What size washing machine should I buy?

What size washing machine should you buy? Here’s how to find out
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When it comes to buying a new washing machine, is bigger always better? Many of the best washing machines include washers of up to five cubic feet capacity and sometimes will offer even more space to take enormous loads of laundry in one go. Does that mean you need to go for the largest washing machine you can buy, or would you be better choosing something smaller (and often cheaper) for your family's laundry needs? 

One of the many reasons buying a new washing machine can be daunting is that very few of us actually know what a cubic foot actually is in real terms. Sure, three cubic feet is smaller than five, but is it still generous enough to fit your comforter or bed sheets? The way we explain it for those shopping for a fridge is to think of a cubic foot as the equivalent of a regular-size grocery bag. This is a rough measurement, of course, but it helps to visualize just how much produce you'll fit in your new fridge, and the same can be said for how much washing you'll get into a washing machine. 

That said, although it's not advised to overfill a fridge, it's far more dangerous to stuff your washing machine drum full to the brim of laundry. So, if you're considering buying a 3.5 cubic foot top load washing machine, that doesn't mean you'll be able to fit 3.5 cubic feet of laundry in there. More likely, you’ll be able to fit in two cubic feet of laundry while leaving room for the machine to do the work. You need to leave room for the machine to add water, and if your laundry is too densely packed, it won't be able to move around, creating the friction that most washing machines use to remove stains and odors. 

Consider your needs 

According to Compact Appliance, “Four cubic feet is enough to wash 12-16 pounds of laundry. A larger capacity unit at 4.5 cubic feet can hold up to 20 pounds of laundry.” A 3.5 cubic foot washing machine will fit a queen-size comforter, but it will struggle to accommodate a king-size. These are likely the bulkiest items you’ll wash in your new machine, but if you have the room to accommodate a larger washing machine, it will be worth it to have a fresh and clean comforter. 

How big is your family or household? This is the major determining factor in choosing the ideal washing machine size and capacity for your home. Kids can be messy, and you’ll likely be going to extra lengths to make sure that their clothes and bedding are sanitary, so parents should be realistic in considering not just how much laundry they accumulate in a few days but how often they’re running washing cycles right now. Not only is it stressful to be constantly washing and drying, trying to keep on top of an ever-growing laundry pile, but it’s also not good for your washer. These machines will run far more efficiently if they’re not over-filled, and you’ll find that your energy use plummets if you invest in something a little larger that you have to run less regularly. 

How to clean your washing machine

(Image credit: Getty)

Is bigger always better?  

While it’s sensible to opt for a large model if you’ve got a large family, the reverse is also true. The short answer to our earlier question is that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to washing machine size. Running an under-filled machine is not only a waste of energy and water, but it also means your clothes aren’t being cleaned in the optimum conditions designed for that washer. If you do find yourself waiting for a full laundry hamper before putting on a wash, this can take far too long for smaller households. Nobody likes to root around in their dresser only to find that they’re out of clean shirts or pants, so don’t force yourself into this position by buying a washer that’s too large for your needs.  

What size dryer is best?

When it comes to dryers, it’s a whole different story. There’s a reason that the best dryers will come with a larger capacity than their washing machine counterparts, and this is down to the conditions your clothes need to dry effectively. Opting for a large washer of six or seven cubic feet will create room for your clothes to move freely, and this large barrel size will create space for your wet clothes to give off steam and water. Your clothes will dry more quickly in a dryer with a large capacity because they have space to breathe, so don’t overfill these machines just because they have a larger capacity than their matching washers.  

Millie Fender
Head of Reviews

Millie Fender is Head of Reviews at Top Ten Reviews. She also works on our sister sites: Real Homes, Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, and Livingetc. As Head of Reviews, Millie is on a mission to make sure that we are reviewing all of the latest and greatest products for you and your home, whether it's a vacuum cleaner or an inflatable hot tub.