5 Things to Know About Front-Load Washers

·7 min read

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Front-load washers deliver superior cleaning performance and top-notch water and energy efficiency. In fact, all of Consumer Reports’ Green Choice washing machines (the most efficient in our ratings) are front-loaders. But the cost, along with some flaws, can be a turnoff.

“For some consumers, the higher price of front-loaders might have made them think twice,” says Mark Allwood, a senior market analyst at CR. “Other consumers might have had a problem with mold or thought the machine vibrated too much, so they're switching to top-loaders.”

Only 28 percent of washers shipped to stores in 2020 were front-loaders, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, far below the 38 percent shipment figure from 2009. By comparison, 44 percent of shipped washers were top-load agitators and 28 percent were high-efficiency top loaders.

Some Washers Save Money, Others Waste It

There’s a big difference in the water use of the most and least efficient washers in our tests

Front-loaders are declining amid market changes and persistent issues. They are priced higher—a median cost of $799 compared with top-load HE washers ($647) and top-load agitators ($580). They’re also prone to mold, mildew and odor, according to a CR survey of 111,491 members who purchased a new machine between 2010 and 2020.

To compete more with lower-priced top-loaders, some manufacturers have introduced lower-priced front-loaders that sell for $800 or less. If all things are equal, there’s no denying the front-load washer efficiency advantage. They'll save you more money long term, even if they don't always pass the smell test.

Our tests have found that front-loaders use the least water and extract more of it, cutting dryer time and energy use. And they're often gentler on fabrics and quieter than top-loaders.

In our tests, we launder fabric swatches stained with red wine, cocoa, and carbon (which is similar to soot), among other stains, to see how well a washer performs. We also assess how gentle the machine is on fabrics, record its water usage, and register the energy a dryer needs to dry a washed load of laundry. Plus, our panelists judge each washer's noise levels during the fill, agitate/tumble, drain, and spin cycles.

Below are five key considerations when it comes to front-loaders. CR members can read on for details of five front-loaders that earn CR's recommendation. Our washing machine buying guide is another resource to consult as you shop.

1. Wash Times Are Long

At 70 to 120 minutes per load in our tests, front-loaders are the slowest type of washer when it comes to doing a load of laundry. High-efficiency (HE) top-loaders, the type without a center-post agitator, usually take 55 to 75 minutes, and most agitator top-loaders clock in between 35 and 65 minutes.

We use the normal-wash/heavy-soil setting in our tests, but you can shorten your wash time by choosing a normal-soil setting. Some front-loaders have time-saving settings as well. In our tests, LG's TurboWash, Kenmore's Accela Wash, and Samsung's Super Speed options got the job done faster without sacrificing cleaning.

And keep in mind that the time lost in washing may be saved in drying—which can mean you save on your energy bills, too. "The front-loader's spin cycle is faster than other washer types," says Rich Handel, the CR tester who oversees our laundry lab. "That means more water is extracted from your laundry, and dryer time is shorter."

Here's a look at how front-loading washers work:

Click dots to learn more.

Illustration by hitandrun/Début Art

2. Small Loads Are Okay

The front-loaders we test have claimed capacities of 3.5 cubic feet to 5.8 cubic feet, and readers ask whether these big machines can wash small loads. “A front-loader should do a good job cleaning a small load,” says Handel. “Unlike top-loaders, front-loaders do not rely on clothes rubbing up against each other to get them clean.”

Front-load washers adjust the amount of water to the size of the load you’re washing. They clean by lifting clothes up as the drum turns, then dropping the clothes into the water. So the size of a load of laundry really doesn't matter as long as the dirty clothes have enough room to move around—so don't overstuff.

3. Don't Blow Your Stack

In our tests, most front-loaders can be stacked with a matching dryer on top (you might have to buy the stacking kit separately). However, research our ratings “features & specs” before purchase, as some washer-dryers pairs can’t be stacked.

Reasons vary. For instance, a detergent dispenser might be on top of the washer, where it would be blocked. Or in the case of the Samsung FlexWash, there's a mini top-load washer atop a full-sized front-loader.

One other fit factor to be aware of: Some front-loaders in our tests are 2 inches wider than the standard 27 inches, and height and depth vary by as much as 8 inches. Be sure to measure your laundry space and entry door widths to ensure the machine will fit through.

4. Good Vibrations?

To extract more water, the front-loader’s drum spins faster than a top-loader's drum. "And the front-loader's drum rotates on a horizontal axis, similar to a dryer," says Handel. "When vibrations occur, they're transferred to the floor." Vibrations aren't typically a problem on a concrete floor, but they can be on a wood-framed floor.

The good news: Washer manufacturers are using better components to lessen vibration compared with the earlier models we've tested. Many of the front-loaders in our washing machine ratings earn a Very Good rating in our vibration tests, meaning you may feel your wood-framed floor vibrate if you're near the washer. A handful even garner an Excellent rating, meaning you'll barely feel any vibration at all.

If you find that your machine vibrates too much, make sure that the washer is level and that all of the feet are in solid contact with the floor.

5. Still Trying to Break the Mold

Seventeen percent of all front-load washer owners reported mold or mildew build-up in their machines—compared with only 3 percent of HE top-load washers and 1 percent of top-load agitators. And 15 percent of front loaders were cited for odor compared with 6 percent for HE top-loaders and 2 percent for top-load agitator washers.

Mold can develop in various parts of the washer, including in the dispensers and the rubber gasket around the opening. To curb washer mold, follow the instructions in your owner's manual. Run the tub-clean feature regularly. If your washer doesn't have that feature, run the washer on the hottest water-temp setting with a cup of bleach but no laundry.

When you've completed your last load, dry the inside of the door and the rubber gasket, carefully pulling it back to clean away residue. Between loads, open the dispensers to give them a chance to dry. If young kids aren't scampering about, keep the washer door ajar between loads to give the interior a chance to dry out.

If young children are present in your home, lock the door to your laundry room so that they can't access the front-loader. There have been several child deaths linked to front-loaders.

Some Washers Save Money, Others Waste It

There’s a big difference in the water use of the most and least efficient washers in our tests

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