Buying a Washer & Dryer

laundry room
Photo: iStock

Shopping for a washer and dryer isn't as sexy as, say, buying a shiny convertible. But it's still an investment you'll get a lot of mileage out of, and it pays to brush up on the basics so you make the right decision. Here's what you need to know:

Decide how to load

Front Loaders vs. Top Loaders
Before you buy, decide whether you'd like to get a machine that opens from the front or the top. Here are the big differences: front loaders Experts agree that front-loading machines are better for clothes and the environment because they use less energy and water, accommodate larger loads and clean better. Drawback: Wash cycles last 36 minutes longer on average. top loaders The big selling point of the top loader? They're cheaper—in many cases, less than half the price! But given that most of us keep our washers and dryers for 10 to 13 years, the long-run savings on electricity and water balances out the cost gap.

Side-by-Side vs. Stacked
Washing machines and dryers are angular and bulky, but like Lego blocks, they can be manipulated to fit in pretty much any home, whether you're working with a spare closet in an apartment or an entire room. stacked If your laundry room is more of a glorified walk-in closet than an official room, stacking a dryer on top of a front-loading washer will free up some valuable floor space. You can even find sets that come already attached and stacked. It's a smart option if you're tight on space because these units tend to be extra-narrow too. side-by-side This is your only option for top-loading machines (since you can't stack a dryer on top of the washer). combos These single-unit washer-dryers run the wash cycle and then transform into a dryer. They can squeeze into the average closet—perfect if you're in a small home.

Gas vs. Electric
The basic difference between a gas and an electric dryer is the energy source they use to heat the air. Find out what your hookup is before you head to the store to buy a machine since that will dictate what you get. Gas-powered machines are typically cheaper to run, and they dry your clothes quicker than electric machines.

Go for speeds

Some washing machines have a lot of cycles, but just one speed for all of them. This means it washes your sweatshirt at the same agitation speed as your unmentionables. A good washer should have two speeds.

Choose your extras
Newer washer models allow you to put soap down the center of the agitator so it mixes with water as the tub fills. This feature is especially useful if you use a lot of fabric softener or bleach. For people who are sensitive to chemicals in soap, some machines also have an extra rinse cycle option.

Know your limitations
Think about the use your washer will get and decide on capacity size. Coordinate the capacity of your washer with the size of your dryer. You'll need twice as much dryer space because wet clothes need to tumble freely. Plus, a bigger dryer allows items to dry faster, saving you money in the long run. Since a washer and dryer will last for years, consider changes in your family when deciding the capacity. Overstuffing smaller units will just result in extremely wrinkled clothing.

Embrace technology
While older dryers use timers, newer models have moisture sensors that stop the cycle when the humidity in the drum falls below a certain level. This prevents over-drying, thus extending the life of your clothes. Some units even have a cool-down cycle, which keeps the dryer spinning even after clothes are dry, preventing wrinkles. If you don't need that level of sensitivity, just make sure both your washer and dryer have a loud buzzer that sounds at the end of the cycle.

Make a deal
Always buy a washer and dryer together, as you will get a better price for the pair. And make sure the purchase price includes delivery, setup, and disposal of any old units.

Best for Uber-Busy Couples
Too crazed to deal with drippy liquids or easy-to-spill powders? The GE Profile SmartDispense does it for you—just fill the detergent and fabric softener areas in the pedestals at the bottom of the machine every six months. It also has CleanSpeak (where the washer “talks" to the dryer to tell it what setting to use).
Model Info: GE Profile SmartDispense in vermillion red; washer: WPDH8800JMV, $1,299; dryer: DPV8800JMV, $1,099
Find it At: Best Buy, Lowe's, Sears, The Home Depot or for retailers

Best for Space-Crunched Nesties
You're absolutely in love with The Container Store because your living space is just so small—and you want to make the most out of every nook, plus keep clutter at bay.At a compact 27" x 39" x 30", the LG SteamWasher and Dryer combo unit is made for the teeniest homes. It runs on the standard 120 volts (some dryers require 240-volt outlets) and doesn't need vent installation, which other models do.
Model Info: LG Full Size SteamWasher and Dryer in white, WM3988HWA, $1,999
Find it At: for store locator

Best for Eco-Obsessed Duos
Using 71 percent less water and energy per load, this Energy Star winner is great for 20-pound loads and big jobs like king-size comforters. The dryer's touch-up cycle steams out wrinkles and odors.
Model Info: Kenmore Elite HE5t front-loading washer and dryer in Pacific blue; washer: 47087, $1,300; dryer: 97087, $1,160
Find it At:

Best for Budget Seekers
A machine that will save you big bucks, it's Energy Star-rated and has a front-loading washer and dryer with moisture sensors that tell when clothes are dry and then turn the machine off (budget versions often use standard thermostats).
Model Info: Frigidaire laundry center, GLGH1642F, $1,249
Find it At: for local retailers

Best for Traditionalists
Set on getting an old-school top-loader? The Energy Star-approved, high-efficiency Cabrio set rolls with the front-loaders. In additionto a spacious 4.6-cubic-foot capacity (that's three loads in one), it showers contents with concentrated detergent to get rid of stains so you won't have to pretreat clothes (yay!).
Model Info: Whirlpool Cabrio HE washer and dryer set in white; washer: WTW6700TW, $999; dryer: WGD6600VW, $909
Find it At: Best Buy, Lowe's, Sears and for additional dealers