Agitator vs Impeller: which washing machine type is best?

The decision between agitator vs impeller washers can shape the way you do laundry for years to come, with many factors to weigh up when understanding which is more effective for your household. Washing power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness are all things to consider, and it's important to understand your laundry options before you settle on a machine. 

In the simplest terms possible, agitators are central columns that twist and turn during a wash cycle and are usually found within the best top load washers. They are sometimes equipped with vanes in order to create friction and aid in removing stains and dirt from clothes due to the vigorous motion they create. By contrast, impellers, which are ordinarily found within the best front load washers, are disc-shaped devices that work to spin your clothes in a circular motion within the main body of the machine. 

In this feature, we aim to bring you all the vital information in the debate between agitator vs impeller washers so you can invest in the best washing machine for you. And for a more focused guide, be sure to learn how to choose a washing machine so that you're not forgetting any vital considerations.

Agitator vs. Impeller: Which washes better?

Washing machines with an impeller tend to wash your clothes better than with an agitator. That means that generally speaking, front-load washers or top-load washers without an agitator will do a better job of getting rid of tough stains and dirt off your clothes. 

Impellers work by turning the clothes in a circular motion so that they're constantly spinning and rubbing against each other for a thorough clean. Agitator washers rely on the agitator itself to do the cleaning, and the clothes need to come into contact with the agitator to really be cleaned thoroughly. For stains and really dirty clothes, an impeller washer is the better option. 

Another thing to consider about agitator machines is the potential damage to your clothes. Top load washers are known to occasionally cause damage to clothes due to how rough some agitators are with fabrics. 

Amana NTW4516FW top-load washer

(Image credit: Home Depot)

Agitator vs. Impeller: Which is more energy efficient?

Washing machines with agitators will completely submerge your clothes in water to clean them. This uses a great deal more water than impeller machines, as these spin the clothes around in circles without fully submerging them. And, as less water is used in impeller washers, you also won't need as much detergent. 

There’s another reason why washing machines with an impeller are more energy-efficient than those with an agitator, too. Impeller washers spin clothes at impressively high speeds, which means that the clothes aren’t as wet when you take them out of the washer. What that means is that even if you’ve got one of the best dryers, your clothes won’t take as long to dry as they would when washed in an agitator washing machine. 

Top-load washers are still very popular, though, and they are nearly always cheaper than a front-load washer. Due to their popularity, top load washers have come a long way, and you can now get high-efficiency top loaders that feature high spin speeds and an impeller inside the drum, too. However, these types of washers still don’t get your clothes quite as clean as a front-load washer due to the lack of gravity, making the clothes tumble around more. 

With any type of washing machine, it’s often more eco-friendly to wash at lower temperatures. However, higher temperatures are needed to completely kill off bacteria and sanitize your washing machine, as well at tackling detergent build-up regularly. 

5 tips for cleaning your top load washer

(Image credit: Getty)

Can you replace a washer agitator?

In short, the answer is yes. If you’ve bought a washing machine, it’s pretty likely that you’ll want it to last as long as possible, so maintaining all of the parts in your washing machine will help with that. 

First, though, you might be wondering how to tell if your agitator is broken. Aside from obvious things like visibly noticing that the washing machine agitator has snapped or is broken, telltale signs that something is wrong include your washer becoming unusually loud when it’s on. 

A broken agitator can be replaced fairly easily, but we’d always recommend getting a professional to run diagnostics on the washer first as the issue could be concerned with something separate such as the washer lid. 

Some top-load washers have filters that will need regular cleaning to stop your washing machine from smelling. Front-load washers will not need cleaning in the same way, but there are simple steps you’ll need to take to keep it in top condition, including using a hot wash regularly and leaving the washer door open to prevent smells. If you need tips and tricks on keeping your washer sparkling clean, check out our advice on how to clean your washing machine.  

Agitator vs Impeller: Which is more popular?

Personal preference plays its own part in the debate between agitators or impeller washers. Agitators have been around a lot longer, and have the benefit of being the more familiar option to some people. If you grew up with a washer with an agitator, you might be more comfortable with using one, though it’s thought that impellers do a better job overall. 

Luckily, whether you want to stick to what you know with an agitator or fit a model with an impeller, retailers still stock both.

Agitator vs Impeller: What the expert says…

Joanne Lewsley
Joanne Lewsley

Joanne Lewsley is a freelance home and lifestyle writer who specializes in evidence-based content. She is also a Top Ten Reviews Customer Advisor for vacuums, air purifiers, and cleaning devices. She evaluates the quality of home gadgets in these areas, putting them through their paces in a natural home environment for reviews, updating buying guides, and speaking to industry experts on the latest product advances.

Joanne Lewsley, Top Ten Reviews' Customer Advisor for Cleaning, says, "The key difference between an agitator and an impeller washing machine is in how they clean. A washing machine with an agitator features one or two central posts that move around or back and forth, rubbing against clothes to break up stains. A washing machine with an impeller rotates the clothes instead. This ensures the clothes rub against each other, which is gentler on laundry.

Washing machines with impellers tend to be more efficient in terms of water and energy. They can usually take a larger load of laundry than a washing machine with a central column. They may be better for you if you’re looking to wash lightly soiled clothes on a regular basis and want to cut down on your energy and water costs. 

However, agitators are known for their effectiveness in breaking down tough stains, so if you’re regularly washing clothes that are heavily soiled, you may get better value from a washing machine with an agitator. Bear in mind, though, that the constant movement of the agitator could cause damage to fabrics over time, and these types of washing machines use a lot more water."

Sophie Bird

Sophie is Home Editor at Top Ten Reviews. Starting off her career in print journalism, Sophie then moved to digital and now specializes in lifestyle, home interiors and social media. While she has scooped awards for her journalism, Sophie likes to whip up a storm in the kitchen when she's not writing.

With contributions from