In a country like the United States, where top loading washing machines are popular, most people only encounter a front loading washing machine at the local commercial laundromat. In many other countries, the style is much more likely to found inside private homes. There are a number of advantages inherent in this type of washing machine.
The main difference between a top loading and front loading washing machine is how the clothes are placed inside. A top loading machine has a hinged lid on top, allowing the clothes to be placed inside a horizontally-oriented watertight tub. In the center of this tub is a device called an agitator. The agitator's job is to swirl the clothes through the soapy water. A front loader has no central agitator, but uses gravity and side-mounted paddles to agitate clothes. Once the front door is closed, it remains locked mechanically until the washing cycle is complete.
One advantage of a front loading washing machine is an increased capacity. Since there is no central agitator, the horizontally-oriented drum can hold at least 20 to 30% more clothing per load. For a large family, this could mean running only three loads compared to five in a top loader. Fewer loads often translates to savings in utility bills and water usage.
A front loading washing machine is also gentler on clothes and generally quieter to operate. Instead of a centralized agitator literally grabbing clothes and thrashing them, the blades gently pick up the clothes and allow them to drop into the soapy water. The soil is still removed by an agitating action, but gravity does most of the work. Gentler agitation can extend the lifespan of clothes significantly. As top loading washing machines age, they tend to become noisier and more likely to become unbalanced. A front loading washing machine rarely becomes unbalanced from the weight of heavy items.
Another advantage of a front loader is less water and detergent usage. A top loading washer must use enough water to cover the highest level of the clothes. A front loading machine, on the other hand, only uses enough water to cover approximately the lower third of the tub at most. The clothes are drawn through the water, not the water through the clothes. Detergents designed for this type of machine use a lower sudsing formula, and are meant to release different cleansing agents at different water temperatures. In fact, the machine often contains its own heating element to keep the water at an ideal temperature for washing.
Many consumers also find that a front loading washing machine removes more water during the final spin cycle. This often translates into shorter drying times, which equals savings on electricity. In addition, it can work in conjunction with a stackable dryer to save space in the laundry room. A standard top loading washing machine cannot be stacked with a standard electric dryer. Manufacturers' attempts at a stacked top loading combination often limit the washer lid's range of motion. No such design problem exists with a front loader.