Washing Machine Water Usage

Water Usage for Front-load and Top-load Washers

Conventional top-loading washing machines with center post agitators use about 40 gallons of water per load. Compare that to front-loading machines that use somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 gallons. Remember, that 40 gallons will require twice the energy to heat, too, which is one of the key costs of operating a washing machine.

Front-loaders can clean clothes with less water because they use gravity to create agitation by rotating the drum to cycle the clothes above the waterline and drop them back into the water -- again and again. With the aid of gravity, front-loaders can get clothes clean while using half the water.

There's a hybrid option we should mention here, too. That's the high-efficiency top-loading washer. It looks like a top-loader from the outside. But when you open the lid, there's no agitator inside. The water usage of a high-efficiency top-loader is comparable to that of a front-load washer.

We've talked about the powerful benefits front-load washers have going for them, but they're not perfect. Here are some of the cons:

  • Higher purchase price than conventional top-load washer - This is a biggie because a front-load washer can be up to three times as expensive as a top-loader. This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, but it's certainly a budgetary consideration.
  • High noise level - Few washing machines are whisper quiet, but front-loaders can be quite noisy when installed on anything but a concrete base.
  • The wash cycle can be more than twice as long as that of a top-loader. That translates to more than an hour per load.

Let's do some quick calculating here. In a year, the average American family washes about 400 loads of laundry. At 40 gallons of water per load, that's 16,000 gallons for a top-load washer. Because top-loaders can leave as much as two gallons of water inside a newly washed load, those extra drops are costing in a number of ways. If you have a top-loader, you're paying for the water coming out of the tap. You're also paying to heat the water, get rid of it down the drain and vent the remainder via your dryer.

If you're interested in learning more about water and energy savings in the laundry, check out a few Energy Star-rated washers for price and functionality. Energy Star is a rating system developed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) working jointly to help consumers make better informed decisions about the products they buy.

Related Articles


  • California Energy Commission. "Washers." Consumer Energy Center. (9/18/11). http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/washers.html
  • City of Tampa. "Water Use Calculator." (9/18/11). http://www.tampagov.net/dept_Water/information_resources/Saving_water/Water_use_calculator.asp
  • Consumer Reports. "Washing Machine Guide." (9/18/11). http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/laundry-and-cleaning/washing-machines/washing-machine-buying-advice/washing-machine-getting-started/washing-machine-getting-started.htm
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