We’ve tested the dirt removal, gentleness and efficiency of 41 top- and front-loading washing machines.
Types of washing machine
There are two main types of washing machine – top loaders and front loaders. Another option is a combination washing machine and dryer.
Top-loading washing machines
Top loaders usually get clothes clean by vigorously swirling them back and forth in the water. They’re faster than front loaders but can be tougher on your clothes.
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-loading washing machines have 2 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.
- You can add extra items after the wash starts (you can do this with some front loaders, too).
- Can be tough on your clothes.
- Use more water.
- Use more energy on a warm or a hot wash.
Front-loading washing machines
Front loaders remove dirt by gently turning the clothes over and over. They are more energy efficient and use less water than top loaders (but can produce stiff, rough or scratchy towels as a result).
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.
- Use less water than top loaders.
- Use less energy on a warm or a hot wash than top loaders.
- Gentler on clothes.
- Take a lot longer to get through their cycles than top loaders.
- Can't always add extra items after the wash starts.
- Can produce stiff scratchy towels if the model is too water efficient.
- Can result in higher levels of vibration than top-loaders, especially if you have wooden floors.
Things to consider
If you’re buying a washing machine, there’s more to consider than just type, size and price.
All machines have a range of cycle times to choose from.
If you're buying a front loader, a higher price generally means more features such as spin speeds and electronic controls.
If you're after a top loader, paying more should get you a machine that can adjust the wash to match the load size and maybe even the fabric. This can mean lower energy costs, lower water use and lower fabric wear. Be aware, though, that many top loaders aren’t gentle enough to wash “woollens” or “delicates”.
Tip: If there’s no "wool" or “delicate” cycle, you’ll have to adapt. You may need to use another wash cycle and shorten its wash time, lower the spin speed and/or set the water temperature to warm.
A spin speed of 1000rpm will remove a good amount of water. This cuts down on drying time, but could cause more creasing. Some models allow you to select a spin speed independently of the wash cycle.
Most laundry detergents are formulated to work in cold water (with a temperature between 15°C and 20°C). However, if you live in a cold climate, your machine may do a "controlled cold" wash where a small amount of hot water is used to lift the wash temperature to about 20°C. This helps the detergent dissolve properly.
If you have solar hot water, using it for warm and hot washes could save time (due to shorter wash times) and electricity. Most top loaders have tap connections for both hot and cold water. If you’d prefer a front loader, your options are limited: few front-loading models have dual connections. Even when they do, some draw in hot water only for a hot wash (60°C or hotter). For warm washes, they use their element to heat water.
Tip: Warmer water makes most detergents more effective – so for those really dirty loads, use a warm wash.
A downside of front loaders and water-efficient top loaders is that they can produce stiff, rough or scratchy towels. For towels to fluff up nicely, they need to be immersed in water.
Also, if too little water is used for rinsing, you may find detergent residue on your laundry.
We test washing machines using their “normal” cycle rather than their water-saving cycle, so our water-consumption figures will often be higher than those stated on the mandatory water-efficiency labels. Nevertheless, our test results can help you choose a machine that’s good at rinsing while still being water-efficient.
Many manufacturers now have machines with automatic detergent dosing, usually in their higher end models. With auto dosing the user fills the dosing compartment to the top with liquid detergent, and the washing machine then automatically doses the correct amount of detergent depending on the weight of the load, the selected program, type of fabric and some systems even adjust for the degree of soiling. Advantages of this system are that you will likely use less detergent and save water due to less rinsing required, but it’s also way more convenient to not have to load the detergent drawer for every wash.
You can read more about auto-dosing here.
Out of balance
Machines without this feature will stop when laundry clumps excessively. Those with this feature gently agitate the load to re-arrange it – a valuable option if you put on a load overnight and want to ensure you’ll be able to hang it out before you go to work.
Figure out how much space you have before buying a washing machine. The dimensions (HxWxD) provided by the manufacturer are for the appliance itself, but you’ll need some wiggle room during installation. And don’t forget the plumbing: check how far the hoses, cords and plugs extend and add that measurement, plus a bit more for airflow, to the stated depth.
Washing machines tend to vibrate, especially during the spin cycle, so leave at least 5cm on each side to accommodate any movement.
Also consider potential obstructions. If you have a top loader, will you be able to open the lid fully and reach inside without banging your head on a cabinet or shelf? With a front loader, will wall mouldings, for example, prevent the door from opening properly?
To calculate what capacity washing machine you need, weigh the maximum load you wash. If you have a set of bathroom scales, hop on with an empty washing basket for the base reading, then fill the basket with the maximum amount you’d wash at one time. Get back on the scales with the full basket, then subtract the first measurement from the second to get your load weight. Now you know what capacity you need.
The majority of manufacturers offer a 2 year warranty with their machines, but some also have additional motor warranties, usually of 10 years. A motor replacement can be expensive so you should take these warranties into consideration when deciding which model or brand to buy. Warranty information is displayed in our test results. Remember that any warranty offered is in addition to your rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act.
Washing machines often get heavy use - so if 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.
- 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.
- Check that all connecting and drainage hoses are intact and in good condition.
- 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.
What if the model I’m interested in hasn’t been tested?
Testing washing machines is expensive, and our laboratory has limited capacity. We survey the market and try to test as many popular models as possible, but we might not have tested the model you have seen on special. We can still help. Look at the results for similar models by that manufacturer, and check out our Top Brand awards and brand reliability data below.
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Energy rating labels
The Energy Rating Label has a scale of stars to show how energy efficient a model is, compared to other models of the same size/capacity.
More stars = more energy efficient.
The energy consumption figure is in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and you can use this figure and the cost (tariff) from your latest power bill to calculate how much this model will cost to run. The MBIE-reported national average cost of a kWh in New Zealand is 29¢.
Lower kWh = cheaper to run.
Washing machine annual energy consumption in kWh is based on standards testing, assumes 365 uses a year and is for a warm wash.
You should only compare star ratings of washing machines with the same or similar capacities.
For information on energy ratings and how to use them, see our Energy Rating Labels explained article.