fast top loader up with an equally quick clothes dryer means you could get a load of laundry washed and dried in about two and a half hours, which is a pretty impressive turnaround.

Top loader spin capability

There's no two ways about it – with a top spin speed of 1100rpm, top loaders just don't spin as fast as front loaders, which can reach a dizzying 1800 rpm. Is this a bad thing? Yes. Faster spin speeds mean more water's extracted from your clothes, which reduces drying time and, if you use a clothes dryer, your household energy consumption.

Faster spinning does make a washer louder and more high pitched, and increases creasing and crush the pile in your towels, so you may want to dial this down for delicate fabrics.

What's the difference between front loader and top loader detergents?

Because top loaders use more water than front loaders so your clothes can float freely, and because they use a side-to-side motion rather than a tumbling action, they tend to require more suds. As a result, laundry detergents designed for top loaders will foam up much more than the front loader equivalent.

Using a detergent designed for a top loader in a front loading washer is potentially a recipe for disaster, but with a top loader the risk of a foamy surprise is negated, and you can comfortably use leftover front loader detergents in your washer (you may need to add a little more though).

These days most laundry detergents have been developed for use in both front and top loaders, so you don't really need to worry.

Are top loading washing machines water-efficient?

Many modern washing machines are able to vary their water consumption based on the size of your laundry load, so look for a machine with a sensor if water wastage worries you.

This also explains why our test results and the figures quoted on the water label are different – our tests use a 3.5kg load, but the figure stated on the energy and water star ratings is measured when washing at a machine's full capacity, which may be more than double that.

It's also worth remembering that many machines try to compensate for unbalanced loads by adding additional water. Top loaders aren't as adept at redistributing uneven loads so it's doubly important to load your washing machine carefully.

Are top loading washing machines energy-efficient?

It depends. In our testing, top loaders use less energy than front loaders do. That's because of their shorter cycle times, and because your clothes stay on the same vertical plane while washing, so their motors don't need to fight against gravity to wash.

However, that's for a cold wash. According to their energy labels, which are calculated using a warm wash, top loaders use twice as much energy (and have roughly half the star ratings) as front loaders. Why is that? Well, it comes down to water temperature, how energy ratings are calculated, and how we test washing machines.

Testing on a cold wash

We test on a cold wash, so heating water doesn't factor into our results. But energy ratings are calculated using a warm wash, and the vast majority of the energy it takes to do the laundry goes to heating the wash water. But shouldn't this mean front loaders, with an internal heater, use more energy than top loaders, which don't heat and instead use your domestic hot water supply?

You'd think so, but the energy ratings are calculated to factor in the energy used to heat the hot water in your home as well as the energy directly used by the washing machine. This tells you your total energy cost for conducting a wash cycle for that machine, and you're using this energy, even if it's not used directly by the machine itself.

To put it another way, this is what it's actually going to cost you to run a wash cycle. That is, unless you have solar hot water – in which case your energy efficiency with a top loader will be much better than what's on the sticker because your hot water is essentially free.

So what does this mean for you? Well, if you wash in cold water, a top loader will be more energy-efficient, because of the gravity thing and shorter cycle time. But if you wash in warm water, because top loaders need more hot water overall, and it's delivered in a less efficient manner, then you're better off with a front loader. Unless you have solar hot water.

In short, for cold washes, top loaders are slightly more energy-efficient than front loaders. But for warm washes, top loaders use way more energy than a front loader does.

Something else to think about is if you use a dryer: a top loader, with its lower spin speed, means there's more work for your dryer to do – so what you save in washing you may pay back again in drying.

How big is a top loading washing machine?

Unlike front loaders, which are designed to fit in a standard 60cm kitchen cut-out, top loaders come in all different shapes and sizes, ranging from a diminutive 94 x 55 x 56cm to a portly 120 x 70 x 73cm. Of course, you also get less capacity for your cubic centimetre with a top loader than you do with a front loader, so it may well take up more space – a 10kg capacity top loader can be physically as large as a 16kg capacity front loader.

Perhaps a bigger drawback than overall size though is the lack of utility afforded by a typical top loader. Because they are top loading, you can't mount them under a bench top, or stack a dryer on top of them.

You also can't use the top surface as a workspace like you can with a front loader (even temporarily, as many modern top loaders have curved lids and top surfaces), so they're not so great if you're pushed for space in a smaller laundry.

What capacity is a top loading washing machine?

With an average capacity of just over 7.5kg, the top loader machines in our test now trail the front loaders by just over half a kilogram in capacity stakes. It may not sound like much, but it's the equivalent of an extra bath towel or jumper, four T-shirts, or a dozen pairs of socks. For big families this quickly adds up, and those extra wash cycles will cost you time and money.

So for big families, wouldn't you just buy a bigger washer? Yes, but you lose out in absolute terms as well, as top loaders max out at around 14kg whereas front loaders will now go to 16kg. The good news is for smaller households, as there are more small capacity top loaders to choose from. However, energy and water efficiency aside, a 5.5kg top loader will take up about the same space as a 7.5kg front loader, without the useful top surface workspace.

How much do top loading washing machines cost?

Top loaders are generally less complex than a front loader and this is reflected in a recommended retail price that's on average around $350 cheaper, so if you're on a budget and not worried about water consumption, then a top loader will be the way to go.

The top loaders we've tested range from around $400 to over $2000, but remember that this reflects the recommended retail price – the only price that matters is the one you can negotiate.

A higher price tag usually also means more advanced features and modes, as well as better build quality. For a basic top loader you can expect a mechanical timer with one or two different programs and manual water settings. Part with a little more cash and you'll start to get digital controls, with a wider range of programs and automatic load sensing, which can help you reduce your water consumption.

Importantly though, we typically don't find much correlation between price and performance, so paying more doesn't necessarily result in cleaner clothes. This is good news for budget-conscious consumers because if your requirements are fairly basic, and you don't have a lot of laundry to wash, it's possible to pick up a top performing washing machine for relatively cheap.

As with any appliance, consider how you'll use it, and don't pay for features you don't need.

What to consider when installing a top loading washing machine

Hot and cold tap placement

Since the majority of top loaders have both hot and cold water intakes rather than internal heaters, if you wash in warm water then obviously you'll need both hot and cold water taps in your laundry. While most laundries do, it pays to check before you shop, and it also means you may not be able to set your washing machine up in other parts of the house, like a garage or backyard.

Laundry layout

A top loader isn't suitable for use under low shelves or bench tops as you need to be able to access the top of the appliance, so make sure you've got plenty of clearance over your chosen location before you buy. Also, as you can't really use the top of your washer as a workbench the way you can with a front loader, you may find your laundry feels a little less practical.

Clothes dryer configuration

As you can't stack anything on top of a top loader, if you've got (or are considering) a condenser or heat pump dryer you'll need enough space to have both appliances side by side. Vented driers can be wall mounted over a washing machine so you don't need to stack them, but you'll need to make sure you've got ample clearance to get your clothes into and out of the washer, and with a larger top loader this may not be possible.

Weight and stability

Top loaders tend to be both lighter and more stable than front loaders, so they're a good choice if you move a lot, have to lug your washer up several flights of stairs, or your floorboards are dodgy. And if you do move house a lot then top loaders don't require transfer bolts that can get lost or thrown away.

Short term vs long term savings

Top loaders are cheaper to buy than front loaders, but they tend to use more water and are less energy efficient. If you do a lot of laundry then they may cost you more over the life of your washer. We list purchase price plus 10-year running costs in our test results to help you make the best comparison.

Check out our washing machine buying guide for more comprehensive tips for getting the best appliance for your needs.

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.