Washer and Dryer Buying Guide

We’ve come a long way from washboards and clotheslines. Today’s washers and dryers are sleek and surprisingly tech-savvy while producing clean laundry more effortlessly and efficiently than ever before. If you’re purchasing for the first time or upgrading to a newer model, review our hints and tips to choose the features, size, and type of a washer and dryer that is best for you.

We’ve come a long way from washboards and clotheslines. Today’s washers and dryers are sleek and surprisingly tech-savvy while producing clean laundry more effortlessly and efficiently than ever before. If you’re purchasing for the first time or upgrading to a newer model, review our hints and tips to choose the features, size, and type of a washer and dryer that is best for you.

Types of Washing Machines

Washing machines help us minimize fuss and time spent doing laundry. It’s important to think about the size and setup of your laundry space as well as the capacity of your laundry loads. With some planning and thought, you can have a washer that will meet your needs for years to come.

Traditional Top-load Washer

Top-loading washers were the only choice for a long time and tend to be the least expensive option. They’re a little tougher on clothes because of the central agitator that spins your clothes. They have quicker wash cycles, but will need more drying time due to slower spin cycles. Top-loaders are easier to use because they require less bending over, which is a consideration for those with limited mobility.

Advantages
  • Least expensive model to purchase
  • Quicker wash cyle time
Considerations
  • Use more water than a front-loading model
  • Central agitator adds more wear and tear on laundry
  • Slower spin cycles mean longer drying times

High Efficiency Top-load Washer

A high-efficiency top-load washer combines the best of top-load and front-load models. They’re easier to load than a front-load version, and their capacity is larger than a regular top-load model because there is no agitator. Keep in mind that any high-efficiency washing machine requires laundry detergent designed specifically for it.

Advantages
  • Larger load capacity than traditional top-loader
  • More energy and water efficient than a traditional top-loader
  • Less bending to load or unload laundry
Considerations
  • More expensive than traditional top-loader
  • High spin speeds can increase wrinkling

Front-load Washer

Front-loading washers are a popular and practical choice. Because they don’t have an agitator, they offer a larger capacity and allow you to wash comforters you might otherwise have to take to a laundromat. Front-loaders are also an energy efficient choice. They sense how much water is needed based on the load size and ultimately use far less than their traditional top-load counterparts. And because they have higher spin speeds, clothes require less drying time.

Advantages
  • Larger capacity than top-loading washing machines
  • Uses less water and electricity than traditional top-loaders
  • Faster spin cycles reduce drying time
  • Gentle on laundry
Considerations
  • Wash cycles last longer
  • More up-front costs
  • High speed spin cycles can cause disruptive vibrations
  • Requires bending to load and unload

Washing Machine Features

New washers on the market offer loads of options to meet every laundry need, so it’s a matter of deciding what features are most important and helpful to you. Keep these popular options in mind when shopping for a unit that offers more ease and efficiency.

illustration of washing cycles on a washing machine

Wash Cycles

Think about your daily laundry needs to determine if a quick load, extra rinse, or a delicate cycle is crucial to you. Both the water temperature and agitation speed can be fine-tuned to best suit your laundry needs.

illustration of a thermometer

Temperature Control

Hot, cold, and warm water options are basic features that are limited to what’s available from your water heater. However, washers featuring automatic temperature control can adjust temperatures as needed to maximize cleaning power.

illustration of a load of laundry

Laundry Load Sensor

Front-loading and high-efficiency top-load washers use a laundry load sensor to determine the size of your load and the ideal amount of water needed to clean your clothes most effectively.

illustration of a flame and temperature gauge

Internal Water Heater

A built-in water heater allows your washer to attain higher water temperatures than what your water heater can provide alone. This boosts the cleaning of whites and helps maximize allergen and sanitizing cycles.

Illustration of a clock

Delayed Start

The delayed start feature makes doing laundry more convenient and energy-efficient. It allows you to load your laundry and then set the cycle to start during non-peak or less disruptive times.

Self-Cleaning Cycle

Some washing machines are equipped with a self-cleaning cycle. When performed on a regular basis, it eliminates any mildew smell and gives a thorough cleaning to all internal parts of your washer.

Types of Dryers

When purchasing a clothes dryer, the most important factor is whether it will be powered by gas or electricity. Your choice may be based on personal preference or availability, but regardless of the model, there are options perfect for you.

Gas Dryer

Gas dryers may be the most cost-effective to operate, but they have a higher purchase price. These models run off your home’s natural gas, so if you don’t have a gas line to your laundry space, you’ll need to have one installed. But once they’re set up, gas dryers heat up faster and dry laundry more quickly, adding to their efficiency and cost savings.

Advantages
  • More cost-efficient to operate
  • Dries clothes more quickly
Considerations
  • More up-front costs
  • Requires a gas line and external exhaust vent

Electric Dryer

Electric dryers are the least expensive option upfront, but depending on local utility rates, they can be more costly for daily operations than their gas dryer counterparts. Electric dryers tend to dry laundry slower than gas models, which is something to factor into their daily operation time. These models require a designated 220- to 240-volt outlet, which is standard in most laundry rooms.

Advantages
  • Initially cheaper than gas dryers
  • Easy installation — just plug in and you’re ready to go
Considerations
  • Less energy-efficient
  • Higher operating costs

Dryer Features

Dryer features are less complicated than those of a washing machine, but there are still settings that will make a difference in your laundry routine. Determining which are most helpful for your lifestyle will pair you with a dryer that works for your family.

Illustration of a dryer knob with different settings

Dryer Settings

When purchasing a dryer, think about your laundry needs. All dryers offer basic dryer cycle options, but settings like extended tumbling help reduce wrinkling until you can remove your laundry.

Illustration of three different size rain drops

Moisture Sensor

A moisture sensor eliminates the guesswork from your drying cycle. The machine senses when your laundry is dry and will stop automatically, which eliminates damp towels and shrinking caused from over-drying.

Illustration of a dryer with a dryer rack inside

Drying Rack

Some dryers offer a flat drying rack that attaches to the inside of the drum or door. Use it when you want to dry delicate items without the tumbling motion. This feature is perfect for sweaters, lingerie, and shoes.

Washer and Dryer Features

Some features span both washers and dryers, which is especially true if you buy your appliances as a set. New advancements in technology make cleaning laundry more effective, efficient, and easier than ever. When shopping, compare features from different manufacturers to choose the best options for you.

Illustration of a washer with a stainless steel wash tub

Stainless Steel Wash Tub

A stainless steel tub doesn’t chip like enamel tubs do, and they also don’t stain or absorb odors. An added bonus, stainless steel tubs in dryers reduce static cling.

Illustration of a speaker

Noise Reduction

Look for washers and dryers that are designed to minimize the noise and vibration that come from high-RPM spin cycles. This is especially important if the washer will be on an upper floor.

ENERGY STAR Logo

Energy Star

When a washer or dryer is ENERGY STAR certified, it means it meets the requirements set by the government for energy efficiency. This saves on energy used as well as money spent on utility bills.

Illustration of steam

Steam

Steam can be a helpful feature in laundry appliances. In your washer, the higher temperature of steam can help lift stains and odors. In both washers and dryers, steam minimizes the wrinkling that inevitably happens when clothes are dried at high speeds.

Illustration of Wi-Fi signal

Wi-Fi

Purchasing a washer and dryer that are Wi-Fi enabled has its benefits. You can schedule wash cycles via smart phone to take advantage of non-peak usage times, be notified when a cycle finishes, and diagnose maintenance problems more quickly and easily.

Illustration of a dandelion

Allergy Settings

Some washers offer anti-allergen or sanitizing cycles. These options use steam or hotter water to reduce allergens, dust mites, germs, bacteria, and pet dander.

Laundry Load Capacity

If you’re a family that does average-size loads of laundry, don’t worry about buying a set with extra-large capacity. But if you regularly wash larger loads or oversized comforters, then extra-large capacity is the perfect size for you.

Illustration of recommended laudry load sizes in three different size washers

Laundry Space Layout

Whether large or small, smart planning allows you to make the most of your laundry space. Measure carefully before purchasing a washer and dryer. Be sure to account for baseboards and door trim as well as the free space your new appliances will need for ventilation.

Illustration of how a washer and dryer should fit in a lundry room with dimensions

Depth

Allow 4 to 6 inches at the back of your washer or dryer to have room for cords, hookups, and vents. Also, remember that front-loading washers and dryers usually need 21 to 25 inches for door clearance

Height

The height needed will depend on the type of unit you have. If installing a front-load washer under a counter, plan on 1 inch for wiggle room. If purchasing a top-load washer, allow at least 20 inches for the door to open.

Width

Air needs to circulate so your washer and dryer can “breathe.” Remember to leave 1 to 3 inches on the sides and between your appliances.

A Laundry Center to Fit Your Space

Once you have an idea of what your space will accommodate, then you can decide what style maximizes your laundry room floor plan.

Side-by-Side Washer and Dryer

In a typical space, a side-by-side setup of a full-size washer and dryer means you don’t have to sacrifice load capacity or ease of use. Transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer is convenient with no stretching or awkward reaching. Plus, if you have a front-loading washer, you can utilize the top of your washing machine for folding or storage space.

Stackable Washer and Dryer

If you’re looking to maximize your space but not diminish your laundry capacity, stacking your full-size washer and dryer is the answer. A front-loading washer and a stacking kit are required for this setup. It’s important to make sure that the controls for the dryer aren’t too high to operate when stacked.

Apartment-size Washer and Dryer

If you live in an apartment, condo, or small house, your laundry hookups may be tucked into a closet or hallway instead of a designated laundry room. Depending on the dimensions of your space, you may consider a compact washer and dryer or a one-piece stacked laundry center. These options are not as deep as a full-size unit, so laundry capacities are smaller.

Washer and Dryer Combo

Combination washer dryers have been popular in Europe and the Far East for years because of their efficiency, versatility, and compact size. A washer-dryer combo allows you to wash and dry a batch of laundry in the same unit and can generally accommodate 12 to 15 pounds of laundry. Because a combo machine operates on lower voltage — usually 110 volts as opposed to 220 volts of traditional machines — drying time can take longer than usual.

Portable Washing Machine

If you’re extremely limited on space or a traditional water hook-up isn’t possible, consider a portable washing machine. These compact washers work by attaching a hose to a sink during the wash cycle. When not in use, the washer can be tucked into a closet or convenient place. The load capacity is very small, between 6 and 12 pounds, but a portable washing machine offers an alternative for apartments, condos, or RV’s when a traditional option isn’t feasible.

Cindy Bouwhuis
by Cindy Bouwhuis
Home Specialist
NOVEMBER 23, 2016

Cindy loves the smell of fresh laundry and a well-stocked linen closet. When she’s not looking for ways to make her home cozier, Cindy loves to bake, read, and spend time with her family.