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The best front-load washers in Consumer Reports' tests deliver excellent cleaning as well as superb water and energy efficiency, outperforming the best top-load washers in our tests.
But in recent years, sales of front-loaders have declined. Only 27 percent of washers shipped to stores in 2019 were front-loaders, down from 38 percent in 2009, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
“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.”
To compete more with lower-priced top-loaders, some manufacturers have introduced lower-priced front-loaders that sell for $800 or less.
Our tests have found that front-loaders use the least water of the bunch and extract more of it, shortening 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, and record the amount of water it uses and 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, you'll find five key considerations when it comes to front-loaders. CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of five front-loaders that earn CR's recommendation.
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.
But 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."
2. Small Loads Are Okay
The front-loaders we test have claimed capacities of 4.3 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 no overstuffing.
3. Not All Can Be Stacked
In our tests, most front-loaders can be stacked with a matching dryer on top. (You might have to buy the stacking kit separately.) Eight of the front-load washers in our ratings, however, can’t be stacked, and you'll see this noted in the features & specs section of the ratings.
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. So you'll want to read each model's specs carefully to be sure your washer is stackable if that's what you want.
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 the space you have to work with and the doors into your home and laundry room to make sure the machine will fit through.
4. Vibration Has Become Less of a Concern
The front-loader’s drum spins faster than a top-loader's to extract more water. "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 is that washer manufacturers are using better components that lessen vibration compared with the earlier models we've tested. Many of the 50 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. Mold Remains a Problem for Some
The subject of mold shows up consistently in our member surveys. Seventeen percent of people who own a front-loader say it had mold or mildew, compared with just 3 percent of those who own top-loaders. That's according to a survey of 94,473 CR members who bought a new washing machine between 2009 and 2019. The problem rate for front-loaders has held fairly steady since we started asking members about mold in 2014.
It can develop in various parts of the washer, including in the dispensers and the rubber gasket around the opening. To try to prevent washer mold, follow the instructions in your owner's manual. Run the tub-clean feature regularly, and 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 done the last load of the day, 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 washer's interior a chance to dry out.
But 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 deaths of children that are linked to front-loaders.
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