Front-loaders or top-loaders?

Both types of washing machines have advantages and drawbacks

Front-loading washing machines have been gaining in popularity for their ability to reduce water usage and deliver cleaner clothes. Their sleek, ultramodern designs appeal to upscale homeowners, and their energy-efficiency coincides with growing concerns over global warming and a greener national consciousness.

But good, old-fashioned top-loaders have their advantages, too, and newer models are being built to conserve electricity, as well. They also cost less and last longer, says Mike LaRue, owner and head repair guru of Mike's Appliance Repair in Medford.

While LaRue says both types of machines "get the job done," top-loaders last twice as long as modern front-loaders — 20 years for top-loaders compared with fewer than 10 for front-loaders — before major repair is needed.

"Front-loaders are more affected by gravity, so they don't last as long." says LaRue. "I'm seeing a lot of them failing between the five- and eight-year mark, and they run $400 to $600 to repair the circuit boards versus $75 or so for the top-loaders."

Front-loaders, which cost about $150 to $200 more than top-loaders, also come with special maintenance needs, says West Coast Appliance salesman Bill Gaylord.

"There's a rubber boot that seals the door that you have to wipe out every time you do a load," he notes. "If you don't, you get a wet, dirty-sock smell. And you can't get it out once it's in there."

One upside of front-loaders is that the agitator-free machines reduce wear and tear on laundry and use only a fraction of the soap and water that top-loaders do, meaning less impact on the environment and lower costs to run the machines.

Another benefit is that the machines are more accessible for people in wheelchairs. For people who want to avoid bending down to do laundry, most manufacturers offer platforms or risers for front-loaders that double as storage drawers and put the machines at more comfortable heights.

LaRue says it's a tossup as to whether water-efficient front-loaders win out over workhorse top-loaders, but regardless of which style you choose, using the machines according to manufacturer directions makes a big difference, he says.

When it comes to aesthetics, both top- and front-loaders are getting more stylish, coming in vintage colors, such as "tango red" and "Mediterranean blue." LaRue chuckles at the importance placed on the aesthetics of machines that do some of the dirtiest work in a house.

"Ten or 12 years ago, when they came out with the first front-loaders over here, that was the first time in my whole career I ever looked at a washing machine and said, 'Wow, that's a good-looking washing machine,' " he says.

"I go into people's houses, and they're so proud when they open the door to the laundry room. I had a lady one time say, 'Isn't it beautiful?' "


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