Top load vs front load washers: Which is the better washing machine?

When choosing the best washing machine for your home, you'll first need to decide between top load vs front load washers. They can both make light work of your laundry, but each offer their own strengths and weaknesses depending on your household's priorities.

The best top load washers and the best front load washers work differently, in terms of how they wash clothes, how they fit in the home, and how much energy and detergent they use. While top load washers are generally slimmer, front load washers are often stackable, so you can save space when paired with a dryer. 

Front load washers are as popular as they are effective, being able to handle large laundry loads with (often) smart features. Top load washers, while perhaps lacking in features, remain popular as they can be better suited to those with mobility issues or limited space.

We’ll be breaking down the key differences when it comes to price, design, features, capacity, and efficiency to help you decide between getting a top load vs a front load washer. 

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Design

We wouldn’t be able to compare these two types of machines if we didn’t discuss how they actually wash clothes - which is probably the biggest difference between them. 

Top load washers feature a wash basket that fills with water and submerges the clothes. The wash basket is also fitted with an agitator - a column that moves from side to side and rubs against the clothes to get them clean. This method of washing is quite harsh on clothes and can sometimes cause damage. 

Despite that, the cleaning still isn’t as thorough as you get with a front-loading washer. Top load machines are improving, however, and some are available with an impeller that spins the clothes around rather than rubs them against an agitator. 

Top load washer open with clothes in the drum.

(Image credit: Getty)

Front-load washing machines feature a drum that uses gravity to tumble the clothes around in a spinning motion. Because the clothes are constantly moving, front loaders don’t require as much water to clean the clothes. This method of cleaning is more gentle than using an agitator, and it means front load washers are normally quieter than top loaders.

For more info on this, check out our agitator vs impeller guide to see exactly how each washer works. 

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Features

These days front load washers are packed with smart features, like app compatibility, steam washing, and countless cycle presets. For those who can afford one, front load machines offer greater control over how you wash your clothes, while being more energy efficient and less aggressive on your laundry.

Top load washers have a hatch (you guessed it) on the top which makes them a good option for those with mobility issues because you don’t have to bend down to load your washing in. The downside is that you won’t be able to stack a top loader with a dryer which could be an issue if you’re short on floor space. 

Many top-load washers allow you to open the lid and add that odd sock you left behind, even after the wash has started. This isn’t something many front loaders can offer but there are some newer models with an add-garment function.

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Capacity

Getting the right capacity washer for your home is key to avoiding a lot of headaches (and large bills) down the washing line. Washer tubs are measured in cubic feet and are typically categorized as:

Compact - 1.5-3.4 cubic feet

Standard or high-efficiency top load - 3.5-4.4 cubic feet

Large - 4.5 cubic feet or more

Most washers on the market in either type tend to fit into the standard or large sizes, but there are compact or industrial level models as well. We recommend measuring the space you have or the previous model and letting that help guide your final decision. Top-load washers are often on the larger side when compared with their front-load counterparts. 

Samsung WF42H5000AW front load washer in kitchen beside matching dryer

(Image credit: Samsung)

Another way to measure capacity comes down to how many pounds of laundry the drum can support per load. How large the washer is in cubic feet determines how large the drum capacity will be. There are typically a few categories of washer drum to consider:

• Small - up to 13 pounds

• Standard - up to 15.5 pounds

• Large - up to 18 pounds

• Extra large - over 19 pounds

How large your household is and how often you do your laundry are some of the key factors that will influence what drum capacity is best for you. Smaller families or people who do less laundry will need a smaller washer and large families with a lot of laundry loads a week need bigger washers.

Generally, top-load washers can support between 10-14 pounds and front-load washers can support 18 pounds or over on average. If you have a smaller space or household, the top-load washer may be best for you. If you have a larger or taller space, then stackable front-load washers with a larger capacity may be the best fit.

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Price

Top load washers are the affordable option out of the two, making them a reliable alternative for households with tighter budgets. It's worth noting though that top loaders often use more water and energy, so can end up costing you more down the line. 

Front load washers are more expensive up front, but this is reflective of their increased washing capabilities. Quicker washes, bigger capacities and extra cycle options make front load machines more capable washers, and that tech comes at a higher price point. 

Front load washing machines are far more efficient however, and will save precious money on bills over time. 

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Verdict

When it comes to a new washer, you need to consider your budget, space, and what features are most important to you. The best top load washer or best front load washer for you will be different depending on your home and its needs. We recommend doing your research and consulting customer reviews to see what size and features you can get for a good price. 

If you are on a tight budget or low on space, a top-load washer may be right for you - just bear in mind that it uses more detergent and water with each load. On the other hand, if energy efficiency and saving on bills are more important than the upfront cost, we recommend trying a front washer.

However, the design of each type is also key to consider. Top load washers are often great for those with chronic pain or mobility issues as there is less bending to consider but it is often easier to reach for laundry in a front-facing drum. Larger families would also benefit from having a larger front washer drum that can stack with a matching dryer. 

Decided between the two? Now it's time to learn how to choose a washing machine, to find the washer that's a perfect fit for your home.

Freelance Writer