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How to choose the right washer and dryer

Although it’s a necessary evil, laundry is often ranked as one of everyone’s least favorite chores. Choosing a washer and dryer isn’t exactly easy either, as there are so many different brands, styles, and features available. Should you go with a front-load or top-load washing machine? High-efficiency (HE) or regular washer? Gas or electric dryer? Should you go with a smart washer and dryer, or are those extras a waste of money?

We’ll advise you on how to buy a washer and dryer, including features to favor and which model is best for your needs.

Stackable, side-by-side, gas, and electric

Electrolux Compact Washer and Front Load Compact Dryer with IQ-Touch Image used with permission by copyright holder

The type of washer and dryer you get will depend largely on the space in your home. For example, laundry might be allocated to a narrow closet, making your only option a stackable washer and dryer set. These units tend to be smaller, meaning you might not be able to fit your large comforters in your machine, though they are convenient for limited spaces. Compact dryers are also ideal for smaller spaces and those who need specific features. Dryers are available as gas or electric, so which you purchase will be a result of what your house supports.

Size matters

Standard washers are often (but not always) 27 or 27.5 inches wide, with a capacity from 3.1 to 6.2 cubic feet. How much laundry they hold will depend on the style: A front-load washer will handle more clothes and bulky items, such as comforters, than top-loaders with agitators. Though, on average, you’ll usually fit between 5 and 10 pounds of clothes at one time. Compact machines are typically 24 inches wide and have up to 3.0 cubic feet of capacity, though they’re often closer to 2.2 or 2.4 cubic feet. You can generally fit between 4 and 8 pounds of clothes in their drums.

Washer and dryers are big appliances. You might be wondering if you’ll be able to get them into your home easily. Doorways and hallways in most homes can handle items that can fit through a space 30 to 31 inches wide. Regardless of the type of machines you end up purchasing, be sure to account for an extra 4 to 6 inches behind the washer and dryer for the hook-ups, plus an inch or so around the sides and top for airflow and making them easier to remove. There aren’t standard measurements for height or depth, either, so you’ll want to make note of those. Don’t forget that your top-loader will need an extra 20 inches or so to lift, while a front-loader’s door needs 20 to 25 inches of clearance. Double-check that your choice of front-loaders are stackable, as not all of them are.

Dryer capacity

Capacity is important when choosing an accompanying dryer as well. The first thing you’ll notice is that dryers hold more than washers. That’s because your clothes fluff up and take up more space as they dry. What you don’t want is a dryer that holds less laundry than your washer — otherwise, you’ll be drying in shifts. To avoid this, just look for a dryer with about double the capacity of your washer. That might not be strictly possible with compact models: Bosch’s compact washers have 2.2 cubic feet of space, while their dryers have 4 cubic feet. As long as you’re pretty close to double the size, you shouldn’t have to overload your dryer.

The great front-load vs. top-load debate

Maytag Maxima High-Efficiency MHW5100DW Front-Load Washer
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re putting your laundry machines under a counter or stacking them, you’ll need front-loaders. If your space has room for either lids or doors to swing up or out, then you have a choice to make. There are pros and cons to each: Top-loaders are often less expensive, but front-loaders are more efficient, gentler, and have been found to clean more thoroughly. We have an in-depth guide comparing front-loaders and top-loaders, but the basics are below.


The washing bins on top-loaders are so deep that it may be hard for shorter people to reach the bottom to retrieve clothes unless you choose a shallow machine. When perusing them in the store, open the top and see if you can touch the bottom comfortably. If you have to lean in too much and you find yourself on your tippy-toes, a top-loader probably isn’t for you. Do you really want to stand on your toes to do laundry for the next 10 years?

Many top-load models today have foregone the inner agitator (the big spinning rod inside the machine) for a hollow bin. Some even have a stainless steel tub. The benefit of these is that they can handle higher spin speeds. Ultimately, this means it will take less time for your clothes to dry. Front-loaders still have greater maximum spin speeds, so they’ll make drying even more efficient.


Front-loading machines tend to be more expensive and have a ton of features, even on the most basic models. It can be hard to find one for under $500. Front-loaders require regular maintenance on the sensors — wiping down once in a while to keep them in good working order. Some models could potentially attract mold. This is an easy fix: Either occasionally wipe the front area where water can accumulate or leave the door open after use. Yes, the light may stay on for a minute or two if the door is left open, but it may shut off, or you can turn the washer off.

Washing Drying App
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The other issue to consider is bending down to open the doors. Of course, the manufacturers took this into consideration and offer pedestals that the washer and dryer can be placed upon, making them taller and much easier to use. Though, if you struggle to bend down, you’ll want to address this before purchasing one. Some also have drawers underneath for storing detergent and fabric softener. Unfortunately, these aren’t included in the price and generally cost a few hundred bucks extra. Occasionally, some deals offer a discount on the pedestals when buying the washer and dryer, but don’t count on it.

Whether you purchase a stackable or front-loading unit, you’ll need to bear in mind the doors. Typically, the dryer door can be switched to open in a different direction. However, almost all washer doors will open left to right. Electrolux machines can also change the direction the washer door opens. In newer construction homes, this wouldn’t even be an issue because of the way the washer and dryer hookups are installed. Older homes may have the hookups reversed, in which case you would want to be able to change the door on the washer so you can easily transfer clothes between the two machines.

Features, features, and more features

Image used with permission by copyright holder

You can still get washers and dryers that have only a few wash and dry cycles. Getting one with fewer options will definitely keep the price down. Many of the newer models, especially front-loaders, come with so many options that you’ll need to spend some time with the manual to learn about them all unless you’re tech-savvy. Salespeople will talk you through the highlights, but to know what all of those buttons and settings accomplish will take some time.

Below are the top features you’ll most likely find on the newer washer and dryers. As you read them, write down the ones that are most important to you, and bear in mind that the more you have, the higher the price.

High-tech features

Digital display: Higher-end models tend to feature digital displays, so it’s easy to control your cycle and monitor your wash’s progress. An indicator light will notify you of the remaining time on the cycle, and the unit may even beep once the session has finished. Some digital displays have a memory setting, so you can select your most common wash program with ease. Also, some find an LED display to look more enticing than an analog.

Energy efficiency: Look for energy-efficient models rated between A and C, so you can save money. These units feature eco options, such as a short wash, which is great if your clothes aren’t too soiled and just require freshening up. Some units have an Auto Weight Sensor, so the length of the wash and dry is based on the capacity, rather than a set time, reducing the time of the cycle. Energy-efficient washers will have a wider spectrum of temperatures, so you can select a lower temperature to reduce your energy costs. A higher spin cycle up to 1800 revolutions per minute drains excess water from the clothes, resulting in less time in the dryer.

Steam: This feature steams your clothes, which can help to remove stains and limit creases. Some machines even have a steam disinfect cycle to give clothes a quick refresh. Depending on the implementation, you’ll either need to have an additional hook-up behind the dryer or add water manually through a dispenser on the machine.

Wi-Fi-enabled: With this feature, you can use other IoT products to control the washer and dryer. Many are Amazon Echo- and Google Home-compatible, so you can ask your voice assistant if the dryer’s done. Wi-Fi-enabled washer dryers allow you to start and pause a load from your smartphone, as well as receive a notification when the cycle has finished.

Detergent dispensing: Some washers will have a place to put detergent (or even Pods!) and the machine will evenly dispense the detergent. This way, you’re not pouring detergent directly into the drum.

Quick wash: This washer setting lets you wash a load of clothes in about 15 to 30 minutes instead of the standard hour or so.

Self-clean: It’s a good idea to still clean your washing machine manually every once in a while, but self-cleaning cycles make your machine easier to maintain because you don’t have to manually clean your machine as often.

Noise: Washer and dryers can be noisy in operation, especially if you’ve placed hard materials inside. Fortunately, there’s a range of models that create small vibrations, thanks to a brushless motor, helping to keep noise to a minimum. Look for the decibels (dB) the unit is rated; the higher the number, the more noise it’ll create.

Standard washing machine features

Hand-wash: Simulating hand-washing, this is an excellent option for delicate fabrics, bathing suits, and undergarments. You’ll still want to hang-dry what you wash.

Extended spin: More than just an extra spin cycle, it’s great for items like towels and comforters. It gets out extra water, making bulky items easier to dry.

Extra rinse cycle: An extra rinse will help remove excess detergent from the laundered items, leaving clothes softer.

Temperature settings: This can adjust the hot and cold water as it enters the machine. The lower temperatures are more energy-efficient, while high temperatures are ideal for soiled items.

Stain removal: Think of this as a pre-soak or pre-wash cycle. You’ll still want to use a stain remover, but this will improve the chances of removing the stain completely.

Favorite or custom settings: If you don’t want to deal with the menu each time you put in a load, you can simply set one or more favorite options.

Automatic water levels: A great feature to help save on the water bills. Some models include sensors that can tell how full the machine is and adjusts the water accordingly. If you get one of these models, it’s a good idea to periodically wipe off the sensors with a towel to keep them in good working order.

Sanitation cycle: Ideal for people with allergies, this setting removes allergens and bacteria during a deep clean cycle.

Dryer features

Moisture sensor: Like the sensors in washing machines that help tell how much water to use to fill the tank, these sensors can tell how damp the clothes are and adjust the drying time. For example, if you have a 30-minute drying cycle, but the sensors “sense” that the clothes are dry at 20 minutes, it’ll stop the cycle then.

Wrinkle release or refresh: We’ve all seen the commercial where someone is late to a night out, pops a wrinkled dress in the dryer, and sets the wrinkle release setting. Voila, five minutes later, wrinkles are gone. That’s this cycle, but it doesn’t always replace the need for an iron.

Extended tumble: While the refresh cycle is great, what if you could reduce the number of wrinkles your clothes got in the first place? This cycle will run a few more tumble cycles to help release wrinkles from clothing.

NSF Certified: This label ensures about 99& of bacteria are killed during the cycle.

Stainless steel drum: Why should washing machines have all the fun? Dryers also hopped on the stainless steel bandwagon. The material doesn’t easily absorb odors or get discolored. Another plus is that it reduces the static cling in clothes.

Drying rack: Detachable racks that can be used inside the dryer, so you can dry delicate items without having to tumble them.

When and where to buy

Electrolux Dryer dial
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Decided on a model that you want? Now, you just have to figure out when and where to buy it. Typically, September or October are good times to get a deal on a new washer and dryer, since that’s when the new models are arriving at stores. Also, many retailers will start their Black Friday specials earlier (end of October), so you don’t have to wait for better deals on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Occasionally, you might be able to save money by purchasing a “set” from the same manufacturer. Do your research, and you might find that if you bought them separately, it might end up being the same price as the combo deal. No law says you need a washer and dryer from the same manufacturer. Mixing them up is fine. Just be sure that the company that services your appliances can handle both brands. If you don’t get them at the same place, you’ll need to schedule various installation appointments, which can take more time.

If you like shopping from the comfort of your own home, you’ll be glad to know that you can buy a washer and dryer online. Of course, the big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Best Buy offer in-store pickup options, delivery, and installation. However, installation isn’t available across the board. That’s one of the main differences between buying in-store versus online. The benefit of purchasing from a store is that they will provide installation (often for a small fee or $50 to $100) and free removal of old appliances. They’ll also know about any additional cords you may need for installation. If you’re not sure what will be required, take a picture of your hook-up area and bring it to the store with you.

Is a warranty necessary?

Most appliances come with at least a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Some warranties will even last up to three years. Stores will offer options to purchase an extended warranty at a cost. Don’t feel pressured to buy it that day; there’s usually a 30-day grace period. If you don’t buy it from the store, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Tons of local service providers also sell warranties.

Finally, read the customer reviews. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from someone else’s experience, especially if you see a recurring issue. Before getting too overwhelmed, make a list of what you absolutely must have from the features above, along with a budget. You’ll be surprised at what you might find. Hey, you may even discover that you like doing laundry.

If you are looking for more, check out our collection of the best collapsible laundry baskets.

Erika Rawes
Smart Home Evergreen Coordinator
Erika became a professional writer in 2010, and her work is published all over the web on sites ranging from USA Today to…
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