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Cheap Washing Machines Buying Guide

Consumers today can choose between two types of washers -- traditional top-loading machines and trendier front-loading models. In general, top-loaders are the cheapest washing machines and less energy efficient, although newer and pricier high-efficiency top-loading units are making strides in energy and water conservation.

Standard top-loaders tend to need fewer and less complex repairs than cheap front-loaders, but recent testing suggests these units don't clean clothes as well. Front-loading washers use less water than top-loaders, are gentler on clothing (there's no agitator), and clean more effectively overall. On the downside, front-loaders cost far more than top-loaders, are more prone to "walking," and breed mold when not properly maintained.

When comparing overall costs of ownership for top loaders and front loaders, factors like local utility rates, frequency of use, and usage mode (e.g., cold wash or hot wash, large loads or small) affect the bottom line. The self-described "Mr. Electricity" of the website Saving Electricity says front-loaders consume 40-75% less water and 30-85% less energy than standard top-loading machines. To determine whether or not a pricier front-loader will actually prove cheaper in the long run, you can compare models using the Laundry Costs Calculator found on the site.

Other factors that differentiate cheap washing machines should also figure into your decision making. Where you plan to put the washer, for example, will dictate the size and configuration of the unit. The capacity you need is tied to how much laundry you do and for how many people. You also have to weigh time against energy consumption to determine which is more important -- the longer cycles and lower energy bills of front-loaders, or speedier but less eco-friendly top-loaders. Finally, color is a feature that many consumers couldn't care less about, but if your washer is in a kitchen or bathroom, it might be a concern.

Brands sitting in the budget end of the price category include Whirlpool, Maytag, Admiral, Kenmore, LG, and GE. Whirlpool and Admiral are Maytag-owned names, and some Kenmore models are also manufactured by Maytag and others are built by LG. Multiple discussion board threads and user reviews suggest Maytag and its brands are more highly regarded than GE, but all of these well-known names are considered generally reliable. It's worth noting that washers selling above the $600 price point are ranked by experts and consumers as more dependable than inexpensive washing machines. If you don't like to compromise, check big box stores and appliance warehouses for sales. You should be able to snag a top-performing washer like the front-load Kenmore 40272 (starting at $830) for $100 to $200 below the regular retail price.

We looked at several aspects of cheap washing machines when making our picks. We analyzed cleaning power, dependability, and efficiency to assess overall performance. Are users happy with dirt and stain removal? Do washables emerge in good condition? What kind of repair history does each model have, and how frequent are reports of breakdowns? How long do low priced washers typically last? We considered the reviews of both users and industry experts, and here is where we netted out.

The top-loading Admiral ATW4475VQ (starting at $298) and front-loading LG WM2101HW (starting at $630) are our picks for best cheap washing machines. The Admiral ATW4475VQ isn't Energy Star-qualified, but it's one of the cheapest models out there and wins praise from users for being a high-performing workhorse. The LG WM210HW, which usually sells for about $700 but sometimes shows up for $630 or so, is quiet, energy efficient, and cleans like a dream, according to users and experts. This budget front-load washer outranks models twice its price for a place high on the honor roll of consumer products review sites, and if you can get it on sale, it's an excellent deal.

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The top-loading Maytag Centennial MVWC6ESWW (starting at $444) and front-loading Frigidaire GLTF2940FS (starting at $538) are also good cheap washing machines. The Maytag MVWC6ESWW saves water when compared to older machines (a feature that leaves some users grumbling), and consumers say it performs well for the price but could be gentler on clothes. The Frigidaire GLTF2940FS has most of the features users want -- high-efficiency, adequate cleaning, decent capacity -- for an extremely reasonable price. This model doesn't inspire great enthusiasm, but gets above-average reviews from experts.

You might want to pass on the Frigidaire FTF530FS (starting at $437) front-loading washer. User reviews are a mixed bag, and the frequent occurrence of reported repairs raises questions about its reliability.

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