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Top-Loading vs. Front-Loading Washing Machines

When purchasing a washing machine, design may be the biggest decision you'll have to make: Should you buy a front-loading or a top-loading washer?

Top-Loading Washing Machines.

If upfront cost is your primary concern, top-loading washing machines (also called "vertical axis washers") are the way to go. CNET estimates the cost of standard top-load washers ranges between $300 and $650 - a much lower price bracket than the alternative front-load washing machine.
Research conducted by the Whirlpool Corporation estimates that 75 percent of American households have top-load washers. Many choose top-loading washers for ergonomic reasons, preferring to avoid bending down to deal with the laundry. Users of standard top-load washers also appreciate the ability to pause cycles to soak clothes or toss in an errant sock -- options front-loaders don't offer.

A good top-loading washing machine may simply suit your space. While they lack the stacking advantage of front-loaders, top-load washers, like the Admiral ATW4475VQ (starting at $298) or the Maytag Centennial MVWC6ESWW (starting at $444), are better suited for narrow spaces because they require little to no door clearance and often aren't as deep as inexpensive front-loading washing machines.

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One disadvantage has been that top-load washers are the less eco-friendly option. However, the latest generation of HE top-loaders is designed to close, or at least narrow, the energy-use gap between the two types of washers while preserving the design advantages of top-load washers. High-efficiency top-loaders have successfully upped the "green" ante, but at a high price -- cost typically ranges from $600 to $1600. However, few HE top-load washers fall into the Cheapism price bracket, and those that do are new and largely untested.

Front-Loading Washing Machines.

Front-loading washing machines (or "horizontal axis washers") are the trendier and pricier choice for washing machines. CNET estimates that a front-loading washing machine will typically set you back between $700 and $2,700, but they have advantages that many consumers find hard to ignore. Perhaps the biggest selling point for cheap front-loaders is their water and energy efficiency. The cheapest front-loading washing machines come in at under $650, mid-range washers come in between $650 and $850, and high-end washers can go well above $850. Low-cost front-loaders, like the Frigidaire GLTF2940FS or the LG WM2101HW, are a good option for frugal buyers with eco-friendly aspirations. Even if your motives are purely financial, the efficient front-loaders will cost you less on your utility bills.

When it comes to your clothes, front-loading washing machines have a lot to boast about. Front-loaders feature a large load capacity (a big time-saver if you're washing for your whole family or prefer to only do a large, sporadic load). Recent studies are also showing that the clothes end up cleaner than the more traditional top-load washers. Front-loading machines are also gentler on your clothing, which may be another valid concern for a thrifty consumer. Keep in mind, though, that front-loaders do have longer cycles than top-loaders.

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Another advantage is space related -- if space in your laundry room is limited, you may prefer a cheap front-loading washer, like the LG WM2101HW (starting at $630) or the Frigidaire GLTF2940FS (starting at $538), which can be stacked with a dryer for a smaller footprint.

On the other hand, common complaints about front-loading washers exist at all price levels. Users are frustrated about the hassle of small washables catching between the rubber seal, or "boot," and the door. Your front-loader repairs are also likely to be a bit costlier, and potentially more frequent than if you were to go with a top-load washer. Another common complaint is their tendency toward mold and mildew. This may pose a problem in high-traffic laundry areas. Experts advise leaving the door cracked open between washes to deter mold development.

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