The New Front Loaders The pros and cons for buyers.
Also called horizontal-axis washers, front-loaders offer many advantages over top-loaders:
  • Front-loaders, unlike top-loaders, don't have an agitator. That reduces the wear clothes are subjected to during washing. It also allows them to hold as much clothing as larger top-loaders because all the space in the tub is usable. And, large items, such as sleeping bags and comforters, are easier to load.
  • Front-loaders spin at up to 1,000 rpm on American-made models and up to 1,600 rpm on some European makes, compared with 600 to 700 rpm for most top-loaders. Faster speeds extract more water from clothes and shorten drying time, saving you approximately $100 per year on utility bills, according to manufacturers.
  • At 20 gal. per wash, front-loaders use about half the water top-loaders use. That amounts to roughly 8,000 gal. of water saved per year for a family of four. And because they use less water, front-loaders also use less energy to heat that water -- saving even more money.
  • Controls mounted on the front face above the door allow undercounter installation for many front-loaders. Just remember that the typical countertop is 24 in. deep. Expect the washer to bump out about 3 in. into the room, or plan to use custom-depth counters. However, there are some downsides to these front-loading machines:
  • Front-loaders require more stooping and bending to load and unload. Some manufacturers are looking into developing top-loading, horizontal-axis designs. And, some existing front-loaders, such as the Frigidaire Gallery, can be stacked with a dryer.
  • Because of the way they agitate, front-loaders require a different, lower-sudsing detergent. Both washer and detergent manufacturers recommend a detergent specially formulated for front-loaders. According to the New York-based Soap and Detergent Association, simply using less regular detergent can eventually lead to dingy, stained clothes. Unfortunately, these new-tech detergents aren't widely available in stores. Nor are they expected to be until front-load washers make an impact on the market. For now, the new detergents are available with the new machines and through mail order.
  • Despite the impressive annual savings in energy and water they offer, front-loaders cost at least $300 to $400 more than comparably featured top-loading washers. Part of the reason is the drive system: Because it moves in two directions, it requires costlier controls and motor. Door locks are also more expensive, though they do allow the newest front-loaders to be opened after a cycle starts. Finally, the suspension system is sturdier and therefore more expensive. Three major American companies are offering front-loaders. Amana's washer ($999), also available with a dryer in a stacked unit ($1,500), is scheduled to arrive this fall; it comes in white only. Frigidaire offers a washer that installs stacked, side-by-side or under the counter ($799). Also sold under the Gibson name, it's available in white. The Maytag Neptune ($1,000) is due to arrive soon as a side-by-side unit in white or almond. A stacked model is due from the manufacturer next year. Higher sales volume should eventually bring down prices on these machines. But don't expect front-loaders to meet top-loader prices any time soon.
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