Washing machine buying guide

Washing machine buying guide

by Adrian Porter

Need a hand deciding which washing machine to buy? This expert guide will quickly give you the knowledge you need to make a great purchase.

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Freestanding or integrated washing machine?

Your first consideration is to decide between a freestanding or integrated washing machine.

Freestanding washing machines

Freestanding washing machines are the most common type of washing machine that can be placed anywhere as long as they’re connected to a drain and a plug socket. They come in a range of sizes – from 3kg to 12kg capacities - and some models are available in different colours.

Pros: Wider range of drum capacities, features and colours than integrated models.

Cons: Do not blend into homes like integrated models do.

Integrated washing machines

Integrated washing machines are best if you're looking for a model for a new built-in kitchen, or to replace an existing integrated washing machine. Also known as built-in washing machines, this type of washing machine is designed to sit behind a cupboard door. They have a large door that completely covers the front of the machine, to which you'll want to fit your own cupboard door to, to help it blend seamlessly into your kitchen.

Pros: Integrated models tend to be quieter than freestanding, thanks to that extra door on the front buffering the sound slightly.

Cons: They can cost a lot to have installed - typically around £80. That's over twice as much as freestanding. Some retailers won't install integrated washing machines at all.

Don't need the guide but just want a list of brilliant washing machines? Check out our Best Buy washing machines.

Semi-integrated and top loading washing machines

Semi-integrated machines are like integrated models but the furniture panel does not cover the controls at the top, so you don’t have to open the door to change the settings or read any displays. There are very few models of this type available.

Top-loading washing machines are quite rare in the UK. Clothes are added through a lid on the top of the machine, as opposed to a door on the front. Narrower than normal washing machines, they cannot be kept under a work surface due to the way they open. There is a limited choice of top-loading models on the market.

What washing machine drum size do I need - is bigger better?

  • Drum sizes range from 5kg to 12kg
  • It’s a good idea to buy a washing machine with a drum you won’t struggle to fill.
  • The maximum capacity usually only refers to the main cotton programs - other programs have smaller capacities.

Drum size is based on the number of kilos of dry clothing you can fit into the drum. They go from 5kg, which is enough to fit in 16 men’s cotton shirts, up to 12kg, which is big enough to wash an incredible 38 shirts in one go.

But bigger is not always better, as washing machines work best when you fill the drum to each program’s set limit of clothing. So it’s a good idea to get a machine with a drum you won’t struggle to fill.

A kilo of clothing could be four men’s shirts, or a pair of jeans and a shirt, or a bath towel and three small hand towels.

Most medium-sized households in the UK will be served well by a 7kg capacity machine. That’s enough space to wash about 22 men’s cotton shirts in one go, or a more typical load might be two pairs of men’s jeans, three pairs of children’s jeans, four men’s shirts, two bath towels, three small towels, three tea towels and two pillowcases. If that sounds like your typical wash, then a machine with a 7kg drum could be for you.

What's in a  kilo of clothes? To help you pick out the right size machine, a kilo of clothing could comprise of four men’s shirts, or a pair of jeans and a shirt, or a bath towel and three small hand towels.

80% rule: washing machines are difficult to fill to their stated capacities. If you cram in 80% of the machine's capacity, the drum should look fairly full. So to make sure our testing is realistic when we review and rate washing machines and in line with how people use their machines at home, we only fill the drum to 80% capacity. The example loads listed above will also fill the drum to 80%.

Washing machine spin speeds – is faster the better?

  • Maximum spin speeds vary from 1,000rpm to 1,800rpm
  • Faster spin speeds can add cost to the machine
  • A faster spin speed can be noisier
  • It’s not always worth paying more for a higher spin speed.

The spin cycle is there to remove water from your clothes at the end of the wash program. A machine with a good spin will remove the majority of water from your laundry, reducing how long your clothes will need to spend tumbling in a dryer or hanging out on a washing line.

Washing machine spin speeds of 1,200 and 1,400 are the most common. Washing machines with a high spin speed such as 1,600rpm or above, may cost more to buy compared to models with a lower spin speed.

You might assume that the faster the spin speed, the better the result – but that’s not always true.

1200rpmWe’ve seen washing machines with a 1200rpm spin speed do a better job than some models with a 1600rpm spin.

In our tests, we’ve seen washing machines with a 1,200rpm spin speed do a better job of removing water from clothes than some machines with a 1,600rpm spin speed. Higher spin speeds also have the potential to be more noisy, which can get annoying.

You’re not going to be able to tell which washing machines have the most effective spin simply by looking at the advertised maximum speed. But our washing machine reviews, which include a star rating for spin speed, will help you realise if it really is worth paying extra for a higher spin speed or not.

Is it worth paying for an A+++ energy-rated washing machine?

  • Energy running costs can vary from £12 to £53 per year.
  • On average, a washing machine will add £26 to your bills.
  • Running costs are largely influenced by drum size.
  • Some of the most efficient machines we’ve tested do a bad job of cleaning.

Energy labels on washing machines go from A+++ to D. A+++ should be the most efficient, but we’ve found A+ machines that cost less to run than A+++ washing machines.

we’ve found A+ machines that cost less to run than A+++ washing machines

As of Decembers 2013, only washing machines with an energy rating of A+ have been allowed to be sold – but you may come across some older models.

At Which?, we produce an estimate of what each washing machine we test and review will cost you to run, based on the 40°C cotton program, as this is the most commonly used wash program by Which? members. In contrast, the official EU Energy Label is two thirds based on the 60°C cotton program, so running costs will vary. 

The next step is to decide which programs and features you want. The guide continues with our expert shopping tips and useful programs to look out for.