It's easy to spend $1,000 or more for a top-of-the-line washing machine. But if all you want is a washer that will turn out clean clothes — without all the bells, whistles, and specialized cycles — there are many inexpensive models that get the job done just as well as their upmarket counterparts. We cycled through expert and user reviews of dozens of washers to identify top choices that regularly sell for $700 or less, including some available for under $500. Many of these washing machines pair with matching dryers, some of which are reviewed in our roundup of the best cheap dryers.
Washing machines fall into two broad categories: top-loaders and front-loaders. Front-loading washers have become popular due to their efficiency: They use less water and leave clothes less damp at the end of the final spin cycle, which saves time and energy on drying. Some also can be stacked with a matching dryer, saving space. But they tend to cost more up front, can be difficult to load, and may be prone to mildew. Top-loading washers include traditional agitator machines and newer, high-efficiency impeller models that don't have the old-school center post. Instead they rely on longer wash times, higher speeds, and more powerful water currents to lift dirt from fabric. Some users still favor the traditional models, which generally cost less and power through stains more effectively, with the trade-off of a slightly rougher cycle.
Whichever type you prefer, you need to take size into account. While our picks do include one small, portable washer for tight spaces, we focused primarily on models with at least 3.5 cubic feet of capacity, enough for a small household. That said, the general recommendation is to buy the largest washer your space and budget will accommodate. While it may seem counterintuitive, larger models can actually save water and energy, because the more laundry per load, the fewer washes needed. Large-capacity machines also handle oversize items, like comforters, more easily.
There is no shortage of reliable sources that conduct rigorous, hands-on tests of washing machines, among them Consumer Reports, CNET, Wirecutter, and Top Ten Reviews. In general, these experts say, Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, LG, Samsung, and GE are the most reliable brands. But don't pay too much attention to the labels. GE owns budget brand Hotpoint, while Whirlpool owns Maytag, Amana, and Roper and also makes most Kenmore top-loading washers. Manufacturers tell experts that washers should last about 10 years with normal residential usage, but warranties on washing machines tend to be relatively short, and most carry coverage of only one year.
Editor's Note: Listed prices were accurate at the time of writing and represent the best deals at major retailers. But sales are frequent on washing machines and prices can fluctuate from one week to the next, sometimes by more than $100. It often pays to track prices and check multiple retailers before making a purchase.