Consumers in the market for a washing machine can purchase a top-loading model, most of which contain an agitator, the cylindrical object in the center of the tub that spins the clothing during the cycle. Another option is to purchase a front-loading machine that washes without the use of an agitator. Using a machine without an agitator offers some advantages as well as disadvantages.
One benefit of front-loading machines without an agitator is that they typically clean more efficiently than top-loaders. According to the Networx website, Texas utility company TXU Energy indicates that front-loaders can cut water use by about 40 percent, which is about 7,000 gallons per year for the average family. They can also handle larger loads, effectively washing loads up to 20 lbs. Their faster spin speeds cause water to evaporate faster, decreasing the amount of time needed for drying.
Front-loading machines tend to clean clothes better than top-loaders with agitators. Although they clean more effectively, front-loaders do not cause clothing to wear out more quickly. On the contrary, they tend to be more gentle on fabric than top-loaders, allowing clothing to actually last longer. The Networx site indicates that Consumer Reports rated most front loaders in its February 2010 review as "very good" or "excellent" regarding gentleness, while top loaders received lower marks.
A disadvantage of front-loading washing machines is that they tend to be more difficult to use than top-loaders. They typically require the user to bend or stoop to load and remove the laundry, which is challenging for those with back or mobility issues. Unlike top-loaders, front-loaders don't allow the user to open them to add more clothing in the middle of a cycle. Their faster spin speed may also cause them to vibrate more heavily, so the user needs to take this into consideration when deciding where to place the machine.
Although front-loaders may result in lower energy costs over time, they are more expensive to purchase, typically about $200 more than top-loaders according to Networx. High-efficiency top-loaders without agitators also available, although they cost about $50 more than standard top-loaders. For families on a tight budget, the lower price may make top-loaders a more attractive alternative. The special low-suds detergent needed for most front-loading models also costs more than standard laundry detergent.