What Capacity of a Washing Machine Do I Really Need?

Buying a new washing machine presents you with a dizzying array of models, features and options. From how you load the appliance to how it washes your clothes, you can choose from high-efficiency models to stackable units in cabinet colors from bright red to classic white. Typical buying advice suggests a 2:1 ratio between dryer and washer tub sizes. How much washer capacity you need depends on family size, what you wash and how often you do laundry.

Family Size

Consumer washing machines -- as opposed to equipment designed for commercial use -- come in two size categories. Within those categories, the type of machine you choose affects the capacity of the appliance. For single-person households, look for a compact washer. At 24 inches wide, they come in rollaway configurations that stash in a closet when you don't need them. These designs only accommodate eight to 12 pounds of laundry at a time. Designed for fixed installation, full-sized 27-inch-wide units vary in capacity. Expect a 12- to 16-pound load in a conventional top-loading washer and a 17- to 24-pound load in high-efficiency units, both top and front loading.

Large Items

If you need the ability to wash king-sized comforters, large blankets, big batches of towels or other bulky items, you need a full-sized washer designed to accommodate oversized loads. Among high-efficiency washers, load capacity varies by model and manufacturer. Check the product specifications for individual units that interest you and look at a real demo unit on a retail sales floor. Don't expect to be able to bring your bedding with you to try fitting it into the tub of the machine, but examining the unit in person can help you correlate its capacity with your needs.

Laundry Loads

To accommodate incremental, medium-sized loads of laundry throughout a week, you may need less capacity than if you prefer to run fewer, larger loads. Overstuffing even a large-capacity, high-efficiency washer leads to inefficient performance, poorly washed clothes and the risk of load-imbalanced vibration. When you estimate your laundry room needs, make an honest assessment of your current usage and how well your laundry equipment performs. Look for a larger unit than your current washer if you obviously need more capacity.

Energy Efficiency

Choose an ENERGY STAR®-qualified high-efficiency washer to save electricity and water. If you're replacing a 10-year-old appliance, your current unit probably uses an agitator-based top-loading mechanism that must fill its tub with water before it washes or rinses. Instead of the 23 gallons of water that inefficient design needs for a full load, a high-efficiency washer drops the requirement to 15 gallons. Instead of waiting for its tub to fill, it uses streaming or sprayed water to wash and rinse. ENERGY STAR washers also need only 80 percent of the electricity that inefficient older units require.

Photo Credits: Kristyn Robertson/Demand Media

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