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Washing Machine Guide

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What kind of washing machine suits your needs?

Technology has taken a leap forward and landed right in your laundry room. Today's clothes washers offer more cycles than a decade. As a result, there's less wear and tear on your clothes and wallet. New models with the Energy Star label help shrink your annual utility bill by as much as $75. If that's not enough to convince you, the contemporary designs, quiet operation and convenient features just might. Certain models now even come with small faucets inside the tub to rinse your hands or to pre-treat stains on the fly.


There are two types: top-loading washers and front-loading washers. Full size top-loading washers are the most popular type sold in the U.S. Front-loading machines, long the European standard, use less water and reduce energy consumption, possibly saving you up to $100 in annual utility bills. Front-loaders clean by tumbling, which means they're gentler on your clothes than top loaders with an agitator. European units also include built-in water heaters and automatically set the water levels. However, these can cost as much as $700 more than a top-loading washer.


Low-end top-loading models in the $250 to $350 range generally offer three wash/spin speed combinations: regular, permanent press, and delicate. They generally come with porcelain interiors and bleach dispensers. Careful shoppers also can find models that let you adjust the water-level dial in small increments so you get more exact matching for different load sizes.

Step up to a $600 to $800 top-loading model and you'll probably get a large plastic tub that won't rust, ergonomically designed rubber grips on the knobs, and a bleach or fabric-softener dispenser. Some mid-priced units include more than three wash/spin cycles and an extra rinse cycle, which is useful for those who are sensitive to detergents. High-end models, which include front and top-loaders, often boast super-capacity plus tubs, stainless-steel interiors, and easy-to-clean electronic controls.

Factors to consider

Evaluate your laundry needs and how many loads of laundry you wash a week. If you have a large family, or if you are planning a family in the near future, consider a "plus" size clothes washer that can handle large loads. If you travel a lot and tend to store up wash, a large tub capacity might best suit your needs. Larger interior dimensions will give you more flexibility. If you wear lots of delicate fabrics, consider a machine with special cycles that simulate hand washing. If you wash lots of heavy items, a unit that offers extended spin and extra rinse cycles is great.

Do you often have heavily soiled clothes such as sports uniforms? Then a machine that provides extra long wash cycles will get them clean. In contrast, if you have lightly soiled garments, a washer with a quick wash option may be best for you.

Are you buying it for a home you'll sell in a few years? If so, you may not want to spend a lot on a washer you won't keep for long. Or will this be the unit you're installing in a remodeled utility room?

How much space do you have? Freestanding clothes washers typically range in width from 22 inches to 27 inches. If you're buying a top loader and butting it up against a wall, you don't want a side-opening lid. It may hit the wall each time it's opened. If it's in the basement and poorly lit, you may want a lighted console or cycle signals. If it's in a utility closet near your bedroom, you may want a quiet-operating model.

What kind of power do you have? Top loaders are usually 120 volt, while European front loaders are 240 volt.

Tub capacity

Most washer tubs range in size from 2.45 cubic feet to 3.2 cubic feet. Don't try to compare industry terminology for tub capacity. Manufacturers use a variety of terms, such as extra large, super capacity, and super capacity plus. If you tend to save up your laundry or have a large family, look for a machine with the "plus" label. It will likely wash up to 15 pounds at a time.

Energy efficiency

Clothes washers that wear the U.S. Department of Energy's “Energy Star” label meet the government standards for low energy consumption. Buying an Energy Star-labeled washer might pay off two-fold as well. Roughly 15 states offer rebates from $50 to $300 to consumers who buy washers with this label.


If you have kids who play lots of sports, check out models that boast temperature settings, which automatically adjust the mix of incoming hot and cold water so cold is never below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If your water is too cold, powdered detergent may not dissolve completely and tough stains may remain. Other innovations include:

  • Extra long wash cycles
  • Extra rinse and spin
  • Prewash and soak
  • Four or more water levels
  • Hand-washable and extra-delicate cycles
  • Favorite cycle
  • Safety locks

Dials, push buttons and touchpads

Dials are the simplest way to work a washing machine. You turn it to whichever setting you want and usually pull it out to start the cycle. No fuss, no possible electronic malfunctions. Push buttons are a bit more technical but with the same simplicity involved. Touchpad controls are more sleekly designed and easier to clean than dials and push buttons, though cleanup of laundry appliances isn't major. The real benefit of buying a touchpad control is that it gives you instant feedback, with icons, flourescent temperature readouts, and cycle lights that can be seen from across a room.

Delivery and installation

Before you buy a clothes washer, think about how it will be installed. Do you want your old washer hauled away, or does your town allow curbside pickup of appliances? If you're rearranging or building a new laundry room, do you need water or electricity hooked up? Who will be home to accept delivery of your clothes washer-and when? And if you plan to install your washer in a basement, make sure you've measured the entranceway to ensure the unit can fit in your home.

Washing Machines Glossary of Terms

A – C

Agitation strokes: The number of rotations made by an agitator per minute.

Agitator: The device in the center of a top-loading washer that stirs the load and creates the washing action.

Approximate manufacturer's price: To calculate the approximate manufacturer's price, brandwise researches the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) and the minimum advertised price (MAP) through retailers nationwide. When we are able to collect it, brandwise uses the MSRP; if not, we resort to the MAP. In the absence of both prices, brandwise displays the highest price charged by a brandwise retailer for that specific product. Because of that, the price consumers end up paying may be slightly lower or higher than what they see on the site, depending on which merchant is selected, sales in progress, special offers and other variables.

Automatic balancing system: A device that senses when a load is out of balance and corrects it by using a floating suspension system. Machines without this feature may automatically shut off and require the user to shift the load manually.

Bleach dispenser: A funnel that pours bleach into the tub while the washer fills with water rather than requiring the user to manually pour it in directly.

Built-in faucet: A feature, often used to pre-treat clothes, that lets a user push a button and spray water into the tub before a washing cycle is activated.

Capacity: The volume of the washer cavity measured in cubic feet that lets a user know how much clothing the tub holds.

Cold cycle: A cycle that’s best for delicates or dyes that may run.

Colors cycle: A cycle with cold water that’s best for dyes that may run.

Controls: The knobs, buttons or electronic touchpads that regulate washing functions. The most common types of controls are: rotary, which offer control by turning a dial; pushbutton, which are controls that invert at the press of a finger; electronic, which are low-profile press pads; or a combination of the three options.

Cotton cycle: A warm cycle with aggressive agitation speed for durable items.

Cycles: The options available for washing clothes. See Cold cycle, Colors cycle, Cotton cycle, Delicate cycle, Energy saver cycle, Extra rinse, Favorite cycle, Handwashable cycle, Regular/normal/heavy duty cycle, Hot/cold cycle, Knits cycle, Permanent press cycle, Prewash cycle, Soak cycle, Warm/cold cycle and Wool cycle.

D – G

Delay start: A timer that lets a user start a load at a later time.

Delicate cycle: A constant agitation wash at a shorter and/or slower speed than normal.

Detergent dispenser: A container for detergent that lets incoming water filter through to dissolve detergent as it enters the wash load.

End-of-cycle signal: A buzzer or chime that alerts the user to the end of a cycle.

Energy saver cycle: A cycle that uses a fraction of the normal amount of rinse water in the final cycle, thus saving money by not heating as much water.

Extra rinse: A feature that lets a user set a second rinse cycle for heavily soiled items.

Extra spin: A feature that lets a user extend the spin time to remove excess water from items.

Fabric softener dispenser: A plastic agitation cap that generally pours the fabric softener into the wash load during the final rinse.

Favorite cycle: A one-touch option that automatically sets a user's most frequently used wash settings.

Front-loading washer: A washing machine that loads from the front, like a dryer, and washes without the aid of an agitator. Front loaders generally use less water than top loaders.

H – P

Handwashable cycle: A wash cycle that alternates a slow, intermittent wash with soaking to give fine washables delicate care.

Heavy duty (also see regular cycle): A wash cycle designed to provide cleaning with fast agitation. Best for cottons and heavily soiled clothes.

Hot/cold cycle: A cycle for heavily soiled items that need warm or hot water for optimal cleaning. In order to save energy, this warm or hot water cycle is followed by a cold rinse cycle.

Knits cycle: Similar to a delicate cycle, it uses warm water and gentle agitation for items like sweaters.

Lid opening: The direction and range the washer lid opens and the accessibility it provides.

Motor speed: A feature on the motor that determines the number of agitator and spin speeds on the washer. Washers come with one-, two- or three-speed motors.

Normal cycle: The most commonly used cycle for all-purpose mixed loads.

Permanent press cycle: A cycle designed to reduce wrinkling through various methods, including slower spin and agitation or a partial drain-and-fill method to cool the water.

Prewash: A brief wash period before a cycle begins.

R - Z

Regular/normal/heavy duty cycle: Generally, a cycle designed to provide cleaning with fast agitation. Best for cottons and heavily soiled clothes.

Safety lock: A feature on some models that lets the owner lock the control panel to keep settings from being changed; on other washers, this feature locks the lid to prevent children from opening the appliance during operation.

Self-adjusting rear leveling legs: A device that automatically levels the machine after the installer sets the front legs.

Soak cycle: A cycle in which the tub is filled with water to remove stains. There's little to no agitation during this cycle.

Sound reduction: Insulation features in some washers that reduce noise.

Spin speed: The rate at which the tub spins, propelling excess water from the clothes and out of the tub. Many machines feature several spin speeds.

Temperature selections: The settings on a machine that dictate wash and rinse water temperatures - typically cold, warm and hot and assorted combinations.

Top-loading washer: The most common washer configuration in the U.S., this type of machine loads from the top and washes by using an agitator to move the clothes and the water. It uses more water than a front loader.

Tub material: What the interior of the machine (the tub) is made of -- typically porcelain, plastic or stainless steel.

Warm/cold cycle: A cycle for heavily soiled items that need warm or hot water for optimal cleaning. In order to save energy, this warm or hot water cycle is followed by a cold rinse cycle.

Water level: The amount of water that enters the tub for a given load size. Levels include low, medium high and extra-high.

Wool cycle: A special option for washing wool and other similar delicates-the machine uses a slower, gentler agitation and less rinse and spin cycles.

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