The first thing to consider when deciding which type of washing machine would best suit your needs is where it’s going to go.
Front-load washing machines
Front-loading washing machines like the Indesit Moon are the most popular
The most popular type is a freestanding front-loading washing machine which is easy to fit to under a worktop or in a confined space.
Built-in washing machines
Built-in or integrated washing machines are hidden behind a door. Some people prefer the look this gives to a kitchen. However there are fewer models to choose from than if you buy a freestanding washing machine.
In fact, you may have no choice if you’re buying one as part of deal for a fitted kitchen. Also, expect to pay up to 50% more than for an equivalent freestanding model.
Top-loading washing machines
Fewer than 4% of people buy a top-loading washing machine. As a result, they can be difficult to track down.
They’re best suited to spaces where you don’t have to fit the washing machine under a counter, and remove the need to bend over when loading laundry. The last time we tested top-loaders, none were as good as the freestanding washing machines we looked at.
The European label has to be displayed on an appliance by law. If you can’t find it on a washing machine then ask to see it. This label rates products from A (the most efficient/least energy used), down to G (the least efficient/most energy used).
It also shows how much energy is used during a 60 degree wash, measured in kilowatt hours a year (kWh/cycle).
What to look for in a washing machine
Here are the things you should check on a machine either in the shop or online.
The trend is for manufacturers to make washing machines with larger drums than in the past, so you can do more washing in one go. The typical capacity of a washing machine is 6kg, which is large enough for most households.
A higher spin speed, such as 1600rpm or 1800rpm, will reduce the time clothes spend on the line or in the dryer, but you usually have to pay more for this feature.
Look for a washing machine with wide, clearly-marked detergent compartments
No matter what the capacity of a washing machine is, it’s always good to a have a wide door. Check the door swings all the way through 180 degrees. These features both make it a lot easier to load and unload.
The door on certain washing machine brands such as Candy is placed 10cm higher than on most other models. It’s easier to load and unload because you don’t have to bend over too far.
Look for wide compartments that clearly indicate where detergent and fabric conditioner should go for extra options such as delayed start. The best are easily removed for cleaning with one hand.
Often washing machines have locks that prevent kids from interfering with them. Some stop the program being changed once it’s started. Others prevent the door from closing and a program starting after a small screw is turned.
Variable spin speed
This lets you vary the spin speed of the washing machine to protect woollens, handwash clothes and delicate items from damage. It’s handy if the default spin speed is higher than 1,000rpm.
Electronic displays are often useful for programming
Some just give the remaining wash time. Others are an integral part of programming and provide lots of extra information, but don’t necessarily make a washing machine easier to use.
To be effective filters need to be cleaned regularly. Make sure they’re easy to find and there’s enough finger clearance to grip, and turn the filter to remove it.
The height of some filters allows you to slip a drip tray underneath, which is good for draining.
Cold fill washing machines
Most washing machines are cold fill only. In general this enables a washing machine to control water temperature and reduce shrinkage of clothes better than using a hot fill option. As long as you do most of your washing at 40ºC, there’s little advantage to using a combination of hot and cold fill.
If you live in a hard water area, it’s recommended you use tablets to soften the water in the washing machine to stop the build up of limescale on the heating element and insides. It can also help reduce the amount of detergent used, because softer water lathers more effectively than hard.
Buying a new home appliance normally also means being offered an extended warranty as peace of mind. But we’ve done the sums, comparing the average repair cost of a range of products from our survey with the costs of extended warranties.
For a warranty to be of value, a washing machine would probably have to break down more than three times during the warranty period – something that’s very unlikely.
The manufacturer’s guarantee should cover repair costs in the first 12 months anyway. And after the guarantee’s run out, you have your legal rights to fall back on. Depending on how old the washing machine is, you may be able to claim against the retailer for a repair or replacement.
Many washing machine manufacturers offer free extended warranties on selected models for up to 10 years or a extra 12 months cover on parts if you register with them.
Track down a washing machine
Many retailers, like John Lewis and Currys, will order a washing machine for you. It’s always worth asking to see if a model can be transferred from another branch or whether it’s available to buy from their online catalogue. If you order via John Lewis you might be eligible for a free extended warranty.
Independents are smaller stores not linked to any of the major electrical retailers. Independents normally pride themselves on being able to track down any model.
Contact a helpline
Many manufacturers, including Bosch, keep lists of dealers to help customers find the washing machines they’re looking for. You can get this information through the customer care telephone line or on the company’s website.
Installing your washing machine
Some companies charge for delivery but there’s no charge for recycling an old washing machine
Installation isn’t always offered by retailers, so if you’re worried about tackling this job, try to find a retailer that includes installation as part of their delivery package. Independents often offer this service as an incentive. Old washing machines should be recycled free of charge.
Washing machines need to be placed on an even surface to prevent noise and vibration. Use the adjustable feet to ensure the machine is level – this will minimise noise and movement during a fast spin cycle.
Which? checks more than 160 characteristics on every washing machine using a unique checklist developed with Ricability, an independent charity for disabled people. This covers loading and unloading the washing machine, program selection, indicator lights, filter cleaning and adding detergent.
Using this information we can pick out the best washing machine for impaired vision, the best washing machine for wheelchair users, the best washing machine for those with poor grip and people with reduced mobility.