There are plenty of reasons why you’ve never bought a washer or dryer: you were living in an apartment that came with the appliances, you’re a recent grad moving into your own place, you’ve been relying on the Laundromat while you’ve been saving up money. Whatever the reason, now that you are buying a washer and dryer, you probably have a lot of questions.
Not only are these big-ticket items, but they can last for over 10 years meaning you definitely want to buy machines that you actually like (or at the very least, ones that don’t make your laundry experience insufferable). And with so many options to choose from, the process of choosing a new washer and dryer can get overwhelming pretty quickly, even for seasoned pros.
You can find super simple and relatively inexpensive machines right alongside more expensive models with all the modern bells and whistles you didn’t even know you needed. More importantly, you can find something in the middle ground that will give you the performance and features you need at a price that you’re comfortable with.
However, if you just walk into an appliance store without doing any prior research, you might find yourself leaving with more than what you bargained for. This guide can help you get a better idea of what you’re looking for so you don’t end up blindsided by a pushy salesperson or getting distracted by some shiny new feature you don’t really need.
Determine which design is best for you
The type of washer and dryer you buy could already be determined for you based on where you can actually fit them in your home. If you live in a very small apartment where the washer and dryer hookups are in a thin closet, your only option is a stacked laundry center.
If you have a designated laundry room or a basement set up, then you’ll have a bit more freedom when choosing your machines. Your two options are front-loading and top-loading, but there are also a couple options in each category.
Traditional top-load washers feature a center post called an agitator. They’re relatively inexpensive and can get a load done much quicker than other designs. However, these models are not water-efficient and they spin slower meaning laundry needs to spend more time in the dryer. The agitator, while responsible for providing a great clean, is also pretty rough on clothing.
High-efficiency top-loaders use sensors to manage water usage and use a wash plate instead of an agitator so they’re much gentler on clothing and have a lot more room in the drum for laundry. Because they don’t have an agitator, HE top-loaders can also spin faster so your clothes need to spend less time in the dryer. These washers do require HE detergent, however, which is more expensive.
Front-load washers are all high-efficiency and will get you the best clean possible. They’re gentle on clothing because they rotate laundry back and forth instead of spinning it around like top-loading machines. They also use less water and electricity and your clothes come out dryer meaning they can spend less time in the dryer. They require HE detergent, which is more expensive than normal detergent but you use a lot less. These washers are more expensive and do take longer to finish a load than top-loaders.
Dyers are available as top-loaders and front-loaders as well. Unlike washers, the one you choose will depend more on personal preference. Dryers are not part of a rating system like Energy Star because all dryers these days use sensors which make them high-efficiency. You will maybe need to decide between gas and electric. Depending on your laundry setup, this decision might already be made for you. If you have a choice, gas dryers are usually more energy-efficient.
If you have limited room for laundry appliances, but not as limited as just a closet, consider buying a stackable laundry pair. Not all designs are stackable so you’ll need to double check before you buy. You’ll also need to buy a stacking kit separately. Stacking models are great because, unlike laundry centers, they have the capacity of side-by-side units, but they don’t take up precious floor space.
Figure out what you need vs. what you want
There are so many awesome settings and features that can make doing laundry a lot easier, however, most of them aren’t exactly necessary. Make a list of the features that you’ll definitely need your new washer and dryer to have and make a list of ones that would be nice in case there’s room in your budget.
Some features to look out for on a washer are:
Stainless steel drum – Stainless steel drums are much stronger and more durable than porcelain or plastic tubs so that can take a beating from zippers, buttons, and any spare change you forgot to remove from your pockets. They won’t get nicked or scratched so they won’t cause any damage to your clothes from a snag.
Automatic dispenser – Fill up the dispenser with detergent and clothes softener whenever it’s empty and it will dispense the correct amount of product for each load. Most hold around 1-2 months worth of products, while some can hold up to 6 months.
NSF certification – This is a must if you have bad allergy problems. An NSF-certified washer will have a sanitizing cycle that removes 99.9% of allergens and bacteria.
Noise reducing technology – If you’re putting your washer in the basement, this isn’t as important, but it’s a must if your washing machine will be next to a bedroom or a main room of the house. These machines feature sensors that help keep the loads balanced to reduce shaking and moving.
Extra rinse cycle – If you end up buying a traditional top-load, this isn’t as important, but since high-efficiency machines use less water, you might find that an extra rinse cycle is necessary. This setting is great for getting rid of pet hair, tough stains, and ensuring all detergent residue is washed out if you have sensitive skin.
Some features to look out for on a dryer are:
Moisture sensor – A moisture sensor is standard for HE dryers (it is, after all, what makes them HE). The sensor measures how damp clothes are and adjusts the drying cycle to stop when the clothes are actually dry. This helps prevent over-drying and saves energy. You’ll need to make sure you wipe down the sensor occasionally to ensure it’s working effectively, and if you are only washing a couple items, the sensor’s measurements might not be accurate so you’re better off using a timed dry setting.
NSF certification – Just like with the washer, this ensures 99.9% of allergens are removed.
Stainless steel drum – Along with being more durable, in a dryer stainless steel drums are great for different reasons. They help reduce static cling and stainless steel doesn’t absorb orders or get discolored as easily as porcelain and plastic.
Drying rack – This is a detachable rack that’s placed inside the dryer. It’s perfect for drying delicate items or shoes if you got caught in a rainstorm.
Noise reduction technology – Again, this can save you a lot of headaches if your laundry set up is near a bedroom.
Check out this list from Consumer Reports for other features that you might find beneficial.
What capacity do you need?
The capacity of your washer and dryer will depend on your laundry needs as well as how much space you have. Larger capacity machines are generally larger, so if you’re working with limited space, you might need to settle for a smaller dryer.
A washer between 3 and 4 cu. ft. can hold around 12-16 pounds of laundry per load and a 4 to 4.5 cu. ft. machine can hold up to 20 pounds. Either of these is suitable for a single or two person household that doesn’t produce much laundry. A machine with a capacity of over 5 cu. ft. is more ideal for families, especially if you feel like laundry day is actually a daylong event.
To wash a queen sized comforter without cramming it in (over-loading a washer can wear it out prematurely), you’ll need at least 3.5 cu. ft. capacity with no agitator. Anything less than that and you might find you still need to take trips to the Laundromat.
The capacity of a dryer needs to be larger than that of a washer to allow an entire load to fit and tumble freely. If you are buying a laundry pair, then this won’t be a problem because the machines are made to work together. However, if you’re buying you washer and dryer separately, a good rule of thumb is that the dryer should have twice the capacity of the washer.
When determining the capacity of your new washer and dryer, don’t just think about your current lifestyle. These machines will last upwards of 10 years if they’re properly taken care of. So if you’re planning on starting a family in less than 10 years, you might want to consider buying larger capacity appliances than you currently need.
Think about style
If you’re washer and dryer are going to be tucked away in a basement, then style isn’t very important. However, if they’re going to be out in the open or in a stylish laundry room, you might want to consider how they look. This is obviously the least important factor. It doesn’t matter how great a washer and dryer look if they don’t perform well.
These days, laundry appliances come in a myriad of finishes and colors, from matte blacks to shiny reds and blues. But, if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the classic white finish, which is usually the least expensive option.
Read the reviews
This is arguably the most important step in the process. Nothing beats other consumer’s first-hand experiences when it comes to deciding on a washer and dryer. Whether you’re going to buy in-store or online, consumer reviews will be an invaluable tool in your hunt for a new washer and dryer.