Why I Don’t Own a Front-Loading Washer: A Tongue-in-Cheek Diatribe

Disclaimer: In reality, I like both types of washing machines; and so, all you fine, front-loadin’ folks, rest assured I penned the below piece largely in an ironic spirit of good clean fun. (And who else would play devil’s advocate on behalf of the increasingly disrespected top-loader?) But-water-consumption notwithstanding-I do doubt most front-loaders will end up saving the majority of American owners any money, as I’ll explain.

Prefatory remark: My title vaguely alludes to the old Connie Stevens number-one tune from my childhood (1961).

I blush to confess this, but a long, long time ago when I was a confused little boy, I secretly admired the look of those exotic front-loading washing machines. That porthole view of the hypnotically revolving tub; that European cachet; and the paucity of such washers in ordinary Americans’ homes– all these things figured into my naive admiration for that captivating configuration I generally only got to behold in certain Laundromats or movies. In short, back then I figured weekend domesticity would be pretty swell once I could own such a cool machine myself, someday.

Ironically, “someday” arrived decades ago, yet I still don’t own a front-loader, even though such washers have finally become about as trendy as iPods and camera phones. So, how is it that I belatedly saw the light and have steadfastly declined to clamber aboard the (front-loading) bandwagon? Let me count the reasons I don’t own a front-loader.

1. Pain. You’ve got to bend forward (rather low) to load the average front-loader. This is annoying.

2. More pain. You’ve got to bend forward (rather low) to unload a front-loader. [This is a bit repetitious, isn’t it?]

3. Air pollution. Bending forward is not only annoying but also embarrassing if anyone’s nearby when you unintentionally toot.

4. Noise pollution. (See #3.)

5. The “choke” factor. Seriously, during my on-line meanderings I chanced across a reviewer who’d been happy with her new, top-of-the-line front-loader until she tried to clean her (recently ill) little girl’s thoroughly poopy (and hidden-under-the-bed-for-a-week) underpants. Mommy trustingly tossed that soiled article into an otherwise typical laundry load. But she subsequently discovered her vaunted front-loader had choked: the underpants were nearly as nauseating as before. And two subsequent attempts still failed to complete the job. In desperation, the lady resorted to her old top-loader (relegated to her “second” wash room) with its conventional agitator; and it totally de-pooped the panties with but one normal wash cycle. [The surprised mom elected to sell the front-loader and buy another top-loader. (Make of her story what you will.)]

6. Sticker shock. Although (in one perverse corner of my mind) I still appreciate the alternative style of the front-load configuration, at this stage of life (I’m 53 and early-retired with a modest income), my decision-making is based less on trendiness (or even sexiness) and more on mundane economics. Front-loaders generally cost two to four times as much as certain “mid-priced” top-loaders–especially when you consider the relatively greater availability of trivially “scratched-and-dented” (clearance) top-loading models that any determined bargain hunter with a phone can easily unearth. Stated another way, I could buy two, three, or four nice, fully warranted top-loaders for the price of one front-loader. Top-loaders are suddenly looking beautiful!

7. Insult added to injury. Sure, you could largely defeat my above Reasons 1-4 by purchasing a matching “pedestal” to place beneath your trendy new front-loader. But, Jeez, those glorified soapboxes can set you back as much as $230, which is nearly what I recently paid for my nice new top-loading washer!

8. I don’t like mine stacked. Some front-loadin’ folks sidestep my above Reasons 1-4 (not to mention #7) by stacking their washers and dryers. Now, I’m not afraid of heights or anything, but it can be inconvenient, if not impossible, for some of us to stack a washer and dryer. The floor plan of many an American home was specifically designed for a side-by-side (rather than an above-and-below) arrangement. And many a laundry room, including mine, features a handy, wall-to-wall clothes hanger pole (or cabinetry) directly above both dryer and washer. Why mess with perfection? “If it ain’t broke,…”

9. I don’t like mine so wet. I’ve read that owners of front-loaders commonly complain about water building up in the rubber door seal. Reportedly, regularly wiping away any leftover water or leaving the door open to air dry can combat that. But I must say I’ve never needed to do either of those things with any of my top-loading machines.

10. I sure don’t like mine moldy! Reportedly, Reason 9 can lead to mold or mildew around the rubber door seal. That’s unsanitary, and a foul odor can result. One on-line reviewer (a self-professed “front-loader refugee”) quipped:

“I don’t see how all front loads don’t ultimately grow mold– the front boot drain designs are all the same…. Top Loader is the wave of the future. Mold will make it so.”

11. I don’t want to wait. Front-loaders take much longer (than do top-loaders) to clean a load of clothes. We’re talking, on average, twice as long. One penitent owner of a front-loader advised,

“If you’re a working mother and only have time in between cooking and cleaning and taking care of children to throw a quick load on and get it washed, dried, folded and put away in a decent amount of time, don’t buy (a front loader).

Of course, some front-load fans will insist that all of the above is moot because their washers’ spin cycles extract so much more water from clothes, such that subsequent drying time is correspondingly reduced. However, my affordable GE top-loader’s tub has a wall that’s deeply “ribbed” (vertically convoluted) such that its spin cycle extracts significantly more water than a smooth-walled (conventional) tub could. There are now more than a few such “high-extraction” top-load models on the market, some of which cost less than half as much as the cheapest front-loaders.

12. I appreciate second chances. You can’t interrupt (open the door of) the conventional front-loader once washing has begun. I appreciate being able to toss in an extra–momentarily overlooked–article of clothing during my top-loader’s initial agitation phase (or, for that matter, at any point in the entire wash cycle). In this light, I was somewhat surprised to discover the below words posted on-line by a Brit (relocated to New Zealand) who’d quickly come to prefer a top-loader to their long-accustomed front-loaders:

“… I love it – washing done in minutes, always washed well, can pop stuff in after it’s started….”

13. I don’t like electrical hogs. Due to the aforementioned time-wasting aspect of your typical front-loader, it stands to reason more electrical power gets consumed [I mean, to run the washing machine itself… we’ll consider your water heater below!]. A top-loader’s wash cycle can last as little as about 30 minutes, while a front-loader’s can last one to two hours.

14. I’m extremely skeptical. We’re commonly promised that front-loaders will lower our energy bills due to reduced usage of water that’s generally heated, either via electricity or natural gas. [Incidentally, if you (unlike me) were to wash much of your laundry in unheated water–which, using certain liquid detergents, might actually suffice–then much of this issue might be moot, assuming tap water’s good and cheap where you live (as it is for me in the Midwest).] But for consumers having natural-gas water heaters, it reportedly could take over 12 years for a pricey front-loader to “pay for itself (i.e., return its extra initial cost) in utilities savings” while that front-loader itself would only last–on average–about 13 years. The report I’m alluding to assumes a front-loader initially costs $400 more than a top-loader and you wash approximately six full loads of laundry weekly. But if, like me, you live alone and wash as few as two full loads of laundry weekly, it could take more than 36 years for a front-loader to “pay for itself in utilities savings”! [Obviously, virtually no home washer could actually last that long sans prohibitively costly replacements of various major components, not least of which would be the main motor. For the price of that replacement part alone (not including any labor), you could very nearly buy an entire, brand-new top-loading washer!]

15. I’m still skeptical. If (unlike me) you heat your water with electricity (instead of natural gas), you might eventually realize some net savings by buying a front-loader (costing $400 more than a top-loader); but, to achieve that, you’d better pray your front-loader actually does last over seven years without requiring any (typically quite costly) repair; otherwise, you won’t be likely to realize any savings whatsoever. More to the point, many an American is actually paying an initial price significantly greater than just “$400 extra” for his/her new front-loader. I recently purchased an excellent new (trivially “scratched-and-dented” on one side that’s out of sight) GE top-loader for only $249.95 (normally a $369.00 model; however, unblemished, satisfactory, basic top-loading models are routinely priced well under $300). If we also consider the lower amount of sales tax (about 7.6% in my city) charged for the $249.95 top-loader versus an $800 front-loader, we’re talking about a front-loader that would actually cost not just $400 but a whopping $592 extra, initially! Accordingly, it would then take between 10 and 11 years for that front-loader (whose average life span is 13 years) to pay back its initial extra cost (assuming no “repair” bills!)–even if you do heat your water with costly electricity (instead of the generally much cheaper natural-gas alternative).

16. I’m patriotic. My fellow Americans, tradition is good! According to Wikipedia, here in the States top-loaders constitute about 95% (and front-loaders a measly 5%) of the market for washers. (And Wikipedia says that that ratio is virtually reversed in Europe.) However, I suspect those American figures are already tragically out-of-date. The insidious marketing of front-loaders over here appears to be making such inroads that they could outnumber top-loaders within the coming decade. I say that’s tantamount to foreign invasion! Throughout the twentieth century America was the land of the reliable top-loaders, while Europeans stubbornly clung to their own leaky contraptions. That’s how things should stay. I say top-loaders are as American as baseball and apple pie, while front-loaders are as un-American as, well, cricket and kidney pie! Have we Yanks no remaining uprightness? Shall we abandon our stately top-loaders for those one-eyed aliens?

[Here I descend from my pedestal, er, soapbox.]

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