The cleaning capability and energy efficiency of front-loading washing machines have made them a popular alternative to traditional top-loading machines. As recently as 2009, according to research firm Traqline, front-loaders comprised 45 percent of the washer market. Recent advances in top-loader technology, however, make the choice between the two configurations less clear cut for homeowners who are turned off by the high cost and ergonomic disadvantages of front-loaders. Front-loading dryers, by contrast, are by far the dominant configuration on the market.
According to the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, front-loading washing machines perform better than top-loaders in terms of cleaning effectiveness. High-efficiency top-loaders are better at cleaning than traditional top-loaders, but they still lag somewhat behind the cleaning power of front-loading machines.
Energy and Water Efficiency
In tests conducted by Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports and other consumer advocacy organizations, front-load washers have shown themselves to be significantly more efficient than top-load washers in terms of energy and water usage. Front-loaders only partially fill their wash tubs with water during each cycle, as compared to top-loaders, which add enough water to float laundry inside the tub. Water-usage efficiency also leads to energy efficiency, because front-loaders use less hot water and thus decrease the amount of energy used to heat the water. The energy savings continue into the drying process, because front-loaders tend to remove more water from clothes thanks to their high spin speeds, and your dryer doesn't have to work as hard to dry the laundry. The development of high-efficiency top-loading washers, which also use substantially less water and energy than traditional top-loaders, has begun to challenge the clear superiority of front-loaders in the efficiency department, though.
Cycle and Detergent Differences
Front-load washers tend to have longer wash cycles than top-loading machines, sometimes as much as 30 minutes longer in the case of custom cycles on some high-end machines. Because high-efficiency washers, both front-load and top-load models, use less water during their wash cycles, most manufacturers recommend that you use special high-efficiency detergent in their HE machines; these detergents are formulated to produce fewer suds, since excess sudsing can be a problem in HE washers.
Ergonomics and Convenience Issues
To load or unload a front-loading washer, you have to bend or crouch and reach into the wash tub; loading and unloading a top-loader is somewhat easier for most users, since the tub opening is higher. For users in wheelchairs or those with limited mobility, front-loaders often are easier to use. The top-mounted doors of both top-loading washers and dryers make it impossible to stack the machines if your laundry room space is tight. The higher spin speeds of front-loading washers, as compared to top-loading machines, also make them potentially more susceptible to excess vibration and noise.
In the case of dryers, the division between top-load and front-load machines is the reverse of that of washers, with front-load dryers being much more common than top-load models. For many users, the principal advantage of a top-load dryer is an ergonomic one; you can load and unload a top-load dryer without crouching, and you don't have to worry about accommodating an outward swinging dryer door if your available space is limited. However, you may have trouble reaching clothes in the bottom of a top-loader's drum, you won't be able to rest a laundry basket or fold clothes on top of a top-loader and an accidentally closing door may present a safety hazard during loading and unloading.
Front-loading washers are significantly more expensive, in general, than top-loading models; as of the time of publication, front-loaders cost on average $200 more than top-loaders with similar features. Because front-loading dryers are more common than their top-loading counterparts, however, it's not difficult to find front-loading models in the low $300 range. A top-loading model, if you can find one, will likely cost in the vicinity of $900.