Given the range of models, styles, and sizes of washers available, there are many things to consider when shopping for a washer to ensure your choice will be adequate for your family's needs. Installation requirements are also of prime importance, as are the costs of the appliance, including both the purchase cost and the cost of operating the washer over its lifetime.

Top-Load vs. Front-Load Washers

The traditional top-loader is more comfortable to load and cheaper to buy. High-efficiency washers, available in both top-load or front-load models, cost much more but are water and energy savers, with front-load models having the best energy ratings. Front-load washers also typically have the highest spin speed, leaving less water in the load, which means less drying time.

High-efficiency models require low-sudsing HE detergent, due to low water levels, and they require a little more care. They also tend to have more cycles and convenience features than traditional top-loaders. Warranty periods generally are a year regardless of washer style.

Energy Ratings

Front-load, high-efficiency models lead the pack when it comes to saving electricity and water, but all washers generally have better energy ratings than they used to. For the best energy efficiency, buy an EnergyStar-rated washer.

Also, take the time to compare the Energy Guide figures for competing washers. These are the familiar yellow stickers from the U.S. Department of Energy that tell you how much it is likely to cost to use each washer model per year.

Washing Performance and Cycles

Traditional top-loading washers have fewer washing cycles and shorter wash times than most high-efficiency models, but they also may not wash clothes as effectively. Front-loaders have shown better performance and are gentler on clothes because they have no agitators, but washing cycles are usually much longer.

Regardless of the type of washer, look for water level options for small, medium, and large loads, and water temperature settings so you can wash/rinse with cold water if desired. A permanent-press or casual wear setting that has a low spin for reducing wrinkles is another great feature. A delicate or handwash cycle also is very handy.

Other features include steam, delay wash, stainless steel non-rusting washer tub, extra rinse, presoak, dispensers for softener and bleach, and end-of-cycle signals. Some models also have automatic self-adjusting water temperature and level features.

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