In a front loader clothes washing machine, you get nearly all the conveniences and effectiveness of taking your laundry to a Laundromat, but you get them in your own laundry room!
You’ll benefit from significant water and energy savings, and in many cases, more effective cleaning. You can wash all but the biggest washable bedding items in your home, and generally speaking, these machines do a pretty good job at washing and conserving resources. We’ve used one since 2013, washed several hundred loads of various sizes and types of laundry, and have documented our impressions of the ups and downsides of the technology below.
Pros, Advantages, Features, and Benefits
Can be stacked. Since you gain access to the washtub in these clothes washers through the front hatch, and not through a lid on the top, this makes the top surface generally available for stacking a dryer. A stacked washer and dryer set has a significantly smaller footprint than the traditional top loading washer placed side-by-side with the accompanying dryer, and the lower capacity models can fit in much smaller closets.
Use less water than the top loaders; even the high efficiency top loaders. Since the modus operandi of the front loader is to constantly drench the clothes in flowing water, rather than churning them up while they soak in a tub of essentially standing water, a smaller reservoir of H2O that is recirculated repeatedly in the wash drum, is required. Significant thus, are the water bill savings.
Quieter operation. Since the motors in these units generally run on controlled DC voltages, and not 60 Hertz AC power, they hum less. However, they can whistle a bit during the fastest portions of the spin cycle. But since these pitches are higher in frequency than the humming of the old style AC motors, they can be more easily muted and contained, by placing the front loader in a washroom, behind a closed door.
No agitator or impeller to tear clothes. In a front loading washer, the whole wash drum turns to agitate and circulate the water through the clothes. So, no central agitator is required, which reduces wear on expensive clothes, and thus, extends their wearable lifetime.
Fewer moving parts to break down. Many front hatch washers feature direct drive motor systems, in which the motor is directly attached to the drum, and thus, the drum always spins at the same speed as the motor. This eliminates the need for belts and clutches to lower rotational speeds as motion is transferred from the motor to the washtub.
Less detergent required. With less water used during the wash part of the cycle, and since the water is circulated more completely through the clothes, you can use less detergent to get the same degree of clean.
Can wash blankets and pillows. Often in the top loaders, that wash and rinse with many more gallons of water than the front loaders, washing blankets could not be done because the blanket would become prohibitively heavy as it soaked up all that water. But with less water utilized in the top loaders, blankets don’t become so heavy that they cannot be flipped and tossed around in the wash drum. Even queen-sized quilts we’ve washed successfully in the Bosch top loading washer pictured above.
Can watch your clothes washing. Nearly all front loaders feature a glass window that allows you to see what’s going on inside, as it’s happening. Far fewer top loaders have a window in the door that allows seeing into the washtub, although some do exist.
Adjusts amount of water used to the size of the current wash load. If you only wash a single shirt or a few pairs of socks, the machine will only draw enough water to wash that particular sized load. Bigger loads use more water. Most current front loaders sense how much water is appropriate given load size, and only draw the correct amount. In contrast, a top loader machine, especially one that is not an HE model, uses the same amount of water as set on its water level controls, no matter how many or few clothes you put in.
Disadvantages, Cons, Problems, and Limitations
Can be noisy and wobbly, especially during the spin parts of the wash cycle. This makes proper balancing and secure footing of the front loading washer critical.
Longer cycle times. Generally take longer to complete a wash load. The two models we’ve tested take well over an hour to completely wash and rinse a single load, while the numerous top loaders we’ve owned could do it in well less than one hour. Perhaps designers paid too much attention to saving water, and not enough to rapid yet effective clothes washing.
May not clean well in low water pressure scenarios. Some models appear to require a set minimum pressure on the input water lines in order to properly fill and thus, clean the clothes well. One unit we encountered actually used a timer to determine the fullness of the drum, rather than a flow sensor. During filling, this timer opened the water intake valves for a set amount of time, that was not user adjustable. The result was that in low-pressure situations, such as when someone had flushed the commode or was taking a shower, this particular front loader failed to adequately rinse the soap from the clothes due to insufficient fresh water circulating in the drum. While filling the washtub in this timed fashion helps guarantee that a load of wash will take a predictable amount of time to complete, without sufficient water pressure, you just don’t get well cleaned and well rinsed clothes. So, if you’re in the market for a front loading washing machine, be sure to get one that senses the water level in the drum, and does not initiate the next part of the wash cycle until the sensor says that adequate filling has taken place.
Computer controlled. Actually, this is a big plus for today’s washers, except when the control module breaks down. When it does, it renders the front loader completely useless, and repairs can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Harder to Load and Unload. Unless you place the front loading washing machine on a raised platform, adding and removing clothes can be difficult, since you must stoop or bend down to reach the front door during loading and unloading. Of course, this may not be any more of a setback than in top loaders, in which you must reach way down into the washtub to retrieve the clothes. But more bending is required with front loaders in our experience, and this may not be acceptable to folks with back injuries or arthritis, who cannot bend over as much as normal.
Washtub can grow stinky. If not left ajar while not using, especially when used infrequently, the seals on the hatch of the front loader can become moldy and plagued with mildew. But leaving the hatch open for complete drying might not be practical when you put the washer in a closet, where there’s not much space between the washer front and the closet door. With the washer hatch open, you may not be able to close the closet door.
More Expensive to Buy. A front loading washer can run nearly two thousand dollars for a large capacity model, which is around twice as costly as a similarly sized top loader. But with the energy and laundry soap savings, the unit generally pays for itself well before it’s time to replace it.
Some do not allow chlorine bleach. The users guide for our Bosch unit warns against using chlorine bleach, as this can harm the water-handling internal components.
Servicemen Not Adequately Trained. Front loading dryers have been around for decades. However, front loading washers are a relatively new technological animal on the scene. As such, repairing and maintaining them is not yet common knowledge among washer repairmen. Problems in these machines often puzzle the run-of-the-mill “handyman,” and tinkerer. So be careful about allowing anyone but factory-certified technicians to work on your front loader, as their lack of expertise may end up costing you your washer, should they break something inside and render it non repairable.
The hatch seal can leak. So, it’s important to always keep the seal on the front hatch clean, and free of particles of debris that can compromise its correct operation.
Over all, the front loader washing machine technology is still relatively young, and as such, by no means perfected. Complaints often arise from folks about this type of machine, fretting over either the high purchase price of it, or how poorly it cleans their clothes, how long it takes to wash a load, and how loud it can be. However, laundering in this way is a certainly a work in progress, and improving constantly. Units are getting better each year, as this phenomenon is studied and what is learned is incorporated into better-designed washers. So if you’re considering buying a horizontal access designed front loader, be sure to read up on it in Consumer Reports and in customer reviews, to make sure it will perform as you expect. As even the small ones are considered major appliances, you would not want to purchase one without doing your homework.
- 2015-12-13: Added more appropriate tags.
- 2015-10-26: Added appropriate tags.
- 2015-01-10: Adjusted ad placement, added whitespace, and tweaked content.
- 2014-11-13: Originally published this article.