Washing machine purchasing advice: how to choose the right product
- What you need to know
- There are two main types of washing machine designs: front-loading and top-loading. Front loaders are the most common type you find in homes.
- Having the right capacity washing machine will help you save water and electricity.
- AquaStop and a child lock are two essential features you should have on any washing machine.
- Regular cleaning and descaling is neither difficult nor time-consuming, and will considerably extend the lifetime of a washing machine.
A household essential
Whether you live alone, with friends, a partner, or with your family, a washing machine is one of the most essential home appliances. It wasn’t always like this though – hand washing was the primary method for most people for a long time. The first patent for a washing machine was registered by the British inventor John Tyzacke in 1691, but it took quite a while for washing machines to really take hold. The first electric machines were manufactured in New York and Chicago from about 1907, but they really began to conquer private households in the USA after the Second World War. By the 1960s and 70s, these appliances had become affordable enough for most of the US population.
However, this isn’t to say that washing machines are in every home worldwide. In fact, only about 30% of people worldwide have access to a washing machine. This figure is of course different depending on where you are in the world. For example, in Germany, 96.4% of private households have a washing machine, making it the second most popular home appliance after refrigerators.
If you can afford to buy your own washing machine, the advantages are huge compared to using a laundromat:
- No travel to the laundromat
- No waiting in the laundromat
- Price per wash is much higher at the laundromat
- No need to transport your laundry
Types of washing machines
There are essentially two main types of washing machines: front-loading and top-loading. These differ in terms of where you put your laundry in. As you can probably guess, front-loading machines have a door on the front, top-loading machines have it on the top. Both styles have their own respective advantages and disadvantages, depending on where you are planning on installing them.
Front-loading washing machines
Front loaders are by far the most popular type of washing machine, with a market share of around 90%. If you have enough space, a front-loading machine is the way to go. The reason for this is that this style of washing machine offers many advantages compared to top loaders. Moreover, due to their popularity, the number of models to choose from is far greater.
These washing machines tend to have a larger capacity than top-loading machines, and also run more quietly due to their wider dimensions. In general, capacity ranges from 1.4 to 2.2 cubic feet (6-9kg). Most models have a wide selection of different wash programs, and their top plates can either be used as storage surfaces, or they can fit under kitchen counters. You can get integrated machines with a removable top plate, which can be built into your kitchen cabinets.
Can all front-loading machines be inbuilt?
The short answer is no. Usually, manufacturers will indicate if their machine can be inbuilt, which means they will have a removable top panel which can be replaced by a kitchen surface.
There are a few disadvantages to front loaders compared with top-loading machines. Once you’ve started a cycle, you won’t be able to open the door and add more laundry as water would leak out – top-loading machines don’t run into this problem. To load and unload the machine, you’ll need to bend down or get on your knees, which might be an issue. Furthermore, since the detergent and water is in constant contact with the rubber seal on the door during a cycle, front loaders are more prone to leaking than top loaders. In spite of these small disadvantages, front-loading machines remain a solid and popular option, not least because well-equipped models can be relatively inexpensive. Prices tend to range from $250 to over $2500.
- Fits under kitchen surfaces
- Relatively large capacity
- Multiple washing programs
- Top surface can be used as a shelf
- Wide choice of models
- You need to bend down to load them
- Cycle cannot be interrupted
- Rubber seal more susceptible to damage
Top-loading washing machines
Overall, top-loading washing machines have more disadvantages than advantages. This said, in certain situations they are a better option than front loaders. They are significantly narrower, which can make them the best option if you have space limitations. Likewise, if you prefer not to bend down to fill up the washing machine, a top loader might be a better choice. The fact that the rubber seal is on the top and not constantly in contact with water also means that top loaders are relatively unlikely to leak.
If you’ve ever turned on your washing machine and realized you’ve forgotten a couple of socks, you’ll be pleased to know that top-loading machines let you stop the cycle midway to add them in. The washing drum rotates vertically in top loaders, which means they are less likely to fall over.
Despite their specific advantages, top-loading machines do have a few distinct disadvantages compared to front-loading ones. They aren’t particularly stable due to their thin dimensions, which also results in more noise during spin cycles. Capacity is usually between 1.1 and 1.7 cubic feet (4.5-7kg), which is far less than front loaders. They can’t be integrated underneath kitchen cabinets, since the countertop would block the opening – you’ll need to leave at least a foot (40cm) of space free above the machine. For the same reason, you also won’t be able to use the top as a storage space. Since only about 10% of washing machines sold are top-loading, there aren’t that many options available on the market. Prices start at around $350, and can run up to around $1400.
- Can be loaded standing up
- Can be loaded during a cycle
- Cannot be integrated under kitchen surfaces
- Comparatively low capacity
- Less stable
- Fewer cleaning programs
- Top needs to remain free
- Less products on the market
- No viewing window
- Comparatively expensive
While you can get front-loading machines that let you put a tumble dryer on top of them, an alternative option is to get a combination washer-dryer. Visually, these machines look just like front loaders, but they can also dry your clothes. While these are a great space-saving option, they aren’t as good as standalone devices at either washing or drying. You also won’t be able to simultaneously wash and dry two loads of laundry.
- No need to move laundry from washer to dryer
- Cheaper than two standalone machines
- Washing and drying not possible simultaneously
- High energy consumption
- Lower loading capacity for drying than washing
- Drying takes longer than in a normal tumble dryer
Once you’ve chosen the style of washing machine you want, the next thing to think about is capacity. Manufacturers specify capacity in cubic feet in the US, while in Europe it is rated in kilograms.
Why is the choice of the appropriate nominal capacity relevant?
Clearly, the larger the capacity, the more laundry you can do in one cycle. If you have too much capacity, you’ll end up using excess electricity and water by not filling your washing machine completely.
A full machine saves money!
Tests have shown that front-loading machines consume almost three times as much electricity when they are only slightly full compared to when they are totally full, so always fill your washing machine fully!
If you don’t have enough capacity, you’ll have to run multiple washes, which also will end up costing more. If you overload your machine, you run the risk of damaging it permanently, so it’s not worth running the risk.
How to choose the right capacity
Top-loading machines generally have a capacity between 1.1 and 1.7 cubic feet (4.5-7kg), while front-loading machines tend to have between 1.4 to 2.2 cubic feet (6-9kg). This se aid, there are of course models on the market with smaller and larger capacities than this.
The right size washing machine entirely depends on the size and type of your household. For example, a family will usually benefit from a larger machine as there will be a lot of laundry combined from everyone, but a house share with the same number of people as the family might actually benefit from a smaller machine as everyone will be doing their washing separately.
The questions you need to ask yourself to determine what capacity you need are as follows:
- How many people will be doing their laundry at the same time?
- How often do people do their laundry?
- Do some people have a lot of laundry due to professional or recreational reasons?
- Do you plan on washing large textiles like curtains and bed covers frequently?
As you might have guessed, there aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right washing machine capacity. In spite of this, the following table gives a rough guide of what you might need:
|Nominal capacity||Household size in persons||Typically suitable for …|
|1.2 ft³ (5 kg)||1 or 2||Single household, couples with low laundry load|
|1.4 ft³ (6kg)||2 or 3||Average household|
|1.7 ft³ (7kg)||3 or 4||High-volume family|
|2 ft³ (8kg)||4 or 5||Larger family with high laundry volume|
|2.2 ft³ (9kg)||More than 5||Large families|
The most important features
All washing machines work in the same way: you fill them up with clothes, detergent, and sometimes fabric softener, select a program, and press start. This said, there are a few extra features that can differentiate one model from the next. Read on for an overview.
Automatic load control and load sensor
This feature helps you save water and energy by automatically adjusting the amount of water the cycle uses depending on the size of the laundry load. So, if you put less laundry in the machine, it will use less water. Load sensors usually display the weight of your laundry on a little screen, which lets you know if you should add anything else to the drum. Some models will also display how much detergent you need dependent on the load.
Start time preselection and remaining time display
Start time preselection is an extremely useful feature if you aren’t always home. It lets you choose when you want the cycle to start or end, which means you can set your washing to be done when you get home. The remaining time display lets you know how long is left for the cycle.