High-efficiency top-loaders account for about 35 percent of total washer sales. Like their conventional counterparts, they open from the top, but most high-efficiency machines lack a central agitator. Instead, they use a central wash plate (located on the bottom of the machine) and different agitator patterns to move the clothing through a smaller amount of water. Electronic sensors automatically adjust the water level to match the load size and the soil level.
Price range: $550 to $1,700.
Pros: "High-efficiency washers use about half as much water and about 65 percent less energy than pre-2010 top-loaders did, so the resource savings are great," says Penny Dirr, principal researcher at Procter & Gamble. High-spin speeds extract more water, which can cut drying time and energy use. These machines are about 40 percent larger than old conventional models, so they’re able to hold four standard loads (or up to 32 pounds) of laundry. But it’s fine to run a small load anytime without worrying about wasting water. “The machine adjusts the water level to the amount of laundry inside,” says Nancy Bock, senior vice president of education at the American Cleaning Institute. Without a central agitator, there’s less abrasion of fabrics, and many models offer a wide range of cycle options (such as sanitation, to tackle bacteria and dust mites; and timed soak, for stains), plus special features, such as steam-cleaning.
Cons: Washing times can be long. With some models, a normal wash cycle can last two hours, says Dirr. (Many machines do offer a half-hour quick cycle for lightly soiled loads.) Also, larger load capacity means a bigger machine—up to three inches taller and six inches deeper than conventional top-loaders—so it can overpower a small laundry room.
Usage tips: Fill the wash basket loosely and evenly, and avoid placing clothing above the top ring of the tub, because it can get damaged during the spin cycle. HE detergent is a must with any high-efficiency washer. (For amounts, follow the detergent manufacturer’s instructions.) “It produces fewer suds than regular detergents, so it rinses out more easily in the lower water levels of a high-efficiency machine,” says Dirr. To prevent musty odors, leave the lid open between loads to allow the machine to dry out.