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.