Top load vs front load washers: Which washer is best?

Front load and top load washer sitting side by side.
(Image credit: Samsung, Electrolux)

When choosing a new washer for your home, it can be hard to decide which is better in the top loading vs front loading washer debate. These machines are just there to wash your clothes, but they can cause a real headache. 

Both the best top load washers and the best front load washers work differently, which affects how much energy and detergent they use. You also need to consider how much space you have available and how often you wash laundry loads per week to know which size is best. The ideal machine for one person may not be feasible for someone else, making it tricky to decide and easy to wonder. 

Washing machines are typically available in three sizes - small, standard, and large. The size category also determines the drum size, which is key in deciding how many loads it will take to get through a weekly pile. Modern models come with a range of cycle options and extra features to make the Sisyphean task of doing the laundry a little bit easier, like eco or quick washes and delay timers.

Although top-load washers are the more vintage option, they remain really popular as they are good for those with mobility issues or limited space. Front-load washers, on the other hand, are popular as they are highly effective and can handle larger laundry loads. 

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. 

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.

Top Load vs Front Load Washers: Features

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 that do have 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. 

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 right for your home. 

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. 

Freelance Writer