- Cycle time: Top-loading washing machines are generally much faster than front-loading machines 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.
- 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.