Buying a new washing machine

Our tips for choosing a new washing machine. We delve into cost, size, cycle options and energy and water efficiency.

White front loading washing machine in a well lit room, with small potted plants on top of workbench

When buying a new washing machine, cost, size, cycle options and energy and water efficiency are important things to consider. The best washing machine for your family is one that has the best mix of features you value and fits your budget.

Choose a machine type

There are three main types of washing machines: front loaders, traditional top loaders and high-efficiency (HE) top loaders. Each type has different advantages and disadvantages. 

Front loading washing machines

Front loading washing machines (front loaders) clean the best and are more energy and water-efficient. They are gentler on clothes. The trade-off is they have longer wash cycles than top loader machines.

Front loaders heat their own water and this enables them to wash at a large range of water temperatures (30-90ºC). The exception is machines in North America which often do not have a heating element and are limited to the temperature of the household water system.

They usually offer multiple cycle options such as cottons (a perfect choice for main wash!), synthetics, delicates and even wool. The 90°C cycles can be used to sanitise inserts as well as clean the machine. 

Most front loaders perform best when the drum is two-thirds to three-quarters full when items are wet.

Traditional and High-efficiency top loading washing machines

Top loading washing machines have shorter cycles than front loaders, but wash less well and less efficiently in terms of water and energy. They wash a range of sized loads well as long as the ‘stew’ is good (which is usually half to two-thirds full).

Traditional top loaders have a central agitator and very short wash cycles. They are a great option for washing items containing particulate matter, such as dirt or pet hair, but it comes with the cost of high water usage. Many traditional top loaders are made of industrial-grade materials, meaning their motors and gearboxes can take repeated heavy washing.

High-efficiency (HE) top loaders have no agitator and are gentler on laundry than traditional top loaders. However, similar to front loaders, the trade-off here is cycle duration. They can use less water than traditional top loaders, but this depends on the settings used. You may be able to achieve long wash cycles by increasing the wash length and adding intensive options or soaks.

Traditionally, top loaders did not heat their own water and needed a hot water connection to do warm-to-hot washes. Some newer top loaders heat their own water at least on certain cycles. 

Review the machine’s cycle options

Similar washing machines can have quite different cycle options. Make sure the model you choose has a range of cycle options. For nappy wash cycles in front loaders, look for a daily wash option (60 minutes) and a good long wash (2.5+ hours). For your family laundry, you may need a cycle suitable for bulky items and one for wool or delicate items. 

Review the manual or check the cycles in-store to ensure the brand and model of washing machine you are buying ha the exact cycle options you value. 

Select an appropriately sized machine

Washing machines are increasing in size, but the size of an average family is not. It is tempting to buy a larger washing machine to wash very large items. However, while larger washing machines wash more laundry per load, they also take up more space and use more water, electricity and detergent for loads that wash well. 

Large front loading washing machines can require a lot of laundry to wash well too. You may not need a very large machine to wash even your largest items; super king-size doonas or duvets can be washed adequately in 8.5 to 9 kg front loaders. 

Tips for selecting an appropriate machine size:

  • Buy a washer for the size of loads you wash every day, not once a year. 
  • Check the manual for suggestions of what fits in a load, or take a load of (clean) laundry the size you would like to wash with you when you shop. 
  • Think about where you will hang a full load of laundry. Do you have the space to hang larger loads than the amount you wash now?
  • Front loaders that are 7 to 8.5 kg suit 3 to 4-person families, whereas 5 to 6-person families may prefer an 8.5 to 9 kg washer. 
  • If you are moving from a top to a front loader (or vice versa), reassess the capacity.
    • Front loaders wash a larger load of laundry than the same capacity top loader, as they do not need as much water in each load. 

We are a family of four and have a 7.5 kg front loader. I find it the perfect size for nappy washing. It is compact enough that I don’t struggle to load it for my main wash, and also large enough to wash our queen sized bedding (including quilts).

~ Group member and cloth user of four years

Buy within your budget

A washing machine is a big investment. Buy the best quality washer at the price point you can afford. You can expect a mid-range front loader to last 5 to 8 years and a high-end front loader to last 10 to 15 years. 

Top loaders often last longer than front loaders, as they are less complex in terms of moving parts. 

Smaller washing machines often have lower upfront purchase costs than a smaller size of the same brand. 

Consider buying secondhand or from a secondhand retailer. Keep in mind it is more important to assess details of that particular washer if the item is not new.

Water and energy efficiency

Washing machines sold in Australia and Europe must show energy efficiency results, so use these to help you make decisions. Choosing a washing machine with better energy efficiency will cost less to run over time.

Extra options and features

There is a huge range of features available in modern washing machines, but it is worth considering what they actually do, how much you are paying for them and whether you really need them. For example:

  • Tinted doors make it more difficult to see the load as it washes
  • AddWash’ doors allow you to add items to front loaders after the cycle starts, but also make it more difficult to see what is going on inside the washer. Most front loaders already allow you to pause the cycle and add extra items, which may make an add wash door unnecessary.
  • Automatic detergent dosing may not dose accurately and only uses liquid detergent.
  • Steam refresh cycles stop items from becoming creased, but are not a substitute for a wash cycle and they do not sanitise.

Stock availability

A washing machine that is available today might be a better option than a ‘better’ washer in 3 months’ time if your washing machine is broken and dirty laundry is piling up. 

White front loading washing machine in a well lit room, with small potted plants on top of workbench
Photo by Raychan on Unsplash

Machine dimensions

Make sure you measure the dimensions of the location for your new washing machine. You do not want to take delivery of the item only to discover it is 10 mm too large for the available space or that the door to the washing machine will not open fully. 

Access to after-sales support

Technician availability

Before committing to buying a new washing machine, ask about repair services in your area. If the machine you are looking at requires specialised repair people, then ensure they service your local area. If they do not, this is not the machine for you.

Warranties

In Australia, warranties are separate from your automatic consumer guarantees. Consumer guarantees may still apply even after the warranty has expired. Before you buy an extended warranty, ask the supplier to tell you what it gives you over and above the rights you have under the consumer guarantees.

If something goes wrong, you have a right to seek a remedy from the retailer who sold you the product. This could be a repair, refund or replacement.

If in doubt about your consumer rights or what a retailer has told you, check your consumer rights on the ACCC website and follow the steps on how to solve a dispute with a business.

Special considerations

Living off-grid or with limited electrical access

The power draw for a front loader may be too much for your electrical capabilities. You might benefit from a top loader or a twin tub.

Accessing washing machines with mobility limitations

Top loaders are traditionally sought after for people with bad backs as they do not require as much bending over. However, front loading washing machines may be suitable as long as the height is raised. Consider getting a pedestal or having a cupboard built under a front loader to raise the level of the opening and take the weight of the unit.

North American washing machines

Washing machines in the United States and Canada typically do not heat their own water, even front loading machines. Front loading machines available in North America are often extremely large (equivalent to 12 to 15 kg), which means that laundry does not wash as well due to the low agitation in relatively small loads. This may make decisions between front and top loading machines more complex, and you might need to make decisions based on water and energy efficiency.

References and further reading

  1. Australian government Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme, Registration and Product search database (March 23, 2023) <https://wels.agriculture.gov.au/wels-public/action/search-product-load>.