Let's start at the very beginning before we compare the two most efficient washing machines.
For many years, the top load washing machine was the dominant style of washers since its inception in the 1920s. The drum of top load washer is filled with water and the agitator moves the clothes around, cleaning the entire load of wash. Although this style has not really been improved since the 1940s, the top load machine has been extremely reliable. In fact, the older top load machines are the most reliable machines ever sold. This Whirlpool machine has been the most popular product in the appliance industry and has been sold around $399 since the 1970s.
However, top load machines are also smaller in capacity at 2.5 cubic feet, uses 40 gallons of water, more than twice the electricity, and spins slowly for more drying time.
The front load washer was introduced to address these issues. A front load washer assesses the size of the load and adds the necessary amount of water. The load of wash tumbles, much like a dryer, washing the entire load evenly without an agitator.
Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5600XW Hybrid
Thus, the front load washer has a greater capacity at 3.5 to 4.5 cubic feet, uses less water at 11-17 gallons, and spins out at a much higher rate so the drying time is less. You can also have better controls and new features like steam. In fact, this steam Frigidaire unit is only $549 after rebates, so the prices have been steadily dropping over 15 years.
Many consumers, however, still prefer the ease of the top load washer (less stooping). Additionally, front loaders were expensive and less reliable when introduced in 1997. This preference led to the introduction of the so called hybrid (convenience of top load and efficiency of a front load) washing machines to offer the best of both worlds.
The hybrid washers are really very similar to a top load machine except with a very small agitator or none at all. Unfortunately, there is not as much movement of the load as in either a top load or a front model. The results are inconsistent with the clothes on the outside of the drum becoming wet while the clothes in the middle of the drum remain drier.
The hybrid washer needs to be overhauled. As Steve said over a year ago, manufacturers have to resdesign to compensate for the lack of the agitator. See this post for a video showing the washing action of the Whirlpool Cabrio.
If you have to buy a hybrid, the best seems to be the Fisher Paykel WA42T2GW1 at $649.
For more information about laundry, read a Yale Laundry Buyers Guide for brands, terms and features. There are three:
William Hanley is an appliance sales consultant at Yale Appliance + Lighting. Before joining Yale, William worked for twenty years in jewelry sales and is a lifelong Patriots and RedSox fan.