If you're thinking about buying a washing machine, there are 3 main features you need to consider – loading style, size, and price.

Top or front loader?

Top loaders and front loaders wash equally well – they just do it differently. Front loaders remove dirt by gently turning the clothes over and over. Top loaders usually get clothes clean by vigorously swirling them back and forth in the water.

Top loaders are faster – and you can add extra items after the wash starts (you can do this with some front loaders, too). But top loaders can be tougher on your clothes. Front loaders use less water, which means they'll also use less energy on a warm or a hot wash. They're gentler on clothes and almost always rate highly for this in our tests. But they take a lot longer to get through their cycles.

If you have lots of delicate items in your wardrobe, a gentle front-loading machine with a cycle for hand-washable items will help your clothes last longer. But if you just need a machine to get the dirt out of non-delicate clothes and fabrics, any of the top loaders in our test will do a good job.

Impellers or agitators?

Top-loaders have two options for swirling the load: an agitator (central spindle), or an impeller (a small bump at the bottom of the bowl). Impellers spin and pulse to turn the washing over, rather than twisting it. Washing machines with impellers tend to be easier to load and unload, but their dirt removal isn't always as good as agitator models.

Machine size

Most people buy around the 5.5kg mark, but if you have a mid-size to larger family we suggest you look at a larger model. Many 7kg models will fit in the standard 600mm wide space in a laundry. A larger-capacity machine with auto-water-level sensing is as good a choice as a smaller-capacity model as it will adjust water levels to match the load.

Some washing machines are not as big as they claim. If you buy a washer and it doesn't wash a full load properly, or the clothes get clogged on the agitator, or it regularly goes out of balance during spin cycles, you should complain to the retailer.

The Consumer Guarantees Act says a product must be fit for its purpose. If your "8kg" machine washes only 6kg of clothes, you have the right to get it fixed or replaced, or to get your money back.

An 8kg machine ought to hold this many clothes!
How much in a full load?

A full load for a 5kg washing machine equates to: 4 towels, 2 double sheets, 4 shirts, 3 T-shirts, 5 hankies, 2 facecloths, 3 pairs underpants, and 4 pillowcases.

In an 8kg load (as pictured right) for a large machine, the extra 3kg equates to: 4 shirts, 6 T-shirts, and 4 towels. See Our new test for more about the load sizes we use for our testing.

Price

Most washing machines wash clothes well. But there can be big differences in the additional features they offer, and these affect the price. When you're looking at the price tags, remember: higher price does not always equal better performance.

If you're buying a top loader, the extra money should buy you a machine that will adjust the wash to match the load size and maybe even the fabric. This can mean lower energy costs, lower water use and even lower fabric wear, with the convenience of not having to worry about the cycle you choose.

With front-loading models, paying more generally means more features like spin speeds, electronic controls and the like.

Other considerations

Cycle time

Top loaders are generally much faster than front loaders on the normal cycle. But, all machines have a range of cycle times to choose from. Most front loaders have fast wash cycles that come close to matching the time taken by top loaders on the normal cycle.

Spin efficiency

Machines with a spin speed of 1000rpm will remove a good amount of water, cutting down on drying time. But faster spin speeds can mean more creasing (and possibly more ironing). Look for a model that allows you to select the spin speed independently from the wash cycle.

Cold washes

Cold washes are definitely good for the environment, and most laundry detergents are formulated to work in 15 to 20°C cold water. But some front-loading models can't do a genuine cold wash. Several models in our test could only do a 30°C wash when set on a "normal" or "cottons" wash cycle. That's very close to the "warm" setting on many machines.

If you live in a really cold climate, some machines will do a "controlled cold" wash where a small amount of hot water is used to lift the wash temperature to around 20°C. This helps the detergent dissolve properly.

Tip: Warmer water makes most detergents more effective - so for those really dirty loads, a warm wash should give you cleaner clothes.

See Water conservation for more information about water use and cold water washing.

Out of balance

Many models now have an out-of-balance correction function. If the load gets too unevenly distributed during the wash, the machine will stop, tumble or agitate gently to re-arrange the load, and start again. It's really valuable if you put on a load overnight and want to throw it on the line before you go to work.

Vibrating floorboards

Concrete floors cope best with the extra weight and vibrations of a front loader, but most manufacturers say that standing a front loader on a timber floor shouldn’t cause damage to the floor … provided the floor is in good condition, is level, and can hold the machine’s weight … and provided the machine’s feet are adjusted properly and stabilise automatically. To prevent scratches on polished timber flooring, you might want to put a non-slip mat under the machine.

If the floorboards are in poorer condition, some manufacturers advise putting a panel under the machine to distribute its weight evenly. Miele goes further: it recommends screwing the panel through the floorboards into as many floor joists as possible, to help minimise vibration. It also suggests putting the machine in a corner where the floor is most stable.

Woollens wash cycles

Almost all washing machines have a wash cycle that is suitable for washing woollen items labelled as machine washable. It may be called a "wool" cycle or you may have to adapt another wash cycle such as “delicates” by shortening the wash time, lowering the spin speed and/or setting the water temperature to warm.

Some front loaders have an extra-gentle cycle for items labelled handwash only – including woollens. It may be called "handwash" or "handwash/woollens". You won't find this feature in top-loading machines – they're typically not gentle enough.

If a model has this feature, we give it a tick for "woollens cycle – hand-washable" in the full specifications section of the Test results.
 

Buying second hand


Washing machines often get heavy use - so if you're buying second hand, newer is better.

  • Only buy if the machine looks tidy and well cared for. Fisher & Paykel is the most common second-hand brand - but they can be expensive to repair.
  • Stick to well-known reliable brands. And buy a machine that's less than 5 years old; it'll be easier to get parts if anything needs fixing. See our reliability data for what brands to look for.
  • Looking at a front loader? Check the door seal is intact and the door shuts properly.
  • Check that all connecting and drainage hoses are intact and in good condition.
  • Under the Electricity Act, all electrical appliances for sale must be safe - whether they're new or second-hand, bought privately or from a dealer.
  • If you buy from a second-hand dealer and then discover the machine's faulty, you're covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. If you buy privately, you're not.

 

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