Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

Front-Load vs Top-Load Washers

As the great front- vs. top-load washing machine debates continue, I thought I’d add my perspective with some information I didn’t see anywhere when I was looking.

As you may know, we just moved into a new house, and the previous owners had installed a counter in the laundry room that ran across the top of their washer and dryer.  It was a handy set-up that I liked, because it meant (in theory), that I could fold laundry on the spot, instead of lugging it in to the master bedroom and dumping it on the bed to fold and then trot around the house putting it away.  Unfortunately, they took their washer and dryer with them, and it turns out they were minis anyways!  So we either bought another set of minis (not ideal given that I prefer to have enough clothes that I only have to do laundry once a month.  I prefer one marathon day to death by a thousand loads.), or we removed the countertop – also not ideal, since that sucker was REALLY built in and attached to the cabinets, the utility sink, the walls, and the backsplash!  So removing it would be expensive, messy, and leave us with a lot of finish work to be done.  But then we could choose front-load OR top-load….

The only solution that seemed reasonable was to buy one of the fancy new front-loaders that had gotten lots of good reviews (I made myself absolutely nuts comparing reviews for machines and researching front vs top, then which brands, which models, which features… I tend to overplan (my father’s legacy)…), and we figured it would EXACTLY fit if we removed some of the counter support and planed it down from the underside!  We didn’t count on the fact that the manufacturer’s “installed height” number was off by an absolutely critical 1/4″…

The machines were installed this morning, and I’ve spent the whole day doing load after load of laundry (we’ve been without laundry facilities for far too long!), and I’ve discovered some things I wish I’d known before I bought a front-load machine (this was my first – I’d only ever used top-load before…):

1. THEY ARE MUCH FUSSIER THAN TOP-LOADERS

You may have heard that front-loaders tend to develop a mold and mildew problem, so you have to leave them open to dry and clean them monthly (seriously?! I never thought twice about my old top-load, and that lasted me about 30 years with no problems, no maintenance and no smells.)  Now I understand why… the rubber seal around the door is DRIPPING wet when the load is done, and because it has to seal really well to prevent the water seeping out with gravity, the seal is full of many folds and pleats of rubber….which of course are going to be really slow to dry out even with the door open. (Blow drying your washer after every load seems extreme, but the complaints about the smell sound pretty bad too…)

2. YOU MUST PLAN AHEAD

This is kinda a D’uh thing – on your top-loader, it’s no trouble to lift the lid mid-cycle and toss in an errant sock or shirt.  But with a front-load, you should expect that once you start that load, that’s it – no regrets.  Yes, some models have a setting that will stop the wash cycle, start a rinse and spin cycle, and THEN unlock the door (and then you will probably have to restart the whole wash cycle), but it really isn’t worth it except in an emergency (plus it still takes forever – and runs about half a cycle before you can open the door), so just forget about it and know that once you start, there is no going back (or forward…)

3. THEY ARE MUCH HARDER TO LOAD

Sure, you’ve front-loaded your dryer before, but the clothes were soggy and limp with submissiveness.  You toss them in the dryer, they stay there.  Dry clothes do NOT just stay there, they try to leap back out when they feel the pile is too high.  One towel makes the pile too high.  And since you are SUPPOSED to load the large items first (yet another problem – TOO MUCH SORTING!), you will find yourself fighting a defensive action against all the socks and undies that keep jumping out at you no matter how much you push the load in.  The machine can (in theory) be loaded full (so long as the clothes can move), so that is a lot of dry, fluffy, dirty, clothing trying to smother you and avoid their bath like a hydrophobic toddler.

4. THEY ARE MUCH HARDER TO UNLOAD

Yes, now the clothes are soggy and limp, but they are also very tangled.  This is true in a top-loader as well, but with a top-loader, you can pull the handful you’ve grasped up until all stragglers break free and fall BACK INTO THE MACHINE, leaving you with a neat handful to stuff in the dryer.  With a front-loader, you can only pull out, not up, so all those stragglers and hangers-on FALL OUT ONTO THE FLOOR no matter how careful you are.  (Trust me, I was REALLY careful.  Didn’t matter.)

Oh, and remember my talk about the rubber door seals?  After your cycle, it’s dripping wet, it’s got hair and lint from your clothes stuck to it, and if you are as OCD as I am, the thought of dragging your freshly cleaned clothes over this debris field to get them out of the machine is too horrible to contemplate.  But you will also find that those debris LIKE to stick to the wet rubber, and will not easily wipe off.  So now you must clean the front of the washer before you can even unload the #@$% thing….

Researchers tell us that front-loaders clean better, save water (77% less!), save energy, save detergent, are more gentle on your clothes, do the load faster, do a larger load at a time (since there is no center paddle), offer more features (the dryers definitely have some nice new features, the washers don’t have much new that you need.  Steam is uniformly agreed to be overrated and unnecessary in a washer), and are the wave of the future.  I can’t tell if mine does any of that, but it can practically tap dance and it’s on the cheaper end of the scale!  (It plays pretty music when I turn it on and off, and to signal the cycle is done.  Also has lots of fancy displays that light up and will probably break the day after the warranty expires.)

The flip side, they say, is that front-loaders are more expensive, cannot be interrupted mid-cycle, need more maintenance and possibly repairs, and there is that whole mold issue…  They don’t warn you about the hassle of loading, unloading, and just how much care they seem to need.

Given how much longer and harder it is for me to get the loads into and out of the machine, on top of everything else… I’m sorry I didn’t rip out the stupid counter and just get a top-loader…

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One thought on “Front-Load vs Top-Load Washers

  1. One other downside to a front loader – no ability to pre-soak. With my top loader, I could put my husband’s grimy stuff in with HOT water, OXY and detergent and soak for hours, and even agitate them every now and then. Now I can’t get enough water in to fully submerge his stuff and haven’t yet found another place where I can leave it to soak for an extended time.

    And that batch of wool sweaters that needed to be felted? Gave up a took them to my daughter’s house – where my prior washer now lives.

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