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Here at Consumer Reports’ labs, we do about 500 loads of laundry every year to find the best washing machines. Our top-rated washers can take on cocoa, body oil, and wine stains without excessive wear and tear on your clothes. This guide will arm you with expert knowledge to pick the model that best suits your needs.
This website is interactive, so click on any chapter to skip around. [MUSIC PLAYING] Members to our website can access our specific brand recommendations and exclusive product ratings. First, do you have enough space? The majority of washing machines are 27 inches wide, but manufacturers are making them wider, adding two to three inches to increase capacity. And don’t forget about the dryer. Measure the height, width, and depth of the space where you want to put your washer, then use these guidelines. For width, add an extra inch for space between the washer and dryer, and an inch on either side of the appliance. This allows for proper air circulation. Add several inches of depth space for door clearance, dryer vents, and hookups. If you’re putting a washing machine near your living space, you’ll want to consider noise levels and vibration. Consumer Reports says if a washer scores excellent or very good in our noise level ratings, you can put it in your bedroom or other living space. How much laundry a washer can effectively clean comes down to capacity. Anything bigger than 5 cubic feet should provide excellent capacity. We’re talking about 25 to 28 pounds of laundry per load. This is best for big families with lots of laundry. Three to four cubic feet will wash about 14 to 18 pounds of laundry per load. Less than three cubic feet will wash about 8 to 12 pounds per load. Some people may want to go for more capacity even if they don’t always need it, so they can wash that big comforter or other jumbo items instead of lugging them to the laundromat. Most manufacturers are coming up with ways to give you more capacity for all that laundry. There are three main types of washing machines, top-loaders with agitators, high efficiency top-loaders, and high efficiency front-loaders. Top-loaders are your traditional washing machines, with an agitator in the middle of the machine that circulates your laundry. Despite some important drawbacks, the top-loaders are still the top selling washing machine in the US. They cost less than high efficiency washers, but in general, our tests find most don’t clean as well and don’t extract as much water. That’s especially important if you’re looking to boost your dryer’s performance. And agitators tend to be tough on clothes compared to high efficiency machines. H-E top-loaders look like basic loaders without the agitator. However, these offer better performance and water and energy efficiency. They spin faster, so they extract more water, and they can hold more laundry than traditional top-loaders, about 17 to 28 pounds per load depending on the model. But it can cost almost as much as front-loaders, and some are prone to tangling up clothes. Also, some H-E top-loaders can become unbalanced if you wash waterproof or water resistant items in them. This can cause excessive shaking and sometimes damage the machine. If you plan on washing water resistant fabrics often, check the model specs for low spin or no spin mode. One way manufacturers are increasing capacity for H-E top-loaders to make them deeper. That saves width space, but Consumer Reports has found if you’re shorter, you may have trouble reaching the bottom of the machine. So it’s a good idea to do a reach check at the store. Front-loaders are our top performers. In Consumer Reports tests, these tackled tough stains, and some tend to be gentler on clothes than top-loaders. They offer more capacity than regular top-loaders, so if you’re bombarded with lots of dirty clothes on a consistent basis, this is your best option. They also extract the most water, making your dryer’s drop easier.
Another plus, front-loaders can be stacked with dryers to save floor space in small areas. But they cost the most, some more than $2,400. If you want to buy a matching dryer, you could tally up past $4,000. In some cases, you’ll need to pay another $500 or so if you want to add pedestals below your machines. These position the washer and dryer to standing height, so you won’t have to bend over to load and unload your laundry. And while front-loaders are often quieter than other types, they tend to vibrate. That might be an issue in living areas. Short on space? Compact washers are usually 24 inches wide or less. Some can be stacked with a dryer to save even more space. Others are more portable, designed with wheels to roll and attach to the sink. A plus if you don’t have the plumbing for a washer. There are also laundry centers that have a washer and dryer in one unit, as well as combination machines that wash and dry and one drum. These come in handy if you only have enough space for one large appliance, but want the capacity of a regular-sized washer. But Consumer Reports says compact washing machines can be expensive for their size. So they’re really only worth it if you can’t fit a larger washer. You’ll find all sorts of features on washing machines these days, from steam settings to remote diagnosis. Here are the ones that count. Electronic displays and controls provide more options and flexibility than those old turn dials. Plus, they allow you to keep an eye on how much time is left in the cycle. Some options also have a time save cycle. It cuts about 15 to 20 minutes off of cycles that can normally run anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Our tests find most provide comparable cleaning to the normal cycle, if you’re not dealing with really stains. Automatic dispensing for detergent, fabric softener, and bleach, will release each one at the right time during the cycle. A bulk automatic dispenser does the same, but stores enough detergent to last for several loads. An extra rinse cycle is helpful if you’re sensitive to detergent or fabric softener residues. Automatic load sensing is a feature that senses the size of the load and used as just the right amount of water. An automatic temperature control adjusts the water to the correct temperature for the cycle you are using. Some machines have a My Cycle feature, so you and sometimes several other members of the household can program your favorite settings. A handful of high-end models even have an overnight wash and dry cycle that cleans and dries a small load, like your gym clothes, all in your washing machine. Steam settings are being touted for better cleaning performance, and even for reducing allergens. Consumer Reports doesn’t test for allergen removal, but we do find machines with steam options perform very well in our cleaning tests. Many manufacturers are coming up with clever ways to give you more options in one appliance. For example, this washer adds a separate washing machine for delicates, or smaller loads down below. This washer has a built in sink under the lid for hand-washing or pre-treating stains. Many machines are coming with smart technology that allow you to check in and control your cycle via an app. Some can even link to other smart devices like a thermostat. Finally, if your washing machine isn’t working properly, there’s an option on some called Remote Diagnosis, which allows your machine to connect with the manufacturer, sometimes via an app on your smartphone. Our Consumer Reports washer experts have tips to help keep your washer running. Detergent matters. Follow the dosing on the cap. More detergent does not mean better cleaning. Over time, detergents can build up, damaging the machine and your clothing. Always use H-E detergent in high-efficiency washers. Since these machines use a lot less water, regular detergents produce too many suds, and may eventually gum up your machine. Never overload your washing. Instead, opt for one with a larger capacity. This will help extend the life of your machine. Now that you’ve got the basics, visit ConsumerReports. org to share and find our specific washing machine brand ratings based on our in-depth expert testing. We’re a nonprofit, and we pay for all of the items we test. Thanks for your support. .