As society moved away from hand-washing our clothes and embraced the machines, top loading agitating washing machines were created.
The agitator, a large spiral spindle located in the center of the drum, was designed to mimic the sensation of hand washing clothes.
Agitator washing machines work by moving the laundry through a body of water via either a single- or dual-action agitator.
Single-action agitators have large spiral paddles running down the spindle, which cause the laundry to circulate around the drum. Dual-action agitators also have bottom paddles that work like the single-action but the top is spiralled. This forces the laundry to be compressed downwards and then released back up during the washing process. This movement dislodges loose soils and particles on clothing.
The other main type of top loaded washing machine is an impeller HE (high-efficiency) model. This does not have the spine and uses the spinning motion of the drum to force the clothes to rub against each other.
The addition of the agitator is overwhelmingly popular in modern top loading washing machines as it is an incredibly effective way to get clothes clean.
However, many consumers also complain that due to the aggressive way in which the agitator works, it can cause slight damage to clothes. An impeller model is much gentler but is not always as effective in cleaning.
In a hurry?
If you have a pile of dirty laundry as high as Mount Rushmore and can’t hold off any longer, we’ve put our top pick right here for you.
The GE High-Efficiency White Top Load Washing Machine with Stainless Steel Basket is in the middle of the price range coming in at only $656 on Home Depot. It has the largest capacity of all our picks and also the highest spin speed.
Top 5 Best Top Loaded Agitating Washing Machine
OUR TOP PICK
The GE washing machine is our top pick as it is the most capable machine.
The large drum capacity means it can handle lots of laundry at once, reducing the number of loads you need to do. The machine is a standard size, measuring at 44x27x27” but is not the cheapest at $656.
The machine has a high spin speed meaning that the clothes will be washed thoroughly. The six temperature settings include active wear, bulky items, colors, deep fill, delicates, light, normal, rinse & spin, speed wash, towels and sheets and whites.
Additional features include adaptive fill, adjustable legs, end-of-cycle signal and rear control.
4.5 cu.ft. drum capacity
Spin speed of 750 spins per minute
6 temperature settings
1-year entire appliance warranty
At the top end of the energy spectrum, using 284kWh/y
The Whirlpool machine is our second choice as it is the only machine to be UL and cUL Listed.
It has a decent drum capacity, but a maximum spin speed of only 660 per minute. The machine comes with bleach, fabric softener and liquid detergent dispensers.
The 10 pre-programmed cycles include bulky items, delicates, drain & spin, heavy duty, normal, rinse & spin, soak, towels & sheets, tub clean and whites. The machine also boasts 5 temperature settings.
Additional features include adjustable legs, automatic temperature control, control lock, rear control and spin speed options. The machine comes with 1-year limited warranty.
4.2 cu.ft. drum capacity
Three dispensers for bleach, fabric softener and liquid detergent
UL and cUL Listed
5 additional features
Maximum spin speed of 660 spins per minute
Top end of the price range
The Maytag machine requires the use of high-efficiency detergent for optimal performance. It has a decently sized drum at 4.2 cu.ft. and a 700 spin per minute speed.
The Maytag has 9 pre-programmed cycles such as bulkly items, drain and spin, handwashable, heavy duty, normal, rinse & spin, soak, tub clean and whites. Like the Whirlpool, there are 5 temperature settings.
Additional features on the machine are a pause feature (so you can add extra clothes in), cycle status indicator and an end-of-cycle signal. It comes with a 1-year limited warranty for the entire machine, and 10-year limited parts warranty.
4.2 cu.ft. drum capacity
Maximum spin speed of 700 spins per minute
9 cycles to choose from
1 year limited warranty, 10 year limited parts warranty
High end of the price range
The Hotpoint washing machine is the most compact, but still boasts a decent drum capacity of 3.8 cu.ft.
It has a maximum spin speed of 700 spins a minute and has 6 temperature settings. At $449 it is one of the cheapest models we have reviewed.
The machine is fairly basic and only offers the choice of 3 cycle settings - extra rinse, heavy duty and standard wash. The only additional feature is the end-of-cycle signal. Due to this, it is the most energy efficient of our picks using only 187kWh/y. It is UL Listed and comes with a limited 1-year entire appliance warranty.
The most compact of our picks
One of the cheaper options
6 temperature settings
Most energy efficient at 187kWh/y
Smaller drum capacity at only 3.8 cu.ft.
Only 3 cycle choices
No additional features other than end-of-cycle signal
The Amana is the cheapest on the list at only $448 and has the smallest drum capacity of only 3.5 cu.ft.
The spin speed is 700 spins per minute and there are 5 temperature settings to choose from, but the machine only used 206kWh/y.
Pre-installed cycles include bulky items, deep fill, delicates, drain & spin, rinse & spin and tub clean. It only comes with a bleach dispenser and is not listed with the UL. The machine requires the use of high-efficiency detergent and comes with a limited 1-year warranty.
Cheapest of our picks
Low energy usage at only 206kWh/y
Limited 1-year warranty
The smallest drum capacity at only 3.5 cu.ft.
Only has a bleach dispenser
Only has 2 additional features - cycle status indicator and end-of-cycle signal
Best Top Loaded Agitating Washing Machine Buying Guide
Washing machines are frequently used in the home and so finding the best location for it is important.
You must ensure that the space is large enough to fit the machine comfortably as it is likely to move slightly during use as a result of the spinning vibrations. Particularly in the case of top loading washing machines, there must be enough space above the machine to fully open the lid and move laundry in and out.
Do not forget to make allowances for the drainage hoses coming out of the washing machine.
Washing machine capacity
This is a vital thing to check when purchasing a new washing machine as the drum size can vary between models and manufacturers. Depending on the size of your household and your washing habits, you may need more or less space in the drum for laundry.
The only downside to increasing the size of the top loading washing machine drum is that the space to reach down into will be deeper. This may make it difficult to get those last few socks out the machine, especially if you are on the shorter side!
Top loaded machines drain the water out the bottom at the end of the cycle. As a result, the chances of mold, mildew and other causes of odors growing are reduced.
Despite this it is still a good idea to clean your washing machine regularly to ensure your clothes are consistently coming out smelling fresh. Experts recommend a deep clean of the drum and dispensers once a month
Agitator washing machines generally have lower spin speeds at under 800RPM. The slower spin means that the machine will not vibrate as much, making it a perfect choice for old or uneven flooring.
Spin speeds are an important factor to consider when looking to buy a washing machine as this determines how wet your clothes are when they come out the machine. Higher spin speeds will mean that more water is pulled out of the fabric and the laundry comes out more dry. In turn, this means shorter drying times.
If you do not have a dryer, or are conscious of your energy usage, consider looking for a machine with a higher spin speed.
Different fabric colors and types require different washing methods. Whites, bedding, towels and underwear are commonly washed at 140 degrees Fahrenheit; denim at 100 degrees and colors at 86 degrees.
It is a good idea to get a washing machine with variable temperature controls to suit all of your laundry needs. Most come with the standard hot, cool and cold settings, but there are models with more specific temperature dials if that is something you are looking for.
Top loading agitating washing machines often have much faster run times than impressor washers. Most of this style washing machine will finish cleaning a load in under an hour.
Most washing machines will come with a few pre-programmed cycles and there is often a ‘quick’ or ‘daily’ setting which will complete your laundry load even faster.
Number of settings
As mentioned above, most new washing machines will come with some cycles already installed. An average range is between 5-15 cycles with different specific functions.
Some new washers come with a moving drum which makes emptying the machine easier. The drum moves upwards once the cycle is complete moving your wet laundry to the top for quick and simple removal.
Some machines come with load sensors which detect the weight of your laundry. They then adjust the volume of water used to wash your clothes, saving you energy and water. Modern washing machines can also include automatic detergent dispensers which put detergent directly onto your laundry in the right quantities. This saves a lot of hassle with individual detergent pods and measuring out small volumes of liquid.
Other features that could be worth considering are child safety locks to ensure your little ones don’t get hurt while exploring their home. Some manufacturers even include a ‘fresh care’ cycle which tumbles your laundry for up to an additional 6 hours once the cycle is over, keeping your laundry from getting the musky, damp smell.
Water and energy use
Agitator washing machines use more water than standard impeller models, as impellers are often designed with water conservation as a goal. The same is true for energy use.
While agitator machines are often cheaper to buy in the short-term, if you are budget-conscious it is worth weighing up the long-term costs for both types of washing machine.
Agitator washing machines tend to make more noise than impeller machines and so this is an important consideration, particularly if you are living in shared accommodation or in a small flat where you cannot easily escape the sound.
One of the main selling points for top loading agitating washing machines is that they often have a lower sale price than other styles of washing machine. This is due in part to how long established the design is, meaning that funds do not need to be spent on research and design as with more innovative machines.
Average price points for top loading agitating washing machines range from around $450 for the cheaper models to an average price of around $649. Most impeller washing machines prices start at around $700, so an agitator is the more budget-friendly machine choice for a mid-range option.
The spindles on the agitator move the laundry through the water in the washing machine, forcing detergent to become well dissolved and dispersed throughout.
The laundry will also be fully rinsed by the movement through the water and produce a good cleaning result as a consequence.
Energy rating and certification
In the US, a company called Energy Star certifies electrical items and it is important to look our for products that state they have this, or an equivalent certification from either the EPA or the U.S. Department of Energy.
Look out for models with a high IMEF (Integrated Modified Energy Factor) and a low IWF (Integrated Water Factor). The IMEF measures energy efficiency, so the higher that number is the better the machine for your wallet. The IWF should be low as this is an indicator of how much water is used per cycle of the machine.
Removing the lint
The necessary evil of removing the lint from your washing machine is a job no one likes to do. It is necessary to prevent fires and to allow proper cleaning of your clothes, but can be a pain.
When looking for a washing machine this is something to take into consideration, as the easier the lint tray is to find and remove, the more hassle free your day will be.
Washing machines are electrical items and as such, have the potential to be faulty or to sustain damage. Due to the high cost, it is recommended that you look for models and manufacturers that give a warranty period on the product.
An average warranty length for a machine like this is between 1 and 5 years.
Smart washing machines
Some modern washing machines come with a ‘smart’ function which allows you to connect your phone via an app.
This then gives you the freedom to operate your machine remotely and ensure you never come home to find you forgot to turn the laundry machine on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, agitator or impeller?
This completely depends on what you are washing and what you are looking for from a washing machine.
Agitator washing machines are harder on the fabrics that you are washing but tend to fit better in older houses with uneven flooring and smaller properties as they cause less vibration and noise in operation. They are also cheaper to buy outright.
Impeller washing machines tend to be pricier to buy but often cheaper to run as they have more energy and water conservation features. They are also gentler on fabrics as they simly force the laundry to rub against each other rather than agitating it with a plastic spindle.
What is the difference between enzyme-containing and enzyme-free detergent?
Most fabric detergents will contain enzymes of some kind as these aid the washing process. The enzymes are proteins that work on stains in the clothing to break them down and lift from the fabric. This bypasses the need to pre-soak laundry or use specific stain removal products.
Enzymes in detergent are fine for most people, but those with sensitive skin or dematological allergies are likely to find an enzyme-free detergent more kind to their skin. Enzyme-free detergents are not likely to work as well on stains, but will still clean your clothes to a satisfactory level.